October 29, 2002

Cupla Last Notes on the Wor...

Cupla Last Notes on the World Series: Indulge me one last time, and then I'll move on.

Mostly, I'm just real happy, happier than I remember being in a long time, as goofy as that sounds. Cubs and Red Sox fans? You're in for a treat, when your day comes. We had the added bonus of not really expecting to win the Series, having never been there before, a point made well by the L.A. Times' Joe Mathews, an actual Angel fan who they let write a smart column throughout the seven games (though not in the Sports section).

Shall I get the L.A. Times bashing out of the way here? Bill Plaschke, the paper's featured sports columnist, is just execrable. His concept of an ideal column is a series of one-sentence, 13-word paragraphs, preferably beginning with the same clunky word or phrase, like "It became official." He's the guy who celebrated the Angels winning their first playoff series by inventing a non-existent species of Anaheim fans who wear "Armanis" and "Guccis." Around this same time he reported on an equally non-existent "study" that "showed that [Barry] Bonds reached base 1.1 times per plate appearance" (a mathematical impossibility, to put it gently). Anyways, Plaschke used his prominent real estate this morning to explain yet again why Southern California belongs to the Dodgers, and to get basic facts wrong. Here's a typical section:

These are, in a sense, the new Dodgers. These are the sort of players this town fell in love with many years ago, the kind many thought they would never see again.

They are baseball's best team. Yet, on the roster of the midseason game featuring the best players, they had only one.

They don't have Babe Ruth, they have a shortstop who is the approximate size of a Baby Ruth candy bar.

They don't have Lou Gehrig, they have a catcher who runs like an iron horse.

No Splendid Splinter, but they do have a first baseman who plays in a band called the Sandfrogs.

No Hammerin' Hank, but a Fish.

Note that the actual name of first baseman Scott Spiezio's trash-rock combo is simply "Sandfrog," not "The Sandfrogs," an elusive fact hiding on the band's website and on various fan-signs in the ballpark, and then repeated several dozen times by the annoying Fox broadcasters. Note, too, that Tim Salmon's nickname is "The Kingfish," and not "a Fish," that the term "iron horse" actually connotes locomotive-style qualities, a.k.a. brute speed and strength ... or just about the opposite of how catcher Bengie Molina runs, which is more reminiscent of an iron turtle. Nitpicking? You betcha! Let's move on!

I just got off the phone with Tim Blair, who was calling from Flagstaff, Arizona, where he's about 90% done with delivery of a Chevrolet that contains a bumper sticker bragging that "My child is a vegan honors student!" (He is chain-smoking, and wearing a Dale Earnhardt cap, to compensate.) Anyways, Tim is from Australia, which means he doesn't understand any sport not played with "wickets" on a "pitch," but nevertheless he greatly enjoyed watching the last two games of the Series, rooting hard for the Angels all the way, and living vicariously through us Angel fans (as partial compensation for some tragedy involving "Collingwood" or something equivalent back in Pirate-stan). I've heard variations on this theme from scores of people, and it pleases me to no end -- they've adopted our team, even if they hadn't watched baseball in 10 years, and instinctively rooted for the hustling beard-boys over that awesome, self-absorbed supplement-gobbler for the Giants. My extended family -- grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, screaming eight-year-olds -- all live in Oregon and Washington, and root for the Mariners if anyone, but they were all completely behind the boys in red. We were at my granddad's wake, which was an informal, upbeat event, but nevertheless it didn't seem like the right place to impose Game Six of the World Series ... until I heard the shrieking of about a dozen females, all pointing at the set and yelling taunts at Barry Bonds. I strolled over to see the commotion, just in time to watch Bonds round the bases to make the score 4-0. Over the next hour, things would get so advanced that my own allegedly sports-ignoring mother was positioning my eldest brother and I into the proper "sports fan" position, while my niece made sure I stood up in the same spot I was when Spiezio hit his three-run home run....

It was a real treat to watch it all, including Game 7, with family, who have all been suffering the Affliction even longer than I have. Aside from my grown brother -- aged 39, mind you -- not being able to bear staying in the room while the Giants were hitting, for voodoo reasons, everyone behaved well, and we were able to share a very nice moment together. Down south, my Dad & other brother & other grandmother were whooping it up. My sister's husband even managed to get tickets to the game itself. The Welches were represented.

First time I ever heard my Dad cuss (I mean, really cuss)? It was the first Angels playoff game in Anaheim -- 1979, against the Baltimore Orioles. Or I should say, it was before the game, just off the off-ramp somewhere in Garden Grove, with steam billowing out from the engine of our green 1964 Chevy pick-up. First home playoff game in Angel history, and the ancient truck finally broke down. We were stranded, and my father was introducing me to the versatility of the word "fuck." My two brothers, shocked and possibly liberated, joined in the fuckeries. I was speechless, and 11. Somehow, one of Dad's friends rolled up in a gold 280z, stuffed the four of us inside, and delivered us to home plate just as the National Anthem was being sung. The Angels scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth that game, to win 4-3. It was probably the best baseball game I've ever seen, though this year's 2-1 game against Minnesota was a real beaut. Baltimore won the next game, and went to the World Series.

Next Angel playoff appearance was 1982, against the Milwaukee Brewers. We started lining up for World Series tickets in the Big A parking lot as soon as the team went up 2-0 (it was best of five those days). My Pony League coach had just let me "borrow" some revelatory new book called The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982, and I spent the evening squinting under the yellow street lamps at all this strange and wonderful new analysis, smart-ass writing, and stats & formulas out the wazoo. A few weeks later, in my "Career Guidance" class, I would deliver a presentation on how I wanted to become a "Sabermetrician," since it combined the three things I loved and/or did well: Baseball, writing, and math (later that year I would win the Junior High Math Bowl for the Long Beach Unified School District ... which turned out to be the high-water mark of my budding engineering career). After watching the Angels lose Game Three on other people's portable television sets, we "slept" in my then-stepmom's blue pinto, and if you've seen my father, you'll know just how brutal that "night of the stick-shift" actually was....

The next day was about 104 degrees, with the hot Santa Ana winds blowing in. A brush fire ripped through the nearest hills, sending black ash right on top of us. There were more than 10,000 people there, and the lines for the outhouse were cruel. I finally got to the promised land, only to discover a cone-shaped mound of the foulest materiel stacked more than a foot above the hole ... I stumbled blindly out of the door, vomiting onto the asphalt, hot ash blowing down my throat, no water in sight. The rest of the day was a delirium of wristband-swapping, ticket-scalping, imagining a nice private bathroom, and watching the Angels lose Game Four on the leetle TVs. We ended up with something like eight WS tickets for each game, then went home and watched them blow a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning of Game Five, when Gene Mauch refused to bring in a lefty to face the lefthanded-hitting Cecil Cooper with the game on the line.

The other playoff year, 1986, you may have heard about. I'll only add that it was also my first, rather tumultuous, quarter of college, and that (naturally) we had gobs of tickets to a World Series that proved one strike too elusive. I have blocked most of the details out.

Other fans had to suffer through multiple indignities during the 1990s, but I was limited to a few games on the odd years that I'd visit home. The real awful memory around these parts is 1995, when we blew something like an 11-game lead in five or six weeks, but I was too busy with stuff in Hungary to even feel it.

But those crazy 67-year-old ladies with the red shirts and the jury-rigged halos and the rally monkeys velcroed around their necks? They could tell you about every collapse, in agonizing detail, but they can also tell you a thing or two about watching a young Mickey Rivers lurch and sprint around the basepaths, or a sexy Disco Danny Ford bouncing doubles off the right-centerfield wall. When Troy Percival gets all weepy talking about the fans, or when Tim Salmon does his little victory lap around the warning track, this is what they're talking about. It sounds crazy and counter-intuitive, but this runt of an organization actually has tradition and nostalgia, and people who've been coming to games for four decades.

Still, these are usually a polite folk. Yet this year we had the craziest fans in the post-season. What happened? Rex Hudler, the former player (on that 1995 team) and homer color commentator on the local teevee broadcasts, hit the nail right on the head yesterday, in this T.J. Simers column in the L.A. Times:

You know when ntly found themselves in. Also, especially after Kent seemed to find himself at the plate Bonds should have been moved to the third spot. This is a central thing that should have been done, and I've seen nobody talk or write about it. I must be a genius.

Posted by: A's fan at October 29, 2002 01:52 PM

Congratulations! The best team won, but I thought the Giants looked like they had given up after blowing it Saturday. Next years another season so enjoy it.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at October 29, 2002 01:54 PM

Congratulations Matt. I certainly understand your giddiness; I would feel the same way. It's the "unexpected delirium" of sports (as opposed to "real life") -- as described by Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch.
As a Giants fan, I am suffering from "not unexpected despondency." Like your brother, I am 39, and I also had to leave the room when the opposing team (i.e., the Angels) were batting. It's amazing how the actions of fans stuck in front of the TV can affect the play on the field, isn't it ? :)

Posted by: Peggy at October 29, 2002 04:17 PM

Hey A's fan,

My impression was that Baker tried batting Bonds 3rd earlier this year, but Kent -- you know, the .313 hitter who won the MVP in 2000 and lets us all know what an awful teammate Bonds is -- couldn't hack the pressure of cleanup.

Bonds may be self-absorbed, but it's probably the best thing he can do for his mental health. What else should he focus on? The Giant pitchers? How the front three went 0-for-12 in game 7? Baker's midnight hunch on who should play DH?

Sorry to be so bitter. If the Giants had to lose, I'm glad it was to the Rally Monkey.

Posted by: Floyd McWilliams at October 29, 2002 06:54 PM

I know Kent was in the clean-up spot earlier in the season, and how shifting him to the third spot sparked the Giants offense (and season), but I'm talking about the specific new situation in the World Series where the Angels had let it be know they had no intention and no shame in never - NEVER - ever (never ever ever ever) pitching to Bonds other than if it was just to allow a too-little-too-late home run for the ESPN highlight reel. Baker should have said, OK, Bonds is now my number two hitter and I'll have Kent, Santiago, Snow, Bell, et al all getting a shot to hit him in. And if the Angels decide they have to pitch to him if he's hitting second then so be it. As the game progresses, the way things work out, Bonds would have had guys on before him, and if not, then he would more than likely get on (if he didn't hit his usual homerun) and other big bats would be lined up to score him. As it turned out it was always - ALWAYS - Benito all-or-nothing and Benito is not a money clean-up hitter. There's ways to counter tactical-cowardice in baseball. The Angels did what any team would do. The Giants didn't counter probably because they didn't even think of the above, but neither did the talking head and writers, yet, as I said, I'm a genius. If they're taking the bat out of your best guys hand then move him up.

Posted by: A's fan at October 29, 2002 07:08 PM

Matt,

I appreciate your reply. The shot I referred to is, ď. . . that awesome, self-absorbed supplement-gobbler for the Giants.Ē Though itís true, it could have gone without saying, at least this early after the Series conclusion. What I was looking for was a little respect and admiration for a worthy, albeit vanquished opponent. You delivered and showed how much class you have.

I have invested my emotions in the Giants and Tigers for 37 seasons. This season I also became an Angels fan. I love their style of play Ė put the ball in play and run, run, run! In case you long time Angelís fans didnít realize, it is extremely frustrating for an opponent when they work a two strike count only to see several pitches fouled-off (and you know that the at-bat will end up with the ball either going over the fence or dropping in front of an outfielder). You just canít seem to finish these guys off.

I couldnít help but admire Mike Scioscia. Not only was he a great player (for the wrong team, but none-the-less great) he too showed great class in the interview room, especially after game four, one of the freakiest, most memorable games I have ever seen (I was lucky enough to actually be at Pac Bell for that one.) When reporters asked how it felt to lose a game full of cheap, lucky hits, he replied, ďThere are no cheap hits. Thatís baseball, and they happen to every team.Ē Man, I just wanted to hug him.

Posted by: Doug Purdie at October 30, 2002 08:56 AM

Aís fan,

You stated a common misconception that I have been hearing from fans and announcers alike. Kentís move to third in the order did not spark the Giants. Kent was already swinging a hot bat prior to the move, late in June. Yes, he got even hotter after the move, but the Giants, as a team, continued to play mediocre ball until late August. The spark was consistent, outstanding pitching from both the rotation and the Ďpen.

I still agree with you about the order. The oldest wisest rule is to put your second best hitter behind your best. Kent had been proving that by hitting about .290 and driving in 100+ runs in the previous 5 Ĺ seasons, batting behind Bonds. I guess Dusty just didnít want to mess with things when things were going well.

Posted by: Doug Purdie at October 30, 2002 09:19 AM

The reason Plachke of the LAT called Salmon "Fish" is that "Kingfish" is racist in Times Speak. See there was a character on the old Amos and Andy show called the Kingfish who played a lawyer. Sammy Davis Jr. used to imitate it all the time.

The Times is PC, wrong, and insufferable.

Regarding Kent: he is nothing when not hitting in front of Bonds. "Hot Bat" my ass. He was getting beach balls to hit.

Howard Veit
West Hollywood, CA

Posted by: Howard Veit at October 30, 2002 12:11 PM

The Angels were (I think) 42 years in the league without a championship, the most of any team.

Now it's the Rangers at 42 and the Astros at 41 (I think), leaving Texas baseball fans who love losers with a tough choice. We now have the fortune/misfortune of having the top two teams with the futility record.

Congratulations Angel fans on getting out of the hole. Don't forget about us down here in Austin.

Posted by: Joe Briefcase at October 30, 2002 12:21 PM

Well, if that was conventional wisdom gone awry I have to claim ignorance because basically I follow the A's mostly, yet my point still stands. Dusty not wanting to mess with things just simply doesn't apply (as good managing) in the sixth and seventh games of that specific WS when Bonds was being put in the more than usual 'get walked the moment he appeared out of the dugout with a batting helmet on' situation, and the entire team was being put in the repetitive scenario of having everything riding on Benito Santiago at bats. I am a genius, and this has not been brought up before, during, or after.

Posted by: A's fan at October 30, 2002 04:33 PM

Speaking of Texas baseball fans... :)

I began rooting for the Angels in September and was happy to see them win, not just 'cause they're an exciting team but because of the (evil) Spirit of '86... Astros were *this* close to making the WS that year, just as the Angels were... now in '02 seeing the Angels win it all and the Mets finish a lowly last makes me feel the spirit's been partially exorcised.

Posted by: Astros fan here at October 30, 2002 06:41 PM

Astros fan, huh? Good luck with that.

I've been forced to look outside Texas for my baseball satisfaction. We don't get to see much of the Angels out here, but I attached to them early in the playoffs. They seemed to have a certain something... Congratulations. It was a great series.

Posted by: Joe Briefcase Again at October 30, 2002 07:21 PM

Beauteous agoants' fan perspective on Blogcritics. Revel on, bro!

Posted by: Eric Olsen at October 31, 2002 07:35 AM
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ttp://www.mattwelch.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-comments.cgi?__mode=red&id=1633">Joe Briefcase at October 30, 2002 12:21 PM

Well, if that was conventional wisdom gone awry I have to claim ignorance because basically I follow the A's mostly, yet my point still stands. Dusty not wanting to mess with things just simply doesn't apply (as good managing) in the sixth and seventh games of that specific WS when Bonds was being put in the more than usual 'get walked the moment he appeared out of the dugout with a batting helmet on' situation, and the entire team was being put in the repetitive scenario of having everything riding on Benito Santiago at bats. I am a genius, and this has not been brought up before, during, or after.

Posted by: A's fan at October 30, 2002 04:33 PM

Speaking of Texas baseball fans... :)

I began rooting for the Angels in September and was happy to see them win, not just 'cause they're an exciting team but because of the (evil) Spirit of '86... Astros were *this* close to making the WS that year, just as the Angels were... now in '02 seeing the Angels win it all and the Mets finish a lowly last makes me feel the spirit's been partially exorcised.

Posted by: Astros fan here at October 30, 2002 06:41 PM

Astros fan, huh? Good luck with that.

I've been forced to look outside Texas for my baseball satisfaction. We don't get to see much of the Angels out here, but I attached to them early in the playoffs. They seemed to have a certain something... Congratulations. It was a great series.

Posted by: Joe Briefcase Again at October 30, 2002 07:21 PM

Beauteous agony and ecstasy Matty - deepest congrats. The Angels are my third team behind Indians and Dodgers, so I have lived their failures and loved this triumph as well, though shallowly compared to you. Just linked this and Dave Pell's whine from the Giants' fan perspective on Blogcritics. Revel on, bro!

Posted by: Eric Olsen at October 31, 2002 07:35 AM
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