In Pursuit of Heroes, Legends, and Hall of Famers

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Remember, kid: There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered … legends never die. – Ghost of Babe Ruth

If you’re like me, a lover of baseball who grew up in the nineties, you’ve seen The Sandlot more times than you can count. Like any good kids movie, it has entertaining characters, loads of mischief, and is extremely quotable. And even though I’ve known every word of the film for what feels like my entire life, it wasn’t until I watched the movie as an adult (status pending) that the above quote struck home in a different way. Do something heroic and people will fondly remember what you’ve done; do something legendary and you will exist forever, immune to fading from history. Heroes and legends are not the same thing.


 

Some kids travel a lot, visiting exotic locations on family vacations, seeing more than most will in a lifetime. Other kids get the coolest toys, the trendiest clothes, the best video games, or that bitchin’ bike. Me, I didn’t really have any of those, but don’t hire any sad violin soloists quite yet. I had something that, for my memories, was better than any of the above luxuries combined: My dad had season tickets for the San Francisco Giants. With his seats located directly behind home plate, I’ve always been a bit spoiled when it came to ballpark seating. My spoiled level jumped up quite a bit when the Giants moved to AT&T Park: with the amount of foul territory dropping drastically, we moved up 15 rows without moving up at all. Candlestick is where my baseball life began, but AT&T Park is where I grew up. It’s a personal goal of mine to never forget how fortunate I’ve been.

I’d like to think that even if the Giants had stunk my whole life, I’d still feel as fortunate. Luckily, the Giants have limited their overall stinkage in my lifetime, and were one of the best teams in baseball during the early years of Pacifc Bell/SBC/AT&T Park. This, of course, coincided with some of the most dominant offensive seasons in baseball history by one Barry Lamar Bonds. Over the years, I’ve seen some truly special moments at that ballpark, but nothing has ever been quite like what I saw over three nights in August of 2003.

2010ws

The view from my seats.


 

It’s Tuesday, August 19th, 2003. The San Francisco Giants have returned home to Pacific Bell Park for a three game tilt against the Atlanta Braves, owners of the best record in baseball. They’ve just gotten back from a road trip through New York and Montreal, where they were swept out of both cities, and now have won just seven of their past 20 games (Luckily, the Giants’ division lead has dropped only to 8.5 games, the smallest their lead will be for the remainder of the season). Losing two games against the Mets certainly stinks (a rainout cancels the third game), but losing all four to the Expos has an extra bit of sting to it, as Barry Bonds missed the entire series. Bonds flew back home to be with his father, Bobby, who is dealing with a variety of ailments, mainly, lung cancer. But Bonds is back in the lineup tonight, batting in his usual cleanup spot and patrolling his customary patch of grass of left field. Former Giant Russ Ortiz currently leads the league in wins, and is starting tonight for the Braves, facing off against Giants rookie Jerome Williams.

The game is an exchange of dingers and doinks: The Braves strike first, with a solo home run from Marcus Giles in the second at bat of the game. The Giants answer back with a sacrifice fly from Neifi Perez in the bottom of the 2nd, plating Benito Santiago. Gary Sheffield leads off the top of the 4th with a solo shot, and the Giants pull level in the 5th with a Marquis Grissom double that scores Rich Aurilia. Javy Lopez gives the Braves their third homer of the night in the 7th, cashing in on a Robert Fick leadoff walk to make the Braves lead 4-2. The Giants quickly respond with a home run of their own, a solo shot from Jose Cruz Jr. to lead off the bottom of the 7th frame. They eventually tie the game up in the 8th on an 0-2, 2-out wild pitch by Trey Hodges, scoring Todd Linden from 3rd. The 9th inning expires with the score still level, Tim Worrell pitches his second scoreless inning of work to bring the Giants into the dugout with the score still tied at 4.

Barry Bonds is due up first in the bottom of the 10th. Pedro Feliz and Yorvit Torrealba are also due up … but you don’t think this is about Feliz or Torrealba, do you?

The Braves bring in lefty reliever Ray King, who Bonds is hitless against in seven career plate appearances. King gets Bonds to swing and miss on the first pitch before burning two balls out of the zone, making the count 2-1. Luckily, the fourth pitch of the at bat is available on YouTube:

Career home run number 651. I leave the ballpark riding the best high a 13-year-old baseball fan can have.

“I just got a lot of emotions going for me and my dad,” says Bonds before hastily exiting Pacific Bell Park to be with his father.

It’s the only hit of Bonds’s career against Ray King. After this plate appearance, Bonds goes 0 for 10 with a walk and a hit by pitch in the remainder of his battles against King. Of all the pitchers to face Bonds at least 15 times, King held him to the lowest average, .059.


 

One of the most memorable players from my childhood was Chris Brock. What’s that? You don’t remember Chris Brock? Career 18-17 record with a 4.81 ERA, how could you forget about him? He spent parts of six seasons with the Braves, Phillies, and Orioles, but entered my life when he was with the Giants in 1998 and 1999. In the summer of 1999, I was a member of the Junior Giants, a youth baseball program run by the Giants Community Fund. There was a clinic for the Junior Giants at Candlestick Park with some Giants players. The two players I remember being there were Chris Brock, and Giants rookie Joe Nathan.

Chris Brock was teaching us some basics on pitching, and to simulate a real situation, picked a couple of kids to stand in for the batter and catcher. I was picked as the batter, and when he started his windup, I began inching away. Excuse me, but nine-year-old me wasn’t even comfortable in the batters’ box with kids who hardly threw 50 MPH; this was a Major League pitcher throwing the ball my way. Brock stopped his windup. “I want to hit you as much as you want to get hit,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to hit the ball when you’re getting further away from it.”

It’s powerful stuff when a big league ballplayer talks to you like you aren’t a kid, and his words stuck to me. Standing there while he threw was still terrifying, but it made it a lot easier to face little league pitchers. I lost my fear of getting hit and even racked up a good amount of HBPs along the way. I stopped playing baseball when I was 13, but I’ve always enjoyed thinking about my small interaction with Chris Brock. He got injured a couple of weeks after our paths crossed and never pitched for the Giants again.

Just because someone’s profession thrusts them into the public eye doesn’t mean that we should look to them as role models, or to assume that they can be heroes. To a nine-year-old member of the Junior Giants, though, Chris Brock was a hero, and I think everyone should know that. I’m going to remember Chris Brock forever … but that doesn’t mean that you will.


 

It’s Wednesday, August 20th, 2003, and another 7:15pm start on the shores of McCovey Cove. It’s typical August-in-San Francisco weather, mid-60s with a light breeze. Shane Reynolds is starting for the Braves. Entering the game, Reynolds has the most early-2000s pitching line ever: 10-6 with a 5.44 ERA over 22 starts. And, of course, he pitches his best game of the season: one earned run on five hits over eight innings pitched, the only time he lasted eight full innings all season. The Giants’ only run against Reynolds comes in the eighth, a one-out bloop single to right field from Andrés Galarraga, scoring Benito Santiago from 3rd. However, in an ironic twist of early-2000s baseball fate, one earned run from the ten-win pitcher with an ERA over 5 wasn’t quite good enough to get the Braves the win.

In the middle of the first, a message displays on the Pacific Bell Park scoreboard: “A Giant Welcome to Bobby Bonds. 3-Time All-Star.” Bobby had mustered up enough strength to visit the ballpark to watch his son play. “My greatest happiness,” Bobby once said, “is being known as Barry Bonds’ dad more than being known for myself.”

Jesse Foppert is starting for the Giants, in his last appearance before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He only lasts 3.2 innings, allowing an Andruw Jones single in the third that plates Gary Sheffield, before experiencing neuritis in his right elbow, and yields to Jim Brower. Brower, Matt Herges, and Joe Nathan combine for 5.1 scoreless innings, and the Giants are up in the 9th with the score tied.

Barry Bonds is due up fourth. Every single person at Pacific Bell Park is well aware of this fact.

Reliever Kevin Gryboski is in for the Braves. Eric Young leads off the 9th by grounding out to first. Rich Aurilia follows up with a swinging bunt down the third base line, which he beats out for an infield single. Marquis Grissom comes up, and loops a hit to right field. It’s at this point that Rich Aurilia commits the ultimate no-no in the eyes of Giants fans: he goes to third on Grissom’s single.

Why’s this a no-no? Well, because now Barry Bonds is coming up, and there’s an open base. In 2003, Bonds came to the plate with a base open (either a runner on second, a runner on third, runners on both second and third, or runners at the corner) 90 times.

He was walked 58 of those 90 times.

The other 32 plate appearances? 13 hits, a sac fly, and only four strikeouts. He finishes the season with an on base percentage of .654 with runners in scoring position. That stat rises to .725 with runners in scoring position and 2 outs.

So Aurilia takes third on Grissom’s single, and everyone knows what Gryboski will do with Bonds. It’s his 50th intentional pass of the season, and accrues 11 more after this to finish at 61. No other player eclipses 30 intentional walks in 2003. Excluding the Giants, only three other teams surmount at least 60 intentional walks for the entire season. Five of the intentional walks issued to Bonds came with the bases empty.

The next batter is Edgardo Alfonzo, who hits a ground ball up the middle and through the infield, giving the Giants their second consecutive walk-off victory.

Bonds’s walk also makes it 38 consecutive games in which he has reached base safely, a streak that will eventually end at 57 consecutive games, the fifth longest streak of all time. Bonds started in 128 games in 2003, and failed to reach base safely in only five of those games. At the end of play on August 20th, 2003, Bonds’s season OPS sits at 1.267, the lowest it will be for the remainder of the season.


 

Here’s a list of players from MLB’s history, try to figure out the specific thing that they all have in common:

  • Willie Mays
  • Brooks Robinson
  • Al Kaline
  • Willie Stargell
  • Lou Brock
  • Phil Niekro
  • Gary Carter
  • Cal Ripken Jr
  • Barry Larkin
  • Dave Winfield
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Tony Gwynn
  • John Smoltz
  • Craig Biggio

Anything? Yes, they’re all in the Hall of Fame, but they’re also the only members of the Hall of Fame who were also recipients of MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award, an annual award bestowed upon the player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team.” The award is aptly named after Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash en route to delivering supplies to victims of the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake.

All of the fifteen men listed above have a plaque in Cooperstown. Not a single one of those plaques mentions the charitable contributions that those players made. Neither does Roberto Clemente’s.

Nor does Ty Cobb’s plaque mention that he was constantly trying to injure opposing players and was an anti-semite. Nor does Gaylord Perry’s plaque mention his incessant use of the spitball, an outlawed pitch. Cap Anson’s plaque doesn’t acknowledge that he refused to take the field if any black players were involved, Roger Hornsby’s doesn’t mention his gambling addiction, and the plaque of every player elected from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s has no mention of the “greenies” (amphetamines) that were readily available in every big league clubhouse.

Because that’s not what the Hall of Fame is for.

Whether they’re charitable deeds, like those of the Roberto Clemente Award winners and Chris Brock, or lamentable sins, like those of Ty Cobb, Cap Anson, and, yes, Barry Bonds, they’ll inevitably fade from the public’s memory. When all is said and done, all that will remain will be stats on a page, and stories of their playing days. That’s why it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame, not the Human Hall of Fame.


 

It’s Thursday, August 21st, 2003, the finale of the series with the Braves. The Braves haven’t been swept on the road all season, and have only lost three straight twice. Rookie Horacio Ramirez is starting for the Braves, facing Giants ace Jason Schmidt. Schmidt pitches a gem, scattering three hits over eight innings, while allowing only one walk and striking out seven. Only two runners advance past first base while Schmidt is pitching, and neither advances any further.

Horacio Ramirez’s night doesn’t go quite as well. The Giants grab a run in the second, and two more in the fourth. With Schmidt’s dominant performance, three runs seem like plenty, but Bobby Cox’s squad won’t be swept so easily. Schmidt’s pitch count runs to 105 after his eighth inning of work, and manager Felipe Alou decides that’s enough, and brings in closer Tim Worrell. After leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal singles to center, Rich Aurilia boots a double play grounder hit by Mark DeRosa, which is followed by a walk to Gary Sheffield. Andruw Jones comes up with the bases loaded, and smacks a double to left-center, bringing in Furcal and DeRosa, and moving Sheffield to third. Worrell intentionally walks Robert Fick to re-load the bases. The three run lead has shrunk to just one, and there are still no outs.

Vinny Castilla comes to the plate for the Braves, and hits a deep fly-ball to center for a sac-fly, tying the game, and spoiling Jason Schmidt’s stellar performance. Still with only one out, and with runners on first and second, Braves left fielder Darren Bragg hits a line drive straight at first baseman Andrés Galarraga, who snags the ball and steps on the bag for a double play. For the third straight night, the Giants enter the bottom of the 9th with the score tied.

It takes Braves reliever Will Cunnane only five pitches to retire Todd Linden, Eric Young, and Rich Aurilia in order. Felix Rodriguez comes in for the Giants and allows two runners to reach base before getting Sheffield to fly out to left, bringing the Giants up in the bottom of the 10th.

He’s due up second, in case you’re wondering.

Trey Hodges is brought in for the Braves, and I’m nearly certain that every one of the 41,745 in attendance are practically rooting for Hodges to retire Marquis Grissom, who leads off the inning. Sorry Marquis, but we’re trying to see the guy on deck take some cuts.

Grissom acquiesces, striking out on three pitches, and Bonds saunters up to the plate. He only sees one pitch.

It’s at this point that I must complain. There is injustice in the world, and sometimes it exists in the form of every sporting moment ever not being readily available for sharing. I can show you a video of Barry Bonds hitting a broken bat home run, I can show you a video of Barry Bonds obliterating a ball at Yankee Stadium, and I can show you a video of Barry Bonds hitting a home run in the World Series that makes Tim Salmon utter with amazement, “That’s the furthest ball I’ve ever seen hit.” Unfortunately, no online video exists of what happens next.

And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, what happens next is home run number 652.

652.2652
652.1

A first-pitch sinker from Hodges that didn’t sink nearly enough is driven into the center-field bleachers. Hodges is the 385th different pitcher to surrender a home run to Bonds. It’s Bonds’s 100th career home run at Pacific Bell Park: a stadium that has been open for less than four seasons.

“To be honest, I’m in shock,” Hodges tells reporters after the game. “I should have almost come to expect it. I’ve seen some weird things the last three days … He’s doing some amazing things, especially walk-off home runs. There’s still a 70 percent chance he’s going to get out, but apparently he’s pretty good in that situation.”

Braves first baseman Robert Fick was a little more to the point: “I hope I don’t ever see fucking Barry Bonds again because I don’t give a shit what anyone says. He’s the fucking best. I’m just so impressed.”

As amazed as the rest of his opponents and teammates are, though, the amazing feats don’t even seem to register with Bonds. “I was just trying to hit the ball, but I’ve got to go somewhere now,” Barry says after the game, desperate to spend time with his father.

As I leave the ballpark, with my father, I’m certain that I’ve witnessed the most amazing anything, ever. Two walk-offs in three nights, when every single person in the ballpark, from the staff, to the fans, to the players on the field, knew that Bonds was trying to put one in the seats. And he did just that. It’s almost as if he wanted the game to be over, so he just ended it. My Bonds-high lasts deep into the night, unable to sleep, my mind racing with images of what I had just witnessed. At 13 years old, all I can do is marvel at the otherworldly skill that Barry Bonds possesses.

Now at 26 years old, not much has changed.


 

 

This isn’t just about Barry Bonds, you know. It isn’t about Bonds, it isn’t about steroids, it isn’t about validating a 13-year-old’s memories. It isn’t about the Hall of Fame, or the voters.

This is about baseball. It’s about a sport that’s played on a diamond made of dirt, with leather gloves, rubber bases, and wooden bats. A sport that we love enough for us to build a museum that honors the best that ever played. A sport where a kid and his dad can watch three games of baseball together, while a father watches his son play in his dying days, and everything is perfect. It’s about a game, a game that we share with friends, with family, with 40,000 strangers that we’ll never meet, but for at least nine innings, are the closest friends we’ll ever have. And, in return, it provides us with memories that we hold close to us, forever. Sometimes those moments can hurt to recall, but, when we’re lucky, baseball gives us the kind of memories that make us feel chosen, as if some cosmic butterfly-effect led us to experience those memories, and we were there.  We were there.

No museum can ever take these memories away from me, no matter how hard they try. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness a large amount of baseball history in my short life, but nothing will ever be quite the same as hearing the ringing voice of Giants PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon, dramatically underscored by Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” announce the arrival of a moment that renders every other side attraction of the ballpark useless: “Now batting, number twenty-five, Barry Bonds!”

I watched an athlete dominate a sport like no one else ever has, and my only regret is that I can’t experience it all over again.

Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. We live in an imperfect world where imperfect people can, sometimes, create perfect moments.


 

It’s Saturday, August 23rd, 2003. Bobby Bonds dies at the age of 57.

Barry misses the next six games, but returns to the lineup in Arizona on August 30th. In his second at bat of the game, he takes Randy Johnson deep for home run number 653. As he crosses the plate, he looks up and points to the sky, just as he does after every home run. But this time, his gaze upwards lingers longer than usual. As Bonds takes the field minutes later, he’s seen wiping tears from his eyes.

Starting with the Braves series, the Giants win 27 of their final 38 games to finish with 100 wins. They easily win the NL West, but fall to the Florida Marlins in the NLDS, Bonds’s final playoff appearance.

Barry Bonds would finish the season with 45 home runs, and would win his third out of four consecutive NL MVP Awards. His OPS for the season was 1.278, and if you insist on shouting “steroids” at that number, then you should take a look at his OPS+, where a league-average OPS (as in, averaging all the other PED users)  is normalized to 100. Barry Bonds’s 2003 OPS+ is 231. His career OPS+ is 182, third best all time.

Maybe his steroids were just better than everybody else’s.

In Pursuit of a More Ambitious Football Fan

(Note: In this article, I’ll be occasionally referring to soccer as “football”. Drastic, I know. Next I’ll be coming for your second amendment rights.)

The sports teams you root for say a lot about who you are as a person. No one can fault a fan who roots for only local teams, or the team that their parents rooted for. This is the way that fandom should work, after all. You support your local team for so long that it becomes a part of you, so much a part of you that it’s passed on to the next generation. Conversely, there’s a nonsensical wasteland of grey area when it comes to who to root for when your local area doesn’t have a team for a specific sport, or your parents didn’t have a team to pass on to you. Is there an obligation to choose the team that’s geographically closest to you, or are you allowed fandom free agency, welcome to hop upon the bandwagon of whichever team that tickles your fancy? Do you get a free pass if the team closest to you absolutely stinks? Well, the situation gets even murkier when it comes to Americans in search of a European football team to support.

(Sure, fine, whatever, go ahead and support your local MLS team, but please don’t restrict yourself to just that. It’d be such a pity if you limited yourself to only watching high school basketball, you know?)

I was at a party a few years ago, talking to a stranger about sports, because I’m one dimensional and run and hide when people try to talk to me about other things. I don’t remember the guy’s name, so let’s name him Mr. Bandwagon. I encountered Mr. Bandwagon for only 15 minutes of my life, four years ago, but he’s stuck with me because he was a fan of the Yankees, Spurs, Patriots and Rangers (hockey). Mr. Bandwagon was from upstate New York, but his parents weren’t sports fans. He was a Rangers fan because an uncle had taken him to games, but his reasoning behind the fandom of his other three teams was simple: “I grew up in the late nineties and early 2000s.” Mr. Bandwagon was completely unashamed of the fact that he chose his teams solely based off of who was good at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I judged the hell out of him and tried to shame him for his choices, but he stuck to his guns. The guy knew his sports, he wasn’t some common fan who abused talking points and sensationalized small moments. He had clearly been through the conversation many times before, well aware that his choices were likely frowned upon by most die-hard sports fans. He just really didn’t care, and I respected him for that.

Until I brought up soccer.

Mr. Bandwagon was in the same graduating class as me from the University of Yeah I Give A Shit About European Football Now, class of mid-2000s. I asked him who he was a fan of, though I was already certain of the answer.

“Barcelona, of course.”

Barcelona. Of course.

To be fair, he could’ve been a Manchester United fan, a Chelsea fan, or a Real Madrid fan, and the narrative would’ve fit all the same.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of European football, let me give you the briefest of brief rundowns:

Major trophies across the top 2 European Leagues, Premier League (England) & La Liga (Spain), since 2004-05 season:
(note: each team plays in multiple competitions within one season. We’re focusing on the main three; the domestic league, domestic cup, and European cup) 

1. FC Barcelona: 7 La Liga + 3 Domestic Cups + 4 Champions League = 14 trophies

2. Chelsea: 4 Premier League + 7 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = 12 trophies

3. Manchester United: 5 Premier League + 3 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = 9 trophies

4. Real Madrid: 3 La Liga + 2 Domestic Cups + 1 Champions League = trophies

I’ve limited the list to these two countries because they’re the top two in the world, and because they are the two leagues most available for Americans to view. The next closest team to the four listed above is Manchester City, with four trophies, and then a bunch of teams tied at three. And, surprise, the above four teams, along with City and Bayern Munich (Germany’s perennial juggernaut), are the richest teams in the world.

Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Chelsea are also the only sports clubs in the world that have over 50 million combined followers on Facebook and Twitter. Over the two social media sites, the four teams have over 331 million followers. That’s more “follow” clicks than the amount of humans in the United States.

Granted, there’s a lot of overlap followers across the two sites, and lord knows how many bots, but even if you cut each of the four teams’ amount of followers in half, Barcelona and Real Madrid would still be numbers 1 and 2, Manchester United would “fall” to 4th, and Chelsea would drop to only 12th place, still ahead of teams like the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and Chicago Bulls.

There’s a big difference between being a fan of the “good team” in American sports versus the “good team” in European football, though. Bandwagon fans of the Cowboys/Yankees/Bulls from the nineties have all been through their own respective ups and downs as a fan, as American sports are designed to create parity through drafts and salary caps, neither of which are present in European soccer. In Europe, a team can rely on its riches for decades, since players are acquired by clubs purchasing them from other clubs. In order for a team to break into the elite group of clubs, they have to be bought by a rich owner (or rich owners) who is willing to spend on the team. The only other way in is to rely on a great player or great manager, but that method is far less reliable, and oftentimes ends with that great player or manager leaving their team for richer pastures.

So, when someone becomes a fan of one of these elite teams, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be rooting for an elite team for years to come. Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid are all experiencing various degrees of “struggling” right now, but those struggles are only relative to the outrageous levels of success that the clubs usually achieve. Supporters of lesser teams would kill for the issues that these top-notch clubs are going through.

Obviously, you want your team to win every single time they play, but it shows a lack of ambition in a fan when they choose to support one of these teams. When the Cubs inevitably win the World Series, won’t any one of their fans feel far more euphoric than a Yankees fan would feel winning ring number 28? When a team that has never won it all before, like the Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets, finally wins it all, won’t their fans feel like all the losing seasons over the years were totally worth it? When the Cleveland Browns actually pull their shit togeth—no no, just kidding, let’s stay within the realm of possibility here.

I became a Liverpool fan when I was a senior in high school. A classmate of mine was a fan of theirs, and told me that I should follow the team. At the time, they were a good bet to finish in the top four of the Premier League, make a run in the Champions League, and win a domestic cup every few years. They were one of the richest teams in the world, with the most decorated history of any English club, but they didn’t exactly run over the competition week in and week out. Well, since I became a fan, things have gotten a bit rough. We’re still one of the richest clubs in the world, but that hasn’t exactly gotten us very far. We haven’t won the English league in almost 26 years, we’d be lucky to even make it into the Champions League, and in my 8+ years of being a fan, we’ve won exactly one trophy; the 2012 Football League Cup, literally the least glamorous cup an English team can win. Being a Liverpool fan has been tough, to say the least, but I’d never even dream of switching my allegiances to a team more likely to win a trophy, because I know that one day, if/when we finally win the Premier League, or we once again achieve the status of European powerhouse, everything will be perfect. It will all have been worth it.

So, a couple weeks ago when a friend of mine declared his fandom in favor of Barcelona, I flipped shit. There are hundreds of teams to choose from, why not strive to be just a bit more unique? Even if you limit yourself to teams that get airtime in the United States, you’ve got a good amount of quality to select from outside of those four dominant teams.

So please, for those of you currently studying at or planning on attending the University of Yeah I Give A Shit About European Football Now, think about what sort of fan you want to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather you become a fan of one of those four teams than not become a fan at all. It’s always nice to have more fans of the sport, and the more American fans there are, the easier it’ll be to watch the games on TV. But, when it comes down to it, you’ll be respected by other fans more if you choose a different team.

Here are the reasons when it’s okay for an American to become a supporter of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, or Manchester United:

  1. They were the first team you ever saw LIVE AND IN PERSON and were the reason you fell in love with the sport
  2. Your relative/friend was a fan of theirs, and that relative/friend got you hooked.
  3. You’re an unashamed front-runner who just wants to win and doesn’t care much for developing passion for a team.
  4. You read this whole thing and just want to spite me.

And, for those of you that are looking for a club to support, I’ve made this list for you to consider, only including teams that are either on TV in the US (ESPN, beIN sports, NBC Sports, Fox Sports 1, and GolTV) or through the nifty new streaming site, NGSN. If you want to watch your team every week, you want to go with a team from the Premier League:

I want my team to dominate domestically, and have a chance at Champions League glory:
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Juventus (Italy)

I want my team to do well domestically, and make regular appearances in the Champions League:
Manchester City (England), Arsenal (England)
Atletico Madrid (Spain)
Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Schalke 04 (Germany)
AS Roma (Italy)
Lyon (France)
Porto (Portugal), Benfica (Portugal)
CSKA Moscow (Russia), Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Ajax (Netherlands), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands)

I want my team to have a rich history: 
Liverpool (England), Everton (England)
Athletic Bilbao (Spain), Valencia (Spain)
Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany)
AC Milan (Italy), Internazionale (Italy)
Saint-Étienne (France), Marseille (France)
Sporting CP (Portugal)
Feyenoord (Netherlands)
Spartak Moscow (Russia)

Fuck it. Let’s get weird:
Leicester City (England), Newcastle United (England), Tottenham Hotspur (England), West Ham United (England)
Malaga (Spain), Villarreal (Spain), Sevilla (Spain)
VfL Wolfsburg (Germany), VfB Stuttgart (Germany), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Fiorentina (Italy), Napoli (Italy), Lazio (Italy)
AS Monaco (France), Bordeaux (France)
Rubin Kazan (Russia)

In Pursuit of a Big Four Sports Day

A few times a year, we as sports fans are blessed with a day filled with sporting events. Recently, early May has been quite eventful, with baseball, the Kentucky Derby, Floyd Mayweather fights, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, and late-season premier league action (for those that observe). These are thrilling days, filled with the stress of just following it all (We can’t all afford to fly from the Derby to Vegas for the fight, you know).  It’s an exciting day, but there’s always something missing….hmm….

There have only been twelve days, ever, where the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL have had games on the same day. Twelve! Ever! Jeb! Between the four leagues, there have been 387 seasons, and only twelve freaking times ever have the four overlapped. There have already been seventeen lunar eclipses since 2000, and everyone acts like they’ve seen a chupacabra shaking its hips with Elvis whenever one of those comes around.

This matters, because now that the Royals aren’t going to sweep the Mets, Sunday, November 1st, 2015, will be the thirteenth day, ever, where all four major North American sports leagues will have events on the same day. A Big Four Sports Day. Strangely enough, the last two Big Four Sports Day have also come on November 1sts, in 2009 and 2010. As if they weren’t rare enough already, there have only been three Big Four Sports Days since 1985.

In order for one of these days to occur, a lot has to go right. The World Series has to run into late October. The NBA has to start before November. The NHL has to not be locked out. And, on the rare instance that those three things have all happened, somewhere in the tiny window after basketball starts and before the World Series has ended, a Sunday has to come around. Yes, the NFL also has action on Mondays and Thursdays, but eleven of the twelve previous Big Four Sports Days have come on Sundays, with the one outlier being 2010, a Monday.

The first time all four leagues played on the same day was October 17th, 1971, which was the 25th season of the NBA. That means there were 25 eligible seasons before the first Big Four Sports Day occurred, but that’s only the second longest we’ve gone without a Big Four Sports Day. The gap between numbers 9 and 10 was over 26 years, between 10/27/85 and 11/4/01. Number 10 doesn’t even happen if not for the September 11th attacks that year, as its the latest a Big Four Sports Day has come in a year.

EDIT: Fixed some poor math pointed out to me by a commenter, gap between 9 and 10 was 26+ years, not “over 30 years” like I previously posted. Measure twice and use a calculator, or something like that.
EDIT 2: Wow, math is not good for me today. It’s 16 years. Meaning those 25 initial years ARE the longest.

The shortest gap between Big Four Sports Days? One week! Twice! In Back to back years! In both 1982 and 1983, the World Series played across two different Sundays where the NBA season had already commenced. That means that this insanely rare sporting alignment of stars, which has only happened 12 times and once went 5,852 days between occurrences, had FOUR occurrences over a span of 371 days. Those spoiled bastards probably got used to days like this.

So on Sunday, if you fancy yourself a true sports fan, it’s your duty to make sure you watch at least part of a game from each sport. You could go the extra mile too, and catch some Premier League or MLS Playoff action. After all, every year has at least a day or two where there aren’t any Big Four events at all, and who knows when the next Big Four Sports Day will come around. After all, if you aren’t overwhelmed by the amount of sports there are too watch, you’re doing it wrong.

Compiled list of all the results of Big Four Sports Days

In Pursuit of the Last Remaining Player From the Nineties

In early 2010, my friend Kostya and I began taking note of which active players in Major League Baseball had played in the 1990s. The difference between the 1999 and 2000 seasons have always seemed large to me. Not only had the millennium changed, but the Giants had changed ballparks, separating the two neatly into different eras. In 2011, Kostya and I created a list of all the players left in the big leagues that had appeared in a game in 1999 or earlier. There were 76 names on the list, or, about 1% of all active players. One of the players, Omar Vizquel, was the last remaining player from the ’80s. It occurred to me that, soon, a team wouldn’t offer Vizquel a contract, or he’d retire, and the book on players who played in the ’80s would be closed, forever.

A fear had woken inside of me: there would one day exist a moment where a pitcher would stand on a mound, deliver a pitch, and, in no possible situation whatsoever could a player from ’90s have anything to do with the circumstances that followed that pitch. There wouldn’t be a single player who played at the Astrodome, at Tigers Stadium, or at Candlestick Park. Every player left would be from “this” era, not the one that I grew up in. The book on players from the 20th century would be closed. Forever.

Although Jamie Moyer attempted to steal the title of “Last Remaining Player From The Eighties” by making the Rockies’ rotation in 2012, Vizquel lasted on the Blue Jays until the final day of the ’12 season, while Moyer was off of the Rockies’ roster in July. At the start of 2013, only players from the ’90s and 2000s remained.

Kostya and I only updated the list once or twice over the next two seasons, and it faded to the back of my mind. Halfway through the 2015 season, reporters asked Giants pitcher Tim Hudson if he was still planning on retiring at the end of the season, which Hudson said he was. Curiosity struck, and I looked up what year Hudson had debuted with the A’s. Of course, it was 1999. Instantly, I began scanning the major league rosters in my brain, trying to re-compile the list. After a bit of research and double-checking to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anyone…I found out that someone else on the internet had done all of the work that I had just done, and had made a sporcle quiz from their work. Remember friends, always assume someone else on the internet has done what you were planning on doing!

By the end of the 2015 MLB regular season, there were only 13 players left who had appeared in the ’90s. Three of those players firmly stated their intention to retire at the end of the season, and at least four will be free agents after 2015. We’re still a few seasons away from being void of ’90s players, but dark times are certainly ahead. (Pour one out for Bruce Chen, who pitched 6.1 innings over a week in May 2015, was DFA’d by the Indians, and then retired two days later.)

Here’s a list of those 13 players, in order of the likeliness that they’ll be the last remaining player from the 1990s. Included is their age, followed by the date they debuted:

13-11(tie):

AJ Burnett (38, 8/17/99)
 

LaTroy Hawkins (42, 4/29/95)

Tim Hudson (40, 6/8/99)

All three players said that 2015 will be their last. Hudson’s season ended with the Giants two weeks ago, Burnett’s Pirates lost in the NL Wild Card game to the Cubs, and Hawkins’ Blue Jays are currently tied 2-2 with the Rangers in the ALDS (edit: on to the ALCS!). Hudson was the active leader in wins, and had a win against all 30 major league clubs. Hawkins is the oldest active player in the big leagues, an honor that, once he retires, will transfer to…someone else on this list (the same player will also become the active leader in wins). He also was the losing pitcher in Game 2 of the series against the Rangers.

The 76-year-old announcer is Jim Kaat, holder of the “Last Remaining Player From The Fifties” title.

10. Aramis Ramirez (37, 5/26/98)

Aramis Ramirez has said that 2015 will “likely” be his last season, which would’ve been nice to know before I wrote this entire piece and placed him 4th. Editing is fun.
Ramirez is the last remaining player from the 2003 Cubs team that made the NLCS, and it’s nice to know that while he’s on his way out, a whole new generation of Cubs will be making the NLCS. (As I type this, the Cubs lead the Cardinals 6-4 in the bottom of the 7th, six outs from the NLCS) Ramirez spent his entire career in the NL Central, contributing above-average offense each year for the Pirates, Cubs, and Brewers. Ramirez is the second-youngest player on this list, and we feel that he’s truly wasting his opportunity to be the last active player from the ’90s.

9. Randy Wolf (39, 6/11/99)

Randy Wolf held a throwing session this past offseason to show teams that he could still pitch. Only one team showed up. The Blue Jays liked what they saw enough to give him a minor league deal, but, despite pitching well in AAA, Wolf was never called up. In August, starved for starting pitching help, the Tigers traded for Wolf. He started seven games for the Tigers, but finished with an ERA of 6.28. Unless a similar situation arises in 2016, it’s hard to imagine another team giving Wolf a roster spot.

8. Joe Nathan (40, 4/21/99)

Joe Nathan faced one batter in 2015. He struck out Torii Hunter (more to come), and recorded his 377th career save. Unfortunately, Nathan was placed on the DL with a strained elbow two days later, re-injured himself on a rehab assignment, and underwent Tommy John surgery. The Tigers can either pick up Nathan’s contract for $10 million in 2016, or they can pay a $1 million buyout, making Nathan a free agent. They’ll undoubtedly elect for the cheaper option, as there’s no way Nathan will be worth $10 million in 2016. Nathan has said that his 2015 injury wouldn’t end his career, but unless he really impresses a team in the spring, or is willing to play the waiting game in the minor leagues, he’ll likely be forced into retirement.

7. Torii Hunter (40, 8/22/97)

Before the season, Torii Hunter said he wouldn’t retire if he had a productive 2015. “Productive” isn’t exactly the word that you’d use to describe Hunter’s 2015 season (.702 OPS, -0.8 WAR), but he also hit 22 home runs, and is one of few veterans on a young Twins team. He’s also one of the Twins most iconic players, and you never know when that alone can get you a contract. If Hunter is willing to accept a reduced role in 2016 (and a big cut from his 2015 salary of $10.5 million), it isn’t hard to imagine him back on a big league roster. Both his offense and defense have been in sharp decline, though, so 2016 would probably be his last hurrah.

6. AJ Pierzynski (38, 9/9/98)

There will always be an old backup catcher that floats around the league for years. That catcher will be Pierzynski for at least another year, as the Braves have expressed interest in bringing him back as their backup catcher in 2016. Hating Pierzynski is one of my favorite pastimes, and it’ll be a bummer when he’s finally gone. He’s spent the past four postseasons (that he hasn’t played in) helping out on Fox broadcasts, and he’s been surprisingly insightful and nice to listen to. Just don’t show his face, thanks.

5. Bartolo Colon (42, 4/4/97)

Ah, Bartolo Colon. If you told me that the original Bartolo Colon died, and they replaced him with the best doppelgänger they could find, I’d totally believe you. Because, I mean, really:

The 2005 Cy Young winner will become the active wins leader next year, as well as the oldest player in baseball. Unless Maicer Izturis comes back from his injury next season, Colon also holds the title of “Last Active Player Who Played For The Expos,” which is something to be proud of. Colon will be a free agent once the season ends, and will turn 43 in 2016, but was effective enough in 2015 to warrant another contract. Let’s hope he pitches forever.

4. Alex Rodriguez (40, 7/8/94)

A-Rod is the longest tenured player in baseball, and still has two more years on his 10 year/$275 million contract. Before the 2015 season, it seemed like the Yankees would inevitably find a way to ditch Rodriguez before the end of his contract, but A-Rod was pretty damn good in 2015. He led the Yankees in home runs, and passed Willie Mays to move into 4th place on the all-time home run list. A-Rod was a valuable part of the Yankees clubhouse in 2015, and it’s not outrageous to envision him as a part-time DH once his contract expires after the 2017 season, especially if he has a chance to pass Barry Bonds.

3. Carlos Beltran (38, 9/14/98)

In 2000, Backyard Baseball 2001 was released, and pre-teens everywhere rejoiced. One big league star from each team was transformed into a cartoon-child version of themselves. Nearly every player in the game was either a future Hall of Famer, or perennial All-Star. 10-year-old me, had no clue who this guy from the Royals was. Someone named Carlos Beltran, who had won the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year, finishing four spots ahead of Tim Hudson. (26-year-old me still doesn’t know who the guy from the Twins was. Marty Cordova? Who?)
Well, we all know who Beltran is now, having cemented himself as one of the greatest postseason players of all time. In the 2004 postseason with the Astros, Beltran scored 21 runs and hit 8 home runs in only 12 games, both of which are records for a single postseason. And he didn’t even make the World Series! Beltran is an eight time All Star, and the only switch-hitter who is a member of the 300 HR/300 SB club. He’s had a season with an OPS under .800 only four times in his career, and never in two consecutive seasons. Beltran is under contract for one more year, but it’s hard to imagine him hanging up his cleats so soon. The man knows how to hit, and has seemingly shaken the injury bug that plagued him during his Mets years.

2. David Ortiz (39, 9/2/97)

The weird part about that baseball card isn’t that he used to go by David Arias, it’s that he supposedly used to be a part time outfielder. David Ortiz probably hasn’t set foot on outfield grass in about fifteen years. Whether he owns a glove or not, Big Papi remains one of the best hitters in baseball. In his final season before entering his 40s, Ortiz had the 10th best OPS in baseball (.913), 12th most home runs (37), 3rd most sacrifice flies, and 9th most extra base hits (74). He also drew the 2nd most intentional walks in 2015, a sign of great respect. Oritz can still get the job done with the bat, and the Red Sox have club options on him for both 2016 and 2017. The 2016 option is almost a certainty, and 2017 looks good, though still a year away. Ortiz, along with the next player on this list, will hopefully battle for the “Last Remaining Player From The Nineties” crown into at least 2018.

1. Adrian Beltre (36, 6/24/98)

Adrian Beltre is 36. 2015 was his 18th season in Major League Baseball. He’s spent 5+ seasons with three different clubs, which is almost unheard of these days. He led the big leagues in home runs in 2004 with 48, and would have won the MVP that year, were it not for Barry Bonds’ best season ever. Beltre is a 4 time All Star, 4 time Gold Glove winner, 4 time Silver Slugger, and has won 4 Fielding Bible Awards. He’s been healthy, failing to appear in at least 130 games only three times since his rookie year. Despite being the youngest player on this list, he’s played in the 2nd most amount of games, 199only trailing A-Rod. He’s also been one of the most consistent players in the 21st Century, having a WAR above 2.0 in each of the past 13 seasons. Beltre is under contract for only one more season with the Rangers, and will hit the open market as a 37-year-old, where it won’t be hard to imagine him getting another multi-year contract. Currently at 2,767 hits, he only needs another two seasons or so to join the 3,000 hit club. Adrian Beltre has been one of the most enjoyable players to watch for nearly two decades, both offensively and defensively, and he’s the odds-on favorite to win the title of “Last Remaining Player From The Nineties”.

Unless Jamie Moyer or Julio Franco find a way back into the big leagues, that is.

Some of these guys will end up in the Hall of Fame, but most will end up fading into memories. Do your best to cherish them before they become just another answer to an online trivia question.

These 13 players have a combined:

  • 19,994 games played
  • 17,650 hits
  • 13,551.1 innings pitched
  • 235 seasons played
  • 73 stints with different teams, covering 27 franchises
  • 60 All Star Appearances
  • 26 Silver Slugger Awards
  • 18 Gold Gloves
  • 7 World Series rings

In Pursuit of the 2015 Willie Mac Award Winner

Andres Torres is presented with the Willie Mac Award Friday, October 1, 2010.

Andres Torres is presented with the Willie Mac Award Friday, October 1, 2010.

Before the final home night game of the season, the San Francisco Giants hand out the Willie Mac Award, named after Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. The award is bestowed upon the player who “best exemplifies the spirit and leadership consistently shown by the San Francisco legend throughout his career.” Sometimes the award is given to that one player who completely dominated the league for the whole season, like Buster Posey in 2012 or Madison Bumgarner in 2014, but usually the Willie Mac award goes to to the player who represented the best story of the season, like Ryan Vogelsong in 2011, Andres Torres in 2010, or Dave Dravecky in 1989. The award is voted on by Giants players and coaches, giving fans the opportunity to see which player’s performance on and off the field inspired the rest of his teammates the most.

Easily the best part of the Wilie Mac Award, though, is the ceremony. The Willie Mac Award Ceremony gives Giants fans a chance to see cult heroes of years past, show their respect to this year’s winner, and see what kind of shape Bengie Molina is in. Like every other ceremony they put their hands on, the Giants do this one right. Former winners come from all corners to attend the ceremony, showing how much of a community the Giants have created over the years. 33 men have won the award since its inception in 1980, and this year, 21 of the former winners are scheduled to attend the event. Half of those unable to attend are currently working for other clubs, and one more, Jose Uribe, is deceased. The former winners want to be there as much as we do.

With two days to go before the ceremony, here are 10 Giants that have a case for the award, in order of whose case is strongest:

10. Joaquin Arias

Wait, don’t leave! Okay fine, fine. I’ll be serious.

10. Sergio Romo (50 to 1)

On July 11th, Sergio Romo’s ERA was 5.19. His slider was flat, and he no longer possessed the mound swagger that once defined him. Then, Sergio Romo dabbled in the amazing substance known as “All Star Break”, and boy, did it do wonders for him. Since the break, Romo has lowered his ERA in 27 of his 30 appearances. In the first half of the season, Romo allowed one quarter of all of his inherited runners to score. In the second half, only 8% of those runners have come in to score. Most importantly, he’s fun to watch again. His loopy slider has returned, and with it, his confidence on the mound. Romo’s ERA now sits at 3.15, and it’d be great to see him finish up with that number under 3. It would be a proper reward for a guy who has given his all in the second half.

9. Kelby Tomlinson (40 to 1)

Sure, he’s only played for two months of the season, but in those two months Kelby Tomlinson has brought defensive stability and a timely bat to the lineup in Joe Panik’s absence. Going into the season, the two biggest question marks were production out of third base, and Joe Panik’s ability to duplicate his performance from 2014. Panik was able to do that and more, showing his ability to drive the ball and play an outstanding second base. His loss was felt nearly as much as Hunter Pence’s. Tomlinson was brought up to cover for Ehire Adrianza, but immediately showed that he could handle the dog days at second base far better than Adrianza could. Kelby Tomlinson was never going to completely make up for Panik’s absence, but his presence was immediately noticed by Giants fans. Tomlinson will hopefully work at multiple positions this offseason, as his bat, speed, and fielding would be a great help in 2016.

8. Jake Peavy (35 to 1)

Peavy is another case of a tale of two halves. However, his halves can be broken up into more obvious categories: pre-injury and post-injury. Peavy was abysmal in his first two starts, giving up 8 runs in 7.2 innings over two starts. The Giants shelved him, and fans dreaded the day that he would inevitably be added back into the rotation. Since his return in early July, Peavy has a 3.21 ERA while batters are hitting just .228 against him. Peavy starts are met with anything but dread these days. He visually gives it his all on the mound, especially when it’s mattered most. In September, his ERA is 1.99 with a WHIP of 0.78.

7. George Kontos (30 to 1)

On the eve of the 2012 season opener, the Giants traded their 2011 backup catcher, Chris Stewart, to the Yankees. With Hector Sanchez making the team as Buster Posey’s backup, and Eli Whiteside in Fresno, Stewart was a surplus, and was sent off to New York for Kontos, because why not. Three years later, Kontos has evolved into one of the best middle-relief pitchers in the game. Kontos has thrown more innings in relief than any other pitcher for the Giants, including long-man Yusmeiro Petit. Through his 72.2 IP, Kontos has a 1.98 ERA and a WHIP under 1. Most impressively, Kontos went from the beginning of the season through July 24th without allowing an inherited runner to score. Without Kontos, the Giants certainly would’ve fallen out of contention a lot earlier.

6. Buster Posey (15 to 1)

5. Madison Bumgarner (15 to 1)

Would anyone have a serious gripe if one of these two were to win the award? The Giants All-Star battery lead the team in nearly every category this season, and have been the clear on-field leaders. These players rarely take home the award, though. The team leader in WAR has only won four times: 1980 (Jack Clark), 1985 (Mike Krukow), 2012 (Posey), and 2014 (Bumgarner). Bumgarner or Posey would also become only the third two-time winners, joining Krukow (’84 & ’85), J.T. Snow (’97 & ’04), and Bengie Molina (’07 & ’08). Bumgarner and Posey will always make Giants fans wonder in amazement what they did to deserve such amazing ballplayers (hint: 2005-2008), but the Willie Mac Award is about a good story.

4. Brandon Crawford (10 to 1)

Brandon Crawford has always gotten a pass from Giants fans. His lackluster offense was always forgiven because, hey, he plays great defense, and even better, he’s a local kid. 2015 was a reward for the Giants for staying faithful to Crawford through his previous offensive struggles. 10.2% of Crawford’s 2015 plate appearances have resulted in an extra base hit. For comparison, Buster Posey’s XBH% is at 7.7%. Somehow, Crawford leads the team in home runs, which is actually the most ridiculous thing ever. Think about all the failed hitting prospects that the Giants have had over the years, and then think about how Brandon Crawford leads a team with Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Madison Bumgarner in home runs. Crawford is the leading example of what happens when you come up through the Giants organization and play the game the right way with the right attitude. There’s certainly a Willie Mac Award in his future.

3. Tim Hudson (5 to 1)

Although 2015 was a subpar season for Hudson statistically, he’s been Willie Mac Award material all year. Being the ultimate teammate, Hudson accepted a DL assignment when he wasn’t pitching well, patiently waited for a chance to return to the rotation, and pitched well once rosters expanded in September. He’s going to finish his career on a strong note, with a 3.10 September ERA, though he hasn’t pitched into the 7th inning at all. The team has made it clear to Hudson how much they appreciate him, dressing up as him for the final flight home of the season, and honoring him by wearing “Hudson” shirseys before his start in Oakland. Hudson hasn’t necessarily had an inspirational season, but an inspirational career. As one of the final 12 players left in 2015 who appeared in games in the 1990s (quick, name them all!), it’d be nice to send him into retirement with a permanent invite to each future Willie Mac Award ceremony.

2. Javier Lopez (3 to 1)

I could tell you about the time Javier Lopez gave up a single to Ender Inciarte to lead off the bottom of the 8th on Opening Day, that Jean Machi then immediately brought in to score via a wild pitch, walk, and single. Or, I could tell you about May 6th and June 25th, when Lopez gave up a run in each game, pitching in garbage work of blowout games. Perhaps I could tell you about June 26th and July 5th, when he gave up doubles to Carlos Gonzalez and Bryace Harper. Or maybe you’d like to hear about August 30th, when he gave up his only home run of the year.

But that’d be it. Those would be the only six times all season that Javier Lopez has allowed runs. A leadoff single, doubles to two of the best lefties in the league (including the future MVP), a home run to a righty, and two runs in mop up duties. In 75 appearances. Seventy-five! Of all the pitchers in baseball to throw at least 30 IP this season, his .142 BAA is the best. Lefties are hitting .115 against him. What’s most amazing about this is that Lopez is facing the same lefties year after year, and guys still can’t figure him out. He’s also the Giants’ winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the most charitable player in the community. I’m sure this season must rank as one of the best ever for a LOOGY, which is really saying something. A middle reliever has never won the award, but Lopez would be a great choice this year.

1. Matt Duffy (2 to 1)

On May 23rd, the Giants played a doubleheader against the Rockies. Matt Duffy was on the bench for the first game, and started in the second game.

The first game of that doubleheader was the last game that Matt Duffy did not play in.

Since then:

  • Nori Aoki was put the on DL with a fractured fibula
  • Jeremy Affeldt was put on the DL with a strained shoulder
  • Tim Lincecum was placed on the DL with a forearm contusion
  • Tim Hudson was placed on the DL with a strained shoulder
  • Andrew Susac was placed on the DL with a sprained thumb
  • Tim Hudson was placed on the DL with a strained shoulder, again
  • Joe Panik was placed on the DL with back inflammation
  • Mike Leake was placed on the DL with a hamstring strain
  • Angel Pagan was placed on the DL with patella tendinitis
  • Nori Aoki was placed on the concussion DL
  • Hunter Pence was placed on the DL with an oblique strain
  • Jeremy Affeldt was placed on the DL with a…knee subluxation? Sure, that.
  • Matt Cain was placed on the DL with elbow nerve irritation
  • Andrew Susac was out for the season with a wrist sprain
  • Tim Lincecum was lost for the season due to hip surgery
  • Hector Sanchez was lost for the season due to an ankle sprain
  • Joe Panik was lost for the season due to back inflammation
  • Brandon Belt was lost for the season due to a concussion
  • Nori Aoki was lost for the season due to a concussion
  • Gregor Blanco was lost for the season due to a concussion
  • Juan Perez was lost for the season due to an oblique strain
  • Ehire Adrianza was lost for the season due to a concussion

Yeah. And that doesn’t even account for dings and dents that kept Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey out of a handful of games. Matt Duffy wasn’t officially made the starting third baseman until late May, yet he’s going to finish the season with the most plate appearances on the team. He’s going to finish in first or second place for MLB rookies in hits, doubles, runs batted in, batting average, slugging percentage, wins above replacement, and total bases. He has the fourth best fielding percentage among all National League third basemen. If you take every single rookie season from the past five seasons, Duffy has the second best WAR of them all (even better than Buster Posey’s 2010 rookie campaign). The only problem is, first place belongs to Kris Bryant, who is going to win National League Rookie of the Year.

Duffy deserves the Willie Mac Award. Some would see it as a consolation prize for not winning Rookie of the Year, but it’s more than that. Duffy has provided consistency in a season where, outside of Bumgarner and Posey, no one else could. No one knew what to expect from third base after Pablo Sandoval announced that he was signing with the Red Sox. Casey McGehee clearly wasn’t the answer. Matt Duffy forced his way into the lineup and played every single day, when no one else was physically able to. He was a reliable bat in the lineup, played a damn fine third base, and inspired us all with this great article about playing the game “The Giants’ Way” in The Players’ Tribune. In a year that will hopefully be remembered for the team fighting until the finish, Matt Duffy should be honored for being the guy that led the charge each night.

On Friday night, Willie McCovey will hand out the award named after himself in a ceremony that will bring tears to the eyes of Giants fans everywhere. For the first time since 2009, it’s very unclear who the winner will be. While you’re wiping your tears away, be sure to remind yourself how lucky you are to root for the team that holds amazing ceremonies like this, and to root for the team that has so many players who are worthy of the award. They all play the game The Giants’ Way, and boy, is it great to watch.

Honorable Mention (players who didn’t suck and played long enough to make a positive impact):

Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Joe Panik

In Pursuit of the 2015 San Francisco Giants

With 13 games left to play, the Giants find themselves 7.5 games out of the NL West, and 9 games out of the 2nd Wild Card spot. Yes, the Giants will be missing the playoffs in 2015, and that’s okay. They continue to be a part of the best list in all of baseball:

Teams that have gone 10+ years without losing a playoff series

  • Blue Jays (24 years, 0 championships)
  • Mariners (14 years, 0 championships)
  • Giants (13 years, 3 championships)
  • Marlins (literally never, 2 championships)
  • Astros (10 years, 0 championships)

The Padres join this illustrious group next season, those lucky dogs. I like to refer to it as the No Heartbreak Club, and the Giants are currently kings of the club. The Blue Jays’ and Astros’ spots on the list will be at stake this year, and the Mariners/Marlins haven’t really come close to the playoffs since their last postseason appearances. The last time the Giants were eliminated in the playoffs, well…

This feels so long ago! Watching it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it used to. Yes, life is much better in the Three-Ring Era, but we’ve been spared the seasons of anguish and agony as well. Sure, 2004 was a bit sickening, 2009 was a bit of a tease, and 2011 will always have a bit of what-if to it, but outside of that, the 13 seasons since the last postseason elimination have evaded the feeling of bitterness over the end result.

Compare that same 13 year span to, say, the Cardinals. St. Louis have made the playoffs eight times, made the NLCS seven times, the World Series four times, and have won it all only twice. Losing in the World Series twice?! In the NLCS three times? Sounds awful. I can’t even imagine going through that once.

bonds2002

Oh. Right.

Cardinals fans went through that feeling twice in the same span, while losing in the round before three more times. Are two rings really worth all that stress and disappointment?

So yeah, three rings in three playoff appearances is the way to do it. World Series champs or in the shitter, nothing else. Pick up a Cy Young or Rookie of the Year every now and then and the fanbase is content. Losing in the playoffs sounds like the worst thing ever, and I’d very much like to avoid that feeling for the rest of my life, thank you very much.

Which is why I’m glad the 2015 Giants won’t be making the playoffs. Fans will blame it on the odd year, blame it on not acquiring a big name at the trade deadline, blame it on the injuries, or blame it on the pitching, but this year’s Giants never had any glaring flaw. It was one of those sports seasons that can only really exist in baseball, where things never went well when they were supposed to. When the lineup was healthy, the starting pitching (non-Bumgarner edition) faltered. When the pitching came around, the injuries started piling up. The Dodgers started plummeting in August, and the Giants started plummeting right alongside them. The Dodgers turned it around in September, and the Giants couldn’t follow suit.

In truth, this article would be entirely different had the Giants/Dodgers series at the beginning of September gone differently. Even losing two out of three, as opposed to being swept, would’ve made a massive difference. The Giants would’ve been only 4.5 games out at the end of that series, as opposed to 6.5 games out. The 4-game series at the end of September would’ve loomed much larger.

So, you can focus on the problems of the big picture of the season, or the problems of the little picture of the season. Or, you can focus on the really big picture, specifically this really big picture:

All season long, I’ve been imaging what the early-2010 versions of ourselves would think of us if we were complaining about not making the playoffs in 2015. So many have already forgotten how special that 2010 championship was, what it meant to the city, to the organization, and to the fans who waited so long to see the Commissioner’s Trophy say “San Francisco” across the front. Just one championship was seen as the crown jewel, three feels like some alien overlord gave us the most precious gift in the universe. We have no right to complain.

We do, however, have a right to desire more. To be a fan is to crave victory, and, luckily, the future looks brighter than ever before. So, I implore you to enjoy these final days of the 2015 San Francisco Giants. Reminisce while watching the final starts of Tim Hudson’s career, get a warm fuzzy feeling when Matt Duffy wins the Willie Mac Award, and spend the final hours of the season with your baseball family of Kruk, Kuip, Miller, and Flem. Before you know it, winter will be upon us, and baseball will be nothing more than a memory and a dream. These are the days of San Francisco Giants baseball that will make us smile in amazement years down the line. Make sure you enjoy them; that’s what baseball is here for.