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Previous 4-10 Giants squads were mostly dreadful

Giants fans of a certain age, the age where hair turns gray or thins, joints ache and eyesight fails, might feel nauseous.

They’re the ones who heard that the current Giants (4-10) matched the team’s worst 14-game record since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958 — a mark previously logged by the 1980, ’83, ’85 and 2000 clubs — and wondered, “Are they really that bad?”

Long memories can be a curse for experienced Giants fans. The 1980, ’83 and ’85 squads ranged from mediocre (’83) to bad (’80) to horrible (’85, the lone 100-loss season in Giants history).

The mere suggestion that the defending World Series champions could in any way be as dreadful as these teams is enough to prompt nightmares of Buster Posey metamorphosing into Milt May or Madison Bumgarner transforming into Phil Nastu.

The outlier in that foursome, of course, is the 2000 club. That bunch recovered from its slow start to win the West division with a National League-best 97-65 record. That should serve as a lesson. Anybody dismissing this year’s Giants as failures with 148 games remaining does so at his or her own risk.

But fans who watched those other three teams perform (that’s using the term loosely) and emerged with their love for baseball intact must be praying that this year won’t become an early ’80s revival.

For the uninitiated, here’s a synopsis of the hopelessness those 4-10 teams of the ’80s evoked. You young ‘uns have no idea: These days, it’s fashionable to be a Giants fan. Back then, people actually laughed at you if you rooted for the Giants.

Here’s why:

Eventual finish: 75-86, fifth place NL West
Most games over .500: 2
Most games under .500: 11
Saving grace: This was one of the greatest moments in Giants history, but it got overlooked in such a crappy year. On June 29, Willie McCovey, who announced his retirement a few days earlier, lashed a pinch-hit double to break a ninth-inning tie and give the Giants a walkoff victory over the Dodgers. The mighty knight had risen to slay the evil dragon one last time.
But it was usually like this: The Giants were five games out of first place on Aug. 14. Twelve losses in 13 games to start September dashed any wild postseason dreams. The Giants scored 32 runs in that stretch, which included three consecutive shutout defeats.

Eventual finish: 79-83, fifth place NL West
Most games over .500: 6
Most games under .500: 10
Saving grace: Atlee Hammaker, whose 2.25 ERA was the NL’s best, allowed as many as four earned runs only four times in 23 starts.
But it was usually like this: The Giants scored 13 runs on Opening Day, demonstrating their formidable offensive potential. Just one problem: San Diego scored 16.

Eventual finish: 62-100, siXth place NL West
Most games over .500: 1
Most games under .500: 39
Saving grace: A 4-3 walkoff win on Opening Day. The 161 games that followed were mostly futile. These guys finished 33 games out of first place!
But it was usually like this: Through June 4, the Giants owned an admirable 2.42 team ERA. Yet they were a day away from taking up permanent residency in last place, due to their .216 team batting average and their scoring rate — a shade less than three runs per game.

Chris Haft

Sabean’s surprise picks, bye to Brown, Shelley’s promotion

Friday, April 3

SAN FRANCISCO — Not surprisingly, Brian Sabean said Friday that two of his proudest seasons during his 18-year tenure as the Giants’ general manager occurred during the past five years, when the team won three World Series in that span.

Here’s the catch: The two years when San Francisco didn’t even reach the postseason, 2011 and 2013, were the ones Sabean singled out, primarily because of the club’s diligence.

“Against all odds in ’11, we almost made it in,” Sabean said. In fact, remarkably little went right for the Giants that year. Cody Ross and Brian Wilson began the season on the disabled list. Injuries also hounded Pat Burrell, Santiago Casilla and Barry Zito. Jonathan Sanchez failed to fulfill his promise. Aubrey Huff’s performance plunged precipitously. Free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada was a bust. Pablo Sandoval broke his right hamate bone at the end of April, when the offense was slumping and he owned a gaudy slash line of .313/.374/.530. Freddy Sanchez sustained a career-ending shoulder injury. Acquired at the Trade Deadline to bolster the sagging offense, Carlos Beltran injured his right hand, robbing him of his power.

And, of course, Buster Posey experienced his unfortunate home-plate collision with Scott Cousins on May 25.

But the pitching was superb — Wilson, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the previously unheralded Ryan Vogelsong made the All-Star team — which helped keep the Giants atop the National League West standings through Aug. 9. Arizona inevitably surpassed them.

“While that was frustrating,” Sabean said during Friday’s news conference at AT&T Park to announce contract extensions for him and manager Bruce Bochy, “I appreciated the effort.”

Sabean related that he felt much the same after 2013, which began with several Giants injured or on the disabled list. Most of them participated in the World Baseball Classic, which the Giants came to regard as a cursed event, albeit a well-intentioned one.

The offense went soft. Posey hit .294 but totaled only 15 homers. Marco Scutaro posted one of the quietest .297 batting averages in Major League history. Injuries limited Angel Pagan to 71 games. Lincecum (4.37 ERA) and Cain (4.00) weren’t the same, and Vogelsong (4-6, 5.73) was almost unrecognizable.

“That season could have, should have been a disaster,” Sabean said. “And Boch will tell you, our guys, to a man, didn’t give up. They stayed professional, they knew what it meant to the fan base to finish on a high note.” Mustering a 76-86 record, Sabean concluded, “catapulted us into ’14.”


After five seasons, with this year’s Spring Training tacked on, the Giants basically ran out of patience with Gary Brown.

The organization’s No. 1 selection (24th overall) in the 2010 amateur draft, Brown was designated for assignment Tuesday and claimed on waivers Friday by St. Louis. The Cardinals have room for a center fielder at Triple-A.

“Sorry to see him go,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans said, “but as I told him, ‘It’s an opportunity. Take advantage of it.’ ”

Brown simply didn’t hit enough to suit the Giants. He batted a rousing .336 at Class A Advanced San Jose in 2011. But he struck out 254 times at Triple-A in 2013-14 as he hit a combined .250.

“He has extremely strong defensive tools and still has the speed tools. It’s just that the bat has taken a little longer to get into a consistent rhythm after that first year in San Jose,” Evans said. “It’s in there. I hope it comes out in some fashion sooner rather than later.”

Moreover, the presence of outfielders Juan Perez and Mac Williamson and the emergence of Daniel Carbonell obscured Brown, 26. Evans said that Brown sank to the “bottom” of the 40-man roster, having been rendered expendable by the aforementioned trio. So when the Giants added Justin Maxwell to the 40-man roster, they subtracted Brown.

“We knew he had value,” Evans said. “We’re not surprised that he got claimed.”


Not to be overlooked in Friday’s cluster of promotions and contract extensions was Jeremy Shelley’s elevation to vice president and assistant general manager of professional scouting and player evaluation.

Shelley, entering his 22nd season with the Giants, has proven valuable behind the scenes regarding international operations, amateur scouting and the statistical analysis that critics believe the Giants ignore.

— Chris Haft

Thank you, Nick Peters

March 23, 2015

My admiration for Nick Peters had relatively little to do with his writing ability, which was considerable, or his vast experience as a baseball beat writer, which was virtually unmatched.

Rather, I respected Nick for the ardor with which he lived and his seemingly innate identification with me. He considered me a kindred spirit; I considered myself lucky to be in such good company.

I’ll always associate Nick, who died Monday at 75, with vigor. He seemed to do everything with enthusiasm or in a robust manner, whether he was bustling across the clubhouse to interview a player, devouring a meal or just being himself. He and his saintly wife, Lise, traveled constantly, and I don’t mean just to the various and sundry National and American League garden spots (though they did that, too). They spanned the globe, apparently intent on sampling everything this world has to offer.

Also, I’ll remain grateful to Nick for treating me so well. I believe he sensed that I was a lot like him. We shared the feeling that covering baseball was a privilege; we shared a special love  for northern California in general and San Francisco in particular; and we shared an appreciation for Giants lore.

Nick took an interest in my family and my health. He genuinely cared about what was going on with me. And when I wrote an article he particularly liked, he quickly sent a complimentary e-mail. Nick was a like a big brother, friend, favorite uncle, drinking buddy and confidant all in one.

That’s a lot of people to replace. There’s no use trying to do so, especially when all those figures are rolled up into one person. People like that are truly rare. God Bless You, Nick, and thanks for everything.

Chris Haft

Combing non-roster lists for ex-Giants

Wednesday, Feb. 25

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Copies of the 2015 Spring Training media guide were distributed to reporters today. Receiving this little spiral-bound fount of information is one of the highlights of camp, since it’s a rich source of entertainment value.

The first thing many baseball people do with the guide is examine each team’s list of non-roster invitees. It’s always intriguing — or sometimes sad — to see which ex-Giants landed elsewhere for an opportunity to prolong their careers.

This was a big year for left-handers, besides Barry Zito. Six southpaws formerly belonging to the Giants earned non-roster invitations to other camps. The catch is that only three of them pitched in the Major Leagues for the Giants: Dan Runzler, Jose Mijares and David Huff. They’re with Arizona, Cincinnati and the Dodgers, respectively.

Three other lefties who spent time in the Giants’ Minor League system coaxed invitations. They were Ryan Verdugo (A’s), Joe Paterson (Royals) and former Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis (Brewers).

Three teams each have a pair of invitees who once called themselves Giants. In Angels camp are outfielder Roger Kieschnick and catcher Jackson Williams. The Washington Nationals have infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Dan Uggla, whose four-game stint at second base with the Giants last year immediately preceded Joe Panik’s rise to prominence. Besides Mijares, the Reds latched onto infielder Chris Dominguez.

Right-hander Brad Penny, who excelled for the Giants in September 2009 when they were on the fringes of the National League West race, is in camp with the White Sox. Two other guys who keep getting chances are outfielder Jeff Francoeur (Phillies) and infielder Eugenio Velez (Rays). Another ballplayer who still manages to get a look is infielder Ryan Rohlinger (Indians).

Catcher Johnny Monell, a native of the Bronx, will play in his backyard if he can break through with the Mets.

Two outfielders who have displayed big league ability but must constantly fight for jobs are Nate Schierholtz (Texas) and Cole Gillespie (Miami).

Chris Haft

Giants’ medical staff to lead weekend seminars

Thursday, Jan. 15

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have recorded their first sellout of the season, except the patrons are medical professionals, not fans.

The ballclub’s medical and athletic training staffs will conduct the team’s inaugural Sports Medicine Conference, presented by Dignity Health. All sessions on Friday at the Palace Hotel and Saturday at AT&T Park, which address baseball-related maladies literally from head to toe, are full.

Dave Groeschner, the Giants’ head athletic trainer, said Thursday that he and other event organizers initially wanted to cap attendance at 200. That grew to 250, then 275. Groeschner, team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki and their Giants colleagues finally ceased accepting applications when the number reached 300.

“People keep wanting to come, which is great,” Groeschner said.

Groeschner noted that he and the rest of the Giants’ medical and training staffs are eager to receive knowledge, not just impart it. He expects question-and-answer periods to be lively.

“There will be a lot of smart people there who maybe we can learn from, too,” Groeschner said. “It makes us better at what we do.”

Akizuki initially broached the possibility last year of staging this sort of conference, Groeschner said.

Naturally, shoulder and elbow injuries, as well as concussions, will be heavily discussed topics. Caring for the arms of youngsters who are beginning to pitch also should generate ample interest. That’s a subject Groeschner particularly welcomed, since it enables the seminar’s participants to “give back to the community.”

Chris Haft

Return to postseason heights with Comcast

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants fans can give themselves a nice year-end present by activating their television sets. Or their TiVos.<p>

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will ring out 2014 by replaying the Giants’ last five postseason victories that brought them their third World Series title in five years. The sequence begins Wednesday night at 7 with San Francisco’s 6-3 victory over St. Louis in the National League Championship Series clincher — otherwise known as the Travis Ishikawa Game.

That will be followed by the Giants’ quartet of World Series wins: Game 1 on Wednesday, Dec. 24, Game 4 on Friday, Dec. 26, Game 5 on Sunday, Dec. 28 and Game 7 (otherwise known as the Madison Bumgarner Game) on Monday, Dec. 29. All telecasts will begin at 7 p.m. except for the Game 5 review, which is set for 7:30 p.m.

These won’t strictly be FOX replays, either. Viewers will have the privilege of hearing the radio calls of Jon Miller, Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming.

As a bonus, Comcast will re-broadcast the Giants’ World Series parade and City Hall celebration on Thursday, Dec. 25 at 10 a.m. and Thursday, Jan. 1 at 9 a.m.

Chris Haft

McCovey’s a big fan of Pence, Panik

Friday, Oct. 31

SAN FRANCISCO — When Willie McCovey talks, you listen. And it’s always worth it.

McCovey, 76, sounded youthfully enthusiastic while sharing his impressions of the once-and-again World Series champions. “It’s amazing, the resilience this team had,” said the Giants legend, who attended Friday’s ceremonies honoring the club at City Hall.

Though McCovey gained fame for hitting 521 home runs, he appreciated the Giants’ ability to win without the longball. They hit just seven homers all postseason.

“They ran other teams into mistakes. It was fun to watch,” McCovey said. Consider, for example, the first two games of the National League Championship Series, when the Giants capitalized on St. Louis’ slipshod defense.

McCovey expressed deep appreciation for right fielder Hunter Pence’s spectrum of contributions.

“You’ve got a lot of good players who lead by example like (Buster) Posey, but, boy, it’s great to have a guy like Pence who does it on the field and can inspire the team in the clubhouse, too,” McCovey said. “You always hear, ‘We wouldn’t have won without him,’ but I think (because of) his inspiration, I don’t think the team would have won without him. He has been a godsend since he came over here.”

Pence wasn’t the only Giant who impressed McCovey.

“We got contributions from guys we didn’t know existed a month ago,” McCovey said, citing second baseman Joe Panik. McCovey embellished Panik’s sudden emergence only slightly; the rookie became a Giants regular in August. “He was amazing!” McCovey said. “He was a new ‘blockbuster.’ ”

“Blockbuster,” you might remember, was the nickname given to San Francisco’s previous World Series-winning second baseman, Marco Scutaro, who was tantamount to a blockbuster acquisition due to his prodigious production after joining the Giants from Colorado in July 2012.

— Chris Haft

Blast from the past: Jim Brower’s a Royal (kind of)

KANSAS CITY — One of the brightest surprises of the postseason so far was bumping into Jim Brower, the former Major League reliever who just completed his second season as the pitching coach for Kansas City’s Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate.

Giants fans will remember Brower for his inexhaustible performance in 2004, when he led the Majors with 89 appearances. The Giants released him the following June, as he lasted only a fraction longer than two years with five different clubs after his workhorse season.

I covered Brower during his 2001-02 stint with the Reds, as well as his aborted ’05 season with the Giants. He was always a perfect gentleman, regardless of circumstances. It was great to learn that he’s still contributing to the game.

Two other ex-Giants are pitching coaches in the Royals’ Minor League system: Larry Carter with Triple-A Omaha and Mark Davis with rookie-advanced Idaho Falls.

Chris Haft

Dravecky wants to raise cholesterol awareness

Friday, Sept. 26

SAN FRANCISCO — Dave Dravecky has long been an inspirational figure. Now his gift for motivation is taking on a fresh dimension.

Dravecky, the ex-Giant who’s renowned for overcoming cancer to return to pitching in 1989, has begun urging people to undergo cholesterol screenings as part of National Cholesterol Education Month.

Saturday, Dravecky will be at AT&T Park as part of an event sponsored by AstraZeneca in which free cholesterol screenings will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Lefty O’ Doul Plaza.

Dravecky, whose personal saga touched so many hearts, again offers a tale everybody can relate to as he emphasizes the importance of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Dravecky recalled playing with one of his grandsons for a couple of hours about three years ago. After playtime ended, Dravecky collapsed on the nearest couch, thoroughly exhausted.

“I felt like I had just been in a major prize fight,” Dravecky said. “And here’s why: At that point in time I was pushing 280 pounds. I was tired of feeling miserable. I was not eating right. I was not exercising. I knew that my cholesterol was high.”

After that experience, Dravecky consulted his physician and took the necessary steps toward changing his lifestyle and improving his cholesterol levels. “Today, I can tell you my life is so much better because of making those choices, and I’m in a much better place healthwise to be the grandpa I want to be,” he said.

Dravecky also wants to raise awareness regarding the link between high cholesterol and heart disease. His wife, Jan, lost both of her parents to heart attacks, which further sharpened the family’s attention to maintaining health.

Cholesterol screening, Dravecky said, is “a really easy thing to do and a very important thing to do in relationship to heart disease. Obviously there are things that can be done to prevent that.”

Chris Haft

Belt, Pagan return; Bochy hedges on Morse

Friday, Sept. 19

SAN DIEGO — Though the Giants have no ironclad guarantee that first baseman Brandon Belt and center fielder Angel Pagan were fit to play, both rejoined the lineup for Friday night’s series opener against the San Diego Padres.

Belt’s pinch-hitting stint Wednesday represented his first activity for the Giants since Aug. 6, which followed his recovery from a concussion. Pagan missed the three-game Arizona series with back stiffness. Their last joint appearance in the lineup was June 14.

“I wish both of them would have had a week or two of at-bats,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Friday’s game.

But the urgency of the Giants’ pursuit of a postseason spot left Bochy little choice but to field his best potential lineup, even if it wasn’t the healthiest contingent he could have used.

Belt passed multiple “tests,” Bochy said. Staying in the Phoenix area while the rest of the team left for San Diego following Wednesday’s series finale against the Diamondbacks, Belt worked out at the Giants’ instructional league camp at their Scottsdale training headquarters. Belt estimated that he took 100 swings in extra and regular batting practice, besides working on his defense.

“It was productive,” Belt said of his extra work. He noticed that certain aspects of his hitting needed further sharpening. “But I knew that was going to happen,” he said.

Bochy’s reasoning for reinstalling Pagan in the leadoff spot was simple. The switch-hitter declared after Wednesday’s game that he would play Friday “no matter what,” Bochy said.

First baseman-left fielder Michael Morse also caught the health bug, telling Bochy that he felt ready for action. Bochy acknowledged that Morse was available to play. But Bochy also indicated that he wanted to wait at least another day before deciding how or whether to use Morse, who missed San Francisco’s previous 15 games with a strained left oblique.

Bochy hinted that even if Morse is playable, Gregor Blanco might remain in left field. “With the job he’s done defensively and with the bat, he’s been a catalyst and has really played some great ball on both sides,” Bochy said of Blanco, who actually entered Friday batting .182 (4-for-22) in his previous seven games.

— Chris Haft


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