Results tagged ‘ Gaylord Perry ’

Giants fans bound to dwell on Candlestick finale

Sunday, Dec. 22

SAN FRANCISCO — For a lot of people, the fact that a National Football League game will be played Monday night at Candlestick Park is merely incidental.

The featured performer, as many fans believe, is Candlestick itself, that object of derision which has prompted tidal waves of nostalgia with the approach the 49ers-Falcons game — most likely the last major sporting event held at the 53-year-old park.

The tender feelings fans have expressed toward Candlestick on websites, in newspaper forums and on radio talk shows shouldn’t be misinterpreted as wishes for a revival. Everyone knows the 49ers need a new stadium, which awaits them in Santa Clara, and everybody has long embraced AT&T Park as the Giants’ home since they left Candlestick following the 1999 season.

Why have Candlestick’s final days stirred such emotion? Simple: For Bay Area sports fans, the stadium has become something of a patriarch: Aged, gray, incapable of performing tasks its younger counterparts can, yet somehow imposing due to its history and undeniable strength (example: its resolute response to the Loma Prieta earthquake before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series). His time has come and gone, but the old man shall forever remain a member of the family.

Giants fans are especially prone to these feelings. Because the Giants endured so many abysmal seasons at
Candlestick, and because it was such a trying place for baseball spectators (that’s putting it mildly), those who visited the park regularly — whether to watch Gaylord Perry or Allen Ripley, J.T. Snow or J.R. Phillips — mostly were genuine fans who truly loved the sport, the Giants or both.

To these zealots, Candlestick became oddly special. No wonder that this second and final goodbye to Candlestick has been especially intense for many Giants fans. Essentially, nothing in their lives has changed or will change when Candlestick is demolished. But the patriarch — visible from a safe, happy distance on drives along Highway 101 — will disappear, making that inevitable transition from reality to memory.

Revel in those memories, Giants fans. Celebrate what you saw, what you experienced, what Russ or Lon or Hank or Ron or Jon or Kruk & Kuip told you.

Maybe you’ll attend Monday’s game and revisit a particular spot at the stadium that remains significant. Maybe, like me, you’ll stare at the top row of the upper reserved seats in Section 5, remember sitting there for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and continue to wonder how Dad got tickets.

And you’ll devour a Polish sausage for old times’ sake.

And though it’s a football crowd, you’ll long to hear that passionate, unbridled roar of the fans, real fans, rise from the stands over and over.

Again, I sense that football will be only incidental for a small but meaningful percentage of people watching Monday’s game, whether they do so at Candlestick or on television.

These will be the folks who’ll behold Candlestick one last time and recall rushing to the players’ parking lot to gaze at Willie Mays’ pink Cadillac, or who got golf-ball-sized goosebumps just watching Mays saunter into the on-deck circle, his uniform as elegant as a tuxedo.

Monday’s game is for them.

It’s also for anybody who thinks the city’s finest spans are the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Willie McCovey stretching at first base for a throw.

It’s for anyone who refused to leave his or her seat whenever Clark — that’s Jack or Will — was due to bat.

It’s for anybody spellbound by the talents of the Bondses, pere et fil.

It’s for anybody who marveled at Juan Marichal kicking his left leg toward those impossibly high light towers in the middle of his marvelous motion.

It’s for anybody who played Little League, high school baseball or anything in between against one of Jim Davenport’s sons.

It’s for anybody who still can summon Jeff Carter’s voice in one’s internal public-address system.

It’s for anybody who paid 90 cents — NINETY CENTS — to sit in the bleachers.

It’s for people who emptied mothballs from their warmest clothes to attend a game in July or August.

It’s for fans who supported John Montefusco with the same ardor they now reserve for Tim Lincecum.

It’s for folks who loved to debate who was the better closer (Rod Beck or Robb Nen) or double-play combination (Chris Speier/Tito Fuentes or Jose Uribe/Robby Thompson).

It’s for people who, however briefly, ignored Candlestick’s flaws and appreciated the game in front of them.

It’s for everybody who’s focused on what’s important — the present — yet will always treasure the gifts of the past.

Chris Haft

Blast from the past: Defending Ken Henderson

Monday, May 17

SAN DIEGO — By and large, Giants fans are a good bunch. But a nameless, faceless segment of them have tremendously disappointed me.

Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ranked the top 50 “busts” of all time in professional sports, based on more than 600 responses to an original list of 10. As a locally produced endeavor, the newspaper’s roster has a distinct Bay Area flavor.

Stuff like this is supposed to be lighthearted fun, but I was dismayed to see former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson listed as Bust No. 46. This is absolutely unjust, unconscionable, un-fricking-everything.

Before I bluster further, in no way am I criticizing Vittorio Tafur, the writer of this piece. All Mr. Tafur did was compile the readers’ comments. But those who called Henderson a bust possess either a lousy memory, lousy judgment or both.

Henderson was listed because he was expected to “fill Willie Mays’ shoes,” as Tafur wrote. A .257 lifetime hitter with 122 home runs and 576 RBIs spanning all or part of 16 seasons, Henderson certainly fell short of the standards set by the great Mays.

But by the time I began following the Giants in 1969 (fine, I’m revealing my age), it was generally accepted that Henderson would not be the next Mays — and, to the best of my recollection, this prompted no undue scorn from fans or the media. Heck, as good as Bobby Bonds was, he didn’t turn out to be the next Mays either, though he, too, was mentioned as a successor. Never mind that billing anybody as the “next” (fill in superstar’s name here) is patently ridiculous, regardless of the sport.

Henderson was not a remarkable player, but he was competent. Stationed mostly in left field, he had a nice season in 1970, when he became a regular (.294, 17 homers, 88 RBIs, .394 on-base percentage), and a fair one in 1971 (.264, 15 homers, 65 RBIs, .370 on-base percentage), when the Giants won the National League West title.

The switch-hitting Henderson batted only .257 in 1972. But he made his final season with the Giants memorable by sustaining one of the most torrid monthlong performances in franchise history. That August he hit .409 (45-for-110) with 11 homers, 28 RBIs, 28 runs, a .445 on-base percentage and an .800 slugging percentage.

That helped him get traded to the Chicago White Sox in November, 1972 with right-hander Steve Stone for Tom Bradley, who was a disappointment as a Giant (23-26, 4.56 from 1973-75). That deal never gets considered among the Giants’ worst in their San Francisco history. But it didn’t help them much. Trading Henderson created room for Gary Matthews, who won the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1973. But Stone proceeded to win a Cy Young Award with Baltimore in 1980, while Bradley never pitched in the Majors after his Giants tenure ended.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to select a Giants “bust,” far more extreme examples than Henderson exist. One of them appeared on the list — the Orlando Cepeda-for-Ray Sadecki trade at No. 30. The Gaylord Perry-for-Sam McDowell and George Foster-for-Frank Duffy-and-Vern Geishert deals were equally dreadful. Or you can rummage through the grab bag of failed prospects (Andre Rodgers, Rich Murray, J.R. Phillips, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden, etc.). At least Henderson had a few solid seasons with the Giants and a long big-league career.

If it sounds like I’m biased, I’ll admit that I most definitely am. Ken Henderson was one of the nicest guys ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform. He signed autographs before virtually every game I attended at Candlestick Park before he was traded, and it seemed like the smile never left his face as he scribbled away. I had the privilege of meeting Henderson at one of the Giants’ 50th Anniversary functions in 2008, and after interviewing him briefly for a project of mine, I asked him about his tireless autograph-signing. “My dad,” he explained, “told me to make sure I gave something back to the game.”

I understand that on-field performance was all that mattered in the Chronicle survey. But a person like Ken Henderson, whose diligence on the field was matched or exceeded by his earnestness off it, doesn’t deserve to be cited as a “bust.”

– Chris Haft

Jaramillo’s available to help hitters

SAN FRANCISCO — Rarely would I advocate removing somebody from his or her job, particularly in the current economic climate. And maybe I’m too much of a softie, but I’m not going to make Carney Lansford an exception. I have trouble blaming Lansford for the Giants’ subpar offense during the 2009 season. From what I could detect, he taught the right principles. Problem was, too many guys didn’t pay enough attention.

That said, if the Giants decline to retain Lansford, as has been rumored, an excellent replacement is available: Rudy Jaramillo. The Texas Rangers asked Jaramillo to return for the 2010 season, but he declined their offer.

Jaramillo has drawn increasing praise since he became Texas’ hitting coach in 1995. Results indicate that the praise isn’t empty. Entering this season, Rangers hitters have accumulated 17 Silver Slugger Awards, four Most Valuable Player Awards, three home run titles and three RBI crowns during his tenure.

Sure, the Rangers’ ballpark is a hitters’ haven, and, yes, Jaramillo has had plenty of talent to work with. But Texas’ consistently potent offense suggests that he’s doing something right.

If the Giants decide to pursue Jaramillo, they’ll have plenty of competition. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, with whom Jaramillo served his first hitting-coach stint, are said to be interested in him.

*****

I don’t usually call attention to my own stories, but if you read the Larry Jansen obituary the other day, were you able to keep a straight face when Gaylord Perry mentioned his “hard slider”?

– Chris Haft

300-game winners awaken treasured memories; Seaver on vino

SAN FRANCISCO — Covering Randy Johnson’s 300th victory was a distinct privilege in and of itself. That milestone continued to pay psychic dividends Saturday for us baseball writers with long memories.

As you probably know by now if you’re reading this, the Giants invited fellow 300-game winners Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver to help honor Johnson. These weren’t just guys brought in to give the pregame ceremony star power. These were guys who gave me enduring baseball memories, all-time greats I was lucky enough to see at the height of their skills.

Perry made it entertaining to be a Giants fan in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Every so often the umpires practically undressed him on the mound to check for whatever he was supposedly dabbing on the baseball to throw his spitter, and you knew they weren’t going to find anything.

He also won quite frequently. I’ll always remember his last victory as a Giant — Game 1 of the 1971 National League Championship Series against the Pirates. I still don’t know how my dad did it, but he got tickets for that game, in the very top row of Section 5 in the upper deck at Candlestick. As far as I was concerned, we might as well have sitting right behind the dugout. Willie McCovey and Tito Fuentes each hit two-run homers that day, and Perry did the rest by fending off Pittsburgh for a 5-4 complete-game victory. Of course, the Giants lost the next three games and the series, and then came the Sam McDowell trade that sent Perry to Cleveland. At this point I’d prefer to change the subject.

My lasting memory of Ryan was forged on Sept. 14, 1988 (thank you, baseball-reference.com), when he pitched for the Houston Astros at Cincinnati and defeated the Reds, 7-1. As I recall, talk that Ryan might be in his final days with the Astros already had proliferated. So it was a thrill to see Ryan throw a four-hit complete game and strike out 13. Memories play tricks (unless baseball-reference.com can confirm them), but I recall Ryan looking a little more jubilant than might be expected as his teammates engulfed him after the final out. After all, he had just proven that he wasn’t finished yet. His performance the next few years with the Texas Rangers indeed demonstrated that he had plenty left.

The first time I saw Seaver pitch was on Aug. 31, 1969, in the first game of a Mets-Giants doubleheader at Candlestick. Willie McCovey, who was in the home stretch of his Most Valuable Player season, hit a monstrous triple in the second inning. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver allowed six other hits and struck out 11 in an 8-0 Mets triumph. Oh, and he pitched a complete game, just like Perry and Ryan did. No wonder I developed an affinity for that all-too-rare feat.

Fast-forward 10 seasons. Seaver had migrated to the Cincinnati Reds, and McCovey, after a brief exile with San Diego and Oakland, had rejoined the Giants and was approaching the end of his Hall of Fame career. On this June 30 afternoon, McCovey hit two drives to the center-field warning track. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver pitched a three-hitter in a 2-0 Reds victory.

That ties in with Seaver’s remarks about his second career: Winemaking. He operates Seaver Family Vineyards in Calistoga, releasing his wine under the label “GTS.” For the uninitiated, that stands for George Thomas Seaver, the right-hander’s given name.

Said Seaver of his current passion, “It’s about as much fun as a three-hit shutout.”

Seaver presented Johnson with a magnum of his ’06 Cabernet to commemorate victory No. 300. On the bottle, Seaver wrote in silver Sharpie above his autograph, “R.J. — Welcome to the club!”

The wine is for Johnson to share with whomever he pleases. The memories he, Seaver and others of his ilk provided are for all to enjoy.

– Chris Haft

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