Results tagged ‘ Giants ’

In ’71, winning the NL West seemed special

Thursday, June 16

SAN FRANCISCO — I recently performed some mental arithmetic and realized that 40 years had passed since the Giants won the National League West in 1971.

Forty years? No way it happened that long ago. I can still hear Dick Dietz blurting, “The Dodgers can go to hell” amid the euphoria in the Giants’ clubhouse during KSFO’s postgame radio broadcast.

One way or another, we eventually realize how rapidly the decades disappear.

“It’s just gone by so quickly,” said Ken Henderson, the left fielder on that ’71 team. “When you retire from playing and begin a new career and raise a family and you get to the point where you get your kids in school and then you have grandkids, you just say, ‘Wow. Where did the years go?’ “

In the wake of last year’s World Series-winning experience, younger Giants fans are entitled to scoff, “So what?”

However, the Giants’ 1971 club will bear enduring significance.

It was the first San Francisco team to win the West since division play began in 1969. Some fans thought it might be the last. The Giants didn’t capture the division title again until 1987.

Moreover, 1971 marked the last full season that the franchise’s core of superstars — Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry — spent together. Perry was traded to Cleveland for left-hander Sam McDowell in the offseason, Mays was shipped to the New York Mets in May 1972, and Marichal and McCovey departed for Boston and San Diego in separate trades during the 1973-74 offseason.

Forty years later, the season remains memorable for those who experienced it, and frustrating.

San Francisco bolted to a 37-14 start and built a 10 1/2-game lead in the West. Mays turned 40 but remained capable of greatness. He homered in each of the season’s first four games before tiring as the year progressed. He batted .336 through May and only .225 afterward. But, proving he could find other ways to help the team win, Mays drew a league-high 112 walks. That swelled his on-base percentage to .425, another NL best. He also stole 23 bases in 26 attempts.

Bobby Bonds (.288, 33 homers, 102 RBIs) had one of his best years. Rookie shortstop Chris Speier and second baseman Tito Fuentes formed a dynamic double-play combination. Marichal (18-11, 2.94 ERA) and Perry (16-12, 2.76) were dual aces.

The Dodgers gradually trimmed the Giants’ huge lead to one game by September. To remain in front of Los Angeles, the Giants were forced to start Marichal in the regular-season finale at San Diego. He pitched a five-hitter as the Giants clinched the division with a 5-1 decision. But Pittsburgh triumphed, three games to one, in the best-of-five NL playoffs, which hadn’t yet been renamed the League Championship Series.

Having won nine of 12 games against Pittsburgh during the regular season, the Giants felt confident that they would advance to the World Series. “We really owned the Pirates that year,” said Henderson, who has rejoined the organization as a premium seat sales manager. “I get asked about
1971 an awful lot. I talk about it with a lot of fond memories but it was obviously very disappointing for us.”

Had the Giants clinched the division earlier, they could have started Marichal and Perry in the first two playoff games at Candlestick Park. “I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost the series, but I think we would have had a definite advantage, having Juan in that first game,” Henderson said.

Perry won Game 1, 5-4, but Bob Robertson homered three times for the Pirates in a 9-4 Game 2 rout. The Giants had to wait until Game 3 to use Marichal, who was edged by Bob Johnson, 2-1. Pittsburgh won Game 4, 9-5, and ultimately defeated Baltimore in the World Series.

Losing to the Pirates didn’t faze Speier. “I thought it was going to be that way every year,” said Speier, now the Cincinnati Reds’ bench coach. After all, the Giants had the likes of Gary Matthews, Garry Maddox, Ed Goodson and Dave Kingman poised to become regulars. “We still thought
we could be pretty good,” said Speier, an All-Star with the Giants from 1972-74. “It was like the passing of the baton.”

The baton was dropped, in numerous ways and for numerous reasons. In the next nine seasons, the Giants finished above .500 twice.

Still, Speier acknowledged that the ’71 crew was a special one.

“It was just a great experience for a kid to come up and be taught how to play major league baseball by those guys — Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Bonds, Henderson,” Speier said. “It’s something I hold very, very dear to my heart.”

Chris Haft

Hey, TBS, who won the World Series last year?

Wednesday, March 9

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series champions.

That undeniable fact begs repeating upon examining the first two months of the “Sunday MLB on TBS” schedule.

TBS opted to televise the Giants — whose roster includes telegenic performers such as Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Buster Posey, Andres Torres, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff — exactly zero times through May 29.

We’ll give TBS a little bit of a break. ESPN grabbed the Giants for the regular season’s first Sunday, when they visit the Dodgers. Yours truly neglected to check with TBS’ media relations representatives to determine whether there’s a good reason for the Giants to be overlooked.

But at first glance, this looks like a classic case of East Coast bias.

TBS will show the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees three times apiece, the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays twice each, and the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets and Tigers once.

Didn’t the Giants defeat the Braves, Phillies and Rangers in last year’s postseason? Just checking.

*****

The Giants played some excellent defense in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Barry Zito and Freddy Sanchez collaborated on the game’s first out. Zito pounced on Juan Pierre’s bunt and made a quick, risky yet accurate throw to Sanchez, who was covering first.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval demonstrated the benefits of his weight loss by pouncing on Alexei Ramirez’s fifth-inning bunt and whipping an off-balance throw to first for the out.

Buster Posey threw out Lastings Milledge, who tried to steal third base in the sixth inning.

*****

The Giants are 10-4 in Cactus League play, largely due to their pitching. Kind of like the regular season.

They trimmed their ERA to an even 3.00 on Wednesday. The starters’ ERA in the last  eight games is 1.27.

– Chris Haft

Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder

Monday, Feb. 14

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Weird? Who’s weird?

Asked whether the Giants might somehow become more eccentric this season than they were in 2010, closer Brian Wilson, Mr. Eccentricity himself, delivered a plain, sedate, sensible answer.

“If you look closely at every team, everybody’s got that going on,” Wilson said. “We’re probably better at hiding it. Or people don’t care about it. When you start winning, you start looking at all the nuances that are going on and you like to attribute it to that.”

For example, Wilson said, “That rally thong thing has been going on since Bull Durham, and before that.It wasn’t even a rally thong. It was just something for the clubhouse. Every clubhouse is almost the same as other teams’.”

One of the Giants’ most visible gimmicks, right-hander Sergio Romo’s beard, remains intact. Romo said Monday as Giants pitchers and catchers reported to camp. “I haven’t touched mine at all,” Romo said. “It’s gotten scraggly. I’ve combed the crap out of it and used shampoo and conditioner.”

Romo’s proud of his beard, which he began growing before Wilson sprouted his more celebrated growth. But Romo stated that he’ll do whatever his supervisors say if they decide that it’s becoming a distraction. “If they say whack it, it’s gonna go,” Romo said.

*****

A reporter asked Wilson about contacting “The Machine,” the mysterious figure who lurked in the background of some of his recent television appearances. “You can’t contact him,” Wilson said. “He contacts you.”

*****

Rumor has it that the Giants’ World Series rings are being designed by Tiffany & Co. Does that mean the rings will come in those nice little powder-blue boxes?

Chris Haft

Giants hope Banks can provide depth

Monday, Jan. 31

SAN FRANCISCO — According to contract information obtained by MLB.com, the Giants have signed right-hander Josh Banks, who has pitched in the Major Leagues briefly in each of the last four years, to a Minor League deal.

Banks, 28, is 4-8 with a 5.66 ERA in 27 career appearances, including 19 starts, with Toronto, San Diego and Houston. A second-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft by the Blue Jays in 2003, Banks spent most of last season with Houston’s Triple-A Round Rock affiliate, finishing 9-12 with a 4.04 ERA in 27 starts.

Banks made one appearance with the Astros last season and absorbed the defeat, allowing six runs in four innings.

Chris Haft 

SF signs hard-throwing righty Kroon to mnor-league deal

uesday, Jan. 25

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants announced Tuesday night that they agreed to terms with right-hander Marc Kroon on a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.

Throwing hard always has been Kroon’s primary asset. Control hasn’t. In 26 Major League relief appearances with the Padres, Reds and Rockies spanning 26 2/3 innings, Kroon struck out 23 and walked 26 while recording a 7.43 ERA.

Kroon’s last Major League appearance was June 29, 2004. Since then, the 37-year-old has pitched in Japan with the Yokohama Bay Stars and Yomiuri Giants.

Chris Haft

It could be Showtime for Giants

Thursday, Jan. 13

SAN FRANCISCO — At this rate, the Giants might have to join the Screen Actors Guild.

Showtime is hoping to create a documentary series on the 2010 World Series champions, whose accomplishments already have been captured on the Series DVD, “The Magic Inside” highlights collection and ComCast’s hourlong special that debuted last month.

That doesn’t count the documentary that Plan A Films expects to release in July on outfielder Andres Torres and the circuitous route he has taken toward claiming a World Series ring.

Entertainment Weekly initially reported Showtime’s interest in the Giants, though club insiders knew of the potential for a project during last month’s Winter Meetings, when film crews followed Manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean.

Entertainment Weekly said that the series will be akin to HBO’s “Hard Knocks” project on the New York Jets. EW reported that Showtime wants the project to be handled by Mike Tollin, whose vast experience with sports-related subjects includes ESPN’s “Bonds on Bonds” series in 2006, which briefly chronicled the life of Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

Filming would begin in Spring Training. Would this distract the Giants from their efforts to prepare for Opening Day? Probably not. Tollin is a consummate professional, and much of the videography would be done by Major League Baseball Productions, whose employees know how to behave in clubhouses and dugouts.

Chris Haft

Ex-Giant Winn among available free-agent outfielders

Tuesday, Dec. 7

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Randy Winn’s not returning to the Giants, but he intends to play somewhere.

Winn, who spent 2005-09 with San Francisco, is spending the winter in his Tampa-area home and training diligently while waiting to command interest from a team that needs a handy free-agent outfielder.

Winn’s agent, Craig Landis, acknowledged Tuesday at the Winter Meetings that his 36-year-old client probably will have to wait until late in the offseason to receive a deal.

“A lot of teams are focusing on the more expensive guys,” Landis said. “I don’t have a good feel yet on how the market’s going to be. But he definitely wants to play. He’s going to play somewhere.”

Winn’s career figures include a .284 batting average, a .343 on-base percentage and a .416 slugging percentage to go with 110 homers, 215 stolen bases and 662 RBIs. But his .239 average in 116 games last year with the Yankees and Cardinals was his worst for any of his 13 seasons, and his .307 on-base percentage equaled a personal low.

Winn also has the unlucky distinction of appearing in 1,717 games without performing in the postseason, most among active players.

“We’re going to have to try to find the right fit for him, where people can appreciate his switch-hitting ability, his ability to play three outfield spots and his ability to run the bases and steal a base every once in a while,” Landis said. “At this stage, he’s a smaller cog in the process. But the fit [with a team] is more important.”

Chris Haft

Shortstop search and more from Sabean, Bochy

Monday, Dec. 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — General manager Brian Sabean reiterated that “mutual interest” exists regarding Edgar Renteria’s possible return to the Giants.

“But I would say where we’re going to get bogged down is the [Pat] Burrell precedent,” Sabean said.

In short, Renteria probably would have to accept $1 million or thereabouts, as Burrell did last week, to return to the Giants as a backup shortstop and utility infielder.

Sabean tried to sound encouraging about retaining the 35-year-old World Series Most Valuable Player. “Neither side has ruled anything out,” Sabean said.

But Sabean warned that Renteria will be out of luck if the Giants sign another potential backup shortstop before him.

On another subject, Sabean wasn’t surprised by Boston’s acquisition of San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was either the best or second-best player in the National League West — depending on your opinion of Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki.

But Sabean indicated that San Diego could remain a threat in the division. “It’s a pitching-centric division,” Sabean said. “… Like us, they didn’t have a prototypical set lineup and had to make some changes at the deadline. They were unfortunate to have their [10-game] losing streak when they did.”

*****

Manager Bruce Bochy addressed numerous topics during his half-hour session with the media, including:

– Pablo Sandoval’s physical conditioning. Bochy noted that Sandoval already has lost more than 10 pounds. “He seems determined to get back to where he was [in 2009],” Bochy said. But, Bochy added, “He’s got a little ways to go. I don’t want to put a number [on it], but he’s still got probably 15 or so.”

– The care and feeding of the club’s valuable pitchers. Keeping the staff injury-free will loom as a chief concern given the shortened offseason and the starters’ workload. Including the postseason, each starter exceeded 200 innings — except for Barry Zito, who finished with 199 1/3.

Bochy also will watch closer Brian Wilson carefully. “Whether I bring him in as much in the eighth inning this coming year, I don’t know,” Bochy said of Wilson, who led the Major Leagues with 10 saves of 1 1/3 innings or longer this year.

Nevertheless, Bochy said that he’s saddled with fewer roster issues than he ever has faced in his 17-year managerial career, largely due to the pitching staff’s stabiity.

– The wish for a left-handed batter to balance the lineup. Bochy said that this yet-to-be-obtained individual doesn’t necessarily have to be a power hitter. This prompted speculation that the Giants could again be eyeing Scott Podsednik, who they pursued previously. At 34, Podsednik might not be an ideal acquisition. But he has accented his .279 career batting average with 301 stolen bases in 10 seasons, which would meet the Giants’ goal of becoming more “athletic.”

– Existing outfield personnel. Bochy said that he might inform Aaron Rowand, who has spent most of his career in center field, that he’ll might have to fill in at the outfield corners occasionally. Bochy added that speedster Darren Ford, who needs to gain more consistency at the plate, almost surely will open the season at Triple-A Fresno.

– A friendly parting with shortstop Juan Uribe, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers last week. Bochy said that Uribe called to thank him. “And I said the same to him,” Bochy said. “You understand. It’s part of the business. He was a free agent, and you’re not going to sign them all. … We’re champions partly because of what he did for us.”

– His contract status. Bochy is signed for 2011 with a club option for 2012. Asked whether he’d prefer to have a contract extension before next season opens, Bochy replied, “Not to skirt it, but it’s not even on my mind right now.”

Chris Haft

Berth in Cooperstown eludes Vida Blue

Monday, Dec. 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For certain periods throughout his 17-year Major League career, Vida Blue looked like a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. But Blue’s overall performance failed to impress enough members of the HOF’s Expansion Era committee, who bypassed him for enshrinement.

Pat Gillick, the highly successful general manager with Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, was the only one of the 12 candidates to receive the necessary 12 votes from the 16-member committee to gain election.

Any Giants fan who watched Blue pitch in 1978 might have considered the left-hander bound for Cooperstown. He led that year’s revival of the Giants, who contended for most of the season and finished 89-73 after four consecutive sub-.500 seasons, by finishing 18-10 with a 2.79 ERA. That was Blue’s first of six seasons (in two stints) with the Giants, who sent Oakland seven players and $300,000 to obtain him. The cost was well worth it.

Blue’s career totals were 209-161 with a 3.27 ERA and 37 shutouts. He met or came close to meeting plenty of Hall of Fame standards, but ultimately not enough of them. It matters little to longtime Giants fans, most of whom still regard Blue as a favorite.

– Chris Haft  

Ups, downs of signing Tejada

Tuesday, Nov. 30

Looking strictly at intangibles, the Giants couldn’t have signed a better replacement for Juan Uribe than Miguel Tejada.

Tejada is renowned for his effervescent attitude. He’s said to be ceaselessly positive — which must be genuine, considering all those years he spent playing for the downtrodden Orioles after repeatedly experiencing the postseason rush with the A’s. He’ll fit nicely with the Giants. They’ll miss Uribe – the White Sox did after he left that club — but they’ll adjust.

If I were a member of the Giants’ front office, I’d be more concerned with Tejada’s 74-point drop in slugging percentage from 2009 to this year’s .381. Having spent 14 years in the big leagues at age 36, Tejada’s unlikely to rebound. This increases the importance of Pablo Sandoval’s return to form and Brandon Belt’s ability to contribute. They can do much to compensate for the loss of Uribe’s 24 home runs and 85 RBIs. Because it’s doubtful that Tejada can accomplish this on his own. 

Yet don’t blame the Giants for balking at giving Uribe the same three-year deal that he received from L.A. If he stays healthy and productive for the duration of the contract, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. As spry as he was, he performed through numerous aches and pains with the Giants. Such nagging injuries often become worse as players grow older.

Uribe’s a heck of a clutch performer, as he proved constantly for San Francisco throughout the regular-season and postseason. That’s what the Giants might miss most from him in the long run. Let’s see how many big opportunities he receives as a Dodger.

– Chris Haft 

 

 

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