A Small Gesture 

In recent weeks cynics have pointed out that the Giants' playoff "run" was a great way for the team to make season ticket holders cough up dough in anticipation of post-season games. Even if the team didn't make the playoffs and eventually returned the cash advances, the thought went, they'd still earn interest holding the money for a few weeks.

Which is probably true. The cost of a full strip out in the bleachers where I have two tickets was $787, or about $390 per seat.

The Giants have 28,271 season ticket holders according to this story, so let's use my ticket package as a base for thumbnail calculation: 28,271 x $390 = $11 million. This is an extremely rough minimum, obviously. The real amount the Giants received is probably 4 times that. (Most tickets are two to five times my ticket price, but I'll bet many ticket holders didn't bother sending in money given the snowball-in-hell scenario the team faced.)

I sent my payment in Sept. 19. I just got notice that they're refunding it in full. That's a minimum of ten days of my money and millions of other people's dollars gathering interest. Any bankers out there? How much can a corporate client earn over ten days on $40 million?

Enough to pay for a starting pitcher next year?

And whatever the number is, it's why I'm heartened by the Giants' mention, along with notification of my refund, that the tickets didn't actually ship and I won't be charged the $25 handling fee. Isn't that nice?

I'm a wee sardonic, but I also realize they easily could have tacked that on. It's a small gesture that I appreciate.

If you have more accurate numbers on season ticket holders, average price for playoff tix, etc., plug them in and refine my back-of-napkin math.




The only thing that can soothe the pain of a Brett Tomko Meltdown® is the double-fisted power pop of the New Pornographers amidst the crushed velvet of Bimbo's 365. As my man Elbo likes to say: Knocked right out of the park.

There was plenty of classic banter with the audience, too. Lead singers Carl Newman and Neko Case went on an extended riff about Steve Perry and his importance to the San Francisco Bay Area. Neko: "Is it true that only chicks like Journey? Guys don't like Journey? Is it because they feel threatened by Steve Perry?"

They went on and on, reveling in the fact that they weren't playing music, until an audience member called out, "Who's Steve Perry?"

I love Neko Case more than I hate Brett Tomko, and for that I am stronger.



Snow Such Thing As Clutch 

El Papa Malo called me this morning to say he got too riled up and couldn't bear to watch the game last night past the seventh inning, but, wow, what about that J.T. Snow fella? Is he clutch, or what? Which tells me he actually did watch the end of the game, but while walking around the house straightening crooked picture frames or some other busy-making activity. I know how his mind works.

Then I said to him, "Hmm, I don't know. Is J.T. Snow clutch?"

I declined to raise the point with him that clutch may not exist as we know it. Papa Malo is definitely a "I saw it, so it must be" type of guy when it comes to fandom, even though he bought me my first Bill James Baseball Abstract back in 1980 or whatever it was.

Before I wax unsabermetrically about J.T. Snow, I'll insert this paragraph from Joe Sheehan's Baseball Prospectus column yesterday. Ironically, the larger context of the column is Sheehan wondering out loud if the Giants and A's have the moxie to sweep the Pads/Halos and get back into their respective races:

You want to measure clutch? Don't focus on outcomes, but on process, on decisions. Don't tell me a guy's batting average with runners in scoring position, especially when you can see a guy like Jason Kendall get two hits in that situation last night without actually producing a run. Show me who goes up to the plate with a plan beyond, "swing!" Show me players who can work counts and give themselves the best opportunity to succeed through managing the at-bat.

How about show me a guy with great clutch numbers four years running? Such numbers -- how one hits in certain situations, such as "close game, late innings," or "2 outs, runners in scoring position" -- are regarded by statheads to be luck and random variation (are those the same thing?). Or contingent upon the ability of one's teammates to get on base ahead of you.

But four years running? Ladies and gentlemen (much to my surprise), I give you J.T. Snow. ESPN's detailed "clutch" splits only go back four years, so I don't know his performance pre-2002. From 2002 on, Snow has been a fine man to have at a 12-year-old girl's birthday party...I mean, at the plate when the Giants need a basehit:

Close and late: .335/.462/.503 (167 ABs)
Man on 3rd, less than 2 out: .385/.457/.500 (In 52 such ABs, he has 49 RBIs)
Runners in scoring position: .316/.437/.454 (282 ABs)
RISP, 2 outs: .302/.455/.411 (129 ABs)

Those numbers continue this year:

Close and late: .397/.435/.500 (58 ABs)
Man on 3rd, > 2 out: .400/.458/.400 (20 ABs, 14 RBI)
RISP: .326/.435/.442 (95 ABs)
RISP, 2 out: .300/.429/.550 (40 ABs)

As a stathead, I understand the disagreement about clutchness. As a ballplayer, I know firsthand what it's like to tighten up as you walk to the plate in a key situation -- and how keeping loose is a key to hitting. Certain guys handle pressure better than others; it's human nature. Whether the numbers above make Snow a clutch hitter, I leave to debate.

But I will say this: When Brian Sabean sees these numbers in the off-season, and he thinks about that Gold Glove, he'll be awfully tempted to bring J.T. back for another dance.



Operation Fonzie Removal 

We all know Brian Sabean's biggest offseason challenge this winter won't be the addition of a hulking, fearsome, bonecrushing slugger to play first base and add more power to the Giants lineup.

His most important mission is the removal of Edgardo Alfonzo from the roster. Even though Fonzie has perfected the art of the soft doink that falls into shallow right field, he has little else to recommend him to the $8 million he'll earn next year.

If somehow, ohpleaseGodpleaseGodplease, Sabean can move Fonzie and not have to pay much of his '06 salary, the Giants will add much-needed fiscal and roster flexibility. But it's extremely unlikely, no matter what Fonzie thinks.

If the Giants in total exasperation release him and eat his '06 salary, it'll rank up there with the all-time ingestions of crow performed by a major league front office. (The Detroit Tigers paid Damion Easley $14.3 million in March '03 to let him out of the last two years of his contract; the D-Rays swallowed $9 million owed to Greg Vaughn.)

If the Giants can't move Fonzie, they may refuse to eat the cash and pray he'll regain some semblance of his once formidable gap power. Meanwhile, they'll still need to add payroll by subtracting players. Two other obvious trade candidates are LaTroy Hawkins and Pedro Feliz.

Hawkins is due north of $4 million next year, thanks to complicated incentive clauses. Feliz will also "earn" $4 million-plus in '06, if you call habitually popping up or striking out on sliders in the dirt when there's a man on third with less than two out "earning."

Are they tradeable? Let's look at that word from two different angles. First, are they desirable to someone else? In that sense, they're definitely not tradeable for the Howards, Overbays, and Teixieras of the world. But for middling prospects and/or serious cash relief, perhaps.

Second, are they expendable? The silver lining of this year's stumbles is the prolonged tryouts of Accardo, Taschner and Munter in the bullpen. In '06 they'll no longer be rookies; they've even gotten a taste of a pennant race in September, although the taste is more akin to Keystone Light than Boont Amber. If Eyre returns, it's quite possible the young 'uns, plus Walker, Eyre, Benitez, and Fassero (back as the $500,000 long man), could respectably handle bullpen chores without Hawkins. He's expendable.

And Pedro? My initial, resounding, whole-throated YES is cut short when I realize trading Feliz means keeping Fonzie at third. But I'd argue the Giants could get by with Fonzie's bat and defense if they used the extra cash (from Hawkins and Feliz) to sign a big bopper at first base.

So, like all well-constructed operations, Fonzie Removal has contingencies.

I have another creative financing mechanism up my sleeve, and it concerns Jason Schmidt.

If every dollar counts in '06, why not approach Schmidt about a contract extension that asks both sides to take on some risk? This plan assumes, of course, the brass wants him back next year. It's possible they might decline his $10.25 M option and part ways, but I doubt it.

So: the Giants rip up the option and offer a two-year contract along these lines:

'06: $7 mil
'07: $8 mil
'08: $10 mil option, triggered by reaching incentives

There's a bit of risk for either side. For Schmidt, he gets paid less than he might if he finished '06 in spectacular fashion and hit the free agent market. But he also gets guaranteed money through '07 and a top-shelf salary in '08 -- his age-35 season -- if he performs well in '06-'07.

For the Giants, they save $3.25 million in '06. If Schmidt continues his decline, he's guaranteed only $4.75 million more than the Giants would have paid by picking up the '06 option of $10.25 M. If he pulls through this rough patch, gets healthy, and learns to use all his pitches a la Curt Schilling, he'll be a bargain in '08.

The Giants could even add 1 or 2 million in incentives to sweeten the '06/'07 base salary.

Is this a pipe dream? Would Schmitty go for it? What other creative financing can the Giants do this winter?



His Career Flashed Before His Eyes 

For my headline I was going to use Jon Miller's description of the uber-tater Barry Bonds sent into the upper deck tonight:

"There's a magnificent drive, arcing high into the evening!"

I find Miller's bombast endearing, the same way I find old Parisian ladies who elbow their way onto crowded subways utterly charmantes. Ah, for those days of Malo youth misspent.

Back here in the U.S.A., tonight's headline instead is plucked from Mike Krukow's comment during the post-game wrap, toward the end of which the giddy crew began to discuss the game-ending play. For those of you who missed it, Todd Linden, defensive replacement and mouth-breather (Where have you gone, Lindenatoro?!), broke in on a Brad Wilkerson line drive instead of back as the tying and winning runs madly circled the bases.

It was about to be the nightmare capper to a nightmare inning, courtesy of Armando Benitez's continued stand-up act: "¡Damas y caballeros, iss great to be here! ¡Mierda, I got not'in'!"

Benitez got the first out, then double, walk, walk, sac fly, and finally Wilkerson, line-drive hitting lefty, even though Scott Eyre was warming up in the bullpen. (Felipe? Hello? Dormez-vous?)

So the ex-Lindenator raced back toward the left field fence, hurled his body sideways toward the warning track, and backhanded the catch for the final out. Krukow summed it up perfectly -- as Linden went back on that ball, his career flashed before his eyes.

Kuiper added: "Catch the ball, and the game's over; miss the ball, and the game's over."

He caught it, preserving a win that combined what could have been in '05 -- Bonds and Alou in the same lineup with stunning results in the top of the 9th, and let's not forget Wise Guru Vizquel's fantastic AB to draw a walk and prolong the inning -- and what may well be in '06 and beyond: Sweet Sugar Cain pitching like the cream in our coffee, and Special Agent Jack Taschner providing just the facts, ma'am, in middle relief.

But oh, what could have been.



Winn Will I Be Loved? 

When the Giants traded Yorvit Torrealba and Jesse Foppert for Randy Winn, the general reaction among the blognoscenti was disappointment. Specific feedback ranged from Rage Against The Sabean to mild acceptance with a dash of let's-wait-and-see. But in my unscientific scan of posts and comments from late July, I'd say reaction was generally negative.

Now Winn is doing his best Albert Pujols impression, batting .345/.380/.667 with 32 extra base hits and 11 homers in 186 plate appearances with the Giants. Just for fun, in the same time span:

Vlad Guerrero, 23 XBH, 12 HR, 185 PAs
Albert Pujols, 22 XBH, 11 HR, 187 PAs
Andruw Jones, 23 XBH, 18 HR, 181 PAs
Alex Rodriguez, 24 XBH, 15 HR, 186 PAs

Let's look back at what was said at the time of the trade:

* "Sabean just picked up a replacement-level/4th outfielder when he's already got three of them on the team in Feliz, Ellison, and Tucker. Winn's defense is not better than Tucker's." (That was Daniel, echoing the sentiments of many. I also noted that Winn's career stats weren't that much different from Michael Tucker's.)

* "By trading Foppert, the Giants have thrown away another of their highly-touted pitching prospects after completely mismanaging the early stages of his career much the same way they handled Ainsworth, Williams, Nathan, Aardsma, etc...Throwing Torrealba into the mix is also indefensible. I can't believe the Giants considered a fast, defense-minded, 26-year old catcher a worthless commodity..." (That was from John at OBM.)

* "What happens if the 34-yr-old Matheny gets injured, which tends to happen to catchers of all ages? Haad, with all 1 major league at-bat's worth of experience back there, will be the starter. Brilliant." (That was me.)

* "Winn will stay in left field, according to Giants sources." (That was from Will Carroll's rumor mill.)

Carroll was instantly proven wrong. (Or his sources were.) As for the rest of us negatively-minded folk, is it time to acknowledge we were wrong, too? It's been nearly seven weeks, and Randy Winn has had undoubtedly the best stretch of his career.

He will not continue to hit .345/.380/.667 through 2006, although I won't mind if he does. But what if he hits .300/.350/.500 for one more year? Is the trade then worth it? What if Foppert slowly builds up to a great year in 2008, winning 20 games with 200 innings, 200 Ks, a 3.25 ERA...then flames out? Or if Foppert turns out to be Brett Tomko-ish, eating innings year after year but never anchoring a staff?

The three stages of trade evaluation:

1) Immediately post-trade. All we can do is compare career stats, look for trends, and assume the trends will continue, i.e., Jesse Foppert will continue to recover from Tommy John surgery and be at full strength in '06. Yorvit Torrealba will continue to be a backup catcher with excellent defensive skills with glimmers of offensive promise. Randy Winn will continue to be a speedy outfielder who becomes mediocre in CF and doesn't get on base enough to be a leadoff guy.

2) The short-term returns. Randy Winn is awesome! Thanks to him, the Giants can still dream about the playoffs. If Barry had come back a few weeks earlier, who knows...? Meanwhile, Foppert remained in the minors the rest of the year, and Torrealba, given a chance to play more, hasn't busted out, posting OPSes of .709 and .524 in August and September.

3) Years of hindsight. It's all speculation. Randy Winn comes back to earth. Randy Winn has a Jeff Kent-like mid-career revelation. Torrealba breaks through and become the next Bengie Molina -- who had his first good year at the age of 28. Foppert, well, go ahead and throw a dart blindfolded. It'll land anywhere from Kurt Ainsworth to Joe Nathan.

It seems to me the only decent way to evaluate a trade is to measure the value received from each player -- a stat like VORP is probably a good start -- then factor in dollars spent relative to payroll. In other words, at the end of '06, we can figure out how valuable Randy Winn was to the Giants for the roughly $6 million they paid him starting in August '05, compare that figure to Foppert and Torrealba, and do the same at the end of each year.

If the players involved move to other teams via free agency or trade, do you keep counting? If, say, the Mariners trade Foppert for Ryan Freel, who becomes the American League batting champ and propels the M's to the World Series, how do you factor that?

Some trades in hindsight are easy to grade: the Giants got a year's worth of A.J. Pierzynski and nothing more for Nathan and two prospects (one of whom is expected to be as good as Johan Santana). A roll of the dice immediately post-trade; a real bungle in short-term returns; an out-and-out disaster after two years of hindsight.

What do you think? If you hated the Winn trade, do you repent? If you still think it sucked, why? When will we be able to truly judge it?



Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hennessey 

Bad Brad has done it again. He's gone and locked Good Brad in the closet. Last night against the Dodgers, it was 2.2 IP, 6 hits, 5 runs, 3 walks, 66 pitches, and shower time.

When Hennessey starts, it's usually one extreme or the other, as I noted a couple weeks ago.

If you weren't following the comment chatter on that post, here are a couple excerpts from people smarter than me. Uh, I mean I.

Snow Leopard wrote: "The numbers show that Hennessey is actually unusually unpredictible/flaky/variable." He proceeded to list a chart of all Giants pitchers who've started 10+ games since 1996. Of the 26 pitchers, Hennessey has the greatest standard deviation in his game score. In non-statgeek terms: he's all over the map.

Later in the thread, El Tipo de los Pantalones wrote: "Hennessey is leading all major league starters (50+ IP) with a 'flake factor' of 0.301 according to Baseball Prospectus. (Don't ask me how flake factor is calculated exactly.) Some good pitchers are in the Top 15 with him (Dontrelle, Mulder, Buehrle, Zambrano, Peavy); some not so much (Drese, Sele, Jennings). Clemens is the least flaky pitcher in the game by this stat, but many of the people in the Bottom 10 are consistently bad (Waechter, Russ Ortiz, Luke Hudson, Wandy Rodriguez). Oddly enough, Correia is fifth on the 'least flaky' list."

Shawn Estes was flaky, too, but with Shawn it was all about the one bad inning. Tomko is the same way. With Hennessey, it's usually el stinko right out of the chute. At least there's no tease. I'm not sure if this is better for the team, but it's more psychologically tolerable for the fans, for some reason.

I'm fascinated by Hennessey in the same way I was fascinated by Kurt Cobain. First, I recognized his inherent talent and was ecstatic when it shone through. Second, I wanted him to do well and paid good money to see him perform. Third, I had a certain amount of empathy for his fuck-ups.

If we can only keep Hennessey away from the pernicious influence of Courtney Love Tomko, he'll have a standing chance to make something of himself.



Ride the White Pony 

Just back from Mays Field at Cain Arena, where some overmuscled short guy with a teenage 'stache and a Padres jersey in the 1-3-8 yelled, "Barry, you suck!" every three innings. Whatever.

Nothing worse than a teenage 'stache. Sit down, peach fuzz, and show some respect. What is that, a Phil Nevin jersey? Oh, sorry...Ryan Klesko. There's a real American hero for you.

Barry in the lineup makes miracles happen: Edgardo Alfonzo is hitting line drives. Next thing you know, Fonzie will hit one to the wall or, heavens forfend, over it.


But all the slumping guys got hits tonight: Omar smacked a couple line drives, Todd Linden looked decent in lining a single the opposite way, Fonzie got a couple hits, and Lance "All We Are Saying, Is Give Me A Chance" Niekro roped an RBI single.

Noah continued his September two-step: six innings, three runs, nothing pretty, but enough to keep the G's close. Benitez continued to throw off-speed pitches that say, "Why hello, you handsome left-handed hitter, let me hang here for just a second to get a better look at you..."

When he stuck with the fastball, he blew Dave Roberts, Klesko and Mark Loretta away. It was hitting 93-94 with nasty tail to the outside. Whatever he threw to Fick was not a fastball, and Fick deposited it over the arcade.

Best news tonight came from Barry's post-game interview. The Giants have found their rallying cry, thanks to this priceless quote: "You just can't take two days and two games right now and start riding the white pony."

But if the Giants win tomorrow behind Sweet Sugar Cain, it's four games out with 17 to go, and we'll all be sitting in the back seat whining, OK, now can we get on the white pony? Please?



They Didn't Kill Kinney! 

My 1-3-8 ticket partner Chris grabbed me by the lapels Friday night as we walked...skipped...floated out of Cain Field. "The Giants will set the record for the World Series winner with the worst regular season record. Mark my words."

I marked them. I giggled, too. Is it "a case of too little too late" for the Giants, as Jon Miller just asked in tonight's post-game close, as Tony Bennett echoes behind him through the quickly emptying Cain Field?

Six games out. Noah Lowry and Matt "They renamed a stadium after me" Cain going tomorrow and Wednesday. As Joaquin Andujar used to say, "Youneverknow." In 1998 they won 9 of 10 down the stretch to tie the Cubs for the wild card. What? 9 of 11? Neifi Perez? Home run off Robb Nen? Bla, bluh, la, la, zhoom, boom, I can't hear you. Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

'Fess up: how many of you tonight erased Kevin Correia from your 2006 starting rotation and penciled in Matt Kinney? I think Correia's having injury problems -- Miller said after his first couple pitches that he was slinging from the side and looked mechanically screwed up -- so I won't rush to judgment. The Giants should shut him down now. I heard Brian Sabean on KNBR the other night, and he talked about Correia as if he may not have the physiology for the big leagues. He called him a "maximum effort guy," which I took to mean "one who puts a lot of strain on his body and there's nothing we can do about it."

But Kinney could blossom, with the right...never mind. I just looked at his career numbers. They're much worse than I expected. The only encouraging sign is he's increased his K/9 rate every year. This could well be the best night of his career: 5 2/3 scoreless innings and the win in the midst of a...(cough)...pennant race.

Oh, and: Bonds. I forgot how fun it is when he comes up.



C'mon, Barry... 

Stop teasing.


Lest We Forget 

In all the hubbub about Barry Bonds's return, we tend to forget that the man is taking a risk in re-injuring and crippling his knee. That's one reason for the caution of the past few days, according to reports. Fans tend to forget that professional athletes often spend their retirement years hobbled. Instead of sympathy for their aches and pains, we berate them for their breakdowns.

I notice this attitude especially in twentysomething fans, who haven't gotten the hint of the body's inevitable decline and thus can't fathom not being able to play with their kids or walk up a flight of stairs at the age of 45. Yes, they're paid multi-millions to play through pain, but at least we can acknowledge what these guys have to do to do what they do.

Football players put up with even more damage. Read this paragraph from today's Scott Ostler column about 49er Jeremy Newberry's knee:

Newberry will apply heat packs to the knee Sunday morning, and a sports cream that provides heat and anti-inflammation medication. He will feed his knee a Vicodin before warm-ups, then have a doctor shoot the knee with Toradol (anti-pain, anti-inflammation) just before the game.

And I thought I was a wimp for needing two cups of coffee to start my work day.

Other random notes:

* I could get mad at Armando Benitez for last night's kick in the teeth, but when you've busted your ass to return from major hamstring-pelvic bone-reattachment surgery to help your team down the stretch, and you've thrown the ball well in 10 straight games, you're allowed to have a bad day.

* Jeremy Accardo, welcome to the learning curve. Some people don't get it, though, and ask why Kent wasn't walked in Tuesday's game. Alou did exactly the right thing letting Accardo pitch to Kent; the pennant race is an illusion, let the kid do his thing.

* The Giants would do well next year to find a backup shortstop who hits lefties well. Omar Vizquel's numbers against lefties are bad enough that when he rests, he should rest against the Dontrelle Willises and Randy Wolfs and Andy Pettittes of the world.

* Edgardo Alfonzo is being psychologically and physically prepared for less playing time and perhaps a backup second-baseman role next year, according to today's Chron.

* For those of you nerdy enough to read my small print: I've finally finished Arthur Phillips' novel Prague. A complete load of shite. Unfortunately I have an undiagnosed form of OCD that prevents me from abandoning a movie or novel in midstream, no matter how putrid. I even sat through Detroit Rock City.

On the brighter side, I've rediscovered Lucinda's classic "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road." In the Katrina aftermath, radio stations are playing lots of Dr. John and Louis Armstrong ("Do You Know What it Means To Miss New Orleans?"). Just as bluesy and poignant, put on any Lucinda record, and she instantly immerses you in the Deep South and Delta landscapes that now lie blown out, tossed around, and ravaged.

I'm gonna go to Slidell and look for my joy
Go to Slidell and look for my joy
You took my joy, I want it back
You took my joy, I want it back



Disaster Recovery 

A bunch of doings went down on the Giants front while I spent the week glued to Nola.com, online home of the stalwart New Orleans Times-Picayune. Others have commented elsewhere, so I'll keep it fairly brief:

* The world's supply of Matt Cain puns dipped dangerously low as a storm of blog coverage besieged the West Coast. Cain's first start was OK, his second was near-dominant, despite never establishing his off-speed stuff in either. This leads me to believe that a) when he starts snapping off sliders and curves for strikes, he'll throw a no-hitter every two months or b) I shouldn't get too excited because he's thrown a lot of pitches this year and will soon be shut down, no matter the pennant-race situation, or c) The Giants Win the Pennant! The Giants Win the Pennant!

* Barry Bonds has progressed to the point of almost, maybe, could it actually be?, rejoining the team. He also beat down a teammate who perhaps was named Jason Christiansen, but he didn't feel like sharing it with us on his Web site. Welcome back, Barry! Don't hit me!

* Randy Winn is making Brian Sabean look not-idiotic. In 124 at-bats with the Giants, he's slugging an outrageous .565. He's not getting on as much as a leadoff hitter should, but when he does, he's often in scoring position or just leisurely trotting around the bases. Yeah, yeah, small sample size. But it's been fun to watch.

* Sabean finally got the pumps working and drained SBC Park of a lot of stagnant water. It's easy to say that if he'd done it earlier, the roster turnover would have given the Giants that much more momentum. Maybe. Let's unpack that sentence, as Roland "For Going to Ze Giant Game, I Like to Ride" Barthes used to say.

The Giants are winning regularly thanks to good pitching, and much of that is due to Noah Lowry and Jason Schmidt getting their acts together. Since Aug. 1, they've had one bad start between them. And 11 good ones. Also helpful is the exchange of Armando Benitez (9.2 IP, 11 K, 6 H, 4 BB) for Tyler Walker (4.2 ooch, 7 ouch, 11 yikes). LaTroy Hawkins has also been excellent since Aug. 1. Scott Eyre has been great all year. Unless you count Jerome Williams and David Aardsma as musty, dusty and crusty, none of these developments are related to this summer's housecleaning.

In moves directly related to the big dump, Correia for Rueter has been an improvement; in six starts since he returned to the rotation, Correia has averaged a Rueter-like 5+ innings a start but with lots more Ks and fewer earned runs. The Eastern European techno-house duo Taschner-Munter has been excellent, but their presence is more due to the earlier jettisonage of Brower and Herges (a.k.a., Dump, Part 1).

Tossing Tucker and Grissom in favor of Linden has given us glimpses of the exciting power-speed guy what Linden could become, but it hasn't exactly sparked an offensive renaissance. The other rookies, Niekro and Ellison, have played enough to expose holes in their swings wider than [insert your own broken levee metaphor here] and have been -- unfairly or not -- relegated to the bench. (I'd like to see Niekro play more, but I think he'd get eaten up against good righties; Winn over Ellison every day is a no-brainer.)

So as much as we've been badgering Sabes to burn the dead wood, we can't really say the young fresh faces have been solely responsible for this mini-turnaround. Sabean et al have made the team younger but not all at once. The team probably won't win the pennant -- and even if it does, it probably won't win a playoff series -- but the Giants seem to be doing what we've hoped for all along: rebuild and actually win some games.

Discussion topic: in how many ways is Brian Sabean like FEMA?



My City Was Gone 

I have a quick story to tell.

On September 10, 2001, a group of far-flung friends and I were gathering ideas for the third issue of our self-published magazine In Formation (tag line: "Every Day, Computers Are Making People Easier to Use").The first two issues had cost our fearless leader a lot of money, most of which he "earned" through selling his @Home stock. Perhaps it was Excite@Home by then. Either way, the name of that company should make veterans of the dot-com era either sigh fondly or snicker.

Armed with dot-com funny money, a lot of inside expertise and sass, and a design that looked professional if you weren't paying close attention, we had convinced a major distributor to handle our first two issues. Soon after they hit Tower, Borders, other chains and indies, we started getting fan mail from all over the States. Also from people in Germany, Buenos Aires and sundry other parts who found the mag at their local bookstores.

People liked it. The press liked it, especially since most of us writing or editing it, all completely volunteer, were part of the Internet bubble: reporters, graphic designers, programmers, anonymous executives, biz-dev guys, etc. Biting the hand that feeds you always makes good copy.

I was on deadline one day at my day job (I covered Microsoft for a now-defunct business magazine) when the Wall Street Journal reporter who also covered Microsoft -- a.k.a. my competitor -- called me to interview about In Formation. The first issue was floating around, and he was writing a story about it. That was weird. I talked to him but said don't quote me. He quoted me. (Serves me right for trusting the press.)

We sold more copies than we had any right to do, although not nearly enough to break even. We had a good thing going.

Then September 11 came, and several airplanes crashed into the homeland: We couldn't adjust. We were paralyzed, our satiric and funny and critical bones numbed. We couldn't do what the Onion did: take two weeks, draw a big breath, and come up with perhaps their best issue ever. We couldn't bake an American flag cake, and we couldn't overcome the shock and awe enough to crank back into gear. In Formation faded away; we don't even have archives on line.

I relate this breathtaking saga because the past week in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the same paralysis has gripped me. The images and accounts have overwhelmed my sense of voice, making it feel petty, tinny, shrill. I sit down to write blogposts about the Giants, and nothing comes to mind. A separate voice in my head says it's not my voice that's needed now except to exhort others to give as much as they can.

Give more than you think is necessary for one person to give. Be generous. Make a sacrifice. And if you live within striking distance of The Big One, be prepared.

But that other, separate voice is only half-right.

The world doesn't need my pseudo-insights about the Giants right now, but it didn't need them before last week, either.

Writing about baseball is a hobby for me, but writing isn't. In one form or another, this is what I do. Unless national (or natural) disasters force me to make a career turn toward, say, one-eyed post-nuclear scrap metal scavenger, I've learned a lesson: Don't let anything still your voice. Humor, whimsy, satire, rumination, introspection, criticism: there is always room.

The current film The Aristocrats features a clip from a Friar's Club roast of Hugh Hefner, which took place soon after 9/11. As the clip starts, Rob Schneider has just plied a few lame jokes on the audience, and host Gilbert Gottfried has given Schneider the hook. "This city has suffered from enough bombing already," Gottfried says (or something like that), but the audience takes offense. It murmurs, it shifts uneasily, one guy shouts out, "Too soon! Too soon!"

Gottfried waves his hands, and in the best moment of the film, basically says all right, we're all puckered up tighter than a mosquito's asshole; it's time to get down and dirty. He launches into the eponymous joke -- the best version of several told during the course of the film. It's filthy, it's disgusting, it's inappropriate, it's utterly liberating.

I'm not saying the best minds of our generation should come up with some good hurricane jokes to let off steam.

But I'm ready to get back to my petty obsessions and write about them. Doing so doesn't diminish my sense of tragedy and heartbreak. I am deeply affected; I am a native son of a city that sprang once from the ashes and that, any day, could be reduced to them once more.

In the toxic floodwaters of Katrina, in the drowned houses and lives of St. Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward I see my own city pulverized, in flames; in the desperate suicides and defections of New Orleans cops I see S.F. emergency workers unable to climb steep hills to reach people under debris; in the stranded refugees on the Superdome concourse I see people sleeping in the San Francisco streets, wondering when the next aftershock will send damaged buildings tumbling down.

I won't vent my political views right now except to say that I wish Trent Lott was forced to stay a few days in the Superdome with so many others who lost homes. He could tell everyone there about his role model Strom Thurmond and how important it is for the federal government to stay out of local and state matters, which apparently was the policy this week. Why count on FEMA when the Lord will provide?

If I were a religious man, my only prayer would be that the Giants win a World Series before the Big One comes. Then I'll die happy.


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