“Remember 1951?” OK, you asked for it.

The Shot Heard 'Round the World

No, Giants fan, you do not want anyone  remembering the Mugging at Coogan’s Bluff.

This one’s for the Giants fan[s] who hoisted a large, stylish enough sign showing a flying baseball and the words, “Remember ’51,” in Oracle Park Friday night. Whomever you are, allow me to assure you that the last thing you want anyone remembering is 1951.

I get it. You’re remembering the Giants mounting a staggering pennant race comeback from thirteen games out of first place around mid-August to force a playoff against the Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant.

You’re remembering Ralph Branca relieving Don Newcombe and pitching to Bobby Thomson. You’re remembering, especially through that flying baseball image, Thomson turning on Branca’s 0-1 fastball and depositing it into the lower deck of the Polo Grounds’ left field seats.

You’re remembering The Shot Heard ‘Round the World. You’re remembering Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges going out of his mind screaming The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

In the thrill of history’s hour Friday night, the 107 game-winning National League West champion Giants and the 106 game-winning National League wild card Dodgers finally met in a proper postseason for the first time ever in their long, ancient, rivalrous history together.

That was then: A pair of pennant playoffs between each other, under the ancient baseball regimes, in 1951 and 1962, both won by the Giants. This was Friday night: The Giants won division series Game One, 4-0, in which the Dodgers weren’t even a quarter of the kind of tenacious and energetic they’d been in beating the Cardinals at the last minute in the wild card game.

Giants second-full-season starter Logan Webb out-pitched the Dodgers four-full-season veteran Walker Buehler. Webb deployed his impressive collection of breaking balls and changeups to catch the Dodgers off-balance, sometimes asleep. Buehler struggled to find a handle but managed to endure after Buster Posey—the last Giant standing from their 2010, 2012, and 2014 World Series winners—sent a two-run homer ricocheting off the back of a Levi’s Landing column into McCovey Cove in the bottom of the first.

By the time Buehler found his handle, he got to exercise it only long enough for another former World Series champion, Kris Bryant (2016 Cubs, a Giant since this year’s trade deadline), to park one into the left field seats to open the bottom of the seventh. With Buehler out of the game after one out in that inning, Brandon Crawford hit one into the center field bullpen with two outs against a second Dodger reliever, Alex Vesia, in the bottom of the eighth.

So, yes, the Giants opened decisively enough and impressively enough Friday night. Now, back to you, Giant fan with the “Remember ’51” sign. I saw the sign, in a brief moment on the TBS telecast early in the game. They didn’t show it again all night but it stuck in my head well into Saturday morning.

You don’t really want the rest of baseball world to remember what you might actually hope the thrill of history’s hour now might compel it to forget. Here’s a hint: The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

The 2017 Astros weren’t baseball’s first cheating champions by a long Shot. Come to think of it, neither were the 1951 Giants. But since you brought it up with that stylish-looking sign, gather around and allow me to ask.

Do you really want us to remember again what ’51 Giants manager Leo Durocher hatched after he discovered his recently-acquired spare part, Hank Schenz, owned a hand-held Wollensak spy glass—and had used it to steal signs from the Wrigley Field scoreboard behind that park’s bleachers when he was a Cub?

Do you really want us to remember again that Durocher called a team meeting to announce he’d cooked up a plot to start stealing signs from the Polo Grounds clubhouse above and just beyond center field? With catcher-turned-coach Herman Franks wielding the Wollensak and tapping codes for the stolen signs to the Giants bullpen, from where the purloined intelligence would be flashed to the batter?

Do you really want us to remember again that, when Durocher asked his players who wanted the stolen signs, his Hall of Fame left fielder Monte Irvin refused stolen signs? Meaning his rookie Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays wouldn’t take them, either? Much as Mays felt beholden to “Mister Leo,” he felt even more beholden to Irvin as a big brother figure, and he’d assuredly follow Irvin’s lead.

Do you really want us to remember again how, while the Dodgers went a very solid 33-26 down the stretch in August and September 1951, the Giants with their little furtive intelligence operation cheated their way to shooting the lights out—going 40-14 down the same stretch, including a sixteen-game winning streak that included thirteen home wins—to end that season in the first-place tie?

Do you really want us to remember again the day Dodger coach Cookie Lavagetto smelled enough of a rat to bring a pair of binoculars into the Dodger dugout in a bid to catch the Giants in the act—but had them confiscated post haste by an umpire?

As now-retired Thomas Boswell snorted in 2001, after The Shot Heard ‘Round the World was chosen baseball’s greatest moment by The Sporting News and second-greatest sports moment by Sports Illusrated, “Why, it would be unfair for the victims to use binoculars to expose the telescopic cheaters!”

Do you really want us to remember Bobby Thomson telling Joshua Prager, the Wall Street Journal writer who affirmed the Durocher plot at last in 2001 (turning it into a splendid but troubling book, The Echoing Green), “I guess I’ve been a jerk in a way. That I don’t want to face the music. Maybe I’ve felt too sensitive, embarrassed maybe.”

Maybe you don’t remember that Ralph Branca never blamed anyone beyond Durocher directly when talking about it for publication. Branca always said of Thomson (who became his friend in later years), “He still had to hit the pitch.” He carried the weight of surrendering that pitch and that loss with uncommon grace for the rest of his and Thomson’s lives. (Thomson died in 2010; Branca died in 2016.)

“Over the years, when interviewing Thomson and Branca,” Boswell wrote, “I’ve been struck that Thomson seemed a bit ambivalent about his Moment while Branca never seemed the least ashamed. I took it that Thomson felt apologetic because he’d caused Branca a lifetime of nagging questions.”

You, Giant fan(s) hoisting “Remember ’51” Friday night. Before you bring that sign back Saturday night, rooting for the team that stunned this year’s National League by winning the West despite everyone else trying to write them off as a fluke phenomenon, think it over. Hard.

You don’t really want everyone else remembering the greatest shame and sham in Giants history. You don’t really want us remembering the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff long exposed as the Mugging at Coogan’s Bluff. You don’t really want us to remember all over again that the Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

Do you?

Short of the track, short of the Giants

Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Tatis destroyed a hanging slider for homer number 40 in the seventh Wednesday night, but he couldn’t quite walk it off in the ninth, though not for lack of effort . . .

Fernando Tatis, Jr. started the Padres’ Wednesday night comeback attempt when he hit one out with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Why shouldn’t he have wanted to finish it by way of a game-winning blast with two on in the bottom of the ninth?

The National League’s leading home run hitter this year so far gave the Giants’ righthanded submariner Tyler Rogers’s climbing slider a high ride to Petco Park’s deep left. Even Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow thought it was likely to go and the Padres were likely to win.

Except that it didn’t, and they didn’t. That’s been the Padres’ story in the season’s second half. Minutes late and dollars short.

The drive hung up just enough to fall short enough and into the waiting glove of Kris Bryant, playing left near the track for the Giants, snapping the ball shut to end an 8-6 Giants win that looked like a blowout in the making after six and a half innings.

“I wish I could celebrate in a different story,” Tatis said post-game, “but it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, especially coming back from those injuries. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with the results and how I bounced back and this is history. It’s something to celebrate.”

He’d had to recover from a couple of shoulder injuries to become only the tenth man in Show history to hit forty homers or more in a season before his 22nd birthday. He might celebrate history, but he probably would have celebrated a Padres win more.

Every Giant fan in the house—there were plenty making the trek to San Diego, especially the group of orange-clad elders known as the Game Geezers—should thank Rogers for delivering the narrow escape. They should thank rookie Giants reliever Camilo Doval even more profoundly for the one he delivered in the bottom of the fifth.

One of the Giants’ soon-to-be-fabled retreads, lefthanded starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, ran into big trouble after delivering four innings of one-run ball that weren’t exactly on the virtuoso side but weren’t exactly on the weak side, either. But he walked Victor Caratini on a full count, surrendered a base hit to pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick, and walked Tatis on four straight.

Then Giants catcher Buster Posey made a might-have-been grave mistake. He got his glove out far enough to catch a piece of Jake Cronenworth’s bat as Cronenworth slashed a foul down the left field line. The interference call brought Caratini home, kept the bases loaded, and told manager Gabe Kapler Kazmir had had it for the night.

He brought Doval into the impossible nightmare. Ducks on the pond, nobody out, and Manny Machado checking in at the plate. This can be something comparable to trying to bring a Boeing 747 home without a scratch, bump, or crash after three of the four engines blow.

Doval attacked Machado as though he was just playing catch with Posey. Three hard, quivering sliders that didn’t get anywhere near the middle of the plate. Three hard, hell-bent swings on each of which Machado looked as though he wanted to send his mates on the bases around the horn twice on one drive. Then, Doval wrestled Tommy Pham into dialing Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Even the Padres’ faithful had to appreciate that kind of narrow-escape, safe landing, which Kapler called “one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our pen.”

The irony of Caratini scoring on catcher’s interference wasn’t necessarily lost on anyone. It was Caratini’s glove touching Tommy La Stella’s bat, as LaStella fouled one high down the left field line opening the game, that put La Stella aboard and began Padres starter Vince Velasquez’s three-run nightmare, giving the Giants the extremely early lead in the first place.

Velasquez wasn’t exactly sharp in the first place. Not after starting Brandon Belt 0-2 and finishing by walking him, then throwing a 1-1 jammer that Posey somehow fisted into a balloon shot into short right center to load the pads.

He might have wrestled Lamonte Wade, Jr. into an eight-pitch strikeout, but Bryant nailed him for a bases-clearing double off the right center field wall, before Brandon Crawford pushed Bryant to third with a fly out to the back of center and Evan Longoria struck out swinging for the side.

La Stella’s no stranger to catcher’s interference. It happened to him twice in one game, as a Cub, on 7 June 2018, making him only the seventh player to benefit thus. Then-Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp’s mitt touched his bat twice—in the first, when he grounded one back to pitcher Nick Pivetta; and, in the eighth, against reliever Adam Morgan, when Knapp’s mitt hit the bat as La Stella fouled one off. But neither one figured in that game’s scoring, the Cubs beating the Phillies by a run.

The game ended up thickening the Giants’ National League West lead to two games with the Dodgers getting slapped silly, 10-5, by the Rockies in Coors Field. The Rockies’ season burial isn’t wholly official yet; the Padres still have a very outside, very slim wild card hope.

Kazmir, last seen among the silver medalists on the U.S. Olympic baseball team earlier this summer, pitched like an elder looking for one more season in the sun and finding various ways to justify it. He pitched into and out of trouble in the bottom of the second, turning a one-out single (Eric Hosmer), a two-out ground-rule double (Trent Grisham), and then offered evidence for the defense in favour of making the designated hitter universal.

Caratini came to the plate with Padres relief pitcher Ryan Weathers due to bat next. DH partisans often cite the frequent National League pitchers’ cop-out, described best by Thomas Boswell when recalling the “thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the [American League], you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Kazmir threw Caratini two so-obviously weak changeups, then handed Caratini first on the house. Then he got Weathers to ground one to Crawford at short for the inning-ending force out. Exactly why the Giants thought that dangerous .215-hitting Caratini was liable to tie the game with one swing—he’s hit as many home runs over five years as Tatis hit by 15 June this year—escapes.

And exactly why the Padres didn’t think to pinch hit for Weathers escapes as well, particularly with known Giant-puncturer Adam Frazier (he’s hit .365 against them this year) on the bench for the evening. Casey Stengel once believed that when you have an opening, you shove with your shoulder. Padres manager Jayce Tingler forgot he had a shoulder (and enough decent bullpen still) with which to shove.

Until Kazmir ran into that fifth inning trouble, he kept the Padres mostly off balance from there, while Weathers and his successor Ross Detwiler kept the Giants mostly quiet until yielding to converted-from-shortstop Javy Guerra for the top of the sixth.

Oops. Posey lined the first pitch down the right field line, falling in fair to lead off with a double. Wade swatted a full-count sinker up the middle for first and third. Bryant grounded out to Hosmer playing first, but Crawford slapped an opposite-field single to left to send Posey home.

One Longoria strikeout and pitching change to Nabil Crismatt later, Mike Yastrzemski singled Wade home with a base hit right back up the pipe, before pinch hitter Wilmer Flores flied out to right to keep things 5-1, Giants.

Crismatt ended up really taking one for the team in the seventh. He handed La Stella a four-pitch leadoff walk, and Belt promptly hit the first pitch he saw for a line single into right. Then Posey lined a 1-2 changeup the other way down the right field line again, sending La Stella home. Wade doubled Belt and Posey home before going down trying to steal. Bryant grounded out to first, but Crawford shot a single past third before Longoria struck out for the third time on the night.

That made it 8-1, Giants. Then, with one out against Giants reliever Jarlin Garcia, Tatis fought back from 0-2, caught hold of a hanging slider on 2-2, and drove it into the left field seats. Cronenworth promptly doubled to the back of right field and Machado sent a hard liner over the hole at short to send Cronenworth home.

Exit Garcia, enter Domonic Leone, and Pham’s first-pitch liner the other way to right loaded the pads for the Padres again. But all they had to show for that was Hosmer poking a single up the middle to send Machado home, before Wil Myers struck out and Grisham slapped his way into an inning-ending force out at second.

Going 3-for-12 with men in scoring position wasn’t exactly the way to overthrow the Giants. Things weren’t helped any for the Padres when Crawford made an acrobatic spin and grab of a Myers grounder that had one-out base hit stamped on it, Crawford throwing Myers out off balance but right on the button for the second out of the fourth.

Against the submarining Rogers in the ninth, Pham worked a leadoff walk and Hosmer hit a ground-rule double to send him to third. Finally the Padres sent Frazier to the plate to pinch hit, and he pushed Pham home while grounding out to second, before Grisham singled Hosmer home with the sixth Padre run.

After Caratini flied out to left, up came Tatis. He wanted to hit that three-run homer so badly the entire ballpark could taste it. Especially after he opened with a foul out of play to the right side. Then Rogers’s slider climbed up to the middle of the zone somewhat away from Tatis. Tatis swung as if his and the Padres’ lives depended on it.

It wasn’t enough.

Things haven’t been enough for the reeling Padres since the middle of August. And just as they were about to lose their fifth straight and eleventh in fourteen games, general manager A.J. Preller continued an apparent organisational shakeup—shuffling assorted farm system roles two days after firing seven-year farm director Sam Geaney.

The Padres have gone from Preller’s inability to fortify a decimated starting rotation (they failed spectacularly at the trade deadline after the world only thought they’d bag Max Scherzer) to Tingler’s apparent inability to keep his clubhouse consistently steady. They’re already thinking wait till next year in San Diego. Next year, and maybe a new manager.

For the Giants the season’s going to end up with them finishing what they started, taking hold of their division and holding on no matter the overqualified Dodgers snapping at their heels. Those two antagonists could end up squaring off in a postseason set that’s liable to do what earthquakes can’t—blow the Richter scale to bits.

Rank desertion? Don’t even go there.

2020-07-11 BusterPosey

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey has opted out of playing this year for the sake of his children—an incumbent pair of twins and a pair of twin newborns freshly adopted. Some dare call it desertion—erroneously.

Whatever else you think about those major league players who have opted out of playing in 2020, or who think about doing so, here’s something that shouldn’t come into play: someone snarking about such players committing “rank desertion.” (So help me, that’s how someone phrased it in one online baseball forum.) Ignore them. Let them rant their heads off, but you’re under no obligation to listen.

That’s one of the beauties of free speech, what’s left of it. You can rant your head off any old time and place it strikes you to rant. You also bear no known mandatory obligation to listen to any particular ranter for any particular reason.

Militarily, of course, “rank desertion” equals one soldier, sailor, marine, or airman, or a group of them, walking away from their units or posts without call, usually but not exclusively in wartime. In civilian terms, “rank desertion” implies someone or a group of someones walking off the job where there’s no known option aside from a labour strike or formal resignation to do it.

The players were given the opt-out option after all those weeks of haggling between the owners trying to game them out of agreed-upon-in-March pay protocols before they finally agreed to give what remained of a 2020 season a try. Handed that option, those players exercising it cannot be accused credibly of rank desertion.

There’s a coronavirus still on world tour, to various extents, and baseball players play and sojourn in places that still present exposure risks they’re not entirely anxious to bring home. Especially when they have loved ones considered in the high-risk category.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey may be the highest-profile player to opt out of the season to date. There but for the curse of injuries might he be in the Hall of Fame conversation; maybe two or even three more injury-free seasons on his jacket might keep him there. He could still get those seasons beginning next year.

As was his right under the current protocols, Posey thought more than twice about the twin babies he and his wife, Kristin, are adopting. They were born prematurely last week and at this writing remain in neonatal intensive care. The San Francisco Chronicle says the little girls are doing well enough in the circumstance.

Already the father of incumbent twin children, Posey weighed the risk and pondered the opt-out option that has yet to be rescinded. Then, he made his decision for the sake of his children’s health. The same decision Los Angeles Angels demigod Mike Trout continues weighing as the birth of his first child with his wife, Jessica, looms next month.

Trout isn’t exactly on poverty row so far as major league baseball players are concerned. Neither is Posey, even if Trout is above and beyond his and any other player’s pay grade. Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis has a family to consider as well, and he’s not exactly going to be among the poor by opting out of 2020, either, as he did during the week now past.

Two factors moved Markakis to opt out, the risk to his family and the very real COVID-19 infection incurred by his franchise co-face face teammate Freddie Freeman. (Braves fans have a case to make that Freeman now shares the distinction with Markakis’s fellow outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. Markakis also admits playing with no audience at first doesn’t exactly pose a thrill.)

Markakis spoke to Freeman by phone and learned fast enough. “Just hearing him, the way he sounded on the phone, it was tough,” he told reporters last Monday. “It was kind of eye-opening. With everything that’s going on, not just with baseball but all over the world, it makes you open your eyes.”

Felix Hernandez, the longtime Seattle pitching bellwether now trying to resuscitate his career with the Braves, has also opted out of 2020. So has Michael Kopech, the Chicago White Sox pitcher who’d otherwise hoped to begin his return from his 2018 Tommy John surgery. So has Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, whose teammate Charlie Blackmon was hit with COVID-19 and who has alarms about equal to health alarms for doing so.

On health terms, Desmond and his wife, Chelsey, are already parents of four young children and Mrs. Desmond is pregnant with their fifth. That’s the immediate reason Desmond exercised his opt-out option. But it provided him a chance to speak publicly enough on social and even spiritual terms.

Desmond—who is bi-racial—laments what the George Floyd murder at police hands in Minneapolis re-exposes of society in general and, from his perspective, the game he loves otherwise. “Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war,” Desmond began in a round of jolting but thought-provoking Instagram posts.

We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.

Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it.

If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now . . .

Other opt-outs, also for familial health concerns, include Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price (who has yet to throw a pitch in regular-season competition for them), and three Washington Nationals: first baseman and elder statesman Ryan Zimmerman, relief pitcher Joe Ross, and catcher Welington Castillo.

Baseball’s coronavirus testings have not exactly proven the epitome of consistency or coordination. Teams like the Giants, the Nationals, the Houston Astros, the St. Louis Cardinals have postponed several “summer camp” workouts over them. Astros third baseman Alex Bregman skipped a subsequent Astros workout when his test didn’t arrive back on time. That had a few of his teammates more than a little shaky.

“We want to know how these test results are going to work out for us,” said outfielder Michael Brantley. “Not having Alex here today was just another day he didn’t get to prepare. As I read around the league, a lot of players are voicing their opinions that we need our test results back faster.”

You can say anything you wish about those players opting out and others yet to come who opt out of 2020 for their health’s sake first. If baseball’s testings continue being that inconsistently performed and handled, would you really be shocked to see more players deciding their health and their families’ health just can’t be entrusted to that? Regardless of their salaries?

You can also say as you wish about Desmond’s not-to-be-dismissed-out-of-hand thoughts regarding the first American team sport to end segregation officially while still having issues 73 years later accepting and assimilating non-white personnel on and off the playing field. You don’t need to demand a quota system to say baseball can, should, and must do a better job of it.

Much as we’ve missed a major league season thus far, we seem to need reminders more often than comfortable that certain things cut both ways. Things like the “human element,” for example. The traditionalists screamed blue murder over technological advances they thought (erroneously) would erode the “human element.” But it isn’t just traditionalists dismissing the opting-out as rank deserters.

That dismissal is a plain, no-further-discussion-necessary false dismissal of, what do you know, the human element. The element that says baseball players are not invincible androids who can’t be felled by or transmit disease but mere human men, prone to all manner of incurring and transmitting affliction, particularly during a pandemic that’s become as much a political football as a challenge to medicine.

The rank desertion accusers should be asked how swiftly they’d step in and take the risk for the sake of playing a game much beloved but not without risk. When they answer, “five minutes ago,” they should be asked just as promptly whether they’d like to bring an infection back to their loved ones.

The crickets should be heard playing the entirety of a classic jazz album—In a Silent Way.