Week of July 12, 2019

NFL player Josh Norman leaping over a bull at Pamplona.


A Bum and His Boch 

The Giants may be on the verge of trading Madison Bumgarner, a pitcher who helped win three World Series titles, and practically won the third all on his own. Some fans are practical: He’ll be a free agent, he’ll cost a lot, the team needs to rebuild by replenishing the farm system, and he’s one of the few marketable assets. Other fans are emotional: It’s Bummy! Don’t you remember the 2014 World Series? He’s still only 28. If we can turn this around in 2-3 years, he’ll still be young enough to contribute.

I’m in the middle. I absolutely want to restock the farm system, and realize that trading Bum, and 

not re-signing him, is our best option to continue doing so. But damn, I will be sad when it happens. Here’s what Phil wrote about him after the 2014 World Series:

Have you heard the theory about how the indigenous people couldn’t see the ships when Columbus hit landfall on the Americas? The theory is that the ships were so out of their realm of reality that they couldn’t process what was taking place before them. They couldn’t see the ships! Whether or not that’s true (I don’t buy it), that’s how I felt watching Madbum last night. I knew it was exceptional, but I couldn’t process it. Even when you tell me the numbers (.25 ERA in 36 WS innings…what the hell?), it still doesn’t process. I really don’t think we’ll ever, ever see a WS pitching performance like that again.

I just can’t let that go. And if we let him go and the prospects don’t amount to much, which is a very real possibility! (My headline there: Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects”), I will be pretty god damn upset.

But if I feel that way, as do so many other Giants fans, imagine how the guy who has managed him feels: Bruce Bochy. Bochy is retiring after this season, so it probably lessens the sting of Bumgarner leaving. But he also probably would prefer to finish his career with Bum on the bump, ya know? Bochy is not shy about expressing his love for the guy he managed from a 20-year old rookie to a World Series hero:

“With Madison, it’s a desire to be the best he can be,” Bochy said. “I love this man so much and I’ll never forget what he did for me, for us. Nah, he’s special, man. This is one … I’m really going to miss.”

I love this article by Baggarly, because he gets two stoic men to open up. But he also tells us things that we can’t know, because we don’t spend every day at the park:

It is an everyday sight whenever the Giants take batting practice: Bumgarner spends so much time at Bochy’s side, the two of them leaning against the back of the cage, that you might assume the man with No. 40 stretching across his broad back and the bristle of hair poking out from his hat is the hitting coach and not the No. 1 starting pitcher.

They might be talking about the hitter in the cage. They might be talking about last night’s game or how they should pitch an opponent on a hot streak. They might be talking about hunting or fishing or whether Bochy should build on that family farmland he inherited in North Carolina, just outside a sleepy little town called Wade.

“What’s talked about the most,” said Bumgarner, “is baseball.

As you read, you start to realize – this isn’t just manager/player. It’s not quite father/son, either. It’s two dear friends who share a love for the game they play. It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months. -TOB

Source: “‘He’s All We’ve Ever Known’: Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy Near the End of Their Working Relationship, But Their Friendship Will Endure”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/24/2019)

PAL: You nail it, TOB. This right here is the fan experience: “It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months.”

When you have “A Guy” – and each franchise can only hope to have a few in the entire existence of a franchise – it’s hard to let go of seeing him on the mound in a Giants jersey for some prospects. And you’re right; there’s no guarantee any of the prospects will amount to much beyond serving as an asset. 

Bumgarner represents the absolute apex of what a fan hopes to get out of a player. Home-grown talent. The young buck at the beginning of the dynasty. A career defining ‘moment’ (he’s so good that his moment lasted an entire postseason in 2014). Add to it that SF and Bum are an unlikely combination: a country-strong, lift-kit Ford truck driving red-ass in the land of scooters. And all of this while the more heralded talent for the rival down south – Clayton Kershaw – won nothing but individual awards. 

So yeah, I say keep him. He’s not old. Rebuild this thing, and let him be the bridge to the next era. 

Or…

THE GIANTS SHOULD DEFINITELY TRADE HIM TO THE TWINS FOR MIGUEL SANO. GREAT DEAL FOR BOTH TEAMS.


I Don’t Hate This: Stealing First 

I’m usually the curmudgeon when it comes to changing baseball. Don’t change a thing. RBI is a meaningful stat. If I’m being honest, when I see someone hitting over .300 I all but concede that he’s a good hitter. 

But this idea is a radical one, and I friggin’ love it. MLB is using the Atlantic League (an independent league) as its lab, testing out rule changes and seeing their impact. In last week’s Atlantic League All-Star Game, the home plate ump had an AirPod on and ball and strike calls were made by a software. 

But that’s not even close to the most interesting rule change. Starting in the second half of the season, players will be allowed to steal first base. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

“Any pitch on any count not caught in flight will be considered a live ball, and a batter may run to first base, similar to a dropped third strike”

It doesn’t take much to see how this could really add an action-packed wrinkle to a largely stationary game. Per Yahoo’s Chris Cwik:

The rule would drastically alter the game if it is adopted in MLB. Players like Billy Hamilton might suddenly gain extra value. If a ball gets away, he can easily make it to first base. Given his speed, he’ll probably steal second base too.

Not only that, but players like Hamilton might see fewer breaking balls as a result of the new rule. If pitchers fear wild pitches or passed balls, they might serve up more fastballs to players with elite speed. In Hamilton’s case, that would be a good thing. He hits fastballs and sinkers much better than breaking stuff.

I love this. I love the idea of speed becoming much more valuable in a game dictated by power (pitching and hitting). I also love the late-game situations this would create.

Let’s say, I don’t know, the Twins are down by 2 in the ninth with 1 runner on base, and the old, slow, definitely-not-on-something Nelson Cruz is up. Cruz has 16 home runs, and he’s looking go boom. That’s why he’s still in the league – to hit home runs and to sport a haircut that he’s 17 years too old to sport. The pitcher throws one that gets away from the catcher early in the count. Does Cruz take first or stay put to try go boom on the next pitch? Does the pitcher, knowing that Cruz gets paid to hit for power, try to entice him to take first base? 

These are fun scenarios to think about, and this is such a no-brainer for the Atlantic League to be the lab rats for MLB. Let them steal first! Thanks for the tip, Pep! – PAL

Source: MLB will experiment with stealing first base in Atlantic League”, Chris Cwik, Yahoo Sports (07/10/2019) 

TOB:

It’s Freaky Friday, y’all. While I’m ready for RoboUmps, this rule change has me spooked. It’s such a big change. I’ll need to see it.

Also, if you’re like me – this article had me wondering: why even do we have the dropped third strike rule? Well, I did some sleuthing, and I’ll write about it next week.


From Fields to Stadiums: Babe Ruth, Frank Osborn, and Steel

Really enjoyed this one. It digs into how steel, along with a guy named Babe Ruth and an engineer named Frank Osborn, ushered in a new era of professional baseball. An unlikely grouping is alys a sturdy foundation for a good read. 

I’ve understood Babe Ruth’s greatness in terms of numbers, especially when compared to players of his day, but it wasn’t until I read this that I understood how massive his role was in brining baseball to the masses. He put butts in the seats. He sold papers. He’s why the Yankees stopped renting at the Polo Grounds and build their own field. And, in fact, it wasn’t a field; it was a stadium. 

Vince Guerrieri calibrates the reader to the time in question, a time when the Yankees were far from the “Evil Empire”:

Before the 1920 season, the Yankees bought the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $125,000, the largest price ever for the purchase of a single player in a move regarded as folly at the time. At that price, the Yankees would have to draw a million fans to break even—unheard of at that point. As it turned out, Ruth’s prodigious home runs revolutionized the sport—and drew crowds. In his first year with the Yankees, the team became the first in major league history to draw more than one million fans, relegating the Giants to second fiddle in their own park. The Yankees needed a bigger place of their own—and the Giants were only too happy to have them leave, going so far as to serve them an eviction notice (later rescinded).

Before this time, most fields (they were called fields or parks, but not yet stadiums) were made of wood. A cheap material, readily available. They were small, far from permanent (much like the game itself) and pretty dangerous. Not only did wooden bleachers “fail”, but fires – big, killer fires – were far more of a regular threat in those days than they are now. Fires and wood – not a good combo. 

Also Baseball was far from a stable industry, and thus lacked the infrastructure. Never mind teams calling it quits – full leagues would fold over night. That volatility started fade when the masses to the fields. The Yankees attendance exceeded one million in Ruth’s first year, the first team to eclipse that mark. Two years later the team was building a stadium that could hold over 60K fans.

As the games popularity grew, thanks in large part to Ruth, the owners saw that they needed to accommodate (and charge) more fans. Baseball was becoming a viable business. And that’s when they called Frank Osborn in Cleveland, Ohio. Osborn earned his stripes as an engineer for a firm that specialized in steel bridges made for railroads. He understood how to build structures that could withstand a tremendous amount of moving weight in a relatively small space. 

While the steel reinforced concrete was a larger expense upfront, owners were no longer worried about leagues folding year to year. They were thinking long term. Frank Osborn’s steel and concrete stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, and the Brox literally helped cemented baseball’s future. From 1903 – 1953, not a single team relocated.

The article goes on to describe the terrible detour of the multi-purpose,’doughnut’ stadiums that replaced so many of the original ‘stadiums’, as well as how the new stadiums have reverted back to the vintage aesthetic. Best of all, Osborn Engineering is still in operation today. 

What an enjoyable read, and the old photos are so fun to pour over. – PAL 

Source: How Concrete And Steel Built Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (07/08/2019)


Little Big League: Still Holds Up!

If you asked me to choose my favorite baseball movie, I am torn. I love the Sandlot. I love Field of Dreams. But my top two are Major League, and Little Big League. We covered Major League back in April, as this year is its 30th anniversary. But Little Big League is 25 years old this year, and The Athletic did a fantastic look at what is an unbelievably underrated movie (just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, which – GFTOH!). 

If you don’t remember Little Big League, the premise is simple: 12-year old Billy Heywood inherits the Minnesota Twins from his grandpa, who passes away near the beginning of the film. The team is slumping, and Billy fires the manager (Dennis Farina playing a Billy Martin-type character). Unable to find a replacement, Billy names himself the manager, and teaches the players to remember why they love playing baseball and in the process they begin to win games.

A lot of things stick out for me in this movie, much of it covered by the article. For example, the baseball scenes are very realistic, and the article gets into how they did that. There are some great cameos, and I get a kick out of watching them now just as I did as a 12-year old. It’s also a genuinely funny movie, even as an adult. It’s just a fun-watch. 

But it’s also a smart-watch. For example, this scene, where Billy convinces the GM and the bench coach that he’s qualified to coach the team (and the line from Billy’s friend who comes up with the idea that he manage the team still kills me: “It’s the American League! They’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”):

For mainstream baseball, that argument against the sacrifice bunt is twenty years ahead of its time. I also love this scene where Billy enlists the entire team to help him with his homework before they play a one-game playoff to determine whether they make the postseason.

Or how about the fact that, in the climactic scene, the Mariners’ Randy Johnson comes out of the bullpen in the 9th to close the door. Using your best pitcher in relief in a playoff game is almost a decade ahead of its time! 

If you haven’t seen the movie, or if it’s been a while, I highly recommend it! -TOB

Source: Little Big League’ at 25: The Inside Story of an Unlikely Baseball Classic”, Rustin Dodd, The Athletic (06/28/2019)

PAL: TOB made we watch this movie a year or so ago. Watching him watch it and make the case for its greatness was more entertaining than the movie. 

As a Twins fan, I have a couple issues with this movie. 

Timothy Busfield? Really? That’s the best we can do for our first baseman and lead actor in a movie about the Twins? Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law from Field of Dreams, that’s what we get? 

This quote from Dave Magaden, former big leaguer and actor in the movie, about Busfleid’s assessment of his own talents had me dying: 

“He played a little high school baseball, so he had that mindset that if he’d kept working at it, he would have made it to the pros. He was a decent hitter, I guess.” 

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Some hollywood guy played a little in high school and thinks he could have made it to the pros. Of course, Busfield. 

Oh, and let’s not have a friggin’ extra wearing #34 for the Twins. You wouldn’t have an extra wearing #23 for the Bulls in a basketball movie, would you?

Also, the Rawling Pump glove is heavily featured in this movie:

Most important, TOOTBLAN, as demonstrated by Ken Griffey, Jr. in this movie, is a first grade, world class, phenomenal concept. I will be using it the next time I coach.  

TOB: I will give Busfield this: his swing is decent and he throws like a ballplayer.

PAL: His swing is a bad Griffey impression. Nah. A guy like that has to have more of a grinder swing. He should swing more like Brian Giles.


Video of the Week

^World Cup champion Ashlyn Harris channeling PAL and TOB, every Friday morning.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sam & Dave: “Hold On, I’m Comin'”


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-M.G. Scott

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