I sent these questions out before Ian Desmond ripped apart the San Francisco Giants like he was a cop avenging his dead partner (the day before he was supposed to retire) in a 9-2 Washington Nationals win.
David, who grew up on another court in our Northern Virginia suburb, has been a guest prognosticator in 2011, 2012 and 2013 Nats vs. Giants Q&A and prediction with my friend David.
WFY: After a 52 year wait, the Giants won San Francisco it’s first World Series in 2010. Then, they stunk in 2011 and came back to win the 2012 World Series, followed by a rough 2013. Now, in 2014 they have the best run differential and record in the NL by far. Why are they going back and forth between domination and mediocrity?
DFS: There is rumor that rears its head ever so often that the Giants ownership wanted to maximize profit following the World Series both times. The Giants are owned by a consortium of moneymen, like hedge fund managers accustomed to return on investment, and not an old baseball family. I don’t know if there’s much truth in the rumor, but the team did not pursue marquee free agents in 2011 and 2013 and were content with limited talent starting often. Like many teams that don’t have a recent tradition of playoff success they re-signed and overpaid old veterans out of gratitude rather than thinking of the future. The contracts awarded to Aubrey Huff and Marco Scutaro come to mind. This year the Giants did the opposite and added two big names—Morse and Hudson—and each have had a great, positive impact.
WFY: The team with the second best run differential in the NL is facing your Giants for four games this week. The Nats have been great in June, having come within a blown save of consecutive sweeps to get them into a three-way tie for the NL East. What’s the take on the series from the Bay Area perspective?
DFS: I can’t really say. From the limited media I take in about the team no one has said anything about the Nats other the typical sales pitch of seeing Strasburg. I’m curious because I’m a Sports Illustrated reader and they have picked the Nationals two years running to take the National League pennant. I think the perception is that the Nationals are an underperforming squad that has been hurt by key injuries. For instance, I wasn’t aware that they’re in such tight contention in their division. The talk of the town really has been how great the Giants have been playing and that’s it. The two-out rallies and late inning comebacks have been so much fun.
WFY: Each game of this series has strong starting pitching from both sides, but I have to think the Giants have the edge playing at home and the overall dominance of Tim Hudson against Washington. The Giants get a little lucky that they don’t face Jordan Zimmerman who dominated the San Diego Padres yesterday and has been part of a starting rotation that gave up one walk in the past week.The DC bullpen has been quite strong, but gets a lot of work at times. How is the Giants bullpen?
DFS: The Giants bullpen has been tremendous. Saturday’s game was a good example. Hudson pitched poorly and only made it through the 5th inning. The bullpen kept the Giants in it long enough for the team to come back in the ninth. The Giants don’t have anybody that overpowers batters with 100 mph stuff—the kind of pitcher who gets a lot of attention. Romo is an unconventional closer—a guy that throws in the 80s and relies nearly exclusively on an off-speed pitch: his slider. The fans absolutely love him.
WFY: Way back earlier in the year, we briefly discussed Michael Morse, the former Nat turned Giant LF who is having a resurgence. How big has he been for the Giants? How has San Francisco taken to him? Is he as bad in left as I remember? He was a fan favorite here and until recently, his at bat music “Take on Me” was still being played in the middle of the 7th which was kind of weird.
DFS: I’ve been so pleased with Morse. Last year the Giants left fielder and first basemen hit about 20 home runs combined! Posey represented the only real consistent power in the lineup. Sandoval, of course, can be a fearsome hitter but he was largely ineffective last year. Pence was spotty. With Morse (and an improved Sandoval and Pence) the Giants have real hitters batting 1 through 5. Having Pence hit 2nd has been great too because he’s fast and his speed was not optimized when he was hitting 5th previously. The reaction by the fans and team to Morse seems to have been instant adoration. He plays with verve and joy. It is fun to watch him play because he’s having a good time while still delivering. It has been so great to get production out of left field or first base. Posey can play first base on off days and Morse moves to Left. The prior option at Left was Gregor Blanco who bunts for singles.
WFY: Who is the face of the franchise?
DFS: Posey. The team has a ton of character and characters. But Posey’s jersey is the one parents buy for their little boys.
WFY: Bruce Bouchy has a pretty strong resume having won the division and even a pennant with the San Diego Padres and of course two World Series for the Giants. What is his style of managing? Did he help get the Giants to the promise land? Have old managers like Felipe Alou and Roger Craig ever been heard from again?
DFS: I feel very fortunate that the Giants have Bochy. I think managers’ value generally is overstated. Football is the ultimate coach’s sport where expertise in talent evaluation, film study, game planning, and clock management reveal a coach’s value. In baseball, I think the game has historically been a player’s sport and you have to look more closely to see how a manager may be adding value. Bochy has the confidence to assert himself into the game and take strategic risks. In the 2010 and 2012 playoffs his regular line-up changes seemed to pay off beautifully. To wit, using Ryan Theriot as a DH in Game 4 of the World Series made me scratch my head. Theriot scored the winning run. The Giants have been using the Williams Shift frequently and they realign for each batter’s scouting report in more dramatic ways than I’m used to seeing. Bochy also manages with the long-term in mind. He’s not afraid to sit two of his best players on the same day if he thinks it is prudent to give them rest even if that means a much more likely loss. He elected to have a robust bullpen with only 5 bench players (including a backup catcher that plays at least once a week). That can be a problem in extra innings situations or in games where he goes to the bullpen early. But it has worked very well thus far. Those are the type of things that can be lucky, random trends that may disappear down the line.
WFY: The Nats ripped the Phish “WIL-SON” chant from the Seattle Seahawks for catcher Wilson Ramos. How in the world did San Francisco not adopt Phish’s Wilson for former closer Brian Wilson? Or does The City not acknowledge jam bands other than The Grateful Dead.
DFS: My friend Bill used to complain that they didn’t play the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson came out. Now that he is in LA, the Dodgers really ought to do that. I saw the NFL Films piece on Phish. The band actively campaigned its fans and the team to use it. I had never heard of it before the NFL Films piece. The Giants are a bit more folksy and local with their cross-marketing—like Metallica Night, for instance. My favorite tradition is that they play Tony Bennett after every win while playing a film of scenic and iconic San Francisco locations. I almost always stay to watch it and listen to the song before leaving the park.
WFY: Are the Golden State Warriors still trying to move across the bay to a pier? Is there any fallout from the 49ers leaving for the South Bay?
DFS: The Warriors have purchased land in the city to build a stadium. They abandoned a prior plan that would put it right by the Bay Bridge on a pier. I’m not supportive of the move. I don’t follow or really care about the NBA—although I was delighted the Bullets advanced in the playoffs. But I have a great amount of respect for the Warrior fans. They have filled that house through thick and thin. Oracle Arena is in the same asphalt and steel complex as the Coliseum and lacks the beauty and design elegance that some people have come to expect from arenas. It does not have readily accessible night life like the Verizon Center does in DC. But it has its own BART stop and ample parking. And it’s in Oakland. Everyone knows that long-time fans will be priced out by a stadium in San Francisco and I find that to be deeply unfair to such great fans.
The only people that I’ve heard say positive things about the Niners’ move are those that live in the South Bay. Candlestick was one of those places like Veterans Stadium—where everyone to a man complained about it. But to borrow a phrase from Joe Queenan, it was a temple. If you have the time, give this a read: Closing the Cave of the Winds (Grantland) Looking at it without sentimentality however, I don’t blame the city government at all for letting it happen. Football-only stadia represent a bad deal for American cities. They are dormant nearly the entire year but require a tremendous amount of pavement and traffic control. The early reports on the new stadium bring back traffic nightmare memories of Raljon. Evidently the stadium won’t host any Monday or Thursday games because of insufficient parking on weeknights: they will have overflow parking at surrounding locations on Sundays.
WFY: I have probably asked this before, so forgive me if I have, but how has the fanbase evolved in your decade of living there, late Bonds era to 2 time champ? You arrived just in time!
DFS: When I moved out here Bonds was still playing. He was an obstacle to my full adoption of the team. I don’t despise him and am still in awe of his accomplishments, even if not completely earned. But he rubbed me the wrong way and I had a hard time supporting the team fully because of it. I started to self identify as a Giants fan in his first year of retirement, which means I didn’t have to suffer through much before I enjoyed the rich bounty of 2 championships in 3 seasons. Winning does change things in the typical ways. I certainly see a lot more gear these days. The team also has cultivated a more jovial take to marketing itself. The players all have nicknames and fans riff on that by wearing costumes. The team’s commercials are light-hearted and occasionally funny without being too slick.
I don’t remember seeing that stuff when I moved here. Going to a game was an opportunity to watch Bonds in an idyllic ballpark. You didn’t need much more than that.
WFY: We’re to the point where team gear is kind of silly at times, but I’ll ask anyway — what Giants merch you have?
DFS: I have four items—all of which I received as presents. I have two Giants sweatshirts, one cap and some great orange and black argyle socks. I agree the gear has become ridiculous, particularly all the jerseys. Football fans are the worst. Everyone’s walking around with authentic jerseys that look like house dresses when worn by normal-sized people not wearing shoulder pads. When I wear gear I try to keep it understated. For instance, one of my Giants sweatshirts is stitched black on black. Harkening back to another older conversation, I agree with you that if you’re going to wear a jersey, wear one that has no name or number on it. If you must, go retro and cool like the Raider fans that wear Jack Tatum’s jersey.
WFY: Do you have a favorite Giants cultural, film, literature, television reference? What about favorite book about the Giants? I just learned on Uni-Watch today that Clint Eastwood wore a Giants cap in The Enforcer.
DFS: That scene in The Enforcer has Clint going into a whorehouse where he announces himself as Larry Dickman. That film also includes a scene shot at Candlestick during a game against the Reds. It is pretty cool. I’ve never read anything by Don Delillo, but I’ve been told that one of his novels starts with an extended description of the Bobby Thomson game. I’d like to read that. Robert De Niro made a lousy film called the Fan, where he is a rabid Giants fan that stalks a star player played by Wesley Snipes. Nothing else is springing to mind other than a Peanuts cartoon strip lamenting the World Series lost to the Yankees.
WFY: Who takes this series and why? What about the season series? Will they meet again in October?
DFS: As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have much insight into the Nationals, or any other non-NL West team. So this is pure guesswork. I think that Giants split this series 2 games to 2. They’ve been on such a great run that I feel like they’re due for a few bad hops. This team has the fundamentals for a great playoff run. I think they will take the season series and win the NL West. Meeting in October will be up to the Nationals.