Baseball, for all of its flaws and weird new idiosyncrasies,remains superior among all of the professional sports. The only real contender would be soccer, but the popularity of that game in the United States may forever be hampered by its pace. It’s not slow enough. Consequently there are fewer opportunities for that game to be dominated by coaches with their incessant time out calls that enable the television masters to use stop action moments to sell all of those useless products that we are prodded to think that we cannot do without while non players demonstrate their varying degrees of genius. My curiosity got the better of me just the other day when, while the major league baseball game I was watching was drawing to an end, I noticed on the crawler that the Golden State Warriors had a 12 point advantage over Toronto with about five and a half minutes left in the game.
So I tuned in. Oh, my goodness. Predictably, the home team Raptors shut down the Warriors’ offense with what the NBA calls defense, which seems to consist of TSA agents with billy clubs surrounding scofflaw boarding pass holders trying to avoid the inevitable. Now that summer solstice is nigh, the playoffs, or what Charles Barkley likes to call the real games, are almost complete. I used to jokingly quip that perhaps basketball, which used to be an indoor sport played during snow season that kept all concerned warm for a while, might wrap the season up by Flag Day, but that’s not been a joke for a good while. The apparent rationale is that the owners of the teams can continue to rake in the cash even while a high percentage of their employee players are confined to hospitals or at least the sidelines with the sort of injuries that only an overlong schedule complete with plenty of air travel can provide. It’s not WWI and they get paid extremely well, but the quality of the performances suffer indeed. Lots of fired or retired coaches become “analysts” with the emphasis on the first four letters of that word. They are there to catch us up on all of the advanced thinking that goes into these times out while seven footers clang free throws and scurry for rebounds. With 5.9 seconds left and Toronto having cut the margin to a mere two points, Andre Igoudala of Oakland, I mean Golden State,found himself open for a three point attempt which, as they say, he drained. Well, by God, we had an apparent winner with only three or four whistle blows to go. So I heard an analyst nearly sobbing that he shot “too soon” because, had he missed, the Raptors would have had “plenty of time” to tie the game or win it. That’s an old coach for you. He assumes the miss on a wide open shot.
Anyway, baseball.This game has a slow pace that people find fault with but, despite the commissioner’s wailing and his lame attempts to speed things along, the pace has usually not been a negative issue. After all, it was meant to be played in daylight during relatively pleasant weather. That was, of course, before the takeover by television, which brings you Balaclava Ball when the kids are in bed playing video games. One legitimate complaint, however, has emerged. That is, that perhaps more than a few teams, or at least their management crews, are not really trying to be competitive as far as winning games is concerned. Not throwing games like the infamous Chicago White Sox team of 1919, of course, but, rather, just not doing their best to put the best possible team on the field with the goal of a championship in mind. Sometimes it is time to rebuild, of course. The Philadelphia Phillies had to do that after they signed too many players to long term contracts while they were contending. The Tigers are doing it. When hard times come all businesses have to make do with less. No matter how many teams make it to the post season, only two play in the World Series. This is not really anything new. It’s just that with billion being the new million, all of the numbers, and consequently the stakes, are higher. For instance, there can be no logical argument that the Philadelphia A’s of 1954 were trying to unseat the Yankees. New York let them have Vic Power because he was black. But Lou Limmer, Marion Fricano, Bill Renna and Gus Zernial had no chance against the likes of Yogi Berra,Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Irv Noren, and those Yankees finished second!
Are the San Francisco Giants one of the current teams that are packing it in? No one is officially saying so, of course, and the players are obviously not quitting, but what gives? This organization over achieved splendidly in winning three World Championships in this decade with very good, albeit not great, teams and understandably rewarded players with rich, long term contracts. Injuries and age have taken a toll but it is difficult to believe that so many core players have suddenly reached the end of the line. The inspirational Hunter Pence visibly seemed to have reached that point and was justifiably let go only to revive his career, at least offensively, in Texas. However, first baseman Brandon Belt is just 31 years old and has been healthy so far this season. Yet, his current .243 batting average is 22 points lower than his career mark. Buster Posey, a career .304 hitter, is now at .257 with 3 home runs. His career on base percentage of .373 and slugging percentage of .463 compare to 2019 figures of .321 and .408. That’s after off season hip surgery that was supposed to cure what ailed him the past couple of years. Joe Panik looks stronger than he did last season but his numbers are all significantly lower than his career averages. Evan Longoria just arrived from Tampa Bay last year, and his 2019 numbers of .220,7 homers, and .302 on base and .412 slugging compare to career marks of .266, 284home runs,.335, and .475. Brandon Crawford has an average of .214 compared to .250, 5 homers,an on base percentage 31 points lower, and a slugging percentage 59 points lower. It goes beyond the batting numbers though. The Giants have looked lost and listless at times, making minor league mistakes. Did Bruce Bochy wait too long to retire? No, I suspect the problem lies above the dugout.
Talent evaluation is crucial for any organization. Also, character evaluation is important and often overlooked. Brian Sabean was very good at both. The new guy, Farhan Zaidi,seems to be over matched. Here is the deal. Professional athletes know who among them are strong and who are not. San Francisco has seen a long and troubling procession of athletes auditioning for roster spots that, at this point, have mostly proven to be weak except to the wandering eyes of Farhan Zaidi.Mike Gerber, Connor Joe, and Michael Reed all arrived with high recommendations from Zaidi. Giants fans wonder why and they are all elsewhere now. Aaron Altherr was there for a day. Gerardo Parra and Cameron Maybin are two proven outfielders who were sent packing and are helping other major league teams now. Mac Williamson, 28, was given one last long look. Now it is Mike Yastrzemski‘s turn. He’s also 28 and a career .263 minor league hitter, but he’s been useful so far. The point is, sometimes leaders lose confidence in their players but also, sometimes, players lose confidence in their leaders. I suspect that the latter is what gives with the Giants. The Dodgers look like a cinch for the National League West right now so what does a team 16 games behind in June do? Everybody seems to think trading Madison Bumgarner will be the start. I’d look a little higher.