I’ve been one of those hedging about whether pitchers should win a Most Valuable Player award. They’ve already got the Cy Young award, and play only every fifth day, so the MVP should be just for everyday players, I reasoned. Then I watched Clayton Kershaw today as he pitched the Dodgers to a crucial 4-2 victory over the Giants at AT&T Park. Kershaw was in command in the 110-pitch performance, and mostly shut down the heart of the Giants order. This was a high-stakes rivalry game played on the big stage. A win for the Dodgers and they grab a solid three-game division lead with 13 to play. A loss and the Giants creep to within a game.
History is on Kershaw’s side in the MVP debate. The Giants and Dodgers had their first head-to-head, down-to-the-wire pennant race 90 years ago this month, in the 1924 season. The New York Giants clinched the flag on the next-to-last day of the season, but that didn’t prevent Brooklyn 28-game winner Dazzy Vance from winning the National League MVP. Vance, who struck out 262 while posting a 2.16 ERA, won it over St. Louis second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who batted .424. That average is outstanding, but Hornsby’s Cardinals were 68-89 and finished 28.5 games out of first, so Vance was deemed most valuable. Of course, there was no Cy Young award in those days, so maybe it made the selection of Vance even easier. One more argument in Kershaw’s favor: He is now 19-3, a phenomenal record especially in this day of limited starts and few complete games.
KOUFAX TERRITORY: Comparisons are being made of Kershaw and Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, who dazzled the game in the 1960s. It’s tough to compare pitchers from the two eras because of how pitching has changed. Starters work every fifth game now, while Koufax went every fourth day, and sometimes even less if needed. He even had three saves one year.
Koufax’s last four years, from 1963-1966, were his best, until he had to retire because of an aching elbow. During that stretch, he was 97-17, with 1,228 strikeouts, 150 starts and 89 complete games. His ERA s for the four years were 1.88, 1.74, 2.04 and 1.73. In the last four years, including this still unfinished season, Kershaw is 70-26 with 928 strikeouts, 124 starts and 16 complete games. His ERAs for these years are 2.28, 2.53, 1.83 and 1.67. Kershaw has won two Cy Youngs and is a cinch for a third this year. Koufax won three Cy Youngs, as well as an MVP in 1963. He had to beat out position players such as Hank Aaron, who hit 44 homers, drove in 130 and batted .319. Koufax pitched the Dodgers to the World Series that year while Aaron’s Braves finished 15 games out. Like Kershaw, he was usually rough on the Giants, including a no-hitter in 1963.
So is Kershaw approaching the status of the legendary Hall of Famer Koufax? It might not be a fair assessment, but those numbers above regarding complete games and starts just make it difficult to elevate a pitcher from this era of pitch counts to the level of those earlier workhorses. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in awe of Kershaw. And if I had a vote I would comfortably put his name on my MVP ballot.
CLINCHER: Here’s an extra incentive for the Giants, as if they need one, while they play Arizona and San Diego this week before heading down to Los Angeles on Sept. 22. If the Dodgers have a big week, and San Francisco stumbles, the Giants could face the danger of giving Los Angeles a chance to clinch the NL West crown in front of them.
SLOPPY: Kershaw wasn’t the only problem for the Giants in today’s loss to the Dodgers. On the big stage, the Giants forgot their lines and knocked over the scenery. They made two errors on one play, which led to two runs. Those came when right fielder Hunter Pence threw off line while trying to nail Hanley Ramirez at third. Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit retrieved the ball, but his throw to home to try to get Ramirez was wild. Petit had only himself to blame for the debacle, because he failed to get to the right angle in backing up third. Petit also hurt his own cause when he failed to advance a runner in a bunt attempt. In the sixth, center fielder Angel Pagan misplayed an Adrian Gonzalez shot which turned into a double, and Matt Kemp followed that with a home run.
STREAKING: It’s hard to make a case for the Dodgers folding in these final two weeks. One of the strengths of the Dodgers is that they have enough pitching and offense to avoid big losing streaks. The Dodgers have had three three-game losing streaks this year. The Giants have had two-six-game losing streaks, a four and five game losing streak, and four three-game losing streaks. The Giants and Dodgers remaining schedules seem to be a wash. The Dodgers play six against Colorado, who they’ve beaten nine times out of 13. They meet the Cubs for four games in Chicago, and maybe there will some disadvantage in having the longer road trip. The Giants play seven against the Padres. They are just 6-6 against San Diego, so it seems against the odds to think that they would suddenly start dominating them.
ROUTS: The Dodgers 17-0 embarrassment of the Giants on Saturday night was the biggest victory margin in the rivalry’s West Coast history. Perhaps the Dodgers were just finally getting around to avenging their 18-run loss, 26-8, to the Giants in 1944.
The Giants and Dodgers franchises played their first-ever official game on Oct. 18, 1889. Could it be that 125 years later, on Oct. 18, 2014, the clubs meet in a seventh and deciding game in the National League Championship Series? It’s not a total stretch.
One of the teams will win the division title, and it seems likely that the other will play in the do-or-die wild-card game. If the Giants/Dodgers win the wild-card game to reach the five-game division series, the clubs would likely meet either St. Louis or Washington based on the current races. Assuming both were victorious, the Giants and Dodgers would play each other in the NLCS, and game seven, if necessary, would fall on and near the historic Oct. 18 date.
The Giants franchise, formed in 1883 in New York, and the Dodgers franchise, formed in 1884 in Brooklyn, began with the teams in different leagues, so it wasn’t until 1889 that both won their titles so they could meet in a best-of-11 championship series. Brooklyn took the opener 12-10, and built a 3-1 lead in the series, but New York then won five in a row to win the championship. One of the keys for New York is that they twice beat Brooklyn’s 40-game winner Don Caruthers and 22-game winner Adonis Terry, a workhorse who started five of the games.
Price is wrong: The Giants will either be two or three games out going into this weekend’s three-game series against the Dodgers, based on the outcome of today’s Giants-D-Backs game. It will be interesting to see if Dodger Nation has a big presence at AT&T this weekend, as was the case when the clubs met in San Francisco in July. Giants management is to blame, as it jacked up prices for the games, which had the effect of making it attractive for its fans to profit by putting their seats on the market. The cheapest ticket for this series is $51.50 (Friday), $68.75 (Saturday) and $51.50 Sunday. That doesn’t even include those handling and convenience charges, and aren’t we thankful that there are handlers who are so nice to make buying a ticket so convenient for us. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are making the Giants-Dodgers series at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 22-24 more conveniently affordable for their fans, with tickets as low as $25.
Mismatch?: The pitching matchup for the Giants-Dodgers finale of the three-game series Sunday looks like a mismatch — Clayton Kershaw vs. Yusmeiro Petit. I mean, how can poor Clayton compete with a guy who missed a perfect game by one out a year ago, set a major league record for consecutive outs this year and is coming off an 84-pitch complete-game shutout with nine strikeouts and no walks. Petit for MVP? While this is written in jest, who would have thought at the start of the year that a Kershaw-Petit matchup in a September Dodgers-Giants pennant battle would be one of the sexiest in baseball?
Wild card: Here’s an interesting decision the Giants might have to make. If they can’t chase the Dodgers down and win the West, they have a good chance to be the top-seeded wild-card team and host the win-or-go-home game against probably the Pirates, Brewers or Braves. Assuming the Giants hold on to their comfortable wild-card lead and clinch the spot early, they can set up their rotation as they wish for the wild-card elimination game and five-game division series against probably the Cardinals or Nationals. So who would pitch the wild-card game? Everyone’s first response would be Madison Bumgarner, but if that’s the case, and the Giants advance, he probably couldn’t pitch until game four. If the Giants were swept, that means their ace never got a shot. Sunday could be an audition for that wild-card game. If Petit can dominate on the big Dodgers-Giants stage by beating Kershaw and establishing himself as one of the hottest pitchers in the game, he might give manager Bruce Bochy all the confidence needed to give him the ball for the wild-card showdown. Another option would be to start Jake Peavy (I’d take him over Tim Hudson), with Petit in the wings ready to step in at an early sign of trouble. I just think the Giants have enough, especially at home, to get past the wild-card game so Bumgarner can possibly go twice in the division series.
One of the marvels of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in its more than 120-year history is that while the clubs have had only a handful of late season head-to-head pennant races, the rivalry still thrives. The teams are engaged in a high-stakes race for the flag now, though we’ll have to see how things shape up over the next two weeks before 2014 becomes a rare September to remember for the rivalry. The chase this year is for the NL West title, since the consolation prize will likely be a one-game do-or-die wild-card game that both teams wish to avoid.
How rare are these September showdowns?
The Giants and Dodgers franchises began regular season play in 1890, but it wasn’t until 1924 that they had their first down-to-the-wire battle. Brooklyn, which trailed first-place New York by 13 games on Aug. 9, went on a 24-4 run to tie the Giants for first on Sept. 4. Brooklyn slipped after that surge, but came back to gain a virtual tie with New York in the final week of the season. The Giants, propelled by a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh, clinched the pennant Sept. 27. It would be 15 years until Brooklyn would experience another late pennant race.
In the 56 years since coming to the West Coast, there have been just 10 seasons which both clubs were involved in a September bid for the post season.
1959: A three-way pennant battle involved the Giants, Dodgers and the Braves, who were gunning for their third straight NL crown. On Sept. 19, as the Giants and Dodgers prepared for a crucial three-game series, first-place San Francisco led Los Angeles by a game and Milwaukee by 1-1/2. In the biggest series in the young West Coast rivalry, the Dodgers stunned the Giants with a three-game sweep. The Giants never recovered, and the season ended with the Dodgers and Braves in a tie. The Dodgers took the flag by defeating the Braves two games to none in a playoff. SPECIAL NOTE: The third game of that series against the Dodgers was the last game played at Seals Stadium, as the Giants would move into Candlestick Park in 1960.
1962: The Dodgers had a one-game lead with one to play, but were barely hanging on after losing nine of their last 12. The Giants forced a three-game playoff by beating Houston while the Dodgers fell to the Cardinals. The Giants outlasted the Dodgers in the playoff, winning the flag by rallying from a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning of game three. SPECIAL NOTE: Sandy Koufax was sidelined for much of the stretch drive because of a circulatory disorder in the forefinger of his pitching hand. Older Dodger fans still swear that their team would have won the title outright had Koufax, who still went 14-7 with a 2.54 ERA, not gone down.
1965: The season always will be known as the one when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal put a gash on Dodgers catcher John Roseboro’s head in their infamous clash, but it also was a year of a red-hot pennant race. The Giants held the lead as late as Sept. 28, but they were sliding while the Dodgers were soaring. The Dodgers won 15 of their last 16 games to edge the Giants out by two games. SPECIAL NOTE: The Dodgers allowed only five runs in their last nine games while tossing five shutouts.
1966: Pittsburgh made it a three-team race for the NL title, and led the Giants by a half-game and the Dodgers by 1-1/2 in early September. The Dodgers tried to pull away with an eight-game winning streak. The Pirates faded but the Giants stayed close. The Dodgers needed to lose their final game to Philadelphia, which would have required the Giants to play a rain makeup game against Cincinnati for a shot at a tie. But the Dodgers got past Philadelphia to clinch the pennant. SPECIAL NOTE: During a tense August series, the Dodgers put on a shift to the right side with Willie McCovey at bat and Willie Mays at first. McCovey beat the shift with a run-scoring double to left, and the Giants went on to a big victory.
1971: Twenty years after Mays broke in during the legendary 1951 New York-Brooklyn pennant race, the clubs were again involved in a classic duel. The Giants led the Dodgers by eight games on Sept. 6, and had the chance to eliminate their foes in the five head-to-head matchups between then and Sept. 14. Los Angeles refused to blink and won all five hard-fought games. On the final day of the season, the Giants defeated the Pirates to win the flag. A loss would have forced a playoff with the Dodgers. SPECIAL NOTE: A Sept. 13 matchup turned ugly when Marichal and Dodgers pitcher Bill Singer engaged in a deck-the-batter exchange. After Marichal hit Bill Buckner, he headed toward the mound holding the bat up, evoking memories of the Marichal-Roseboro moment. Cooler heads rushed onto the field before Buckner and Marichal could tangle.
1978: The Giants rejoined the pennant race following a six-year hiatus, and led Cincinnati by a half-game and the Dodgers by 2-1/2 as San Francisco and Los Angeles prepared for home-and-away four game series over the next 11 days. The teams split the eight games, which was enough of a moral victory for the Giants to energize them for a September run. But the Dodgers were too strong, winning 30 of 40 from Aug. 5 through Sept. 16, and the Giants were eliminated on Sept. 23. SPECIAL NOTE: While this season might not qualify as a true deep-into-September race, it was a year when the rivalry had a revival. The fans certainly thought so, as the two August series drew 193,954 in San Francisco and 207,570 in Los Angeles.
1982: Never mind September showdowns. This battle went into October. The Giants and Dodgers went into their last head-to-head weekend series trailing first-place Atlanta by a game. Rick Monday single-handedly put the Giants’ hopes into the coffin in the opener with a tie-breaking grand slam, and the Dodgers used a team effort to add the nail in a 15-2 trashing the next day. The Giants’ Joe Morgan gained revenge the following day with a dramatic home run that ended the Dodgers’ quest and gave the pennant to the Braves. SPECIAL NOTE: Morgan’s heroics were no fluke. The veteran had a key role in five earlier Giants wins over the Dodgers this season.
1997: A two-team race. involving the Giants and Dodgers, had developed by mid-July with San Francisco holding a four-game lead. In most years, the teams might have at least another nine games against one another. But a scheduling shift starting in 1993 dramatically cut their head-to-head contests from 18 to 12 or 13. That left the teams with only one two-game series in San Francisco the rest of the way, which began with the Dodgers two games in front. The Giants won them both, highlighted by catcher Brian Johnson’s now famous 12th-inning walk-off homer for a 6-5 win on Sept. 18. The blast had the effect of sending the Dodgers on a tailspin and the Giants on a tear, with San Francisco clinching the crown on Sept. 27. SPECIAL NOTE: To this day, the Dodgers still can’t figure out how this one got away. In the Sept. 18 game, they had the bases loaded and none out in the 10th but failed to score. Overall for the season, the Dodgers outhit the Giants .268 to .258 and outpitched them 3.62 ERA to 4.39.
2002: Arizona’s dominance had left the Giants and Dodgers having to battle for a wild card as the only road to the post season. The Giants held a one-game advantage in the wild-card race over the Dodgers on Sept. 15, and maintained the lead as the teams split a hard-fought four-game series. The Giants won their next eight straight , and clinched the wild card Sept. 28 though the Dodgers didn’t go quietly, winning six of their last nine games. SPECIAL NOTE: Rivalry gamesmanship was on display early in the season. The Giants opened at Dodger Stadium, and requested that the time of the final game of the three-game series be moved up so the team could get back to San Francisca earlier to get ready for its home opener the next day. The Dodgers declined.
2004: Post-season berths through a division title or wild card were both at stake in the final 10 days of the season, and the Giants and Dodgers would be meeting six times. The first-place Dodgers led the Giants in the division race by 1-1/2 games, while Chicago and Houston were contending for the wild card. The Dodgers took two out of three against the Giants Sept. 24-26, and led by three games heading into the final weekend’s three-game series against the Giants. The Giants won the first, but their post-season hopes crumbled the next day as Steve Finley’s grand slam in the ninth put them on the ropes. Houston supplied the knockout punch by clinching the wild card the next day while the Giants and Dodgers were playing, as Dodger Stadium fans cheered the demise of their rivals. SPECIAL NOTE: The Dodgers, having been pounded by Barry Bonds the previous few years, finally discovered that avoiding him was the best strategy. In the last six games between the clubs, Bonds walked 14 times and had only 10 official at bats.
Will 2014 join the list of classic Giants-Dodgers finishes?
The Dodgers lead the Giants in the division race by three games with 19 to play, and the teams will meet six times over the next 17 days. Another page of the 124-year-old rivalry awaits to be written.
It was a Hall of Fame weekend where three managers — Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox were inducted. That raised speculation locally whether Giants manager Bruce Bochy would someday deserve the honor. Bochy’s two championships and total wins make him a legitimate part of the conversation in the future. But Bochy certainly did nothing in this weekend’s embarrassing home sweep to the Dodgers to win any votes.
Bochy began the key three-game series in retreat, playing down its importance. In that, he might have been the first manager in the 125 years that the Giants and Dodgers have been playing not to view the three-game weekend meeting between the historic rivals to have any more meaning than a three-game weekday series against the Rockies. Said Bochy prior to the weekend home debacle: “I don’t know what’s not a big game,” thereby lessening the significance of the matchup in the heat of a pennant race. If the manager isn’t fired up about the series, where should we expect the players to get their motivation?
Just another game, Bruce? Listen to the words of an expert on the rivalry.
“There’s so much pride involved. We try as hard against all other clubs, but somehow, some way, we feel all of the bad breaks, or sloppy games or mistakes will be forgiven by the fans if we beat the Dodgers.” That’s what Willie Mays said about the rivalry in 1971.
The Giants front office certainly viewed the series as something special. Dynamic Pricing, AKA price gouging, was in full view this series. The cheapest seat was $65 going into the series, for seats in the far upper left field stands, a terrible place to watch a baseball game. “Hey Dad, can we go to the Giants-Dodgers game?” “Sure son, just let me sell the car and the house, and we should have enough left over for a garlic fry.” Shame on you Giants, who love talking about the greatest fans in baseball. Now to be fair, Giants season ticket holders might have gotten the last laugh because the high market price set by the Giants meant that their reasonably priced tickets would bring in a nice profit on StubHub. There were a lot more Dodger fans in the park than in past series, so way to go Giants. Your greed helped to bring a lot more blue to Willie Mays Plaza. Heresy!
Other thoughts about this crucial series:
* Dodgers manager Don Mattingly took a hit when he arranged his rotation to have Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu to pitch against the Giants. Mattingly understood, far more than Bochy, that this was a statement series. Also, in a very practical sense, each game was worth a full game in the standings. So it is big in how it immediately affects the standings. A baseball cliché is that momentum is only as good as the starting pitching you face tomorrow, but ask yourself now: Who has the momentum after this series?
* Right now, the Giants must declare that Buster Posey is their first baseman. The battering sub catcher Hector Sanchez is taking, and the somewhat recent history of seeing top-notch catcher Mike Matheny forced to retire because of a concussion should be enough to force the change. The Giants are a weak offensive team. Posey is their best hitter. So, how smart is it to put him in jeopardy for a shortened career. I don’t know why it seems catchers are getting whacked in the mask now, but Posey has already taken a number of head shots in his early career. Posey’s switch from catcher wouldn’t hurt defensively, assuming the Giants could find a veteran to take over. Posey is not an exceptional defensive catcher. He is barely in the same zip code as sliding runners in plays at the plate, who easily avoid his desperate swipe tag as happened when Hanley Ramirez scored on a Crawford triple Sunday night. And Posey got totally conned by Dodger speedster Dee Gordon, who in effect stole a run when Posey chose to throw out Adrian Gonzales after he struck out on a pitch in the dirt. A pump throw to first and Gordon was dead.
* The Giants have lost five of their last 18 games at home. Why? Sure, the loss of Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt to injuries is a factor, but the obvious reason the Giants don’t hit at home is that their lineup is intimidated at spacious AT&T. The Giants do not build an offense for this park. They won two titles with weak hitting and some of the best pitching I’ve ever seen. So if the pitching can’t match those extraordinary staffs, the team will be challenged.
* Poor Dan Uggla. That ground ball that went right under his glove on national TV Sunday reminded me of a similar fate that happened to former Giants infielder Hal Lanier. A sports reporter wrote that ‘the ball went through Lanier’s legs like this (.)” Uggla hit .179 in 2013, and .162 this year. He is not trending to fill the Giants needs at second base.
* I am not a Jake Peavy fan. He was arrested on Jan. 4, 2007 at the Mobile, Alabama, airport on a disorderly conduct charge. He double-parked while dropping off bags outside the terminal. A security officer told him he could not double park, and to move on. Peavy objected, and said write him a ticket and he’d pay it. His refusal to move his car got him a trip to jail. The charge was dropped after he apologized to the airport police and the court. Did Peavey ever hear of 9/11, and the tightened airport security rules that followed, or did he think that didn’t apply if you could throw a 90-plus mph fastball. He struck me as one of those wealthy athletes who was so removed from the real world of those fans who worship him. Of course, I must note that everybody double-parks in San Francisco, so maybe fans will accept him as one of them, especially if he picks up a few wins.
* Despite the mismatch this weekend, the NL West isn’t over. The Dodgers appeared all-world against the Giants, but it’s difficult to get a clear reading on them. The Giants still have a strong pitching staff, and a healthy Pagan and Belt should help. Both teams have tough schedules through the next month, so there won’t be an easy path to success. And, of course, what happens at the trading deadline could affect the race. Giants fans can only hope that if they are in a battle with the Dodgers when the clubs play again six times in September that even the low-key Bochy will get a bit more excited.
Three men taught me the game of baseball: my Dad, Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to today, when Comcast Bay Area, the Giants cable TV station, would air the premier of a special on the career of beloved broadcast legend Lon Simmons, who turned 91 on July 19.
I still so vividly recall hearing Russ and Lon broadcasting San Francisco Giants games starting in the club’s first year here in 1958. I particularly recall Sundays in the garage of the family home, where the game would be blasted out on the radio while my Dad was building things or fixing things in his workshop, while I stood by ready to help. Those were great times, and we’d freeze as soon as we heard Russ or Lon’s voice go up, signaling something good had happen to our team.
I was part of the transistor generation. No iPhone where I could dial up Game Day for a computerized detail on the game. No Twitter to clue me in on up to the second developments. Just me, my transistor radio glued to my ear, and the incredible play-by-play of Russ and Lon. I was only seven when the Giants arrived in 1958, and especially on school nights, had an early bedtime which means I’d miss the end of the games when they were played at night in San Francisco or Los Angeles. So my Dad purchased a reel to reel tape recorder, set it up next to the radio that was broadcasting the game on KSFO, and taped the rest of the game. In the morning he’d play it back for me so I rarely missed a broadcast.
This made me a true baseball radio junkie, an addiction I have never been able to shake. And through all these years, Lon was my enabler.
Lon’s dry wit and affection for puns was on par with his famous “Tell it Goodbye” home run call. I learned this in those early years. listening to a Giants-Indians spring training exhibition broadcast when the Giants brought in pitcher Randy Moffitt. Said Lon in his deadpan manner: “The question is not whether Moffitt can pitch, but can Moffitt Field? That was in reference to a Bay Area military base of the time called Moffet Field. Maybe you had to be there, but it was in part my introduction to laidback Lon. That humor has been one of the wonderful traits through the years. During a round table discussion, the moderator turned to the “aging” Simmons for his comment, and said “go ahead,” to which Lon replied with tongue in cheek, “Don’t call me goat head!” Lon’s other favorite is when someone around him in this high-tech era refers to a computer terminal, to which Lon responds, “don’t say ‘terminal’ around an old person.”
Lon Simmons broadcast the Giants from 1958 to 1973, the 49ers from 1958 to 1980, the Giants again from 1976-1979, the A’s from 1981 to 1995, and the Giants one more time from 1996 to 2002. In 2004, he became a Hall of Famer when he received the Ford C. Frick award. Lon humbly replied in an interview that he didn’t deserve such an honor, marking the only time in his career that he didn’t give his listeners a truthful description of an important event.
Lon so understood the pacing of a baseball game. He didn’t need to be constantly chattering between pitches, out of fear the listeners would become bored and seek other entertainment. But as soon as something happened, the incredible voice grew with emotion as he eloquently, accurately and powerfully described the play. I sometimes wonder what Lon would do these days between pitches on TV games, where producers are transfixed on showing kids eating cotton candy between every pitch, and require announcers to get all giddy about these distracting crowd shots. Perhaps, Lon could give these impatient producers of today some advice about letting the events on the field be enough to keep fans connected to this beautiful game.
While it was Lon’s baseball radio broadcasts that initially attracted me to him, his work on 49ers games made me realize how versatile a professional he was in his industry. It still drives me crazy when football radio announcers don’t clearly tell you where the ball is. Lon would announce a kickoff return, for example, by saying “he’s at the 5-10-15-20-25 …”
I still think Lon’s description of Minnesota’s Jim Marshall’s wrong-way run is one of the greatest calls in sports history, because the play was so unpredictable. Listen to it on the web. It rivals perhaps the greatest single sports broadcast performance ever, Dodger legend Vin Scully’s eloquent description of a Sandy Koufax perfect game in 1965.
Russ and Lon set the bar very high in the early years for subsequent Giants TV and radio announcers. But today’s Giants crew of fellow Hall of Famer John Miller, Dave Fleming, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have clearly made Lon proud.
This morning, while looking forward to tonight’s Simmons TV special, we learned in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle that Krukow was suffering from a serious muscular disease that while not fatal, leads to unexpected falls, and reliance on canes, walkers and perhaps wheelchairs down the road. “Kruk,” as he fondly is known to his legions of Northern California fans, consented in part to the interview with the hope that others dealing with various physical conditions would be lifted by the way he is not letting it change his work and personal schedule. One Giants follower who read the story commented at the end, saying, “If you fall, your fans will catch you.”
It seems fitting that these two events — Lon’s TV tribute and “Kruk’s” physical issues — would occur on the same day. We baseball fans lock into our broadcasters, particularly the special ones. We live and we die with them as we follow our team’s ups and downs. They are our eyes. They are our ears. They bring the game home to us.
After my Mom passed away, I was alone one Sunday afternoon in 2000 going through the many family memories stored in the cabinets in the garage. I brought my radio, not much bigger than a transistor. I had it turned up as loud as it could go, and it was blasting the broadcast of the game, and the voice of Lon Simmons. I took a moment to soak it all in. Suddenly, it was the early 1960s, Lon at the mic, my Dad at the work bench, my Mom coming down the stairs with lunch, neighbors dropping by to say hello.
Then the moment passed, and all was silent again except for Lon on the radio: “Strike one, ball one, the count is one and one.” And for the first time in my period of mourning and loss, I smiled.
Thanks for the memories, Lon. And hang in there Kruk. There’s a game tonight, and a whole lot more memories coming up that we’re counting on you to bring to us.
The Sunday finale prior to the All Star Game break already has media and fans (and the ball clubs too, though they won’t admit it) looking ahead to the July 25-27 three-game showdown series between the Dodgers and Giants at AT&T Park. The Dodgers looked like the pitching-rich teams of the Koufax-Drysdale era of the 1960s, winning 1-0 against the San Diego Padres for the second straight day to preserve a one-game lead over the Giants. The slumping Giants suddenly went from misdemeanor row to murderers row in one afternoon, as catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner slugged grand slams.
It’s not easy to predict what either team will do once play resumes on Friday. Everybody recalls the Dodgers’ off the charts 42-8 run that cemented their division crown a year ago. But that was a freak streak — those things just don’t easily repeat. Both teams have pitching with the potential of keeping them relevant deep into September. There will be no predictions here, but here are some things to consider as the Giants and Dodgers possibly prepare to launch one the rivalry’s great pennant races.
THE SCHEDULE: The three games the Dodgers and Giants play near the end of July will be great theater, but they won’t decide who wins the Tony. Starting Friday, and lasting through Aug. 24, the teams shift play away from the weak bottom-three of the NL West to an out-of- division schedule. The team that fares best against this challenge may be your NL West champion.
The Giants play 31 of 34 games during this period against out-of-division foes, with the three games against the Dodgers the only exception. The Dodgers play 29 of 35 games during this stretch against teams out of the division. The Giants might have a slight advantage in the matchups. The Dodgers have seven against NL East contender Atlanta, six against NL Central contender Milwaukee and four against the red-hot Angels in a home and away series. The Giants have seven against vulnerable Philadelphia, but also must face formidable opponents such as Washington, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and the White Sox. The Dodgers are home for 17 of these 35 games. The Giants are home for just 11 of the 34.
PENNANT RACES: The teams have had 10 strong head-to-head pennant races since coming to California in 1958. The Giants won titles in four of them (1962, 1971, 1997 and 2012). The Dodgers won titles in five of them (1959, 1965, 1966, 1978 and 2004). The teams eliminated each other in 1982.
STATS MATCHUP: The teams are fairly even in hitting and pitching statistics this year. Complicating that analysis is that the Giants built their numbers with a torrid start that led to a 9-1/2 game lead at one point, and have notably fallen since then. The Dodgers are batting .258 to the Giants .243, and have outscored them 403-365. The Giants have a slight lead in homers 84-76. A difference-maker for the Dodgers might be their speed. Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon channels up memories of speedster Maury Wills of 1962, having stole 42 bases so far. The Giants team has 35, and 11 have come from Angel Pagan, who has missed significant time because of injury.
ATTENDANCE: Who will have the biggest support? It looks about even. The Dodgers lead the league in attendance this year with 2,230,760, while the Giants have drawn 2,163,097.
NO-HITTERS: The Dodgers have two this year tossed by Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett. The Giants have one thrown by Tim Lincecum. If there is one recorded in the nine games the teams have remaining against each other this year, history says it is unlikely to come from a Giant. The last five no-hitters in the rivalry have been thrown by Dodgers: Kevin Gross (1992), Jerry Reuss (1980), Sandy Koufax (1963), Carl Erskine (1956) and Rex Barney (1948). The last Giant to no-hit the Dodgers was Rube Marquard in 1915. The Giants Tom Lovett, a 23-game winner in 1891, was the first to throw a no-hitter in the rivalry, beating the Dodgers 4-1 that year. Amos Rusie, who was the losing pitcher in that game, countered a month later by no-hitting the Giants 6-0. Rusie’s performance was no fluke. That season, he was 33-20, with 52 complete games and 337 strikeouts in 500 innings.
PUIG VS. POSEY: These are the offensive stars for the two teams. The success of each club may very well rest on which produces the best. So far, Puig has the upper statistical hand, leading Posey in average (.309 to .275), OBP (.393 to .331), RBI (52 to 46) and HR (14 to 12). Of course it’s hard to measure Posey’s value to his team as a catcher with baseball savvy against Puig’s raw play and his sometimes costly decisions in the field and on the bases. But ultimately, the story of the 2014 Giants-Dodgers season may be answered in who delivered the best when it mattered — Puig or Posey.
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Based on each managers’ post-break rotations, it appears the pitching matchups for the July series will be Zack Grienke vs. Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw vs. Ryan Vogelson, Matt Cain vs. Hyn-Jin Ryu. I was hoping for Kershaw vs. Lincecum, and maybe there will be some tweak in the starters that will make that possible. The combination of Lincecum’s recent success, and his charismatic flair, against All-World Kershaw would give today’s younger fans a feeling of what it was like in the 1960s when Sandy Koufax dueled Juan Marichal. The Kershaw-Lincecum matchups in 2011 were classics. Kershaw was a rising star and Lincecum had quickly established himself as one of the best in the game. Kershaw showed greatness was in his future as he won all four matchups against Lincecum. The stats from the four games: Kershaw 30.1 IP, 2 R, 16 H, 36 SO, 5 BB. Lincecum: 29 IP, 5 R, 24 H, 23 SO, 12 BB. C’mon, Don Mattingly and Bruce Bochy, line up your rotation so we get this matchup.
So let’s get that Home Run Derby and All-star exhibition done and gone so we can get to some old country hardball over the next month that will shape the National League post-season picture. I can’t wait.
My Dad wasn’t unfairly demanding, but often advised about using common sense and showing responsibility. On a Saturday in 1961, my summer league baseball team (10 year olds) was playing at Big Rec Park in San Francisco. After my game, I was sitting on the lawn to watch the next game when I decided to go to the hot dog stand. I tossed my glove on the ground and ran off with my friends. When I returned, I couldn’t figure out what happened to my glove. A man sitting nearby asked if I had left my glove there. He said a kid on a bike just picked it up as he rode by. He pointed way across the field, and there was the kid, too far away to even give chase. I was mortified, not just at having the glove stolen, but of knowing I would have to explain to my Dad what happen.
When my Dad got home from work that night, he asked how the game went. I stood there nearly in tears, and told him what happened. Even worse, I had a game the next afternoon, and didn’t even have a glove. I braced myself for a stern lecture about common sense and responsibility, which was well deserved. He sized up the situation, and only said, “Tomorrow morning after church, we’ll go to the sporting goods store and find another glove.” While I was happy about that, I still had trouble in my young mind of knowing that I had let him down.
We were at the store just after it opened at 10. My eyes locked on one glove, signed by Joe Cunningham. He wasn’t the most famous ballplayer of the time but he hit .345 in 1959, so I knew of him. But the cool thing that made his glove stand out was the trapeze webbing, almost like a first-baseman’s glove. I thought I would never make another error if I could snag every ball in that trapeze webbing.
When we were driving home, I thanked my Dad over and over for the glove, and promised I would forever take care of it. He smiled and said, “I know you will, son.” I then thought a minute, and said that maybe that kid took my glove because his father wouldn’t buy him one. My Dad didn’t answer, but looked the other way. “Your eye Ok, Dad,?” I asked as I saw him go to rub it. “Yea,” he said, “it’s fine.”
. . .
My Dad was a star on the sandlots of San Francisco in the 1930s. He was an all-city pitcher for Commerce High School who hit .385 in his senior year in 1935. He was a left-hander with a sweeping curve that left most batters paralyzed. The newspapers called him the “husky, bulldog hurler,” and his one-hit, 11 strike-out performance against Lowell High got much attention in the local press. He moved on to the very competitive semi-pro leagues of the Bay Area following graduation. In one game, he struck out 19 while allowing just three hits, which prompted a local newspaper headline to declare him as possibly “the next Lefty Gomez,” referring to the great Yankees Hall of Fame ace. His talent attracted professional scouts, who signed him to a minor league contract in 1938 with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Unfortunately, one too many curve balls thrown without proper supervision resulted in a shoulder injury and the dream ended before it could get under way. He remained proud of his accomplishments, however, telling me the stories as I got older, and he kept his old worn and beaten up baseball glove in a prominent place in our garage through the years.
. . .
It has been 25 years since I received a late-night phone call telling me that my father had suffered a fatal heart attack. I never got to say goodbye, but that wasn’t needed. I often dropped by to have dinner with my Mom and Dad, and saw him just the week before, so there were no regrets of anything left unsaid. There were so many good memories over all the years, but for me, much of it came down to baseball. That was where we formed our father-son bond at a very early age, watching the games at the park or on TV, talking ball and playing catch.
It’s still hard not to think of that devastating phone call every time another Father’s Day draws near. But to fend off the sadness, I head over to my baseball memorabilia bookshelf, where two of my most precious possessions sit side by side — my Dad’s tattered glove, and that beautiful 53-year-old Joe Cunningham mitt with the trapeze webbing. In my own private moment, I smile, and say, “Yes, Dad, I really did take care of it.”
Happy Father’s Day to all Dads, but especially to those Dads who find a way to show understanding and compassion when their child is most in need of a lift.