by Malcolm Macdonald, October 2, 2013
It is raining on a Sunday in September. Major league baseball’s regular season must be over. Your San Francisco Giants didn’t fall all the way from World Series winner to last place, though they occupied the cellar for a significant amount of the long days of summer. Little Timmy Lincecum pitched a no-hitter, but who knows whether the Giants will be able to re-sign him to a contract. Don’t forget, he’s a Washington State lad. Perhaps he longs to hurl for the Mariners. The Giants did dole out $90 million (over five years) to Hunter Pence last weekend. In the past Giants ownership has been loathe to pay out big, big bucks for two such contracts in the same calendar year; so don’t hold your breath or bet the ranch on Timmy’s chances of returning to the orange and black (what other franchise could make that color scheme look good?).
Yes, Virginia, it’s true the Giants did pay to re-up two of its free agents last off season, but Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro money ain’t gonna get you a multiple Cy Young Award winner, no matter how much you think Timmy has slipped. He threw well enough in the season’s second half to command giant bucks if not Giants bucks.
In the early 1980s Thomas Boswell wrote about how life imitates the World Series. I would argue that major league baseball’s regular season is more emblematic of the realities of day-to-day life. Post season play and off-season machinations resemble the wilder swings of human emotion and behavior. It was during last winter’s off season when one of Mendo Lib’s finest heard Mendocino Redwood Company President Mike Jani utter a word with an “-ack-’” sound in it and the next thing you know the Mendocino Community Network (MCN) Discussion List went temporarily viral with talk of how Mendocino Redwood Company was going to engage in fracking; a rumor about as true as “hot stove league” gossip of a trade of Gregor Blanco for Giancarlo Stanton.
Baseball is played nearly every day from the beginning of spring until the early weeks of autumn, coinciding with the planting and harvest cycle. For those who think that milk comes from Safeway and spinach from a can, all I can say is that you were weaned on too many cartoons and not enough farm or ranch chores. If you were raised on Safeway milk, well, good luck; until recent years, dairies contracted to Safeway injected the rBST hormone into their cows to increase production. This was ongoing well before Barry Bonds got tired of watching lesser ballplayers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa circle the bases and started (circa1998-1999) rubbing himself with “the cream,” a masking agent for someone taking designer steroids such as THG (tetrahydrogestrinone).
This brings us back to Hunter Pence. Nobody is worthy of an $18 million annual salary in a country in which many/most of its citizens can’t afford a gallon of good Clover milk because that gallon of milk constitutes half (or more) of their hourly wage. But if there is a ballplayer who comes close to earning his pay, Hunter Pence may well be that young man. He comes to work and performs every day, spring to fall. Pence started every San Francisco Giants game this season, missing less than 20 innings of work/play (out of approximately 1,500 innings possible). He plays hard and does the five things that make an everyday player exemplary (hitting, hitting for power, base running, fielding, and throwing). He does swing and miss wildly from time to time. He has had profound “o-fer” slumps, 0 for 20-something before a home run last Friday when he received the Willie Mac Award (named for Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey). But those slumps make him all the more endearing as an everyman, a modern day Casey who fails mightily before succeeding just as mightily. And that Willie Mac Award is an honor earned as a result of a vote by Pence’s teammates, co-workers.
I sit here and type out this column ignoring all the football on TV. In part that boils down to a simple preference exemplified by George Carlin’s famous routine about America’s two most popular sports. Carlin said, “Football is rigidly timed. Baseball has no time limit.”
He also pointed out that in football the object of the game is to march down the gridiron, taking the opponent’s territory. In baseball the object is to go home, to be safe at home.
I did put off finishing this piece until a pitcher from the worst team in the National League completed a no-hitter against one of the finest teams in baseball this year, the Detroit Tigers. Baseball doesn’t always make sense, it can’t always be boiled down to the simplest axiom, but sometimes neither does life. Last week, Jon Denver, of Fort Bragg, was stabbed to death a couple of blocks from where he and his father had just finished watching a Giants-Dodgers game. Jon didn’t make it home safe.
And it’s still drizzling rain on the last Sunday in September. ¥¥