Money Ball (Love)

by Todd Walton, March 31, 2010

Something marvelously strange is going on with my San Francisco Giants. For the first time since the decline and fall of Barry Bonds, the dead wood has been greatly minimized, money is being spent to retain talent, and it appears management may actually try to win the whole enchilada. The odds are greatly against such a grandiose finale to a season yet to be played, but this is the first time since 2003, the year after we last went to the World Series, that there have been any odds at all. These last six seasons have been less about rebuilding and more of a sports version of Waiting For Godot, as in waiting for the second coming of Willie Mays as we plumb the depths of the existential conundrum: is baseball metaphoric of an intrinsically meaningless or meaningful life?

But enough about Samuel Beckett, our fat cat own­ers are actually paying Tim Lincecum $23 million to start 65 games or so over the next two years. That’s approximately $350,000 per game or about $3,000 per pitch. Tim is 25 years old. Can you imagine what you would have done with $23 million when you were 25? Or with $3 million? Or even with $300,000? I hope I would have been smart enough to buy a farm, but something tells me I would have blown it making a movie. If someone offered me $23 million today (or $3 million or $300,000) I know just what I’d do with it, as soon as I find my reading glasses and that list I made.

Why this sudden loosening of the Giants’ corpo­rate purse strings? My theory, somewhat convoluted, is as follows. Despite our losing ways, our wonderful new ballpark by the glittering bay has been such a fabulous cash cow and tourist attraction that our owners felt no pressing need to field a particularly upscale team. This is a variant on the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If making money is their primary goal (and it obviously is) the owners were winning even when the team lost. But last year, for the first time since the new park opened, the cow began pro­ducing noticeably less cash. For several years now good pitching alone has kept us from abysmal failure in the weakest division in baseball, but last year (never mind Lincecum’s second Cy Young Award) the crowds began to dwindle. The team couldn’t hit or run and management wouldn’t spend a fat dime to buy us a couple bats; and then the economy tanked and the specter of a half-empty ballpark loomed for the coming season.

Combine this specter with a resurgence of the other teams in our division, and the money boys decided it was time to spend some cash to field a win­ner, because winners fill seats and pitching alone won’t hack it anymore. And since it is a sure bet our owners gained greatly from the recent economic hijinks that have hurt so many Giants fans below them on the slopes of the pyramid, our owners have plenty of cash to spend.

That’s my theory: a confluence of economic fac­tors necessitating infrastructure upgrade combined with the unfathomable workings of a mysterious uni­verse. Now I’m not saying I think we’re going to win it all this season. Indeed, my linear logical brain doubts very much we’ll even win the division. But we have a chance, and a chance is an exciting thing for a fan weary of starring in Waiting For Willie.

And the other thing I want to say about the upcoming season is this. I know a woman of 96 who told me that had the Giants won it all in 2002 she would have allowed herself to die. She was ready to go. Her bags were packed, so to speak. We were three outs away from winning the World Series for the first time since 1954. And then we lost. And in that painful moment this woman knew she would have to stay alive. This is a gal who listens to every game, including every game of spring training. She refers to the players and the announcers and the coaches by their first names. They are, as far as she’s concerned, her family. She is blind, so she can only listen to the games. When the Giants win, she is cheerful. When they lose, she is cranky for an hour or so, then she stows her disappointment and gets ready for tomorrow.

She was not a fan of baseball until she married in her late 20s. She and her husband attended many games at Candlestick and watched or listened to every game together for 40 years. Her husband died 30 years ago, but she says he is with her still for every game. When I last saw her, she said she thought this might be our year.

“The boys are entering their prime,” she said, nod­ding confidently. “You can hear the maturity in Matt’s voice, Tim is so confident now. I’m glad Juan came back. He comes through more times than not. And Pablo is starting to show some patience at the plate. John sounds more upbeat about the team than I’ve heard him sound in a long time. I don’t think they’re going to settle for almost again.”

“And if we win it all?”

She smiled and whispered, “My work will be done.”

Ah beautiful irrational hope. Let’s play ball!

(Todd Walton’s web site is UnderTheTable­Books.com. His audio books are available from Audi­ble.com.

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