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Final Cuts

One of the off-the-field storylines of last year’s World Series between Texas and San Francisco was the Giants’ attempt to win their first World Series since the franchise moved from New York in 1957.  The once-dominant Giants’ franchise (14 pennants including 5 World Series titles in the 52 years before they moved from New York) had gone 52 years without a title while residing in San Francisco.  As such, there was considerable focus on the city of San Francisco during the Series.


During their telecast, FOX had a camera stationed at San Francisco’s Civic Center where thousands of fans watched the telecast on outdoor screens.  Shortly after the final out of Game 5 which gave San Francisco their long-awaited championship, FOX went to their first post-game commercial break by replaying the scene at the Civic Center when the final out was made.  Predictably, when Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to end the game, everyone went crazy.  The crowd was vibrant and young – after all it was outdoors, nighttime and no warmer than 50 degrees.  All in all, it was a fairly standard crowd shot, interchangeable with any other city’s celebration except for the black and orange hats. 


And then, exactly seven minutes after the final pitch and no more than five seconds before FOX faded to the commercial break she appeared on the screen.  In a sea of leaping twentysomethings there was a women I’d confidently put in her 80s.  Definitely two times older than anyone else in the frame and probably four times older than many, she too was jumping up and down as high as you’d expect someone her age to jump.  She wore a frilly orange hat and an orange sweatshirt over a black shirt.  On top of it all she had a black vest adorned with dozens of pins, presumably collected the over years while attending games at Candlestick Park*.  She looked exactly like the rapping grandma in The Wedding Signer.  While jumping as best as she could, I noticed her arms were raised – she was looking for someone to high five!  Finally, an Asian girl with orange hair (because, how could this scene have been anymore perfect) saw her as she danced through the crowd and gave her a high five.  With that, the screen faded to commercial. 


(FOX missed this, one of the sweetest scenes you’ll ever see.  When they came back from commercial Tim McCarver was talking about a four-seam fast ball from the 7th inning, and Joe Buck, finally freed from his baseball obligations was promoting an upcoming Cowboy’s game**.  McCarver and Buck may not have been exactly like that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  This is a fact though: The whole production team at FOX flat out missed an iconic moment.)


* With a nod to the cold winds that swept through the stadium, the Giants used to award Croix de Candlestick pins to anyone who stayed for the duration of extra-inning games.


** My favorite tweet after last Thursday’s incredible Game 6 came from someone posing as Joe Buck on Twitter:  “That game was so great, I’m thinking of becoming a baseball fan.”


After the somewhat anti-climactic, but thoroughly predictable Game 7 on Friday night, I thought of last year’s scene in San Francisco’s Civic Center.  Owing to the model I followed all year, I may have had an investment in the Texas Rangers but I wasn’t invested in them.  Attorneys are fond of the phrase, “that’s a distinction without a difference” but I guarantee you that today, it’s a distinction that is certainly not lost on the joyous residents of St. Louis or the despondent fans of the Texas Rangers.  After all, owing to the Rangers move of their own from Washington, DC in 1961, they almost certainly have an 80-year old fan who has been waiting her whole life to celebrate a World Championship.


*     *     *


All through the World Series, we the viewer were told over and over that the Rangers players loved Ron Washington, as commentators continually referred to him as a “players' manager”.  I really wonder if that’s the case today.   No matter how much they may have liked they way he kept the clubhouse loose and communicated with his players, are Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton – players who almost certainly should have walked off the field last Thursday night as World Champions via their performance – really happy with their manager now?


The fact that the Rangers twice got to within one strike of winning the World Series doesn’t mean Ron Washington should be loved by his players.  Below average poker players can win a poker tournament.  How?  By getting better cards.  Poker is a game of skill because in the (very) long run everyone gets exactly the same cards, but in the short run better cards can overcome inferior play.  Ron Washington had the best cards this post-season but he made just enough sub-optimal decisions over the course of the World Series to negate that advantage.  By the end of the playoffs I began to wonder why baseball teams, similar to football, don’t employ an offensive coordinator to sit in the press box.  That way managers with superior people skills would still be in charge of the clubhouse but the critical reasoning needed during a game would be delegated to a specific individual.  Maybe then, finally, a “players’ manager” would be defined as the one who continually puts his players in the most advantageous position to win games.


*     *     *


I started writing this newsletter a little more than four weeks ago as a companion piece to a book I was shopping to publishers.  I sent the first issue out September 29, the morning after one of the most incredible nights of regular-season baseball any of us had ever seen, and started it with one of the last lines in the movie Moneyball, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”


That line is a creation of the brilliant screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.  It wasn’t in the book Moneyball and Billy Beane never said it.  Sorkin almost certainly put it in the movie as a counter to the common accusation that those who only see the game of baseball through statistics love their spreadsheets more than they love baseball.  It’s a cliché as common as the baseball blogger who writes from his mother’s basement.


Despite the transparency of the line I thought it worked because at its best baseball shines.  I thought the best thing about the last day of the season was that the next day everyone was talking about the game of baseball.  I didn’t hear one person lament that Longoria’s home-run cost him a fantasy win, that the Orioles win busted their bracket or that there was a back-door cover in the Braves’ game that messed up someone’s pool. People were just talking about baseball and four weeks later, after the incredible turn of events during Game 6 of the World Series they were doing it again.


That makes me smile because I get romantic about baseball.  I’m not however, some sort of purist.  I love March Madness, I think fantasy baseball doesn’t hurt the game it saves it, and believe the NFL deserves its spot atop the American sports landscape.  I get it.  Heck, I went to a charitable event last Monday night, filled with dozens of people my age, and the World Series, Game 5 of which was being played at the time, never came up in conversation.  That doesn’t surprise or disturb me.


When a son asks his dad, “Where are we watching the game this week?’ I’m sure he’s talking about a football game.  If he calls on the phone and asks, “Did you see that game last night?’ that question could be referring to a lot of things, but I’m realistic, and in this day and age there’s a better chance it was a basketball game in March or a bowl game in January, or an NFL game in November than anything else.   But I’m just romantic enough about baseball that if you tell me the son said, “Hey, Dad. Wanna have a catch?” I picture him not holding a football, but wearing a glove.


*     *     *


With that, Trading Bases, the Newsletter goes on hiatus until next February or March.  The e-mail address isn’t going anywhere, and as many of you know who have written, I don’t need much prodding to talk about baseball.  Thanks for making the post-season more fun than I possibly imagined when I started this project. 


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to write.

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