14 October 13
Signals From The Southland
No television at our house, so we follow playoff baseball on the radio, a plan that works well except for Sundays and Monday evenings, when all the ESPN Sports radio stations regrettably have NFL football on them. Last night I missed hearing the incredible comeback by the Boston Red Sox, though I was aware of what was going on from the computer. This evening was the Dodgers game, and thanks to the magic of skywave, I had an option. One of the stations in the Dodger network, AM 1560 KNZR, comes in pretty well from Bakersfield in the evenings, the signal refracting off the ionosphere.
This lead to a moment of complete nostalgia. Hearing on a staticky and fading distant AM radio station the voice of Vin Scully, now talking about Drysdale and Koufax losing the first two games away at Minnesota. (He was referring to the 1965 World Series; I’m sure he was there.)
As it once was, as it still is. Baseball and radio, what a great combination.
13 June 13
Today was a good day for Bay Area baseball fans. The Giants salvaged a game in their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and more dramatically, the A’s swept the Yankees in Oakland, winning the final game of the series in the 18th inning on a bases-loaded single by rookie Nate Freiman against the all-time great reliever Mariano Rivera. It is satisfying to see the team with the largest payroll in baseball, the Yankees, losing out to the team with the fifth lowest payroll, the Athletics. How to do well with few resources is of course the theme of the book on the A’s from a decade ago, Moneyball, and it seems the A’s, or maybe in particular their general manager Billy Beane, have found some tricks to doing this again.
Last week I had a glimpse into what baseball analytics is like today in the era of big data. I attended a portion of the Semantic Technology and Business conference held in San Francisco and learned about one company’s work on applying semantic big data technologies to baseball. Vince Gennano, who is president of the Society for American Baseball Research (a.k.a. SABR, after which the term sabermetrics gets its name) gives further details of this work in his writeup here describing how big data allows for the creation of cluster diagrams (see the illustrations in the prior link) mapping out the similarities between different pitchers. Gennano says that when Moneyball was written, there was 2% of the data on baseball player performance there is now. To a good extent this is due to the use of technologies such as PITCHf/x, HITf/x, and FIELDf/x that are tracking the flight of every pitch, every batted ball, and the movement of every fielder in exquisite detail. With that much data being generated, it takes serious analytical know-how to make use of it all, and teams that build that capacity will gain an advantage. Not surprisingly, the company at this conference would not name which major league team (or teams?) they are working for. An arms race is afoot.
23 October 12
Pennant In The Rain
The San Francisco Giants won the National League championship yesterday evening, and are now going to face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series starting tomorrow. The Giants took an unlikely route to their championship by having to win 3 straight elimination games in two successive series, but this path didn’t seem to faze them in the end, and they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals last night in Game 7 of the NLCS 9-0. The final half-inning was played in a sudden downpour. Had the game not been so one-sidedly close to finishing there surely would have been a rain delay. As it was, everybody was quite happy to celebrate in the rain.
The Tigers are pretty heavily favored to win the World Series — they have possibly the best pitcher in the game in Justin Verlander and in terms of batting they have the first Triple Crown winner since 1967, Miguel Cabrera. Still, I’m relaxed about the series. The Giants won the World Series two years ago: there’s no longer the angst associated with never having won the series since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958. Unlike the Giants’ opponent in 2010, the Texas Rangers, or the team the Tigers beat quite decisively to reach the World Series, the New York Yankees, I don’t have any general loathing for the Tigers, and in fact rather like the team. The Giants are underdogs, so if they win, great, if not, it’s been a fine season for them. Meanwhile, the kitties are rooting for the Tigers, not that they show much enthusiasm for baseball, sleeping through most of the games we listen to.
3 October 12
Bay Area, Baseball Capital West
The baseball season ended today with an outcome nobody was expecting, both Bay Area teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, winning their respective league’s West Divisions, finishing with identical records of 94 and 68. The Giants clinched their division a week and a half ago, having taken over the division lead about 40 games ago. The A’s path to their division championship was far more astonishing. On June 30th the A’s had a record of 37 and 42 and were 13 games back of the Texas Rangers. Since that time the A’s won 57 games and lost only 26. They finally caught and tied for first place the Rangers last night, and beat the Rangers this afternoon 12-5 to take the title in the last game of the season. In so doing the A’s just won six in a row and eight of the last nine. (For a nice graph showing divisional standings by date see here). The 2012 A’s are a perfect example of why baseball teams are not just the sum of their parts: the players for the A’s are barely known outside of the Bay Area, yet this has been an amazing season for the team.
Baseball has expanded the playoffs this season, adding on a second wildcard slot for each league to make 10 teams in the playoffs all told. The two wildcard teams from each league are to meet in a one-game playoff to determine which team advances to the best-of-five divisional series playoffs. Since one-game playoffs are practically flip-of-the-coin things, no team wants to go through one to reach the rest of the playoffs, so this format increases the importance of winning the division as opposed to settling for a wild card slot. I hope the baseball powers that be don’t further expand the playoffs (I don’t want to see baseball look like basketball where nearly half the teams end up in the playoffs) but this new format has made for an interesting season. Though it’s especially sweet now that our two local teams have made the playoffs without having to go the wildcard route!
24 May 12
The Angels have a talented young player by the name of Mike Trout, who got me to thinking how hard it would be to construct a baseball lineup composed of players who are named after fish. Here, with a little help from Lookout Landing, is what I’ve come up with. The years are the time the player spent in the majors. No Catfish Hunter though: that’s a nickname.
- 1B — Sid Bream (1983-1994)
- 2B — Johnny Ray (1981-1990)
- SS — Bobby Sturgeon (1940-1948)
- 3B — Art Garibaldi (1936)
- RF — Tim Salmon (1992-2006, another Angels favorite).
- CF — Mike Trout (2011-2012)
- LF — Mike Carp (2009-2012)
- C — Carlton Fisk (1969-1994, fisk=fish in Scandinavian languages)
- SP — Steve Trout (1978-1989)
- RP — Anthony Bass (2011-2012)
21 March 11
Can I Have One of Those Too?
Yesterday we were down in Berkeley for a family celebration which we preceded by having drinks with my sister and her partner at the venerable seafood restaurant Spenger’s. Seated next to us at the bar were about ten people quite intently engaged in something. We looked at what they were doing. They all had printouts of the Giants’ regular schedule, some in color, some in black and white. They were divvying up season tickets!
It’s not much longer before the season begins. Go Giants!
11 November 10
There’s no baseball to listen to anymore so I’ve tuned the receiver 6.375 MHz higher, and am back to doing ham radio, mostly Morse code on 40 meters. It’s also a good time to get caught up on baseball reading: I am now reading the book Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America’s Pastime, by Mark Frost. Not that videos are our beat, but this book makes me want to see the documentary that came out last year about the return of Luis Tiant to his homeland Cuba after 46 years away — Luis Tiant was the starting pitcher for the Red Sox in that game. Different sport: I am also in the middle of reading The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt.
5 November 10
Attending a huge celebration party in San Francisco the day after the Republicans took back the house was maybe the best way to deal with it. (The Republicans bombed in California, though Prop. 19 failed, the move to legalize marijuana, but you’d never know it from the way the city smelled all day long…) The cops were cool — I even caught one dancing to a drum beat for a few bars — and for a party of a million people it was fairly mellow. Yes, people were drinking. But mostly there was just this incredulous delirium, a dream in orange and black.
Yesterday I found out my director’s husband went out and bought twenty copies of the SF Chronicle dated Nov. 2 and put them on the graves of his parents, his grandparents, uncles and cousins. Giants fans from before they even moved to San Francisco, caught up in the Giants farm team. It’s like what happened in Boston in 2004. I am sure lots of these stories will emerge.
We were waiting at the BART station for the rest of our party to show up at the end of the day, still sketching. I said I thought the mix of people we had seen was interesting. The obvious multiracial blend, but many more Latinos, fewer African Americans than I had expected, though there were plenty. Many of them wore Mays, McCovey, Bonds shirts. Mays and McCovey drew deafening cheers as they went by in the invisible cable cars; Bonds wasn’t there.
Numenius paused for a second and said you know, Bonds is kind of like our Moses. Leading us to the Promised Land but not allowed to go there himself because of his transgressions.
So I will take this opportunity to say thank you, Barry Bonds. Prickly and chosen and transgressing. Because you helped make Wednesday possible… and it was a hella good party.
3 November 10
One of my earliest baseball memories is getting taken to see the victory parade for the Oakland A’s winning the World Series in 1972, their first championship win in the Bay Area. Today I got to see the equivalent event on the opposite side of the bay, as seven of us rode down from Davis to see the San Francisco Giants’ victory parade, taking a minivan down to the Pleasant Hill BART station and riding the train into the City. I suspect the 2010 incarnation of this celebratory ritual was far bigger than the 1972 event; San Francisco city officials today did not have a crowd estimate but believe this was the largest parade or civic event in the city’s history.
We didn’t actually see that much, there being about 20 ranks of people between us and the parade floats. At right was the typical view I had from our spot on Market and McAllister. We could barely see the motorized cable cars passing by, labeled fore and aft with the names of the two players each were bearing. I’m fairly sure I spotted Cody Ross and Matt Cain, and had a good sighting of a busload of trainers and physiotherapists and another of the front office staff, accountants and all, but that was about it.
We had no chance of hearing any of the speeches, being probably a third of a mile from where we needed to be at that point, but after lunch grabbed at a gyro place across from the closed-for-the-day SF Public Library, Pica and I went towards Civic Center Plaza and did some sketching. At left is the sea of orange-and-black humanity stretching forth towards City Hall, and at right is one fan sporting a Willie Mays jersey.
A sea of happy people, dancing in orange-and-black. I have to wonder about how this event will change the character of San Francisco. This may be subtle, perhaps a new aura of confidence about the city. Certainly the city now has a claim to be a baseball town of the first rank, which it never quite could before it won its first World Series, though the team has had a fantastic sense of tradition.
Alas, I can’t help but worry about next year. Others are pondering the same — the most pressing question seems to be who’s going to play shortstop — and the front office has many decisions to make soon. The Giants’ awesome rookie catcher Buster Posey in his speech today that we didn’t hear, apparently said something like we’ll celebrate for a week or two, but then we gotta start putting the work in for next year! Baseball is always a cycle.
2 November 10
First Spain, Now This
The Giants won the World Series. First the Red Sox in ’04, now the Giants in ’10. The rose is from my boss. A gift from my other boss is encouragement to go to the parade in San Francisco tomorrow, despite my workload. Working late to try and make up for this generosity….