On the Replacements

Can we baseball fans stop for a minute and realize how lucky we are? In the midst of last year's NFL and NBA lockouts and the NHL lockout and NFL refs lockout of 2012, the biggest problem that baseball fans have until 2020 is in the details of compensating draft picks. 

The situation of the NFL referees hit a low point last night, with a horribly horrible call to end a nationally televised game that led to Pete Carroll's team beating Aaron Rodgers' team.* It has sunk to the point where players all over the league are so upset by the replacements that they no longer care about any semblance of discretion on social media. They're even offering solutions that the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell should take a look at (using fines from these outbursts to fund the referees demands). 

Again, put this in perspective. The list of gaffes by the replacement referees is growing by the week. Every game there's someone forgetting a hand signal, giving a player who doesn't exist a penalty, giving Jim Harbaugh an extra timeout because he looks angry all the time, or like we saw on Monday Night Football, blowing the game.

Us baseball fans see our share of #UmpShows, complaining about the strike zone or about a neighborhood call around second base, but can you imagine? Something like what happened with Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga's non-perfect game happening EVERY DAY? Because that's where we are right now. This is happening every Sunday. And in football, you don't have 161 other days to recover. You have like...two. Maybe. If you're lucky. 

And that replacement referee who blew the Packers-Seahawks game is definitely NOT going to look like this next week.

So baseball fans: let's be happy. Playoffs are almost here. We know all the umpires names. And although we bag on them like crazy, at least we know they're the real deal.

*This is important because Pete Carroll is a terrible person.


Face Of The Franchise: Yes We Cain

Ray Ratto's recent column about Pablo Sandoval, combined with the ESPN Franchise Player draft brought the idea of franchise players back to my mind. Through the years, the Giants have had their share of legends. Mel Ott. Christy Mathewson. Carl Hubbell. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda. Marichal. Barry Bonds comes to mind. When they won the World Series in 2010, it was all Posey this, Lincecum that, Wilson has a beard or some such. And panda hats. So many panda hats...

But then there was this article from Andrew Baggarly today that really hit it home about how much the Giants have a lack of trust in making some of their young players the face of their franchise for the future. The Kung Fu Panda was exciting, and he has really taken the city by storm. In terms of marketing. Same with Tim Lincecum. The wigs and the hair and The Freak and the letting of Timmy smoke. And Wilson and the beards.

Yet marketing does not a franchise player make.

Commitment by management does. The ability to be a lightning-rod for hope and belief does. Consistency does. Barry Bonds was a franchise player not because he brought a World Series title to San Francisco, but because he hit 586 homeruns, drove in 1440 runs, and stole 263 bases in a Giants uniform. Because you look here and see all the bold-face and italic-face and awesome-face that he was. Nobody had Barry Bonds...bald-caps. It was just Barry. And he was the guy.

But now we're in 2012. Brandon Belt is supposed to be part of the core for the future, but the jury is still out on that guy. Way out. Buster Posey definitely is a symbol of hope and change and America, but remember when his ankle kind of got shattered into 7,000 pieces? Even though he's done well this year, damaged lower body parts on a catcher doesn't scream 20-year All-Star career to me. Brian Wilson emerged as a premier closer in the majors but two Tommy John surgeries isn't exactly ideal. Also, nobody builds a franchise around a closer.

Which brings us to our most viable, but still flawed pair of options. Pablo Sandoval had the marketing side coupled with the on-field output to make it all possible. He can hit 25+ homers in a season. He's a middle of the order guy. He actually plays a pretty good third base, and now that he has no hamate bones, he'll play until he's 52. Except he's got a weight problem, which isn't encouraging. And apparently, a Roethlisberger problem. OK, maybe that's overstepping a little bit, but seriously, no news is good news when it comes to off-the-field problems. But even though the Giants extended him through 2014, there's no guarantee anymore that he's the longterm building block for current management.

Lincecum came up in 2007, won two Cy Youngs and a World Series, and decided that was enough. He's currently the fifth-best starter on this staff, and hasn't shown any signs that this is just a bump in the road. The control is declining every year. Again, I'm oversimplifying, but the volatility that Lincecum has shown this year is EXACTLY why ownership hasn't given him a long-term extension. And factor in the off-field things like being pulled over for speeding with drug paraphernalia  and that he has hippy hair and looks like a vampire and things, and he hasn't exactly garnered the full-throttle support you want either.

You'll have to go back even further, to 2005, to find the guy who has been there through everything. He has a World Series ring. He has a long-term contract. He has a clean record off the field. He's still young. He's been consistently good, making two All-Star teams. Also, Matt Cain.

Yeah. I said it. How is this not the guy you want to represent your franchise? Sure, he's never been the guy that the media flocks to, nor does he have a bevy of marketable physical features about him, but he is the longest tenured Giant. He's signed through 2018, showing a commitment from the guys upstairs and a reward for his awesomeness. He's married with a daughter. He has never been almost traded for Alex Rios.

By the time his contract ends, assuming that he's still wearing a Giants uniform, Matt Cain will have been in San Francisco for fourteen years. I know I keep throwing his name around, but Barry Bonds was with the Giants for 15 years. Comparably, Rich Aurilia spent 12 years (non-consecutive) with the Giants. J.T. Snow is next with 10 years of experience with the club. Same with Kirk Rueter. 

And at the end of those 14 years, Matt Cain will be...wait for it...34 years old. CC Sabathia is on the hook for $25M when he's 37. Cliff Lee will be earning $27.5M at age 38. Kevin Brown, whose record for a right-hander's contract Cain broke a couple months ago, signed a 7-year contract that paid him over $100M when he was 33. 

So why not? Why can't Cain be the face of the franchise? Why shouldn't he be? If you combine him with Madison Bumgarner, you've got two of the most consistently good pitchers heading into the next decade anchoring your staff. Two family-first, baseball-also-first, selfishness-nowhere pitchers who have produced but have also remained under the radar since they got into the league. 

ESPN's draft had Cain nowhere to be seen in their top 30 picks. Bumgarner snuck in as a fan pick at #29. On the pitching side, Clayton Kershaw (#3), Justin Verlander (#4), Stephen Strasburg (#6), Felix Hernandez (#10), Neftali Feliz (#22), David Price (#25), Jeff Samardzija (#26), and Yu Darvish (#28) all made the cut. I don't know about you, but I'd take Matt Cain against any of those guys any day. 


My Good Luck Charm

Pure excitement.
My girlfriend is a sports fan. That's one of the things that takes her to that next level of awesome that any guy who has dated a sports girl can tell you. She's not a groupie. She's not a jersey chaser. She asks questions, and not stupid ones. And so when I fell into tickets for tonight's game and realized it would be her first time watching the Giants, I had to go. It turned into a test.

We've been to a football game, which was amazing, so I knew that she can at least make the most entertaining sport an enjoyable experience. We went to a Warriors game, but it was raining and we had to leave at halftime. It wasn't even her first time at AT&T Park. She's been going to the Cal games all last season. So when we went to the game tonight, and she willingly ditched her hometown Angels to put on my Rich Aurilia jersey and rep the G-men, I knew it was going to be a good game.

The big test is the game. It's a spectrum that has a very slim span of "entertaining." Blowouts aren't fun. Slugfests can get old. Tonight's game was the opposite. Usually, to an outsider, pitcher's duels are boring. No homeruns, no rallies, no exciting things. But on Wednesday night, apparently my constant fawning over Mattcliff Cainlee rubbed off on my fair companion, who peppered me with questions about Cain's contract extension, the reason for the designated hitter, and (regrettably) Brandon Crawford's dreaminess.

Let's recap the highlights:

7:05 (first pitch) - I'm trying to find my ticket, she's trying to find me. Apparently "Juan Marichal" means nothing to some people. I also forgot what street I was on, so my directions were completely wrong.

7:25 (entering stadium) - We enter through Willie Mays Gate, not realizing that we have already missed half the game.

7:45 (food time) -
We got da combo.
8:15 - It's supposed to be like, the third inning. Instead, it's the bottom of the fifth and Brett Pill hits to the wall in center field for a ground-rule double. She's excited. Then I yell at Theriot, Schierholtz, and Crawford for grounding out to shortstop. She's embarrassed.

8:30 - FFFFUUUUU guy who proposed on the Kiss Cam.

9:15 - The game started two hours ago. It's the top of the ninth. Cliff Lee is leading off. I explain pitch counts, and she understands. Again, keeper. We realize that the bus we're taking home doesn't leave until 10:30, and that we might at the bus waiting instead of it waiting for us.

9:30 - "Wait, is that the same guy?"

9:31 - Buster Posey single! :)

9:32 - Brett Pill double play. :(

9:37 - Carlos Ruiz doubles, eliciting a groan from the crowd. After the sacrifice bunt, it takes like two seconds for me to explain lefty-on-lefty matchups. Then Javier Lopez gets Thome, and Hensley gets Mayberry to ground out. "I've never been to a baseball game like this. Nobody's doing anything."

But there was no impatience. There was no complaining. There was interest. There was curiosity.

9:45 - Belt singles. Pagan reaches on an error. Winning run on second with Melky Cabrera up.

9:47 - Galvis is too short. Or Cabrera is good at hit placement. Either way, people are happy, and jumping up and down, and cheering for a Giants win in the shortest longest game ever.

I wouldn't be surprised if I hear a big sigh of relief and "FINALLY" but instead we spend the walk out of the park talking about how it was a historic matchup, how things like that never happen, and how much I like how she likes baseball. IT WAS FANTASTIC AND I'M LUCKIER THAN MOST

Did I mention she's a Sharks fan too?

Also, Matt Cain.


This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Giants fans.

I feel like a couple days ago we were like, OMG I can't believe we got Crawford and Belt and Posey and Pill and Belt is starting and the front office actually listened and we got everything we could have asked for!

And now they're going to be like, sure we'll give you that...just wait.

And we were worried, and then Barry Zito made us confused but not worried at the same time, because the pitching bounces back right? It always bounces back.

Then Tim Lincecum came out and was like, "Hey, here are all those runs Barry forgot to give up yesterday." And the bullpen said, "Oh us too! Here's the runs we didn't give up last YEAR." 

Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy will hold a press conference before the home opener. We will get scolded. 

"See what happens when you go young? All your old players get worse! And all of your good players go bad. It's because there's less curmedgeonliness and Gold Bond. Crazy kids and their TV."

I hope this stops. MadBum, make me smile tomorrow.