What a treat to watch Madison Bumgarner.
He did not need the third victory in the Series; saving the championship was quite spectacular enough. Whatever convoluted process the official scorers went through, they got it right by eventually giving the victory to Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched well and was the reliever of record when the Giants went ahead. No sentimental decisions necessary.
I covered Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson when they pitched in October, on little rest. I could see up close how exhausted they were. Bumgarner seemed to have more left. It's nice being 25.
Gibson extended himself at the end of the 1964 season -- no playoff rounds then -- but look what he did: eight straight complete games, then an eight-inning victory, an eight-inning loss and a four-inning relief victory over the terrorizing little Mets on the final day, to win the pennant.
I can still see him on the stairs in the old Busch Stadium clubhouse. When somebody asked how his arm felt, he shouted: "Horseshit!"
Somebody asked Johnny Keane, the manager, why he had stuck with Gibson from the day he became manager through the turgid final week of the season.
Keane replied: "I had a commitment to his heart."
It remains one of the most beautiful things I ever heard a manager say about a player.
Then Gibson beat the Yankees in the Series. These days, baseball burns its best pitchers with all these post-season series. Bumgarner just kept going. There is a moral in there somewhere, about allowing great pitchers to pitch. For now, what a privilege to watch him pitch.
Ishikawa means "Rocky River" in Japanese. I learned this the other day from my friend Yasumasa (Tra) Ishikawa in Tokyo, who calls himself "Tiger" in English.
We have covered Baseball Classics and World Cups and Summer Games in Beijing together. He is aware that an American named Travis Ishikawa is diligently playing left field in the World Series for the San Francisco Giants, whose colors and history are linked to the Tokyo Giants.
Travis Ishikawa is an itinerant first baseman who has bounced around from club to club, from majors to minors, but will forever be honored by Giants fans for hitting the three-run homer that won the pennant against St. Louis.
I did not know anything about him until the post-homer interview, when he thanked God, in an American accent, straight from the Seattle-Tacoma area.
"As family names it’s one of very popular names," my friend Tra-san wrote me from Tokyo, saying how his namesake's great-great grandfather has emigrated to Hawaii and on to the American mainland.
"There were many emigrants from Okinawa to Hawaii to get a job in banana or pineapple plantations before World War II. These first Japanese emigrant generation worked hard and they eager to let their children to get better educations," Tra-san wrote.
I also did not know that Ishikawa is one of the familiar names in Japan, with one branch stemming from a major samurai family. I also did not know there is a Ishikawa Prefecture, or region.
Ishikawa Goemon was known as a robber in the 16th Century, who was ultimately killed in boiling water. His character is a staple of Kabuki theater. There was also a famous poet named Ishikawa Jozan.
Tra Ishikawa and Travis Ishikawa have had their personal rocky rivers. Tra-san is using his English ability to drive foreign visitors around Tokyo. Not long ago, Ken Belson, my Times friend, who used to work in Japan, got into a cab and the driver said, in English, "I met you in Sapporo in 2002." That was for the England-Argentina match. I was there.
Travis Ishikawa played more games in Fresno in the minor leagues than in the major leagues this season. He almost quit. Now he chases fly balls, in an unfamiliar position, in the quaint little event we like to call the World Series.
Both men bring honor to a grand Japanese name.
It takes four games to get to know players. There is no evil empire in this World Series, no strutting WWF bad guys like Bonds or A-Rod or Clemens. Maybe that’s why the television ratings are down.
The World Series is sometimes an acquired taste unless one of the teams is familiar. But four games are enough to appreciate players, and to understand why they are in the World Series, and perhaps to even wish your home team – now scattered to the winds, never to convene in quite the same form again – had them.
I really did not know Joe Panik or Salvador Perez before this season. Blame the World Cup last summer, or western time zones, or my time perhaps ill-spent watching the tiny cluster of young talent on the earnest little Mets.
Now I can see why the Giants and the Royals were tied, 2-2, going into Sunday evening’s fifth game, the all-important fifth game. (Seems to me that the broadcasters have had each of the first four games as pivotal, also.)
Panik has been a revelation, three years out of St. John’s University, and possessing the fundamentals like bunting and making contact and throwing to the right base. Harold Reynolds, who has become a very astute TV color man, critiques Panik’s play at his old position, second base – how the kid takes grounders on the grass during practice in anticipation of a defensive shift into short right field.
So many players lack fundamentals these days. Perez, the catcher for the Royals, moves so fluidly, loves to throw, and seems to know his options before the ball goes into play.
Good players on good teams, and now the Series has gone on for a while. A fan can anticipate, or second-guess, the moves by the managers. Bruce Bochy makes sure he plays his Yusmeiro Petit card in the middle innings; Ned Yost stocks up his bullpen for the final three innings, but the game got away earlier on Saturday night.
Four games is time to appreciate the smile of Eric Hosmer at first base, the intense features of Hunter Pence. With that Dickensian name, Pence could be a madcap stagecoach driver pushing his horses to get to London before dark.
It’s become a good Series. Maybe it will go seven. Too bad kids aren't watching the World Series. I blame Major League Baseball for staging games at night for decades. Then again, kids don't read newspapers, either.
Our three grown children love their home town; two of them have moved back. All three have the same reaction to what used to seem like a sleepy town on a peninsula, far from the main highways:
Drivers are nuts.
The back streets, where our children walked to school and some of our grandchildren now walk, have become obstacle courses for drivers that run stop signs, tailgate, speed, make turns without signaling, and other dangerous moves.
I hasten to add, the offenders are not some mysterious “them,” outsiders new to the ways of suburbia or America. The enemy is us – commuters and other locals, mostly in the physical prime of life, trying to control mammoth vans and SUVs, with one hand on a cup of coffee, the other hand on a smartphone. (That adds up to two occupied hands.)
I recently did a stint, driving a family member to an early train for a month or so. Heading toward the station in the morning is worth your life, with drivers exhibiting white-line fever, fearing they will miss the last available parking space in town. Drivers would speed around you as your passenger disembarked. Many of the drivers do not seem to be making eye contact, or looking at anything in particular. They are just in panic mode.
Is it Ebola, or ISIS, or the stock market, or looming college tuition, or general anxiety that none of us will be able to meet the shocking taxes and expenses of living in a nice Long Island suburb?
It’s not just family members that feel this way. I was waiting to cross a main street the other day, when a 30-ish driver made a dangerous left turn across two lanes of oncoming traffic. The crossing guard and I shook our heads. She grew up in town. Things are different these days, she said.
The crossing guards do their best. The guards based near the post office are great at screaming at dangerous offenders, making them stop and listen to a lecture. Good for them. They are standing up for their town. But they are dealing with drivers who seem to have grown up thinking the rules do not apply to them.
The other day I saw a welcome sight – an unmarked car, parked unobtrusively, with a radar gun outside the driver’s window, monitoring the main street, not far from where a pedestrian got run down and killed a few months ago.
Dropping the speed limit from 30 to 25 would be a good idea, too. But I’m not sure our pre-occupied new breed, on their smartphones, would notice.
“They’ve had their turn at the trough; now it’s our turn.”
I covered an election in Kentucky in the early ‘70’s. I don’t remember who won. Obviously, it didn’t matter. I only remember somebody from the winning side blurting the above statement, unabashed.
I was reminded of that party functionary when I read the excellent essay by Juliet Lapidos in the Times, about the senatorial race in the state where I lived for a while (and which I love for a lot of reasons, if not the politics.)
Allison Lundergan Grimes is running against one of the more unpopular and unpleasant members of the Senate (a huge accomplishment right there), Mitch McConnell.
She is also running against the President of the United States, who happens to be in the same party as Grimes. She will not even discuss her vote in the past two presidential elections, which is disgraceful.
McConnell has taken very few stands in his squishy career, but one of them was telling the folks that his prime duty from November of 2008 was to sabotage the presidency of Barack Obama. His sly lisping voice sounds like some of the old Dixiecrats of mid-century who, by innuendo and tone, used to let their constituents know where they stood on race.
The political posture of the past six years has been a winking referendum on race. People feel comfortable saying they “just don’t like” Barack Obama. And leading the pack has been Mitch McConnell.
Now, somebody who calls herself a Democrat is marching lock step with McConnell.. Lundergan is speaking up for Big Coal, which, as I understand it, accounts for 7 percent of the Kentucky economy, but vastly more of its brute influence.
Nothing subtle about Allison Lundergan Grimes. The Democrats need every Senate seat they can win in November, so they have to accept somebody who says she is a “Clinton Democrat,” whatever that means.
What Lundergan could say right now is: “The Republicans have tried to downsize government, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now in a time of crisis, they cry for government action.” Instead, she marches with Mitch McConnell in the Big Coal parade.
Some people who now identify as Elizabeth Warren Democrats may celebrate the grand diversity of the party, which allows people with principles and people without principles to co-exist under the big tent. How democratic is that? The Grimes message is: Mitch McConnell is odious – no surprise there – but now it is the Kentucky Democrats’ turn at the trough. Oink.
It all comes back to me now – the disconnect I felt whenever I wandered into big-time college football during my years as sports columnist.
I could deal with the machinations of professional sports. They were who they were -- steroid frolics, owner collusion, ignorance of brain damage. But big-time basketball and football gave me the creeps even worse because they existed under the title of “higher education.”
It comes back to me when I read terrific articles like the one in the Times on Sunday about how the entire power structure of Florida State University and the tolerant community fell into line to produce a football power every weekend, to the point of overlooking complaints about prominent players.
I visited Florida State when I was a columnist. I once talked to a player who lived in a football dormitory and seemed a trifle flustered when asked about classes and contact with students. He knew where the weight room was, though.
Now I learn that the authoritative people parking cars around the huge stadium complex were off-duty police officers, all part of the program.
There was always the temptation to get caught up in the folksy ways of coach Bobby Bowden. He would meet the press early Sunday morning for a review of the latest wide-right kicking fiasco, which he met with decency and humor. He would invite us to attend church with him. Y’all come. It was easy to fall into the familiar world of team ratings that would determine bowl placements.
I wrote about scandals at these schools. I once found some tutors at another powerhouse who admitted they had handed in papers for players. Other schools had legal issues, admission scandals, coaches who jumped ship, programs that hired comely hostesses tI wrote about it all. In the new blogosphere, apologists would generate hundreds of hostile e-mails to me, which was fun.
Football is the worst because it involves huge numbers of players and physical brutality, a Lord of the Flies bullying atmosphere. I read Harvey Araton’s terrific piece in the Sunday Times about Sayreville, N.J. and wonder how many other “programs” have fun traditions like that. How similar are the allegations at Sayreville to the ugly stuff that went on at Penn State?
Even for events I liked, like the good old Big East basketball tournament in the Garden, I always felt that coaches, advisors, tutors, presidents, boosters, recruiters, alums, knew the dirty secrets of getting these athletes into school.
I don’t watch college sports anymore. Don’t have to. I do read -- serious reporting about how the systems work. It all comes back to me.
The Saturday marathon between Washington and San Francisco was so good that I barely clicked on “Chinatown” on the Sundance Channel. That is saying a lot.
Just asking but now many actors have made three iconic movies like “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Chinatown?” But even Faye Dunaway had to wait for commercial breaks between the Giants and Nationals.
That game had its own Nicholson and Dunaway – Tim Hudson and Jordan Zimmerman, pitching late into the game, almost like latter-day Gibsons and Koufaxes, at least for one night. (Matt Williams blew the game, probably the series, by yanking Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth.)
Last week I lamented that I would miss the daily soap opera of the only team I watch regularly, the erratic little Mets. There is something to knowing the pluses and minuses of players, day after day. But 18 innings among out-of-towners takes care of some of that. After 18 innings, I had vastly more respect for the bat-handling prowess of Washington’s Anthony Rendon, and the long-man relief pitching of Yusmeiro Petit of the Giants, whose name I had never quite managed to notice until Saturday night.
Petit pitched so long and so well, six innings, no runs, that I found myself thinking of other long-relief jobs – young Nolan Ryan pitching seven innings in relief for the Mets in the 1969 league series.
The accumulation of post-season memories (and the overkill of fairly meaningless statistics shoveled at us by the Fox people) reminds me that baseball is a different animal now. The accomplishments of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax stand out because they happened in the clear sunlight of the World Series, not the murky, ever-changing circumstances of the so-called post-season.
It comes up because obviously Clayton Kershaw just had a truly great season, but I am glad I covered Gibson and Koufax in their shining primes because the memories give me the residual impression that they were special and unique. I resist coronations of players who have a few great years. The other day, somebody suggested that if Andrew McCutchen had another MVP season, we could talk about the Hall of Fame. Let me toss a few names at you – Mark Fidrych, Fred Lynn, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry.
So now Kershaw has had two consecutive wretched starts in the post-season. I don’t think the competition is that much better in October. Rather, the season grinds on and on, wearing down its best pitchers. Baseball is truly a marathon now. Back when Gibson and Koufax excelled, the 60’s, baseball was a mile race.
Gibson willed the Cardinals in the final scary days of 1964, and then managed to start three times in a seven-game victory over the Yankees. Before the post-season dance began in 1969, he started nine games in three Series, pitched eight complete games, with a 7-2 record and a 1.89 ERA. He never had to slog through layers of post-season before the now-coda of a World Series.
Koufax pitched eight times in four World Series, from 1959 through 1966, starting seven, finishing four with a 0.95 ERA and a 4-3 record. (The Dodgers couldn’t hit much in some of those years.)
Plenty of time to think about Koufax and Gibson while watching a wonderful 18-inning drama. Somehow I never clicked over to find the “she’s-my-sister/she’s-my-daughter” moment in “Chinatown.” The game was that good.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.