Last thoughts on Barry Bonds

I was in the seventh grade at a Boy Scouts gathering when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record. I was at work when Barry Bonds hit 755 and 756 on Saturday and last night. No matter what you think of Barry, the talk of the drugs and all that, there’s something cool looking up at the TV and seeing the great record fall.

All I know about Barry Bonds is what other actual baseball fans have told me: he’s one of the most feared hitters in the history of the game. And as far as I know, there are no drugs for improving eyesight.

The playing-the-actual-game rap on Bonds was that he wasn’t a clutch hitter, that he’d come to the plate with men on base in big games and not come through with the big hits. Maybe he was a choker, or maybe he cared only about his place in the record books, but it occurred to me that he might simply have become too good for his own good. With the game on the line and no choice but to pitch to Bonds, no pitcher would dare risk throwing anything Bonds had a chance of blasting out of the park.

Imagine how much sooner Bonds would’ve broken this record if intentional walks were illegal.

Shakespeare would’ve had a ball with this story: a guy desperate to stake his place among the legends of his game makes an ethical compromise that gives him a shot at his place in history, but history judges him a cheater. He gets so good that nobody dares to compete with him. It’s not a game anymore, it’s just everybody going through the motions for several summers and hoping that as soon as he breaks his damn record, he’ll just go the hell away.

How’s that for cosmic justice?

What happened in this World Series?

OK, so being a Midwesterner, I was pulling for the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. I had to stop watching in the third inning of Game 3 — I just couldn’t stand to see such a good team get beat up on so badly.

What a crappy capper to a wonderful playoffs. The Red Sox seemed dead after Game 3 against the Yankees, then scratched and clawed their way to a four-game sweep. A comeback for the ages, probably the best seven games of postseason play that I can remember seeing.

And the Cards had a wonderful series with the Houston Astros — pounding their way to a two-game lead, then losing three in Houston — then storming back to win it at home in seven games.

In the National Imagination, though, the real Series was between the Sox and the Yankees. The Cards were an afterthought. But who’d have expected them to play that way in the World Series? Guess they bought into the myth as well.

I’m glad that the Sox fans’ anxiety wasn’t dragged out for seven games. It was impossible for them to truly enjoy this Series, because their imaginations were haunted by fear of the Inevitable Collapse. None dared to become optimistic as long as the Curse was lurking.

Except there never was a curse: there was only the New York Yankees, the winningest team in Series history. The road to the Series runs through Yankee Stadium, and if the Yanks are hot, the rest of the American League is toast.

Cards fans can take a little comfort in knowing that the Sox and their fans have won the Series but lost their mystique. But really, mystique is bullshit — fodder to help sportswriters fill space. Winning is what matters, elsewise they wouldn’t keep score.

I’d have traded all the mystique in the galaxy for a few timely triples from the Cardinals.

Another day at the ballpark

OK, so back when I had a moment of weakness that lasted 10 months and blogged
almost every day, I got the fine idea to do something called "blog me out
to the ballgame," in which a bunch of bloggers all go to the same game
and write about it on their blogs. After I retired the blog that gave me this
swell idea, the whole bloggers-at-the-game notion crept back into the background.
But I still had my two tickets to the A’s-Giants game, and I knew of at least
one guy who said he had bought
his tickets too. So I felt obligated to at least do something, and this is that

I’ll tell you right off, the game was unremarkable. The Giants won because
their pitchers kept A’s base runners away from home plate. None of the late-innings
knuckle-gnawing of the past two games. Mostly it was a scalding-hot way to spend
a Sunday afternoon. But at least there was beer.

One of the coolest things about A’s games is that the BART train stops at he
stadium so you can get in, get out and not have to fight parking lot traffic.
When the A’s aren’t playing the Giants and drawing crowds in the 28,000 range,
you can buy your tickets at the stadium and get good seats.

This is the crosswalk heading over to the ballpark. Network Associates Coliseum
is perhaps the least-charming sporting venue on the planet … built back before
it occurred to people to build charming, cozy ballparks in the middle of a big
city (The Giants new stadium is a prime example). This one has industrial parks
for neighbors.

Another great thing about the A’s is their winning tradition. They’ve never
gotten much respect — Bay Area people have always preferred San Francisco and
the Giants to Oakland and the A’s. It gives ’em an underdog aura that’s really
undeserved: the A’s have always had one of the best organizations for developing
and finding talent and assembling great teams. The last time the A’s and Giants
met in the World Series (in 1989), the A’s mauled ’em. It’s like a bug up the
butt of Giants fans. The Giants had Willy Mays but the A’s have all the World
Series rings.

A bunch of hard-core A’s faithful at field level. We were in the park’s Plaza
Level bleachers, which were cool because they had shade (at least till the sun
got higher in the sky; it didn’t get unbearable till the eighth inning, by which
time the Giants pretty much had the A’s licked.

Yeah, that’s my shoe. We arrived early enough to find seats at the front of
a section, allowing valuable kick-backage.

Beers promoted even more kick-backage. Oddly enough, to my way of thinking,
this here Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was selling for the same price as Bud Light.
I didn’t ask why, I just purchased. Some descendant of Carrie Nation must be
in charge of setting prices, because at $7.50 a glass nobody can get drunk without
risking bankruptcy.

Between innings they have this promotion asking fans to wave their water bottles
in some outrageous fashion, and some prize goes to whoever acts nuttiest. Or
something. Anyway, this little girl and big guy were very much in the spirit
of the competition.

Here’s the dangerous Barry Bonds at the plate. He was first up in the inning,
right after the A’s had fought and scratched and clawed to get a single run
home. Most teams walk Barry because the next hitter isn’t nearly so fearful.
But if he’s at bat first in the inning with nobody on base and you’ve got a
one-run lead with a solid left-hand pitcher who should be able to get him out,
you let him pitch to Barry. He swings with enough force to launch a Volkswagen
to Neptune, but this pitch gets past him. I’m goofing off, looking away from
the action when I hear the "pop" which can mean only one thing: Barry
has smacked another one into the bleachers about 50 yards to our left. One swing
nullifies the A’s efforts thus far. It was going to be that kind of day.

I’m pretty sure the guy in the yellow is hollering "Let’s Go Oak-Land"
at the top of his lungs. When he’d rest, the guy in the Giants shirt next to
him would do the same, only it’d be "Let’s Go Gi-Ants." The odd thing
about these interleague games between local teams is that they fill the stadium
with large numbers of fans rooting for each team. Which means if you’re on your
way to the john because of too much beer to early in the afternoon and you hear
the crowd erupt into mad applause, you never have a clue who the beneficiary
of the uproar might be. I also wondered whether it was such a good idea to have
so many fans of the opposing team in one’s ballpark. If they’re outnumbered
500 to 1 they tend to behave; but if they’ve got lots of friends, and lots of
beer in them, they could get carried away. But everything was calm from our
perspective (maybe they’re on their best behavior because they skipped church to
make it to the ballpark in time for the first pitch).

This guy had the lime-greenest shirt I have ever seen.

OK, so now it’s late in the game and the A’s are down by 3 and there’s not
much point hanging around, except we remember the Giants scoring four runs in
the top of the 9th last night and we figure, what the heck, may as well stay
till the last pitch. No miracles this time, though. Mostly it was hot and sweaty
in the sun, which, I suspect, is why we have so many night games in this league.

A saxophonist entertains the crowd heading back to the BART platform.

Here’s our train. We stood in line five minutes max, then we were on our way.
And somebody else did the driving. Great way to cap a day at the ballpark.

Our last look at the ballpark before the BART train pulls away. In the flower
power era, the hippies lived across the bay and the Hells Angels lived in Oakland.
I’s that kind of town. Gritty, unpretentious. Violent if you’re in the
wrong neighborhoods. The A’s have great fans; I just wish there were more of
them, but then again, if they were popular they wouldn’t be cool. So let’s hope
nobody builds them a quaint little Wrigley clone downtown. It’d ruin the

Ballgame blogging day

We’re going to the Giants-A’s game this afternoon.

Shaping up as a good matchup. The Giants have been red-hot of late, and the A’s have been giving them a run for their money in the first two games of this series.

On Friday, the A’s gave up five runs in the first inning but scraped their way back into the game and were down 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run at bat, but the Giants’ pitching held. Last night the A’s took a four-run lead into the eighth inning, gave up four runs (including a towering 3-run homer) and went into extra innings, and won it in the bottom of the 10th.

Yesterday’s crowd was the largest ever for an A’s game at the Oakland coliseum. Should be a similar crowd today.

Seems to me baseball teams would make a lot more money if they played all their games on weekends against crosstown rivals.

The Bay Area’s a great place to be a baseball fan. The teams are good almost every year, and the A’s are almost always a touch better than the Giants despite having a far lower payroll and no Barry Bondsesque superstars. (Hunky pitcher Barry Zito is almost a superstar, though if he keeps giving up five runs in the first like he did Friday he’ll have to start looking into that career in broadcasting that awaits him.)

Anyway, should be a fun (if crowded) day at the park. I’m taking my digicam and will post pics tonight.

A’s win a sizzler

It sweltering out there in the bleachers in the Oakland Coliseum this afternoon — good pitching weather for A’s starter Tim Hudson, who threw 86 pitches in nine innings and dropped the Seattle Mariners to 0-5 on the season.

This story says Hudson was 6-0 in daytime starts last year. It looked like his luck was running out out when Mariners’ phenom Ichiro Suzuki popped the game’s first pitch into the right field corner for a double.

We’re thinking: Hmm, a double on the first pitch is not a good omen. Couple batters later and Suzuki is across the plate to put the Mariners up 1-0. Then future hall-of-famer Edgar Martinez gets on base with aging-but-able John Olerud behind him and it looks like they’re about to put the hurt on Hudson. But Olerud went nowhere — Hudson pitched his way out of that jam, and that’s all the damage the Mariners could muster.

The A’s are off to a great start at 4-1, but it was a long hard slog besting the Mariners today. The Mariners’ starter, Gil Meche, stranded all sorts of A’s batters on base, but I noticed as the game wore on that he was throwing a lot more pitches than Hudson. His arm failed him in the 7th, when Erubial Durazo singled and Marco Scutaro (are those great names or what?) doubled to score Durazo. Meche got benched, but the luck of lefty reliever Eddie Guardado wasn’t much better. Mark Kotsay singled to left to score Scutaro and give the A’s the go-ahead run. It was all they needed.

I can’t believe my luck: this is my second A’s game ever and they’ve won both. And remarkable things have happened in both. Last year an A’s batter hit a grand slam — the first time I’d ever seen it happen when I was in the ballpark. This time, Hudson pitches superbly for nine innings and throws, on average, fewer than 10 pitches per inning. Not a no-hitter or anything but still an impressive day on the pitcher’s mound.

It’s also been incredibly warm both times I’ve gone to A’s games. Last fall, it was in the 90s with no breeze. Today it was in the ’80s with only a bit of a breeze. We’d be lobsters if not for all that sunscreen.

The great thing about the bleachers is that they attract a certain kind of fan — someone who needs to be in the ballpark for lots of games but doesn’t want to shell out 30 bucks for a seat closer to the action. They seem to understand what the guys on that field are doing is play — not work. It’s supposed to be fun to do, and fun to watch. And something about it being the cheap seats seals the deal.

This was the A’s opening weekend at home, and lots of folks who hadn’t seen each other since last fall were swapping friendly hugs with the bleacherites they rooted alongside last summer. The sun was so merciless that we had to duck out to the concession area — which had a wonderful breeze blowing across a million tons of concrete — for a couple innings, but we got back just in time for the A’s game-winning drama.

Definitely on my “let’s do this again this summer” list.

SB 38 wrapup

In a just world, MVP honors would go to the losing quarterback in this game.

Jake Delhomme looked like he had no business on the field early on, but he single-handedly made things interesting by completing huges passes when it looked like the Panthers had used up all their breaks.

Tom Brady played as expected: Composed, solid, effective — nobody can question whether he’s one of the top QBs in the league. He did what was necessary to win, but really, he didn’t exceed anybody’s expectations. Probably couldn’t have.

I wrote the Panthers off after the first Patriots touchdown — you could tell by the Pats’ control of the offensive line, their tendency to move the ball at will, that they were going to win this game. But every time they seemed to have it in the bag, Delhomme and his band of irregulars pulled off another miracle.

The Panthers had too many penalties, made too many mistakes on defense, showed no signs of life on offense for the first 25 minutes of the game, were outrun and outpassed and outplayed all day. And yet they came within a couple plays of knocking off a clearly superior team.

If I had a hat, it’d be tipped to the Panthers for making this a game worth watching, for getting me to pay attention to the teams’ strategies more than the advertisers’ strategies.

One for the ages, in any case.

SB 38 second half

No miracle runback for the Panthers. But a wonderful effort by a team that seemed clearly outgunned from the get-go.

Even if the Pats win, credit goes to the Panthers for making this a Super Bowl for the ages.

Kick is good! 32-29 Pats. 4 seconds left.

41 yard field goal try. Has Adam Vinatieri used up all his bad luck?

Big completion to the 24 yard line. Pretty long field goal from here.

14 seconds left. Maybe two chances for the Pats to get into field goal range. Overtime looking likely.

Ouch. Penalty nullifies huge first down for the Pats. Troy Brown makes a great catch with 30 seconds left.

29-29 with a minute left. Pats have the MVP QB. Field goal can win it.


1:08: Delhomme is the luckiest man alive. Nine defenders in pass coverage and a guy gets wide open in the end zone. TD gives Panthers the chance to tie it. Kick is good.

1:38, 4Q: 2nd & 10 from the Pats 15. Short gain makes it 3rd and 8.

1:50: Delhomme has some luck left, nails a 30-yard completion. Getting interesting here. Remember, they need a touchdown.


I have to think Jake Delhomme has run out of miracles, but the Pats will be in a prevent defense that will let some receivers get open.


Did I call that drive or what?


3:00 Q4: Brady finds linebacker Mike Vrabel for the TD. 2-point attempt succeeds. 29-21 Pats.

Brady rolls out, finds David Givens inside the 5 for a first down. Panthers need another miracle.

4:00 Q4: Pats at the Panthers’ 21. Big rush forces a bad Brady pass. 3rd and 9.


Panthers defense needs to take some risks now or the Pats are gonna chew ’em up with a grinding drive down to field goal territory.


Reality check: Pats have moved the ball well most of the game; all they need is one drive and a field goal. Stands to reason their field goal kicker has used up all his bad luck.


Holy Shit! How was that for a game-breaking pass … floats this prayer of a pass up for grabs … receiver outruns single coverage, goes in for the TD. Miracle play. Second two-point attempt fails. 22-21, Panthers.

3rd & 10 for Delhomme … games on the line here.


Back to the game: Panthers pick off a Tom Brady pass in the end zone. I don’t see it affecting the outcome. Phil Simms, boy genius: pass rush causes QB’s to pass badly. Gee, I never noticed that before. Except in every game ever played.

### that is a hoot.


8:38 4Q: Pats’ Kevin Faulk dashes to the Panthers 10. Curtains for Carolina.


Whoa, draw play goes all the way for a touchdown. Hmm… 2-point try fails. 21-16 Pats.


Delhomme needs to find some of that magic that got his boys back in the game.


14:49 4Q: Goal-line breakdown by the Panthers defense allows a standup touchdown run. 21-10 Pats.

Fourth quarter: Tom Brady made a big pass down to the Panthers’ 9. Gotta like Brady … he’s not flashy, just dependable.

1:48 3Q: Hmm, Pats seem to be wearing down the Panthers defense.


Oh for God’s sake: A close shave is not like an orgasm. These morons at Gillette think we go for this crap?


The helicopter flyover is coming to symbolize this game: big, ugly and slow.


The Cialis ads have so many warniings, I’d just as soon go without sex. Not that I need that stuff, mind you.


Is it just me or has Phil Simms failed to make a single insightful observation tonight?


7:54 3Q: If the Pats can put in a sustained drive for a score here, it could drive a nail in the Panthers. Almost 80 yards to go, so too early to call.


The office supply Don: We chuckled a bit.


Another chimp: Line of the day: “so, how do you feel about back hair?”


Man, these inspiring Microsoft ads are such a crock.


Game time: I think we’ll return to the smashface defense we had most of the first half. That flurry of scoring late feels like a fluke.


Justin: A Jackson in his/her sleep has better moves. Tear-away bustier stunt wins no raves at our house.


Janet’s back. Rhythm Nation bit not too shabby. Michael may be a twisted sicko, but he’s got better moves.


Kid Rock: Where’s Eminem when his country needs him?


P. Diddy: to busy ruling his empire to come up with a good bit. Nelly: Way groovier.


Janet sounds too much like her brother. Gives me the creeps.


Sorry: The Emerald Nuts pieces are not funny.

SB 38 1st half

Half ends with a Carolina field goal. 14-10 Pats.

:17 2Q: Lordy: nothing happens for the first 25 minutes, then three touchdowns in five minutes. It’s 14-7 Pats and I stick by my sense that they’ll prevail.

1:07 2Q: Figures _ the minute I note how terrible Delhomme’s doing, he starts making some completions, then throws this 40-yard touchdown pass.


Early in the game the announcers were finding a hundred subtle ways to say the Carolina Panthers quarterback, Jake Delhomme, is out of his league. By any measure he’s having a terrible game. Good thing his defense is keeping the game close.

3:05: Touchdown, Pats. Finally.

5:15, 2Q: key turnover for the Pats; they’ve got the ball back deep in Panthers territory. First interesting thing to happen in the whole game.

Ouch, the Ali ad was painful. Rare for IBM to miss that badly.


Pats’ second field goal try misses. Didn’t I say the chopper flyover was bad luck?


Horse farts and toilet paper. Consumer culture at its finest


Melissa’s taking a nap right now. I don’t blame her.


11:18, 2nd quarter: Carolina has zero yards on offense. Not to be a cynic or anything but this is not the stuff of Super Bowl champions.


Mitsubishi ads still have the most rockin soundtrack (Barroom Blitz!). Now if somebody would start buying their cars.


The Alamo: Who needs to see all those Texans get killed? Might do some business south of the Border, come to think of it.

Oh, a donkey. Nice try kids.


OK, I liked the guy in the kilt doing the Marilyn Monroe over the sidewalk grate routine. Will I ever drink Sierra Mist? Probably not.


End of first quarter prediction: A defensive score will make the diffference in this game. It’ll have to, the way these offenses are playing.


Hmmm… the best ads must be coming up during halftime. May have to turn to the game for entertainment. Rats.


Elephants. What’s next? Whales?


Body wax: ouch.


Bears! Geeze.

OK, AOL top speed: The biker shop father & son are funny, but who on earth uses AOL anymore?

(sorry, mom).


Three creature commercials in a row. Whoah. The Bud Light dog-to-the-naughty bits was a bit predictable, but it made me chuckle. The Fed Ex alien was swell, thought not in the league with the famous helium-snorting munchkin of lore. Dodge needs to get over the Hemi thing.


12:03: I’m not going to get into play-by-play but the Pats are already looking too tough for the Panthers.


Let’s see what kinda commercials we get.

Hmm, Ford debuts its coolest car since the ’64 Mustang and that’s the best they can come up with? In what gear do you realize it’s time to fire your advertising agency?

Super Bowl pregame

Sorry, but a helicopter flyover seems like a bad omen to me.


Hey, Beyonce can hit those high notes!


Pity the poor Shuttle astronauts … all those advanced degrees, years of training, and to have to put up with “Your Raise Me Up.” Right now I’m rooting for a NASA funding cut. I mean, why put these good people at further risk?


Proof there is no justice in this world: Somebody’s gonna get to own one of those Ford GT’s and it won’t be me.


OK, I admit it: I love the California Cheese commercials.


Christ, Aerosmith is embarrassing itself.

Anything for a paycheck, eh guys?

Wait, now they’re playing a real live blues song.

Please don’t go, indeed.

Parachutists: Maybe it’s the cops enforcing a restraining order.


Had a sneaking suspicion after last week’s Packers-Eagles game that the Eagles could be beaten. Donovan McNabb’s running was the X factor last week, and his rib injury this week made it pretty plain the Eagles had everything riding on McNabb. His inability to run totally defused his greatest threat — forcing defenses to respect that he can run on any play.

Didn’t see the Panthers play all season, so I didn’t know what to expect. They shut down the Eagles in ways that eluded the Packers last week. Have to respect ’em in the Super Bowl.

But, seriously, the Patriots seem like a lock this year. They have momentum like the Bears had when they pounded the Patriots back in the mid-’80s.