Madison Bumgarner acknowledges fans at AT & T Park after pitching a shutout in Game 5 of the World Series, October 26, 2014
It’s been quite a week in the baseball world, and when I woke up today, I realized that it’s the last weekend of baseball for the 2019 season. Even if the World Series goes seven games, it will be over by Wednesday. And it’s not just the end of one season–it’s the end of a decade, and what a decade!
First let’s recap this week in baseball and end with some reflections on baseball in the 2010s.
A well-matched World Series
The Washington Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, so they had a long time to wait before starting D.C.’s first World Series appearance since 1933. It took awhile (six games) for the ALCS to conclude, but national pundits were certain: Whichever powerhouse American League team emerged, they would wipe the floor with the upstart wild card Nationals.
I had to wonder if they’d watched the Nationals play in the postseason. At all.
The first two games of the series in Houston were exciting and close (despite the final score of Game 2). The Nats stunned the baseball world in Game 1 by KO’ing Gerrit Cole, the hottest pitcher in baseball, who hadn’t lost a game since May (MAY!). But then the Astros scrapped back, and a 5-2 lead ended up as a 5-4 squeaker. Game 2 was close for the first six innings, with ace pitchers Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg each giving up two runs in the first inning and then nothing else through six. The key moment of the game (as it turned out), was a gassed Strasburg, running on fumes, pitching out of a jam to preserve the tie in the bottom of the sixth inning. Then all hell broke loose in the top of the seventh, with the Nats’ Old Guy Hero of the Week, Kurt Suzuki, hitting a tie-breaking homer off Verlander, followed by Alex Bregman kicking and heaving the ball all over the infield. A game tied 2-2 going to the seventh ended up 12-3, Nationals.
Game 3 last night seemed rather dull by comparison. All runs were scored early-ish off the starters, a lot of runners were stranded, and the game took a long, long time. But the Astros climbed back into the series by winning 4-1, and now this series seems poised to go six or seven games. We’ll see.
Off-field baseball news, Part 1
There were two rather icky baseball stories that had nothing to do with the World Series. In one of the most stunning sudden-reversal-of-fortune stories in a long time, rising front office star Brandon Taubman, now the ex-assistant general manager of the Astros, decided to celebrate the Astros’ AL pennant win by screaming profanities about the team’s closer, Roberto Osuna, who’d been harshly disciplined in 2018 by MLB (a 75-game suspension, the longest to date under the policy) for a domestic violence incident–at three female reporters in the clubhouse. Then Taubman and the Astros lied about the interaction and tried to smear the Sports Illustrated reporter who wrote an article about it. Unfortunately for Taubman but fortunately for the truth, there were multiple eyewitnesses who immediately came forward to corroborate the reporter’s version. Within three days, MLB was involved and Taubman had been fired, and the Astros apologized, more or less, for getting it wrong.
So hopefully it’s resolved enough for now to get on with the World Series, but it was a very bad look for the Astros, and it’s led to some interesting revelations about their team culture. It was also hideous timing for MLB in what should have been their spotlight moment for the sports year.
The other story was about veteran umpire Rob Drake, who threatened on Twitter to buy an AR-15 for a “Cival War” [sic] “if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way.”
Sure, Rob Drake’s Tweet is ill-informed, but let’s not overlook he spelled it ‘CIVAL WAR’
— Tim Robertson #BLM (@adissenter) October 24, 2019
Drake deleted his tweet (but screenshots live forever) and issued an apology, especially to victims of gun violence, but how this guy still has his job is beyond me.
Anyway, it’s just a shame that two unpleasant stories like this have distracted attention from the Fall Classic, but there it is.
Off-field baseball news, Part 2
Eight major league teams were looking for new managers, but now it’s down to four (Giants, Royals, Mets, Pirates). Joe Maddon will manage the Angels, Joe Girardi will manage the Phillies, David Ross will manage the Cubs, and…Jayce Tingler (???) will manage the Padres, but he may end up being a one-year placeholder for…well, we’ll get to that.
The Giants, meanwhile keep working through their interview list. Most notably, Joe Espada, the current bench coach of the Astros, flew to San Francisco on the World Series off-day for a second, in-person interview. (The first had been a phone interview because he’s been a little busy.) Espada was also a finalist for the Cubs job, and some observers are already second-guessing whether they missed the boat by not hiring him.
This all seems to be moving very quickly. The World Series isn’t even over, and four teams already have new managers. The other interesting thing about the manager searches is how different teams are going in opposite directions. The Cubs went from veteran manager Maddon to a guy (Ross) who played for them as recently as 2016. The Phillies went from an inexperienced guy (Gabe Kapler) to one of the most respected veteran managers in the game (Girardi). The Angels in recent years have bounced from long-time manager Mike Scioscia to one-year guy Brad Ausmus back to Maddon. If the pattern holds, we’d expect the Giants’ Farhan Zaidi to go from a veteran (Bruce Bochy) to a first-time guy. (The only candidate with major league managing experience known to have interviewed with the Giants so far is Kapler.) But if we’ve learned anything from our one year with Zaidi, it’s to expect the unexpected.
So…will the Giants announce their new manager by this time next week, or will we go further into November?
Bruce Bochy: Not retired?!
In one of the stranger developments in a strange week for baseball, former Giants manager Bochy, who less than a month ago was the guest of honor at emotional retirement festivities, casually dropped on MLB Radio that he was “just hitting the pause button” and “taking a sabbatical” on his managerial career, after all.
This is quite different from Bochy’s announcement in February, at the beginning of spring training, that he’d be “retiring” at the end of the season. Though even then he didn’t entirely close the door on managing elsewhere, he certainly gave everyone around MLB the impression that he was retiring, as evidenced by the on-field ceremonies and gifts he was showered with all year long.
Now the man obviously has the right to change his mind, and if he can land a good job with a team that’s ready or near-ready to win, more power to him. But I have several regrets about how he’s handled things this year. First, him saying “I might manage again” after a “sabbatical” seems ill-timed when it hasn’t even been four weeks since his big goodbye, the World Series isn’t over, and the Giants are smack in the middle of hiring his replacement. He might have kept those thoughts to himself for now. The sudden about-face also gives ammunition to conspiracy theorists who might want to demonize Zaidi for “pushing Bochy out,” which I think is an unfair characterization. (What is fair? The Giants have been a bad baseball team for 3 1/2 years now and still have some rebuilding to do. Change was and is needed, Zaidi was brought in last year to be a change agent, and he deserves the opportunity to build his own leadership team. Zaidi knew that, Bochy knew that, and Bochy might also prefer to go somewhere with a shorter contention window. There doesn’t have to be a villain here.)
Second, all of those retirement ceremonies in road ballparks all year long seem suddenly awkward and inappropriate. (Full disclosure: I don’t like them for anyone. Not Jeter, not Rivera, not Big Papi. Let your home fans say goodbye to you and leave it at that.) Bochy could have handled things more like the Royals’ Ned Yost, who quietly announced his retirement right at the end of the season, just enough time for the Royals to honor him. As it turns out, Bochy should have had a farewell to the Giants (well deserved) but not a farewell to the league. Now what happens if/when Bochy returns to managing and then is retiring “again,” for real this time? More booze and fishing poles and signed jerseys from Hall of Famers?
It just seems weird to me, but oh, well. Maybe Bochy will find he likes his, uh, “sabbatical” more than he thinks he will and he’ll stay…not managing. I personally hope he stays retired so that he and his family can experience his Hall of Fame induction while he’s still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.
As you can see by the photo and caption at the top, today is the five-year anniversary of Bumgarner’s brilliant complete-game shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series. The photo is from one of my favorite memories of that game. Ken Rosenthal, whom you can see off to the side in this photo, was interviewing him on the field for Fox, and the fans at AT & T Park just went nuts for Bumgarner. Bum stopped the interview to acknowledge them, saying “That’s awesome.”
We have other 2010s anniversaries coming up this week (enjoy the video clips!):
October 28, 2012: Giants win the 2012 World Series in Detroit.
October 29, 2014: Bumgarner again, saving Game 7 in Kansas City.
[October 31, 2010: Rookie Bumgarner pitches eight shutout innings in Game 4 in Texas.]
November 1, 2010: Giants win their first World Series of the San Francisco era in Texas.
The Giants are the only team of this decade to win three World Series championships and three pennants. The Red Sox won two (2013 and 2018), and if the Astros win the 2019 World Series, they’ll have two in three years. Only the Red Sox, Cardinals, Royals, Dodgers, and Astros won as many as two league championships. The Yankees went a whole decade without a pennant for the first time since the 1910s.
In one sense, it’s hard to argue that the Giants are the “team of the decade” when they actually ended the decade with a losing record (those last three seasons were killers). But when it comes to flags that fly forever and World Series DVDs boxed sets…well, the 2010s were the decade of the San Francisco Giants.
So we head into the 20s with a lot of uncertainty. Who will be in charge in the dugout? How long will it take the Giants to return to relevance? Who will be the stars and the heroes? Despite the ugly end to the decade, it’s hard to see the 10s go. What an amazing ride it’s been. Lefty out.