Don’t Stop Believin’ Part II

The Giants won the freakin’ World Series!

There are three points to make in regard to the 2012 SF Giants.

– This was not 2010, and these were not 25 best friends.  No matter how many times they recited the company line and talked about how they all loved each other and how much fun they had playing together, it wasn’t really true.

For the most part, this team assumed the personality of its leaders – Buster Posey and Matt Cain.  One would be hard-pressed to find two more stoic, serious, quiet ballplayers.  They lead by example, a business-like demeanor, two men who are singularly focused on the job at hand, steady as trees rooted into the ground.

Many players identified with that approach this season – Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, to name two.  Angel Pagan is as intense and serious a ballplayer as there is, and Marco Scutaro’s modus operandi: make plays; say nothing.  But there was another distinct faction in the clubhouse, those goofy, loose jesters like Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval, and Brian Wilson.  And, if you can excuse the alliteration, I’m certain there was friction between these factions at points during the season.

One can easily see where the differing points of view would occur.  The buttoned-up professionals annoyed at the juvenile antics, and the loose goofballs chafed by the condescending looks.  Brian Wilson is especially of interest, being shelved by Tommy John surgery, his only contribution this season came in the form of irreverence.  Not everyone appreciates irreverence, especially in a pennant chase.  And it showed up at times, even if only through body language.

But is that it, you say?  A perception of two different approaches, and you’re ready to say everyone was at each others throats all year?

Far from it.  Consider all the other present factors that could cause hostility or resentment.  The first should be obvious: the Giants’ best player at the time, prized off-season acquisition and All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera – popped for a positive PED test 118 games into the season and suspended 50 games. After clinching the division, it was announced that Cabrera, though eligible, would not be included on the playoff roster.

You can be sure there was dissension in the ranks regarding this position, for two reasons.  First, Cabrera would likely be of assistance, batting .346 at the time of his suspension.  But perhaps more importantly, relief pitcher Guillermo Mota was in the SF bullpen at the time, having previously served 50 and 100 game suspensions for similar offenses.  Dues paid, he was in uniform.  Why wouldn’t Cabrera in turn be reinstated?

And speaking of performance, viewing performance in terms of salary was a harsh reality over the regular season – the top two 2012 salaries belonged to Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.  That’s Tim Lincecum of the decreased velocity, 1st inning woes, and league-worst 5.18 ERA, and Barry Zito of the 58-69 record with San Francisco, nary an ERA under 4.03 in the first 6 years of his 7-year, $126 million contract.

That’s not to say the guys in the San Francisco clubhouse would hold a teammate’s contract against him.  I’m pretty sure everyone in the League accepts the realities of the sport.  But it is worth pointing out that the top two salaries belonged to the bottom two performers.  Zito had a way of appearing at times as though he wasn’t much personally affected by his struggles, and Lincecum had a habit of hiding under a hooded sweatshirt, perhaps coming off as aloof.

I’d like to think that a group of professionals wouldn’t harbor negative feelings towards these guys – but might it grate on me that they accounted for about a third of the total payroll?  Perhaps, it might.

In fact, little episodes across the season pointed to the lack of unity, hidden in the details.  Before the broadcast would break for commercial, a quick shot into the dugout sometimes revealed quarrels and tiffs.  Postgame handshakes were strained at times this year, as were dugout celebrations.  There were small, telltale signs that not everyone got along.  Add up all the unique factors, and yes, you might be left with a somewhat disjointed, fragmented clubhouse.

But that only begins to bring the conversation to the second point.

– And that point is, none of the above mattered.  Not even a little.  Not at all.  And the reason that none of it mattered is because when and where it counted most, the 2012 Giants are most exemplified by their catcher and Willie Mac Award winner Buster Posey.

That’s the Buster Posey whose contract was worth less that 5% of Zito’s this year.  Whose 2011 was abruptly and violently ended by a collision at the plate in May, left writhing on the field with a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments, his bright career suddenly in doubt.  Who, the following April, was unsure of how well he could rebound.  He went out and played 148 games in 2012, 114 at catcher.  Led the league in batting at .336, the first NL catcher since 1942.  24 HRs, 103 RBI.  The likely MVP.  Etc, etc.

But what Posey did in 2012 that won’t be on the back of his baseball card is what Giants fans will remember about this season.  He was the steady, calming influence.  He was the rock. Posey controlled the rhythm of the game, harnessed the energy of the moment, put his pitchers in a position to succeed.

There were times this summer that it seemed each game went through Posey, as though would have his say on its outcome, night after night.  Night after night he would show up to work, ready, steady, and approach every situation with the same tangible toughness and resolution.

And this attitude was pervasive.  It’s not an accident that the Giants overcame such insurmountable odds.  The 2012 Giants became an extension of Posey – approach every situation head-on, don’t back down, don’t give an inch.  You don’t come back from 0-2 and 3-1 deficits against playoff teams by being weak-willed and fractured, after all.

Somehow, no matter what was happening outside the lines, this team came together from the first pitch to the 27th out.  After the game, life was waiting.  But just like everyday people find a respite from real life in the escape of sport, this team did too.  They all made the decision that, no matter what, once the game starts, everyone pulls the rope in the same direction.  Show up to work.  Be ready, be steady.  Don’t give an inch.

When the Giants acquired Hunter Pence at the deadline, it was only appropriate.  He played a focused, intense game that immediately endeared him with the ‘serious sect’, while being unpredictable and irreverent enough to connect with the ‘wild bunch’.  He’s the Ferris Bueller of the 2012 champs – they all love him! He became a glue that kept the Giants from folding to the pressures.

By the end of the year, Pence was leading a unique pregame dugout ritual – a slow, building clap that swelled into a raucous storm of bodies and showers of sunflower seeds.  It had started as a way to keep the team loose, but it became in itself a metaphor for the team.  “It doesn’t matter how you got here,” it seemed to say as the most excitable Giants swirled in the eye of the storm and the more stoic players milled the edges, mentally preparing themselves, “what matters is that we work together, now, and don’t quit on each other.”

And when the shower of sunflower seeds ceded, it was time to go to work, together.

– If the 2012 Giants are an extension of Buster Posey, Buster Posey is an extension of Manager Bruce Bochy.  There’s not as much to say about Bochy as the rest of the amazing stories on this championship team, but then again, Bochy would probably prefer it that way.  He has always given all credit to his players and staff, despite being a tactically advanced and savvy manager.  But Bochy was as important to this title run as any player.

A former catcher, he spent 9 years in Houston, New York, and San Diego, and Posey’s calm behind the plate seems to reflect Bochy’s calm in the dugout.  It’s rare to see outbursts of emotion from Bochy – he’s inclined to say little in interviews, and poker-faced during every game.  His demeanor has always been even-keeled and steady, whether April or October.

(It should be said that during the 2012 postseason run, Bochy became more animated than is usual for him.  He was more excited in the dugout, more open with media, and he seemed to be almost rooting for his team.  It was a small pleasure to see Bochy smile, high-five, and clap at big moments.  I got the impression he really, truly enjoyed this season, and that he was more proud and satisfied this year than 2010.  Perhaps with one in the bag, he felt less pressure.  Who knows?)

And since his approach is so straight-forward and consistent, it can be buried in the sensationalism of a championship season, in the highs and lows.  Bochy, after all, does not subscribe to highs and lows.  So to find Bochy’s influence, his fingerprints, you have to look a little deeper.

After two titles, it’s inarguable that Bochy is a wonderful leader of men.  He seems to have an innate ability to rally his troops.  This Giants team played a particular brand of baseball, a blueprint that Bochy has employed for a long time, and one that has been studied and critiqued ad nauseum.  Pitching and defense, rinse, repeat.

Dominant pitching, good defense, and timely hitting are all nice concepts, but it takes an orchestrator to place the pieces properly, to time his moves with precision and reason.  Bochy’s 2012 team played the way he manages.  He was calm, prepared, and willing.

Throughout the regular season and playoffs Bochy steered the ship calmly.  He never wavered or showed weakness.  There was never any doubt who was in charge, and never any doubt as to the overall purpose – beat the other team.  And that didn’t only entail scoring more runs, not this year.  In 2012, beating the other team meant proving to them that you were more resilient, more dedicated, and more capable than the other team.

That’s the way Bruce Bochy managed, and that’s the way the 2012 Giants played.  Be ready.  Be steady.  Don’t give an inch.

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There are actually a couple more points to cover.

– Bruce Bochy has a lifetime contract to coach the Giants.  I said this after the 2010 season, and it goes double now. (consecutive life sentences?) First and foremost, he’s one of the great managers of his generation.  The numbers back that up, but the feel backs it up too.  That Bobby Cox aura.  Joe Torre. He will get the most out of his roster that can be gotten.  He maximizes his talent and helps them to succeed.  That’s a manager.

He’s also now brought two titles to a title-starved baseball town.  He is the culmination of over 50 years in San Francisco.  He will go down in Giants history and folklore.  Bruce Bochy’s name will never be forgotten by Giants fans.

And practically speaking, imagining the sequence of events that could possibly lead to Bochy’s firing or resignation is an interesting exercise.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, like criminal charges or health problems, what kind of baseball circumstances would demand his removal?  Would five consecutive 90-loss seasons, starting next year, oust him?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  His seat might be hot.

How about five straight 100-loss seasons?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  One must start to consider 6, 7, 8 losing seasons, or some strange unparalleled mediocrity, before Bochy’s firing would be considered.  But what are the chances that he embarks upon such a terrible string of seasons?  Incredibly, incredibly unlikely.  He’s not going to forget how to manage this offseason, nor will the roster be replaced by junior college players.  This team is prepared to succeed in the future.

So all that being said, it is now the Giants’ management’s job to make absolutely sure that he is never “Terry Francona’d”.  He is now a local hero, and it is Brian Sabean, Larry Baer, et al’s responsibility to care for this era of Giants baseball, keep it competitive, and retain its legacy.  Don’t screw this up!  These teams will be celebrated for years to come and it is the Giants’ management’s task to ensure that Bochy is properly recognized and appreciated.

– SF has a short list of free agents this offseason.  Fortunately, the majority of the core is under contract for next year, including all five starting pitchers.  A decision will have to be be made regarding Angel Pagan.  Aubrey Huff has a $10 million team option which SF will certainly buy out for $2million.  Jeremy Affeldt is a free agent and an important piece of the bullpen puzzle. Melky Cabrera, Xavier Nady, and Guillermo Mota are also free agents.

However, rounding out the free agent list are three interesting names: Freddy Sanchez, Marco Scutaro, and Ryan Theriot.  In other words, the Giants’ three most viable options at 2nd base.  I cannot predict how it will play out, only that for the coming offseason, much of the conversation will revolve around 2B.  It will be interesting to see what SF plans to do, most notably at CF/LF and 2B.

– I must give credit where credit is due, and credit is due to the much-maligned Joe Buck.  Half of the broadcast team at Fox, Buck has long been criticized for putting his listeners to sleep.  He has a knack for taking a high-tension, high-leverage, pivotal moment and sucking the air right out of it.  It’s just no fun to listen to him, and most of the time he’s mistakable for an NPR lecture on microbiology, or some other such droll, lifeless, boring example.

But the professional that he is, it seems that Buck has heard his critics and responded, at least when it counted most.  I want to recognize Buck for his broadcast of Game 4, which I thought was some of his most riveting work. He was into the game, into the moments, and two of his calls stood out: his strikeout call to end the game and the series, and his call of Crawford’s play on the grounder that Matt Cain deflected. To paraphrase:

“And Crawford continues to play the heck out of the shortstop position.”

That’s as good as you’re ever going to get from Joe Buck.  His pause before he said “heck”, you could almost sense him struggling, like he wanted to say, “Jesus fucking Christ, have you seen what this Crawford kid can do?!”  It’s in him.  In fact it even goes back to last year – his Game 6 call of Freese’s home run to win it – “And we’ll see ya.. tomorrow night!”  Perfect homage.

He’s coming around.  Buck is growing as an announcer.  He’s beginning to sense the moment more, realizes his place in it more, and his calls are becoming more human and less robotic.  I’m not saying he’s there yet.  But credit where credit is due.

Tim McCarver, you suck.  You’re like the John Madden of baseball broadcasting.  Only much worse.

– The Giants executed a 7-4-2 putout to nail Prince Fielder at the plate.  Marco Scutaro did some unbelievable things this season, but he is not getting enough credit for that play.  It’s basically the reverse of Jeter’s play, except that Jeter’s play was in the ALDS, while Scutaro’s play was the first 7-4-2 putout in World Series history.

The reason he’s not getting any credit is because he has said it was a routine play and they practice it all the time.  (Okay, the real reason, as we all know, is that ESPN wasn’t watching this World Series, since neither the Yankees or Red Sox played in it.)  But the fact is, this was a transcendent, series-altering play that came out of where the relay came out of – left field.

– And finally, a Posey Admiration Tangent:

His at-bats resemble a quarterback standing tall in the pocket and collected in the face of the pass rush, waiting for his receiver to come open, delivering a smooth ball to the back corner of the endzone.  Or the right-center gap, as it were.

His defense is reminiscent of an artist working his brush, trying to create on the canvas the vision in his mind.  Many games tend to proceed at the pitcher’s pace, but no Giants game proceeds until Gerald “Buster” Posey allows it.

A professional ballplayer, he walks, talks, and plays with a maturity far beyond his 25 years.  He is an example for many young baseball players to follow.  We thank him for his inspiration, courage, and leadership.  And we’re looking forward to watching him in a Giants uniform for a long, long time.

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