White elephants vs. rally monkeys
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Thursday, Sept. 12
Last night's scoreboard: Dodgers 7, Giants 3; Angels 6, A's 5.

Garret Anderson
Maybe a playoff race will finally get Garret Anderson the credit and attention he deserves.
Status: The NL West wild-card race is dead even. The A's lead over the Angels in the AL West is down to one game.

It's getting tight.

folks-over-its-maximum-capacity tight.

A lot of people will tell you that it comes down to big players making big plays now. They'll talk about clutch hitting, bearing down, stepping up, and sensing the moment. They'll talk about heart and want-to.

That stuff is all good, it's probably even relevant, but true students of the game will tell you the thin line between winning and losing when things are this excruciatingly, exquisitely tight is drawn with subtler, more magical, ink. They'll tell you it's down to intangibles now, little things whose influence is unknown but considerable, hidden factors that give a guy and his team an edge.

What follows here is a brief and partial list of some of the intangibles at work in the Angels-A's showdown. (NL list to follow later, after the Dodgers and Giants resume head-to-head play on Monday.)

I can't say which factors will come into play at which moments -- I'm an observer and analyst, not a seer. All I'm saying is, when things break one way or the other and all the so-called baseball experts are talking about key plays and turning points and such to explain what's happened, you might want to be thinking deeper, you might want to be looking for causes and explanations on the karma and mojo channels, you might want to be thinking intangibles.

I'll forget things here, and there are things I'm not sensitive or smart enough to notice, I'm sure, but this ought to be more than enough to get you started.

Some of what the Angels have working for them:

The rally monkeys ... Thousands of people shaking, swinging and hugging homely little stuffed animals, pouring all their hopes and dreams and fears into their beady plastic eyes -- that's voodoo love, child, a power not to be underestimated.

The scrappy guy ... David Eckstein. See salt-ringed cap, choked-up stance and steely dugout look. Used to be Rex Hudler. The Angels have this thing going way back.

The unis ... There was a time when the Angels wore red, white and blue, and the colors were in balance, each of them in evidence in the outfit. You would have figured this would make them eligible for some residual patriotic power, but it never worked out that way (see my diary entry from Tuesday), so recently they made the switch to these very, very red uniforms. Red shoes, red hats, red lettering, red numbers. Hardly a hint of blue anywhere. I don't especially like them, but they are intense, and maybe even distracting for the opposition.

The good-looking superstar ... Garret Anderson looks kind of like that guy from "Third Watch," Michael Beach. More importantly, he looks like a baseball player, head-to-toe.

HBPs ... The Angels lead the league in HBPs this year. An even 70 of them. I have no idea what this means, except that maybe they are tapping into some old, Don-Baylor-wins-the-MVP-as-a-DH energy.

Shawn Wooten
Inspired by the rally monkey, Shawn Wooten hit a two-out, two-run double in the seventh inning Wednesday night.
Home field advantage ... Edison International Field has that bizarre Big Thunder Mountain landscape out over the left center field wall. Rockslides and screaming, getaway roller coaster cars always feel like a possibility -- can't be easy for the opposing outfielders to live with that lurking over them all night.

The slightly "off" relief pitcher ... Ben Weber's herky-jerky, double-pump,
I-might-just-go-off delivery is good, but it's his yellow-tinged goggle glasses and finely trimmed chin-beard that seal the deal.

Mike Scioscia ... I've just always liked Mike Scioscia.

Good names, baseball names, names whose power can neither be quantified nor contained ... John Lackey, Troy Percival, Troy Glaus, Scott Spiezio, Orlando Palmeiro and Shawn Wooten.

Two Molinas ... Both catchers. Bengie and Jose. They must have some special, "form of a two-run homer in the ninth" Wonder Twins powers, don't you think?

The big Mo ... As in momentum, not Vaughn. They've won one in a row. They're hot. They're on a roll.

What else ... The ghost of Gene Autry. They're due. Brian Downing. Lyman Bostock. There used to be a guy up in the right field bleachers who would eat moths for money. My friend Matt's dad, Pete, has been laying down the green for season tickets since, like, forever. They once wore goofy caps with a silver halo on the top. They had to share Dodger Stadium for three years in the '60s and that just ain't right -- somebody owes them for that. Kevin Appier's follow-through. Ramon Ortiz working the Oil Can Boyd, tiny-torso, impossible-mechanics thing. Reggie Jackson hit his 500th homer as an Angel, and a host of other factors too subtle to be enumerated.

Some of the A's intangible benefits:

The stirrups ... Terrence Long and Ray Durham are working a green-legged, I-can-fly, Peter Pan thing.

The nicknames ... T Long and Miggy. Names that could be written into a "Starsky and Hutch" script are good.

Miguel Tejada
Miggy (Miguel Tejada) is a throwback, straight out of 1970s TV classics.
Left-handedness ... You've read the studies about creativity and genius. You know Einstein, Lenny Bruce and Jimi Hendrix were left-handed. You know Zito and Mulder are bringing all the whammy from the left side, don't you?

The waves ... Not the wave, the waves, as in ride the waves, as in catch a wave. Zito surfs. He's calm, he's cool, he's got the love. "Early morning, 5:30, sun's still coming up, it's dark out, but the sun's starting to peek out, and you paddle out, and sit on the outside, and it's all glassy, it's freezing cold, you're blowing out air, and you're the first guy out there ... you just see the waves come peeling off, dude. Oh, it's an unbelievable feeling."

The unis ... Two things in play here: The first is that the current togs offer a subtle, elegant blend of green and gold that is pleasing to the eye. The second is the old, bright green and screaming gold polyester outfits represented by Catfish Hunter's retired jersey on the leftfield fence and worn for several games by this year's team to commemorate the 1972 world championship team. One says sophistication and contemporary cool. One says, "We're old school, baby, and we pay tribute to the elders."

Joe Rudi. Bert Campaneris. Vida Blue. Catfish. Reggie. Rollie Fingers. Sal Bando. Gene Tenace. Blue Moon Odom.

Their own good-looking superstar, thank you very much ... Ladies love Eric Chavez.

The submariners ... Two of 'em. Chad Bradford and Mike Venafro. Bradford actually drops his arm down six inches below the surface of the mound and comes up firing dirt and worms -- incredibly confusing for the hitter.

Good names, baseball names, names whose power can neither be quantified nor contained ... Micah Bowie, Ricardo Rincon, Barry Zito, David Justice, Durham, Frank Menechino and Jason Grabowski.

The GM ... Billy Beane traded Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry and it worked. Who saw that coming? You didn't see that coming. I didn't see that coming. Jeremy and John didn't see it coming. Billy must be smart. Billy must be crazy powerful smart. Billy must be respected.

The bounce-back ... Stung by their loss Wednesday night, the guys are hungry, they're looking to make a comeback, they will not be denied.

What else ... Charlie Finley's hat. Orange baseballs. Billy Koch's goatee. Art Howe seems like a nice guy. Everybody slides now. Fans ride public transportation to and from the game -- lots of comradery, no bitter high-priced parking karma. Reggie hit a ball onto the roof of Tiger Stadium as an A, didn't he? A's broadcaster Greg Papa compared a play Eric Chavez made last night to Brooks Robinson's plays in the 1970 World Series -- who knows what kind of magic that sort of comparison has let loose. While we're talking broadcasters, let's say Ray Fosse, who does TV and radio for the A's -- he deserves a little payback for that Pete Rose home plate thing and calling an A's series win just might do the trick. Elephants: John McGraw called Connie Mack's boys "white elephants" and Mack immediately put the pachyderms on their jerseys, reclaiming the tag and making it a symbol of power and pride -- that's good, good stuff, the kind of stuff that reaches down through the ages and give today's guys a little boost from time to time.

Previous entries: Sept. 11 | Sept. 9-10

Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column on Page 2. You can e-mail him at eneel@cox.net.



Eric Neel Archive

Red-hot Angels close gap on Athletics with victory

Nomo pitches Dodgers back into wild-card tie

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 11

Eric Neel's California Diary, Sept. 9-10

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