|The toothpick vs. the glasses|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: From his home on the Northern California coast, Page 2's Eric Neel is keeping a diary of the 2002 pennant races involving the Giants, Dodgers, A's and Angels. This is the seventh installment of Neel's journal.
Monday, Sept. 16
Status: Giants remain one game up on Dodgers for NL wild card. Angels take one-game lead in AL West, with 13 games remaining.
To win games, you have to make pitches and string together hits. You have to draw on your experience and expertise, be the players you are, pick each other up and stay focused.
To win games in September, when the other team is just as hungry as you are and the playoffs are on the line, you have to do all of that and then some. In September, you have to dig for something extra, invoke some special forces. You have to call on all your intangibles.
You can't manage your intangibles. You have to trust them to work their magic. If you're the Giants in the next two weeks, you play hard, play smart, and believe that somehow, at some crucial time, it will make a difference that you have one or all of the following factors in your corner:
Dusty's toothpick. His name says sweet, cuddly teddy bear, but the toothpick says, "I know a guy, I'll make a call. Don't worry about it -- this will all be taken care of by morning."
McCovey Cove. First of all, the name is great. It sounds like a spot on a map Huck and Jim came across, like the name of some swamp hollow where a dead body is stuck in the muck -- lots of good intimidating vibes coming up out of a place called McCovey Cove. Secondly, Willie McCovey was great, so you have all the associative he-was-a-Giant-and-we're-Giants-and-he-was-
Bobby Thomson. Whisper his name to any Dodger, past or present, and watch the poor guy go white as a sheet. Say, "There's a long drive. It's gonna be, I believe ..." and watch him start to shake. Lean in close, right by his ear, and say, "The Giants win the pennant," just once (you don't even have to shout it out the way Russ Hodges did in '51), and he'll faint dead away.
Quality baseball names, the kind of names that will sound authentic when you tell kids about this team years from now. Manny Aybar, Livan Hernandez, Trey Lunsford, Cody Ransom, J.T. Snow, Yorvit Torrealba and Barry Bonds.
The no-way-really-he's-still-playing-you're-serious-you're-sure? guy. The Giants actually have two of these guys: Shawon Dunston (whose name probably belongs on the good name list above, by the way) and Benito Santiago. Dunston is 39 and Santiago is 37 (but he's working on a modified, no-comb-over, Edward James Olmos as "Kimo" thing that makes him look older, don't you think?). Their job is to cancel out Jesse Orosco, the Dodgers' 76-year-old left-handed reliever.
Willie Mays. That's it, just Willie Mays. What, I'm gonna say something more eloquent than that? I don't think so. Willie Mays. Period.
The fog. You can't field a flyball you can't see, you can't swing at a pitch you can't see, you can't arrive on time to a ballpark you can't see, and you can't land on a runway you can't see. The fog moves in, the fog moves out -- it seems random, but maybe it isn't; maybe the fog has a rooting interest; maybe it comes on little cat feet and wraps its tail around Barry's leg and purrs and purrs.
The voice. Jon Miller is warm and full of wonder. So much seems possible when he speaks.
The feud. Their teammates had better hope that the recent make-up talk from Bonds and Jeff Kent is a front. Tension is good. Tension is productive. Look at Simon and Garfunkel. You think we get "Bridge Over Troubled Water" without a little troubled water? No sir, we don't. Look at Shaq and Kobe. Look at Sonny and Cher. Look at John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Orange. Orange is one of those colors that doesn't really go with anything. Ask Vera Wang, Isaac Miszrahi, any of your top fashion designers, they'll tell you: Orange is an island unto itself, orange stands alone. Orange is not the color of those who just want to fit in, it is the color of those who are brave and bold and don't give a rat's ass what the rest of the world thinks of them. Yellow, pink, blue, green -- these are social colors, get-along colors. Orange laughs at their meek, conformist tones. Orange is a champion. Gaze upon Tsuyoshi Shinjo's wrist bands, stare deep into them and see reflected there the image of the winner you (you who wear beige, tope and the occasional black) so desperately want to be.
What else? 1951 was a long, long time ago; kids in San Francisco need something to call their own. Bobby Bonds. Will Clark. Dave Dravecky's arm. Joe Montana mojo is still floating around the city somewhere. Genuine-deep-seated-thoroughly-
And what of the Dodgers? What, besides their skill and want-to, might give them a shot at winning this thing?
The deal. Orosco has clearly made a deal with the Devil. The residual effects, though undoubtedly ultimately dangerous for the team, the city and perhaps all of western civilization, may nevertheless prove beneficial in the short term. (Jesse is also, of course, the Dodgers' no-way-really-he's-still-playing-you're-serious-you're-sure? guy.)
Sandy Koufax. See Willie Mays above.
Jim Tracy's glasses. His name says unassuming, professorial square. His glasses say unassuming, professorial square, too. Not since Tom Kelly arrived in Minnesota has a manager been so poised to sneak up on people who expect nothing of him.
Shawn Green's swing. It's a thing of beauty. People are cheered by it; they feel better knowing they live in a world in which such a thing is possible. The fact that it has produced 42 home runs so far this year is exciting for the fans, but the singing line of it, the perfect, untroubled arc it cuts through the air, is what makes them want to get up in the morning.
The voice. Vin Scully. Green's swing, or any other great baseball moment, is only fully realized when it rolls off Vin's tongue. Every other call is an approximation, a less-than-perfect rendition of what it might have been. The Dodgers may get pulled along into the postseason simply by the baseball world's collective desire to see and hear the best of the game.
The reason. When Kazuhiro Ishii took a line drove to the head recently, his teammates rallied around him, many of them writing his number 17 on their caps as a gesture of solidarity. The will to win is strong enough; the will to win in honor of a fallen comrade, that's the stuff of myths and legends.
The bridge figure. Paul Lo Duca (who came out of nowhere last year to lead the team on and off the field) is a Brooklyn boy. He's the tie that binds. He gives Brooklynites a reason, maybe the first reason in 45 years, to root for the L.A. team. Through Lo Duca, Brooklyn wisdom, devotion and fanaticism, and the oldest, purest form of anti-Giant and anti-Yankee sentiment, come to the aid of this year's team.
Quality baseball names, the kind of names that will sound authentic when you tell kids about this team years from now. Omar Daal, Ishii, Hideo Nomo, Paul Lo Duca, Adrian Beltre, Marquis Grissom and Luke Allen.
The palm trees. They sway a sleepy sort of hula on the horizon, out beyond the center-field pavilions at Dodger Stadium. They're somewhat distracting, and they almost certainly get guys from the opposing team thinking about vacationing somewhere warm rather than moving on to the playoffs. But their real power comes from the fact that they inspire envy on the part of opposing players. Why don't I live and play in L.A., they wonder. Why don't we have palm trees? By about the sixth inning, guys are consumed with jealousy, they can't see straight, they can't breathe out of their eyelids, they're all jammed up.
The new kid. The Dodgers just brought up outfielder Chin-Feng Chen, making him the first player from Taiwan ever to make it to the major leagues. Every postseason push is just a story waiting to be written. Why couldn't it be written by this kid, with late-game, heroic swings of the bat? It's not likely but it could and, man, if it were, and if Vin was describing it all, oh man, people would eat that up -- not just Los Angelenos, but folks everywhere, from Thailand to Brooklyn.
Red. Red is the anchor, the cornerstone of perhaps the best uniforms in all of sports. Red is passion and rage. Don't be fooled by the calm cool of the blue and white. Red is violence, lurking, waiting to tear your heart out. Red is a threat. Do not toy with red. Red is not amused. Red is coming to get you.
What else? Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Roy Campanella. Don Drysdale. Dusty Baker was a Dodger -- he won a World Series as a Dodger; something he's never done as a Giant. Juan Marichal did a real bad thing with a bat to John Roseboro's head and eventually his boys are gonna have to pay the tab on that. Andy Messersmith's hair, Mike Marshall's sideburns, Reggie Smith's batting stance, Davey Lopes' moustache (not Steve Garvey's hair), and Ron Cey's walk. My grandfather took me to my first game at Dodger stadium in 1972. Hideo Nomo's tornado wind-up. Manny Mota, Jose Morales, Lenny Harris and Dave Hansen: the pinch-hitting tradition. Fernando Valenzuela, crazy and indomitable as he is, just might emerge out of some Mexican league and sign a 10-day contract and start getting guys out left and right and then,on Day 11, might disappear again, leaving the thought of him, the fear of him, lurking back there in the minds of the Giants hitters.
Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column on Page 2. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.