Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What is this Game?

Scott Ostler from The Chronicle has the best description ever of the Giants version of baseball this year:

(10-26) 22:45 PDT -- Giants baseball: It ain't baseball.

What is it? We're not sure, but we have watched baseball for decades, and what the Giants have been playing for the last month is not it.

It resembles baseball. The ball is a baseball. The players play on a baseball field, wear baseball uniforms and spit like baseball players.

But this is a strange new game, with subtle differences.

Baseball is boring. You go to a baseball game with your buddies or your family, you watch a couple of innings, you keep a box score for a while, then you get bored, lose track of the "action" and start buying $10 beers to pass the time.

Giantsball is much more demanding. You have to watch every pitch, every inning, because stuff keeps happening. You even have to participate. At the Giants' last home game against the Phillies, the crowd of 85,000 (give or take) was a nonstop Greek chorus, reacting and emoting loudly on every pitch. Every pitch.

The fan reactions were nuanced, ranging from (as we interpreted the yells and groans) "Good lord, ump, did a rogue seagull just peck out your eyeballs?" to "Whew, you gave us a break on that one, now you only owe us 10."

In baseball, the outcome is usually decided by the fifth inning, allowing fans to file out of the ballpark gradually, alleviating logjams at exits and in parking lots. A Giants game is never over 'til it's over.

Of the Giants' 10 playoff games, seven were decided by one run. Six of the Giants' seven wins were by one run. If you sliced baloney that thin, you'd have a riot in the jailhouse.

In the regular season, 115 Giants games were decided by three or fewer runs, the most for any big-league team in the last five seasons.

If you leave a Giants game early, you get to listen on your car radio to Kruk and Kuip describing the most dramatic finish in the history of sports, as the kids in the back seat burst into tears because they just missed the golden sports memory of a lifetime. Thanks, Dad!

In baseball, the last inning is a formality. At a Giants game, the last inning is a crazy one-run Giants rally, then some tattooed lunatic with a road-tar beard and fluorescent shoes walks the bases full and strikes out the next three guys.

In baseball, every team has one player you must watch; you can't be caught in the snack-stand line when this player bats because he is special. You didn't miss a Barry Bonds at-bat.

The Giants, after more than six months, still haven't figured out who their must-see guy is. Fans are unable to leave their seats for the entire game.

This isn't fair to the fans, but what can you do? If we told you a month ago that you wouldn't be able to run to the restroom during the World Series when Cody Ross was coming to bat, you would have said, "Whody Who?"

Aubrey Huff explained in the Giants' clubhouse after a recent game-winning hit by some Giant nobody knew four months ago, "You can go around this room and there are probably five game-winning hits at every locker."

Because every game is close, defense actually matters. Every groundball, every flyball, is important. This puts huge pressure on the fans. You're sitting behind home plate, you whip out the old BlackBerry to do some work on the Fisbee account, and bingo, you miss Buster Posey tagging out Carlos Ruiz on a play so dramatic and graceful that Posey now gets fan mail from matadors.

(Quick aside: Even Fox TV isn't sure what game the Giants are playing, or where. Fox's camera operators keep searching in the stands for the game. The entire "game" telecast is mostly shots of cute female fans pinching their noses with their praying hands, interspersed with occasional cutaway shots of action on the field, and by "action" we mean HD super-close-ups of the doughnut crumbs in Brian Wilson's beard.)

At a baseball game you stand up only once, in the seventh inning, to brush the peanut shells off your jacket and into your neighbor's beer. But the Giants have all these strikeout pitchers, and every time a pitcher gets two strikes on a batter, you must stand up and cheer. Watching a Timmy Lincecum performance is the equivalent of two hours in the gym doing power squats.

It's really interesting, this new sport that the Giants are inventing on the fly. It's great theater, it's riveting, it's fun. It ain't baseball.

E-mail Scott Ostler at

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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