Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Check Stephen Jay Gould's Book ''Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville'' Plus More

Fans click below for a truly enjoyable review by Ed Stern, one of the best baseball fans I know, of Stephen Jay Gould’s book, “Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville”. Gould’s book has been acclaimed by baseball enthusiasts as one of the most genuine collection of baseball essays in years.

Ed also gives his thoughts on the American League race and continues with his season long look at the Giants strengths and weaknesses.

Thanks Ed for your expert look at the game.


I must say I truly enjoyed Stephen Jay

Gould’s wonderful book, “Triumph and Tragedy In Mudville”, Gould’s book is a delight. He was a world famous paleontologist who, for more than

thirty years at Harvard, taught geology, biology and the history of

science. He died a few years ago but left behind this book. He had

written, over the years, in addition to the many highly scholarly works,

his insightful thoughts about the world of baseball. He was a fervent

baseball fan, unfortunately, I must mention, of the Yankees. However,

despite this one failing, he has insight and humor and a wonderful way

of capturing the essence of the game and, in particular, how baseball

mirrored life.

I particularly want to call your attention to the foreword

written by David Halberstam, who, himself, is an intellectual with a

passion for the game and who has recently written a beautiful book

called “The Teammates”, about Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky

and Dom DiMaggio. Let me relate a few of the moments Halberstam mentions

which gives one a feel for the sensitivity with which Gould, and, of

course, Halberstam himself, approaches the game and how it mirrors life.

I am quoting Halberstam now. “There is a lovely, small piece

composed on the death of Babe Pinelli, the umpire who had called Don

Larsen’s perfect game in October, 1956. The final pitch to Dale

Mitchell, a pinch hitter and twentyseventh batter, with the count 1-2,

was just a little high and outside. “Strike three” said Pinelli.

Naturally enough Mitchell groused about the call.Gould, the

historian-as-umpire,calls the play for Pinelli and against

Mitchell.—“A man may not take a close pitch with so much on the line.

Context matters— Babe Pinelli, umpiring his last game,ended with his

finest, most perceptive, his most truthful moment.”

Halberstam continues, “Williams (Ted) own philosophy (though

he was technically a political conservative and Gould a liberal)

paralled Gould’s with some surprising similarities, and Gould would have

loved one of Williams’s elemental truths of both baseball and life: “God

gets you to the plate, but from then on, you’re on your own.” That

is,natural talent has a lot to do with the earlier rounds of selection

in any enterprise, but what you put into it on your own, how hard you

work and how much passion you bring to it, how much you study to improve

yourself matters equally—it is our mark as individuals, our passions,

our visions, our commitment on occasion to something larger than

ourselves, which sets us apart.”

For those of us who sometimes question our devotion to what

is, after all, only a game, it is rewarding to realize that we are not

alone and that we have very respectable companions.

Now for a few mundane comments about the season to date. Some

three weeks after the season started I was foolhardy enough to come up

with some predictions about a season which still had many months to go.

This was at a time when the Giants and Yankees were running away from

the rest of their leagues. It provoked a comparison of the two teams and

a query as to the reasons the Giants, a team with undeniable weaknesses

was doing as well as the Yankees, a team which I perceived to be the

best team in it’s league, without question.

At this moment, two months into the season, the Yankees may,

in fact, be the best team in it’s league, but it is no longer “without

question”. Matsui may have been the best slugger in Japan but

Steinbrenner is already questioning why those who make the decisions for

him recommended that he spend some thirty million of his dollars on a

player who has yet to make an impact on American League pitching. It

will be interesting to see whether Contreras, when he gets the chance,

will make an impact on American League hitters to justify the very large

dollars he is being paid. At least, Contreras has, in the past, faced

major league batters so that there is a greater likelihood that the

predictions for his success have greater reality. And then there is the

problem of that .208 hitter in the lineup, name of Giambi. Is anyone

crying, outside of the Yankee clubhouse, along with George? The

pitching is getting older and the Red Sox may finally avoid the

collapse in mid-season and/or thereafter that is built into their

tradition. Further, Minnesota is still out there and the Yankees have

had their problems, post-season, in the past. Additionally,if the A’s

ever get some hitting to go with their three pitchers, the Yankees may

never see the Series.

As for the Giants—this is a perplexing club. A few days ago

you mentioned that the Dodgers were breathing down the Giants neck, and,

in fact, they were. They had won ten in a row and had caught up. They

then proceeded to lose, as of today, three times and were now two and a

half behind the Giants once again. The Giants simply have the smell of a

winner and the Dodgers, even with their pitching, arguably the best in

the league, find a way to self-destruct. Yet, the palpable weaknesses

the Giants possess and which were observed in the earlier evaluation are

still present— with a few additional ones. It now appears to be the

case that Barry is getting older. He is still a threat and the other

teams haven’t yet come to the conclusion that it is safer to pitch to

him than to continue putting him on base. They are further confounded

by the unpredicted sight of a 38 year old catcher who seems to be

getting better with age and who loves hitting behind Bonds who is

continually being passed so that they can get to this thirty-eight year

old. The left side of the infield is still a problem. Alfonzo is hitting

around .230, Aurillia is hitting into double plays with regularity.

Would they be better with Perez at shortstop and Feliz, who is giving

some indication of finally coming around as a hitter, at third? That

would be a gutsy call and Alou is not about to make it now.

They still need a left handed hitter coming off the

bench—and it is not Bernard. Their pitching is suspect. Ainsworth had

a very good game the last time out and that is encouraging. Moss has

trouble throwing strikes and going more than six innings. If the game is

one that you feel the need to win,you don’t want Moss there. Ortiz, a

very likely 20 game winner, would look awfully good on this staff. Their

22 year old starter had some moments but he may very well need a couple

of years more. Their bullpen misses Nen and will miss him more as the

year progresses. Nathan had better pitch back to his earlier appearances

or they will be in real trouble.

Why, then, does one pick them to win? After their great start

they have run into a stretch where they have had difficulty winning with

any consistency. They may be pulling out of it now. The upcoming series

with Colorado will be interesting. The Rockies don’t play well at Pac

Bell,or, for that matter, any place on the road.

But, somehow, this team just seems as though it has a quality,

difficult to define, perhaps a maturity, and a handful of players who,

in their own right, have been through it and come out winners. Bonds and

Santiago may define what it is about this team that separates them from

the others. There have been some pleasant surprises. Grissom, for one.

This is a player the Dodgers thought so little of that they platooned

him last year and then dumped him. He has 13 years in the majors and is

playing better than he ever played. When you watch this team in the

dugout during the game they appear to be enjoying themselves in a way

that only teams that believe in themselves do. Bonds seems to be having

a great time. He doesn’t miss Kent altho it would certainly be nice to

have him in the lineup, having one of his usual Hall of Fame seasons.

Most of the above are intangibles. Nevertheless, I would be surprised to

see the Dodgers catch them, Arizona is over the hill. Their lack of

success against the Giants, to date, may very well be indicative of what

one may expect the rest of the year.

It takes a brave man to continue making these predictions!



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