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Friday, March 9, 2018

What I Am Thankful For As A San Francisco Giants Fan

The easy answer is 2010, 2012 and 2014. And to some degree, those are certainly three of the things I am most thankful for, especially 2010. However, what I am truly thankful for is the fandom itself.

I am thankful for 1983. That was the year of my first game at Candlestick Park. My father took me to the game. I don’t remember what game it was. I don’t remember if the Giants won or lost. The Giants won 53% of their home games that season, so I had roughly a 50/50 chance of seeing a win. I am much more thankful of my father taking me to the game in the first place. I am thankful for the love of the game he had and the love for the game he instilled in me.

Candlestick Park, Home of the San Francisco Giants 1960-1999
I am thankful for 1987. My first pennant race. I am thankful for being seven years old and beginning to live and die with my team. I am thankful for the young homegrown stars like Will Clark, Robby Thompson, and Chili Davis and new players traded to the team like Jeffrey Leonard, Jose Uribe, Kevin Mitchell, Mike Krukow, Don Robinson, and Dave Dravecky. I was heartbroken when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, but I was excited for the future.

I am thankful for 1989. My first World Series. I am thankful for seeing some of my favorite players evolve like Clark, Mitchell, Robinson and more. I am thankful for new additions like Steve Bedrosian and Brett Butler playing key roles. I am also thankful for the first responders and everyone that came to the aid of the victims of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Despite the loss to the Oakland Athletics, that reality hit home harder than any loss could ever do.

My father and I were in the car heading home to watch Game 3 when the earthquake began. We were listening to the pregame on the radio when it felt like all four tires went flat at the same time. But then you look around and every other car is stopped on the freeway as well. I am thankful that we weren’t on the Bay Bridge that day or on 880. I am thankful that so many survived.

Barry Bonds waves to the crowd after a home run, 1993.
I am thankful for 1993. I am thankful for Barry Bonds agreeing to sign with my favorite team and the 15 years of entertainment he provided my family. My grandfather was near the end of his life as Bonds was beginning his career in San Francisco and he would watch every game. He would call my dad to comment on the fact that Barry Bonds had homered in the exact same spot as he did the day before.

[Sidenote: My grandfather would watch the replays of the game on SportsChannel Bay Area and not realize they were replays.]

I am thankful for the excitement Bonds, Dusty Baker, Rod Beck, Matt Williams and so many more brought my grandfather, my father and me.

I am thankful for 1997. I am thankful for Brian Sabean and the team he built. I am thankful for Williams and all he did for the Giants in his time in San Francisco. I am thankful for Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia, Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes and Kirk Rueter. I am thankful for the era that began that season.

Kirk Rueter's first pitch at AT&T Park on April 11, 2000
I am thankful for 2000. I am thankful for the most beautiful baseball park I have ever set foot in. I am thankful for Ellis Burks, Robb Nen, and Mark Gardner. I am thankful for the first time I was able to take my dad to a game. I am thankful for sitting at Pacific Bell Park with my father, driving the two of us to the park to enjoy the game I had loved for the past 17 years.

I am thankful for 2001. I am thankful for Bonds and the season he had. With every home run, I felt like I was home instead of being away at college, 1,646.2 miles away. I am thankful for home runs 71 and 72 as I shared baseball history with my roommates and felt a connection to my team despite being so far away.

I am thankful for 2002. I am thankful for my second trip to the World Series as a fan. I am thankful for how close we got. It was gut wrenching and heart breaking and still feels raw to this day, but it was such a special season. I am thankful for all of the players that were a part of that team. I am thankful for Kenny Lofton, Benito Santiago, David Bell, Reggie Sanders, and Jason Schmidt. I am also thankful for the team’s first round draft pick that season.

Matt Cain's Debut Start
I am thankful for 2005. I am thankful for the debut of Matt Cain. I am thankful for the first move towards an eventual championship. I am thankful for the front office changing their philosophy on how they would build the Giants in the future. I am thankful for future draft picks like Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Joe Panik.

I am thankful for 2008. I am thankful for taking my future wife on dates to San Jose Giants games and seeing those homegrown draft picks up close. I am thankful for watching Posey and Bumgarner with her and watching them get to the big leagues. I am thankful that my wife was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan before we met which meant she already loved baseball. I am thankful that because of those San Jose Giants games, she fell in love with the Giants. I am thankful for her family, despite their love for the Dodgers, were happy for me and my team when they made the playoffs. I am thankful that she fell in love with them organically. I am thankful that when they won it all in 2010, she was the first person I hugged.

And yes, of course I am thankful for 2010. I am thankful for every torturous moment. I am thankful for every thrilling moment. I am thankful for every Bruce Bochy decision, every Cain pitch, every Posey at bat, and every Lincecum strikeout.

I am most thankful for November 1, 2010 about 30 minutes after Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz in Game 5. About 30 minutes after that last strike, I showed up on my father’s doorstep and knocked on the door. When he answered the door, I hugged him and cried. It was one of the most special moments a son could have with his father as it relates to sports. It is why we care so much about the game itself. Losing happens. No team goes undefeated. The people you share those moments with and the shared joy you feel when your team wins the final game of the season is indescribable. Had the Giants won all the time, 2010 wouldn't be as special as it was. Had the Giants continued to win the World Series every other year like some “Even Year Magic,” 2010 wouldn’t be as special as it was.

I truly loved seeing San Francisco win the World Series in 2012 and 2014. But the moment i embraced my father on the night of November 1, 2010 is the best moment I have ever shared with him when it comes to our Giants.

Aaron Saltzman, the next great Giants fan

And now my son, Aaron, who is two years old, will be the next generation to be a part of this fandom. I look forward to introducing the Giants to him and rooting for new players that come along and become his favorites. This is bigger than any win or loss the team can have. This is more special to me than whether the Giants sign the next Barry or draft the next Buster. This is what I am thankful for, this is what baseball is all about, and this is what the San Francisco Giants mean to me and my family.

Monday, February 13, 2017


This Thursday, I will begin posting my picks for the 64 greatest San Francisco Giants since 1958. Starting today and ending Wednesday at 11:59pm PST, I will be taking answers for a free bobblehead giveaway.

 Here is the official question: How many current San Francisco Giants are a part of the 64 Giants that made the cut? How many and can you name them?

One lucky Giants fan will win a free bobblehead for getting both answers right. If no fan gets the answer 100% right, I will see who named the most correct Giants and choose among the people that were closest.

Make sure to look for the #SFGiantsMadness hashtag on Twitter for the articles that will begin posting this Thursday and every Thursday to see which Giants made the list.

Good luck to all Giants fans and Happy Bumgarners and Poseys Day!

Here is how last year's Brackets ended:

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Core Four: A Retrospective

The San Francisco Giants have won three World Series since moving to the city in 1958. Each and every championship included four relief pitchers better known as “The Core Four.” Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez. With Affeldt’s retirement at the end of the 2015 season and the pending free agency of Romo, Casilla and Lopez, we may have seen the last of the strongest bullpen in Giants history.

Since the 2010 trade deadline, when the San Francisco Giants acquired Lopez from the Pittsburgh Pirates, these four pitchers have been literal Giants. They have been the core of a bullpen that consistently stopped some of the best lineups in baseball. Affeldt’s scoreless inning streak of 23 innings was recently passed by starter Madison Bumgarner. Only future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera has a longer streak than Bumgarner.

Romo, Casilla and Lopez all had scoreless inning streaks heading into the 2016 post-season as well. When it came to Bruce Bochy‘s bullpen, it seemed he could always count on these four men in October. Many fans became frustrated with the group in the last two seasons, and it was understandable.

When the expectation is dominance and you have seen these pitchers perform at an elite level for so long, you take it for granted how hard it is to replicate. The Giants have made a Wall of Fame outside AT&T Park, and soon all four members of “The Core Four” will have their own plaque. As the years pass, fans will remember more fondly with how strong the group was and how rare it really is for a team to have so much talent in one bullpen.

With the current post-season showcasing relief pitchers being used in the middle innings, we can see that Major League bullpens are being redefined before our eyes. Pitchers such as American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and the Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, pitchers are being asked to pitch in the innings with the highest stress instead of just save situations. The Baltimore Orioles Zach Britton was infamously left out of the American League wild card game that went extra innings because the Orioles never put their team in the position to have a save situation. Meanwhile, the best groundball pitcher in the game wasn’t used in situations that needed a double play from their best relief pitcher.

However, this phenomenon isn’t new in San Francisco. The Giants have been doing this for the last seven seasons. Even though they have used a traditional closer, they have always known spending on their bullpen was vital. Keeping each member of their core when other teams would have used the money elsewhere allowed for them to have great pitchers for those high stress middle innings. They never had to overuse just one pitcher when they had four.

When the Giants needed an out in the middle innings, Affeldt and Casilla were often used to get out both right handed and left handed batters. When the team needed to get out an elite right handed bat, Romo was often called. And if the team needed to take the bat out of the hands of a team’s best left handed batters, Javier Lopez was the “LOOGY” that was called upon.

Lopez was used in so many key moments in 2010 to get out powerful left handed hitters like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Josh Hamilton. In 2012, Romo struck out one of the best right handed hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera. It was easy to overlook how important these core members were when they were so consistent but would be used in such short bursts.

It’s so much easier for fans to remember Pablo Sandoval hitting three home runs in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series or a Bumgarner complete game shutout. But without “The Core Four,” there might not be any championships in San Francisco.

Looking back on what the Giants had from 2010 to 2016, it was clear that the Giants had pitchers with closer “stuff” they could use in those high stress situations. Affeldt famously pitched in the second inning of Game seven of the World Series in 2014, and he became the first pitcher in baseball history to be brought in from the second through the ninth inning in the post-season during his career.

2016 was rough for the remaining members of the core four and there might be thought that the legacy of the group might even be impacted with the way the season ended for Romo, Casilla and Lopez. However, if you look at the entirety of the last seven seasons, it it clear that the success outweighs the failures.

Aubrey Huff Talks Anxiety and Depression

The San Francisco Giants never won a World Series in their 52 year history on the West Coast until Aubrey Huff came to the Bay Area. Huff, and his band of castoffs and misfits won the 2010 World Series and Huff led the team in nearly every offensive category. He would win a second ring in 2012 before retiring in January of 2014.

Despite all the success Aubrey Huff had with the San Francisco Giants, fans don’t know that he was battling anxiety and depression behind the scenes. While fans were cheering to see his “rally thong,” Huff was in pain. While fans were wondering why the success of the 2010 season didn’t translate into the next three years with the Giants, Aubrey’s struggles off the field were kept secret.

The San Francisco Giants were Huff’s fifth and final team during his 13 year career. He had also played with the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers. It wasn’t until the 2015 Off-season where Aubrey Huff revealed that he had been struggling with anxiety and depression. When he spoke to reporters in 2015, he was attempting a comeback to the big leagues at age 39.

“My career didn’t really end the way I wanted it to,” Huff said at the time. “I was 35 years old and I still had a lot of baseball in my bones, but I was going through so much anxiety that right then was a good time to quit.”

In his 13 seasons in the big leagues, Huff hit .278/.342/.464 with 242 home runs and 904 RBI in 1,681 games. In 2010 for the San Francisco Giants, Huff led the team in Games, At Bats, Hits, Runs, Home Runs, Runs Batted In, On Base Percentage and OPS.

“The biggest thing for me is to inspire people because millions and millions of people live with anxiety and depression throughout their life,” he said. “If they can see a guy that’s went through it publicly and go out there in front of 40,000 people a night and know that it can be beat, it’s going to give them a lot of hope.”

Huff has now written a book, titled Baseball Junkie, which he is currently funding through Kickstarter. As he states on the book’s Kickstarter page, “Baseball Junkie is the story of a man who seemingly has everything—a place in Major League Baseball history, success, fame, money, a beautiful family—and yet, finds himself staring straight at a loaded .375 Magnum, contemplating suicide.”

“Baseball Junkie follows Huff through a rollercoaster ride from humble beginnings as a quiet, shy kid growing up in a trailer park in a small Texas town, to an Adderall-infused egomaniac standing in front of a million-plus Giants fans, proudly displaying women’s underwear, his ‘rally thong,’ for the world to see.”
“The book is a portrayal of the internal struggles Aubrey experienced playing in the Big Show. It takes the reader inside the complex life and mind of a man as he balances victories with internal struggles: addiction, divorce, anxiety, depression, and feelings of inferiority.”
“It inspires the reader to seek more than what this world has to offer. To rise above mediocrity, achieving his or her true potential while staying focused on what really matters when the fame and excitement of the game fade with the sunset.”

I had the opportunity to interview Aubrey Huff about his journey in baseball and why he decided to share his story.

MS: “Explain the process you went through before deciding to publish your story of struggling with anxiety and depression?”

AH: “I felt a nagging feeling for a year, telling me “Aubrey, you’ve got to write a book. You have to share your story.” To be honest, a little voice inside my head kept telling me my story would not be interesting enough. That no-one really cares about some washed up junkie ex-ball player. I feel that even today. I mean what if the book tanks and we sell 100 copies? But I felt I had to get it down on paper… to just vomit on the page… once I got started writing, I found it pretty therapeutic.”

“Stephen Cassar got involved and helped me piece it together. But there was so much material to work through. The toughest part was to tell it in a way that made sense. Making something out of my ramblings. The end result is not bad.”

MS: “What positive feedback have you received for taking on this challenge? Have you heard from others and/or their families who have dealt with the same struggles?”

“Yes! This started right after I started talking about my anxiety and depression publicly. People were coming out of the woodworks saying I gave them courage to speak about their own struggles.”

“That also played a role in me wanting to write Baseball Junkie. I would be asked to speak at high schools, and church groups and what have you, and so many people would come up to me afterwards and say ‘Man, I could really relate to your story.’ They identified with my struggles with Adderall, and the anxiety and depression that sunk in once I stopped taking the stuff.”

MS: “What is something you’d like fans to know about your struggles with anxiety and depression during your career?”

AH: “The grind of the game really gets to you after a while. There is a lot of pressure to perform each and every day. You are on the road nonstop. And it’s hard for a non-player to understand that. For an outsider, I am sure it looks easy. I mean, if someone is getting paid millions to play a game he loves, how can that even be work right? And what right does he have to complain?”

“But at the level of the game the Giants and other pros play at, the pressure is insane. The guys really all want to play well, and give it their all. They don’t want to disappoint the fans. They don’t want to disappoint their families. But it’s hard for any guy to keep it all together. And some fans can get a little weird. You have to learn to stay off social media. People sniping at you from their mom’s basement. Those comments can really get to you.”

“I am reminded every time I watch a game on TV. You have guys throwing 100 mph fastballs now, like it’s no big deal. Even back 5 years ago, the 100mph club… you could count that on one hand. You have to understand. When someone is pitching at 100 mph plus, you have to start swinging before the ball even leaves the pitcher’s hand. You are basically guessing. Hoping for the best.”

“As far as anxiety and depression is concerned… that really didn’t kick in for me until I stopped using Adderall. But I had to. Adderall made me feel invincible, but pretty much destroyed my marriage. It’s a miracle Baubi is still with me to this day. The book talks about that in depth.”

MS: “How difficult is it for you to open up like this so publicly? Or is it difficult? Is there any sense of freedom being honest with people about what you’ve been through?”

AH: “I hate talking about the actual anxiety part of it. Until recently, I couldn’t even talk about it at meetings or on camera. But I know that I have to. To help others out there. I know how bad it got for me. And if I can stop just one guy from blowing his brains out, then I have done my job.”

MS: “What are your fondest memories of the fans in San Francisco?”

“Giants fans are just amazing. I felt right at home the moment I set foot in San Fran. I still feel like part of a huge, loving family. The fans in San Francisco are truly world class and back their team 100%. It feels like you win as a team and lose as a team. It’s an experience you don’t get anywhere else in the country. I miss the game. But I miss the fans the most.”

MS: “It is well documented about your relationship with Pat Burrell that dates back to Miami. What should fans know about Pat the Bat that we don’t?”

AH: “Ha ha! You are gonna have to read the book for that! Specifically CHAPTER 9: Pat’s Johnson. Enough said. I played a role in bringing him to San Fran… that’s in the book as well.”

MS: “Do you see yourself getting back into the game in some capacity? Front Office? Coach? Analyst?”

AH: “I tried coaching high school baseball when I first retired and I absolutely hated it. But that was partly because I was so messed up, and equated baseball with pain. Maybe it would be different today, I don’t know. I tried several things. Just this week, I actually crossed over to the dark side. I just signed up to be an agent! My hope is to be a mentor for some of the kids that are trying to break through. Hopefully I can help them avoid a few of the mistakes I made. Not sure if I will love it yet, but it’s hard to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.”

MS: “What is something about the 2010 season that fans do not know about that would help them appreciate how difficult it is to win a championship?”

AH “Clawing our way back into the title race was so hard. The guys were a true band of brothers. A band of misfits that just clicked and worked as a team. Every single guy on the team that year gave 110%. It was like a real rollercoaster ride with so many downs and a few ups.”

MS: “Do you feel like you are in a better place today personally than you were at the end of your playing career when you were struggling?”

AH: “I am in such a great place now, it’s night and day. I still have a day here or there where I struggle, but I have the tools now to navigate through them."

MS: “What would you tell someone who is battling with the same struggles that you’ve faced and feels like there is no hope? What has helped you the most in this journey through recovery?”

AH: “There is hope. I am living proof of that. But you can’t give up. I spend a little bit of time talking about how I made it out of the pit in my book, but it all comes down to having a plan, and creating a routine for yourself. You have to believe in something, and give yourself a sense of purpose.”

MS: “What would you tell a young kid who is playing little league and is dreaming of one day playing in the big leagues?”

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it. Don’t have a plan B. Chase after your dream with all your might. When you fall down, get back up, and fight back, twice as hard. I was told by so many people that I would never make it. There were so many times when I should have given up. And my story is not unique. I know dozens of guys in the bigs that have a similar story. But if you don’t chase after your dream with everything you have, you will get to be my age, and always wonder: ‘What if?'”

For more information about Aubrey Huff’s new book, Baseball Junkie, go to Kickstarter to learn how you can help.

Barry Bonds Should Be in Cooperstown

The San Francisco Giants have not had a player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame since Orlando Cepeda in 1999. Barry Bonds, who retired in 2007, has been eligible for Cooperstown since 2013. At the time he received only 36% of the vote. In the most recent Hall of Fame balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, he received 44%. A player needs 75% of the vote to be enshrined.

Bonds finished his career with the second highest Wins Above Replacement (162.4) in history behind Babe Ruth (163.1). To put that number into perspective: Ken Griffey Jr. (83.4) and Brooks Robinson (78.4) are both first ballot hall of famers and their combined WAR doesn’t equal Bonds.

The Giants slugger is the all-time leader in Home Runs (762), Walks (2558), Intentional Walks (688), and fourth in OPS (1.051.) However, there is also plenty of evidence that shows Bonds took performance enhancing drugs while playing for the San Francisco Giants. Despite never being found guilty in court, between grand jury testimony, books written and the court of public opinion, Bonds has become the poster boy for PED’s.

This is why the greatest hitter in most voter’s lifetimes is not in the Hall of Fame. Despite the numbers that are clear and without flaw, there is clearly flaws in the perception and reality of how Bonds earned those numbers. Before anyone suspected Bonds of using anything illegal substance, the former Pittsburgh Pirate was winning Most Valuable Player awards, going to All-Star games and winning Gold Gloves routinely.

After signing as a free agent in 1993 with the Giants, Bonds continued to win MVP’s and go to All-Star games. Bonds retired with seven MVP’s 14 All-Star games, 12 Silver Sluggers and eight Gold Gloves. Despite all the on the field success, his attitude towards the same media that votes for him as well as his suspected drug use has led nearly 60% of the BBWAA to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

But it’s not just Bonds that is being kept out. Part of the problem with the current system is you have to get 75% of nearly 600 voters to agree on anyone. On top of that, you have a maximum of 10 players you can include on your ballot. Those two factors have led some voters to leave players off they feel are deserving for others they feel may not get enough votes.

Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez are two players eligible for the Hall of Fame this year. Raines is in his final year of eligibility and Martinez is getting closer to reaching the end as well. Both players are not only deserving of the Hall, but should have been added years ago. The fact they are still on the ballot creates an unnecessary logjam.

The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) was created by Howard Cole to swat the vote and create a Hall of Fame where more writers have a voice. One of the rule differences is allowing for 15 on the ballot instead of 10. That becomes important as players are added to the ballot each year. For example, heading into the 2017 election, Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge Posada, Manny Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez are leading the list of first time eligibles. Here are the players I plan on voting for in 2017.

Jeff Bagwell, Raines and Martinez are already in their Hall of Fame, which is why they aren’t on my ballot, but the other 15 that are could all be at risk of being bumped from the ballot altogether. One of the BBWAA rules is that a player must earn a minimum of 5% of the vote. Theoretically, if every voter voted for the 10 most deserving players, at least five of the players I voted for would be removed from the ballot. I wrote about how the Hall of Fame is a museum, not a shrine last January because we have made it far too difficult for a player who doesn’t gain entrance on the first ballot to ever get in.

One of the main reasons is the misconception we have about who should be voted in on the first ballot. We have made first ballot Hall of Famers an even more exclusive club than any in sports and the fact we have made an elite list of players even more elite has blurred the lines of who is and isn’t a Hall of Famer.

In 1936, five legendary players were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson. Many voters have referenced this group as a Mount Rushmore of sorts for baseball, and because none of them were unanimous, nobody should ever be unanimous. The major flaw in this logic is that this was the first ever ballot for the Hall of Fame. There were literally hundreds of names to choose from on the ballot. Legendary players like Cy Young and Tris Speaker and legendary managers like Connie Mack and John McGraw weren’t elected in 1936, and neither were so many other deserving candidates. There was also no set ballot initially. For quite some time, writers simply submitted their own list of names.

As we wait to see how Barry Bonds does in his fifth year of eligibility, we can expect more of the same from the establishment. Instead of just simply looking at who is best, we seem to want to try to make a statement about what the Hall of Fame should be.