Magical Season Ends on Blown Call; Free Agent Advice; One-Dimensional Stanford; Salary Insanity
Back from a week in New York, with lots to catch up on. Quick reviews: if you get a chance to see “Come From Away” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, you won’t be disappointed. Both are fabulous plays.
Giants’ Magic: The 2021 San Francisco Giants found a winning formula by mixing a few key veterans with a host of youngsters and castoffs. Their manager, Gabe Kapler, pulled exactly the right strings in making pitching changes, orchestrating platoons in the outfield and at second base, and sending up a parade of pinch hitters who delivered in clutch moments.
The constants were the two "old" men, catcher Buster Posey and MVP candidate Brandon Crawford, whose routine brilliance at shortstop never gets "old." They were aided and abetted by a bunch of "where did he come from" guys like Lamonte Wade, Jr., who had a league-leading eight game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning, Darin Ruf and Wilmer Flores.
While the Dodgers had an all-star rotation of Cy Young candidates, the Giants countered with a bunch of "no names" like Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. By the end of the season, Webb had emerged as a superstar, Gausman as an all-star and Wood as a stopper. And the bullpen, masterfully managed by Kapler, was the best in the league.
It was a magical season to be savored and enjoyed and remembered. One that shouldn't have ended on a blown umpire's call.
Umpire Blues: The ridiculously inconsistent strike zone throughout the Giants-Dodgers series is the best advertisement yet for robot umpires and an electronic, camera based strike zone. Never have I seen so many obviously outside pitches called strikes. It's hard enough to hit Max Scherzer and Julio Urias on a level playing field, much less with the added disadvantage of an exceedingly large strike zone.
The biggest blunder, of course, was the horrible checked swing "strike" call by first base umpire Gabe Morales on the final out of game 5. Morales blew the call, pure and simple. Wilmer Flores clearly did not swing. It's bad enough to make a mistake like that, but to do it on the final out of the final game of a playoff series is particularly unforgivable.
When Morales was asked if he still thinks he made the right call after watching the replay, crew chief Ted Barrett interjected, “Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say.”
Rather than wallow in anger, we share the sentiments of Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow who told the Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins that after the game, “We drank whiskey until 2 in the morning, just talking about how good this team was. There were no regrets. None. We tried hard to be pissed about it, but in the end, we were just in awe of what they did.”
Free Agent Advice: With many players heading to free agency, the Giants face some hard decisions relative to next year's roster. A couple of quick pieces of advice: 1) re-sign Kris Bryant, a quality player and clubhouse presence, with the ability to play several positions well; 2) let Brandon Belt go; he's always going to get hurt and let you down in the clutch. He's also going to be very expensive after hitting 29 homers before his idiotic bunt attempt that resulted in a broken thumb. And you can make it work at first with Flores, Ruf and Wade Jr. 3) Use the money you save on Belt to sign a top starting pitcher; 4) re-sign Alex Wood. He's a gutsy, tough pitcher you can rely on.
Best Race of All Time? In our last blog we credited the Giants and Dodgers with being the second highest pennant race in total number of wins (213) behind the Mariners and A’s 218 wins in 2001, and the only one with two teams winning over 105 games.
Turns out I was wrong (and so was mlb.com, which was the source for my note and that in the SF Chronicle). My old friend, lifelong Cleveland Indians’ fan Dave Rubin, who was my TA at Stanford and later dean of the famed Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse, pointed out that the 1954 Cleveland Indians won 111 games in a 154 game season, a truly remarkable achievement. The Yankees were the second place team that year, winning 103 games.
Between the two of them, Cleveland and New York won 214 out of 308 games played. That is a winning percentage of 69.48. The 2001 Mariners and A’s winning percentage for 218 wins in 324 games was 67.28, and the Giants and Dodgers this year won a combined 213 games out of 324 played for a winning percentage of 65.74.
One Dimensional Cardinal: Stanford coach David Shaw has a problem. His team can't run the ball. After gaining a net 9 yards on the ground in a 28-10 loss to Arizona State, Stanford netted a paltry 76 in a 34-31 loss to Washington State.
For years, when people complained about Stanford's conservative, run-oriented offense, Shaw would retort, "this is who we are, this is what we do." But now, they aren't doing it. They've become a one-dimensional offense—pass only. Only the exceptional play of quarterback Tanner McKee and tight end Benjamin Yurosek kept Stanford in the game against WSU.
Now 3-4 overall and 2-3 in conference play, Stanford doesn't have a sure win left on the schedule, with Washington, Utah, Big Game and Notre Dame at home, and Oregon State on the road.
Salary stuff: Shaw ranks third on the most recent USA Today head football coaches' compensation rankings behind Alabama's Nick Saban ($9.75 million) and LSU's just deposed Ed Orgeron (9.01M). It should be noted that while these rankings claim to reflect 2021 compensation, Shaw's $8.92 million number is from Stanford's 2019 tax return, the most recent year available.
One interesting comparison illustrates how Stanford has gone "big time" in football with respect to keeping up with the Alabamas and Clemsons.
Back in December of 2001, Notre Dame lured Stanford head coach Tyrone Willingham to South Bend by essentially doubling his salary. Nowadays, Stanford's head coach makes more than three times as much as Notre Dame's. While Shaw ranks third nationally at almost $9 million, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly ranks No. 60 at $2.67 million.
Stanford folks should consider that the next time they criticize other schools for over-emphasizing football.
LSU Insanity: Orgeron, out of a job just two years after winning the national championship, will finish this season and get a $16.9 million buyout.
Is that a) ridiculous, b) insane, c) obscene or d) all of the above?
Pac-12’s Best? This week's answer to the question, "who's the best team in the Pac-12" is Utah. The Utes started slowly this year, with non-conference losses to two Mountain West teams—BYU and San Diego State—both of whom have been ranked for much of the year.
Utah started with graduate transfer Charlie Brewer, a four-year starter at Baylor, at quarterback. But after three games, he was benched, prompting him to leave the school, and replaced in the lineup by sophomore Cameron Rising, himself a transfer from Texas.
Rising has led the Utes to big wins over USC, 42-26, and last week's "best in the Pac-12", Arizona State, 35-21. In Saturday's game, he played a poor first half, as Utah fell behind 21-7, but rallied his team to 28 second half points by completing 13 of 15 passes for two TDs.
Seven weeks into the season, the Pac-12 has only one team in the top 25, 10th ranked Oregon, and no chance to get a conference member into the College Football Playoff.
Heart-break in Berkeley: Cal has lost four games it could’ve or should’ve won this year by a combined 21 points. Since the pandemic began, the Bears are just 2-8. In Friday’s 24-17 loss at Oregon, Cal somehow ran eight plays inside the Ducks’ 7-yard line in the final minute but couldn’t get in the end zone.