Exorcising the Ghosts of Newly Arrived Giants


Posted Jan 22, 2005


Baseball is a spirit world. Veteran ballplayers are always accompanied by the ghosts of themselves: their younger versions that, in earlier seasons, hit game-winning homeruns, brushed back batters, and called bean balls from behind the dish. When these players change teams to a former opponent, their pasts should be exorcized--especially in a place like San Francisco, where fifty years since a championship means it’s time pull out all the rituals we can imagine.

This year, the big four additions each have at least 11 seasons of experience. Omar Vizquel has spent his career in the blithely distant American League, never playing an official game against the G Men. But the other three have all crossed San Francisco’s path.

So before we can welcome them into the history of our beloved ball club, let us take the time to exorcize their erstwhile ghosts...

Armando Benitez
Your stats against the Giants aren’t too egregious: a 3.21 ERA, a 5-for-5 mark in save opportunities, 3 bombs allowed and 21 struck out in 14 total innings of work. You spent the first half of your career in the A.L., where you occasionally acted like a snake man, throwing at batters after giving up homeruns and then hiding in the dugout during brawls, afraid that enforcers like Paul O’Neill might menace you with their eyes (which might be fair enough...even as a guest on “Seinfeld,” that O’Neill guy had some really crazy eyes).

But this depiction is contradictory. You are the size of a bear fighter--6’4’’ 230--and second only to Jason Christianson as most likely bullpen pitcher to rip off his shirt and kill a whale in McCovey Cove. In the end, your Baltimore past is of little relevance to us.

We must alleviate only one of your ghosts: the cheeky apparition from the 9th inning of the 2000 NLDS. The baseball gods are cruel and capricious, but they are never forgetful, and when you threw a 90+ fastball at J.T. Snow’s knees, it was a divine wind that pushed the ensuing drive thirty feet back into fair territory. You deserved it. Every relief pitcher that throws at batters out of shame and scorn will get his playoff-moment comeuppance--just ask Julian Tavarez.

This might seem to be a moment unnecessary of cleansing. It helped the good guys, after all, not your Mets. But it was your response to the homerun that must be exorcized: a smirk across your face so wide and disdainful, so abashedly contemptuous of your own failure, your team, and the gravity of the situation, you made the list of people I hate more than Atlee Hammaker. This is not an easy list to make.

On the Giants, you must never react that way to a blown save. Ever. You’d think we’d like it, such contempt, but the problem is you don’t aim it at the other team...it is an expression that says, “Yeah, I just lost the game, but I never really wanted to win in the first place, so it doesn’t hurt...King Kong ain’t got nothin’ on me!”

Not that we expect too many blowups. A 90-mph splitter tends to keep fly balls and the windy whims of baseball deities from turning spiteful. Let that moment of smirking be forever in the past, a ghost we will recognize instead in the expression of Milton Bradley when he hears our insults showering down from the right-field promenade.

Mike Matheny
Before you take the field as a Giant, we must exorcize your presence in the 2002 NLCS. Unlike the Benitez incident, this series proved fortuitous for San Francisco...that is, if the proverbial glass is half full. Yes, the Giants defeated your Cardinals and went on to the final dance. But the fact is, we can never again speak the names Troy Glaus and Scott Spiezio (and Felix Rodriguez) without spitting into the dust; we only experienced such pain because we first defeated your Cardinals...doom is as intricate as it is cruel.

You played well in the Championship Series, going 6 for 19 and hitting a homerun in Game Three. And you were at the heart of the Game One throwdown over Kenny Lofton’s homerun gazing, the speculation being that you’d called the retaliatory brushback. I liked it. I liked it a lot, especially when you drew K-Lo’s rage away from the pitcher by jawing: ”I called that pitch. Yeah. That’s right. What. What are you gonna do? Double-team me with Shawon Dunston? Ha! He’s on our side! Look, him and Tony LaRussa are plotting the best way to get Willie McGee in the Hall of Fame as we speak!”

Anything tied to the 2002 heartbreak is dangerous, especially if it’s the old ghost of a catcher who now arrives with a .239 career average. Though you sure had stepped it up against the Giants in the past, hitting .307 in 114 at-bats, knocking in a strangely significant 16 runs...

All of these stats must be cleaned. May you enjoy a fresh start here, gunning down the Cesar Izturises of the league, reminding the fragile Brett Tomko that even though others may chide him, he is not a fish, but a man--a man!--and agreeing with opponents that, yes, Noah Lowry is in fact the Angel of Death, and they are about to become his latest harvest. Now that’s veteran catching!

Moises Alou
I will put it on the table; Brian Sabean went out and got Moises simply so we wouldn’t have to play against him ever again. Ever.

Just last year, in only six games, Moises hit three bombs. One of them in the bottom of the tenth, at Wrigley, when I was watching from Las Vegas in the smoky sportsbook of the Rio; as soon as Jim Brower released his flat slider, I knew I’d be losing one hundred dollars and any desire I had to ever bet against the Cubs again when an Alou is on the line. I do not need to remind you, mathematical Giants fans, that we finished a mere game away from the playoffs...

It’s fair to say that you, Moises, were a Giants Killer: a lifetime .316 hitter against us with 24 bombs in 342 at-bats. Even though some of that might have been in the forgetful mid-90’s, it nevertheless feels as if every time you faced F-Rod or John Johnstone with two outs in the eighth, you won the game. Even your first-inning homeruns, like against Damian Moss in ’03, ended up beating us. And in the ’97 Division Series, you were there, playing for loathsome Florida, going 2 for 5 in the third game with a double, watching as the grand-slamming Devon White also made The List.

Now you can make amends. Surprise us with competent outfield play. Hook opposite field homeruns around the foul poll. And whenever the Astros, Cubs, Marlins, or former-Expos roll into town, unleash upon them the merciless favor you once showed us.

*
Never underestimate power of ghosts. Although the spirit world of baseball is personal, its animate nature dictated by the extent of individual memory, we all collectively remember those moments of tantalizing failure, especially in this recent era of winning Giants teams.

Let these players now coming to us, who were present during some of the great hardships, leave behind their previous actions. Let them succeed in breaking our fifty years of drought so that a championship can finally grace the city by the bay.

I hope this exorcism works, or next year I’m going to have to step up my mysticism, probably with some combination of snakes and bobbleheads...man we really need to win a World Series.



Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can’t decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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