Saturday, July 29, 2023

Remember The Original Swifties?

Attention: Swifties. I’m going to shake it off and piss you off.

With all the hype and hoopla and TV news reporter gushing hilarity surrounding the sold out concerts at Levi’s Stadium this weekend featuring your gal pal Taylor Swift, the Goddess of Popness, lest we not forget that another group of so-called Swifties took over this town in 1993 when the Giants won 103 games before losing the National League pennant of the final day of the season to the Atlanta Braves. 

I’m talking Billy Swift. B-Swift. He pitched beyond wildest dreams for the Giants after being traded from the Settle Mariners in 1992 two days before T-Swift was two years old. Swifty, as Dusty Baker started calling him, led the National League with a 2.08 earned run average in 1992, won 21 games and finished runner-up to Greg Maddux for the NL Cy Young Award in 1993, and ended his Giants pitching career in 1994 with a gorgeous three-year record of 39-19 and 2.70 ERA before telling the Giants we are never ever getting back together and signing as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies.

The righthanded pitcher born in Portland, Maine, a product of the University of Maine, captivated fans at Candlestick Park, especially in stretch run in September in 1993 when he went 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA. He was the man. Swift’s final game at Candlestick that year was a masterpiece before a crowd of 46,348 to beat the Padres, allowing one run in eight innings as the Giants extended their lead over the Braves to 1 ½ games. His final start was on September 30, when he beat the Dodgers in L.A. for the Giants’ 101st win of the season to remain in a tie with the Braves. Three days later, the Giants lost on the final day of the season when Baker started 21-year-old rookie pitcher Salomon Torres and the Giants knew they were in trouble when he couldn’t finish the fourth inning in 12-1 loss that created more bad blood with the rival Dodgers who poured it on and rubbed it that day . Despite a franchise record of 103 wins that season, the Giants failed to make the playoffs, a position Giants fans know all too well over the years.

Swift would have been the one and started the playoff game against the Braves if there had been one. The Giants would have been safe and sound with Swifty on the mound. Imagine if he had the chance. What a love story that would have been.

B-Swift came to the Giants as a relief pitcher in 1992 but Giants manager Roger Craig took him out of the bullpen and turned him into a starter. The change was good.  It took Giants fans a while to warm to that. Only 12,157 fans were on hand to see Swifty beat the Phillies on May 2 at Candlestick Park in a game chilly enough for fans to wear cardigan sweaters. Swifty fans back then didn’t come to the ballpark with friendship bracelets, but they did leave with Croix de Candlestick buttons if the game went into extra innings at night.

Swift’s annual salary in 1992 was $2.3 million which Taylor Swift probably earned for one song in Levi’s Stadium. The Giants gave him a $1 million raise the next year, but his salary dropped back down to $2.3 million in 1994 which must have had him seeing red. However, going from the Giants to the Rockies, left a blank space in his career, which drooped like a willow tree. Compared to San Francisco, B-Swift was the anti hero in Colorado. You could call his time there the Errors Tour because Swifty came to San Francisco on a white horse and left a better man.

Finally, with his off-season heading back to December, Swifty realized everything has changed. He retired from baseball during spring training in 1999, about the time 10-year-old Taylor Swift was thinking about moving to Nashville to pursue a country music career.  Injuries to his shoulder and back ultimately left B-Swift feeling like he had no body but that’s no crime.

In time, T-Swift emerged as a pop cultural superstar and the Giants got their Swifty back. In 2006, when the Giants drafted Tim Lincecum, Tay Tay released her self-titled album. She released new albums in the even-numbered years 2010, 2012, and 2014 which happened to the years that the Giants won the World Series. However, the coincidence became a curse. Instead of releasing her next new album in 2016, T-Swift waited until 2017, an odd-numbered year, which threw the Giants off their game. They haven’t won a World Series since. It’s a losing streak that has lasted longer than the rest of the field vs. Joey Chestnut in the Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.

But you need to calm down, Giants fans. It’s not about you. It’s about ME! ME as in the abbreviation for Maine. Those original Swifties at Candlestick in the 90s didn’t have to pay $400 to park or $1,000 a ticket to attend a Bill Swift performance. Those Swifties came without any fanfare wearing Giants sweatshirts and not sequins.   

If you’re a Bill Swift fan, you should be a Swifty forever. 

If you’re a Taylor Swift fan, look at what you made me do. Count the number of her song titles in this column of mine.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Two Words: Yankees Suck

I resist the temptation to declare this “National Yankees Suck Week” and I don’t know why.

As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, this feels like an extended holiday. Seeing the hated New York Yankees in last place in the standings in July is cause for fireworks and jubilation. Something you lean back, look up, smile and appreciate. Something wonderfully and completely unexpected to celebrate like a kid rejoicing a rare snow day that cancels school in Maine.

I'm so giddy, what do I do with myself?

The last time the Yankees were alone in last place with their worst record after 95 games  Carl Harrison “Stump” Merrill -- once a star catcher for the University of Maine from Brunswick, Maine -- had replaced Russell Earl “Bucky” Dent – always a weak-hitting shortstop in New York/the anti-Christ in New England – as the manager of the Yankees after Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had the audacity to fire him  over the telephone at Fenway Park, the very site of his most famous hit ever. I still cringe when I see Yaz’s knees buckle as Bucky’s game-changing home run barely creeped into the net at the top of the Green Monster in the infamous 1978 playoff game.

I’ve seen that replay show up on TV more than Jake from State Farm.

It was the 1990 season when the Yankees finished in last place for the first time in 24 years with 95 losses, their most since 1912 B.B. Before Babe. That year Billy Martin was killed in a car crash, MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life after he paid a gambler for “dirt” on Dave Winfield who had sued the Yankees owner, and the Yankees drafted Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and my Facebook friend Jalal Leach and released the .158 hitting Deion Sanders. Don Mattingly was the Yankees’ first baseman and Dave Righetti was their ace reliever but their starting second baseman was Steve Sax, their right fielder was Jesse Barfield, their DH was Steve Balboni, and their catcher was Bob Geren, now a bench coach for the L.A. Dodgers after being fired as manager of the Oakland A’s.

More a Mundane Row than Murderer’s Row.

This Yankees team has a $295 million payroll and normally the Yankees could buy their way out of this funk. First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who the Yankees resigned in the offseason for two years and $40 million, is batting .190 with no home runs since May 20 and was benched Wednesday. Giancarlo Stanton, who has four years remaining on a 13-year $325 million contract, is currently hitting .196 on the season. Two-time batting champion D.J. Lemahieu is batting .231.

Yankees fans are so frustrated that some are pointing to a stuffed cat toy prank before their last series against the Anaheim Angels by Gleyber Torres on his notoriously cat-fearing Venezuelan teammate Eduardo Escobar as if it’s cursed the team.  Yankees fans are finding more negative than positive in the team right now with Aaron Judge still recovering from ligament tears in his right big toe. Since Judge, the American League’s MVP last season, has been on the IL since June 6 and the Yankees’ record is 14-21.

The rumor mill has the Yankees being desperate enough to put together a package to go after Shohei Ohtani before the August 1 trade deadline. But six years ago Ohtani declined to even speak with the Yankees when he was a free agent. The Yankees, the second oldest team in major league baseball behind the Mets, would need to surrender a ton of players/prospects to get him then invest upwards of $500 million after giving Judge $360 million in the offseason to keep him. That's a steep price for protecting the Yankees from their enemies. Maybe they can get Mexico to pay for it.

So it’s easy to pick on the Yankees right now and normally I would be first on the dog pile. Especially after Yankees manager Aaron Boone said "we stink" on Wednesday night, which I think is as close as you can come to "we suck." I own a gray T-shirt and a red hoodie both inscribed with “Jesus Hates The Yankees” and I have religiously worn my white “Yankees Suck” T-shirt for years. My loathing for the Yankees is so well known that when Derek Jeter missed by one vote of being voted unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, more than one person contacted me and asked if that was my vote. No, my voting for the Baseball of Fame expired in 2019. For the record, I would have voted for Jeter to be voted into Cooperstown on the first ballot, though I despised all the times he fist-pumped celebrating big moments against the Red Sox. That image is forever etched in my mind no matter how many commercials he does these days.

I do not feel sorry for the Yankees and never will, but I am going to resist the temptation for “National Yankees Suck Week.” And now I know why.

No. 1 the Yankees still have a winning record despite all their injuries and Judge is taking batting practice and running the bases and about a week away from returning to the lineup.

No. 2 the Red Sox record isn’t much better than the Yankees’ record despite fewer injuries and, after losing two consecutive games and giving up five home runs in less than 24 hours to the worst team in baseball – the Oakland A’s -- they are a day away from falling back into last place.

No. 3 the Yankees are the Yankees and they always find a way to right their ship better than the Red Sox though the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009.

Had to get that dig in. I wouldn’t be a Red Sox fan if I didn’t.