Notes from San Francisco
Watching the Yankees and the Giants play this weekend was a bit of a dissonant experience for me. I have been rooting for both these teams since I became a baseball fan in the mid-1970s. As a child back then, this never seemed like a problem because the two teams were so rarely good at the same time. There was no interleague play in those years, so having one National League and one American League team was relatively easy. Since the advent of interleague play, I had seen the two teams play each other once at Yankee Stadium, but never in San Francisco.
This weekend was different. I was in San Francisco and decided to catch the first two games of the series. The Yankees and Giants have a long and fascinating history, including sharing a ballpark for a few years, playing just across the river from each other for well over 30 years, and meeting in the World Series seven times. For Yankee fans, the Giants are just another team who the Yankees pretty regularly beat up in the those World Series, but for Giants fans with a sense of history, the relationship goes back to one World Series, actually one at bat. In the last inning of game seven of the 1962 World Series, Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson with the tying run on third and winning run on second. Giants fans have never forgotten that. In fact, just the day before the Giants-Yankees series started, an octogenarian former mayor of San Francisco described to me where he was when McCovey made that out and how upset he was at the time.
The connection between the two teams goes even deeper than that. Many great Yankees got their starts on the sandlots of San Francisco. Frank Crosetti, Tony Lazzeri, Lefty Gomez and even Billy Martin all were products of the Bay Area and the old Pacific Coast League. More memorably, Joe DiMaggio grew up in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, attended Galileo High School only a few blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf, and started his career with the San Francisco Seals. After retiring, DiMaggio spent much of the rest of his life back in San Francisco, a reminder of Yankee greatness in the midst of a changing San Francisco.
With all of this in the back of my head, I found myself at Oracle Park deciding that this weekend I was going to root for the Yankees because they were in contention and the Giants were not. The games themselves were intriguing. Most San Francisco baseball fans do not monitor the Yankees injured list so closely, so the fans around me began, as the settled into their seats, to look up the lineups and mumble things like “Who’s Urshela,” “When did they get Maybin,” “Where’s Judge,” “Where’s Stanton,” or “Who are these guys?” Fortunately for the streaking no-name Yankees, the Giants are a mess right now. They have a handful of once valuable players like Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria who are all struggling badly, one semi-prospect in Steve Duggar, one good player in Brandon Belt, and a starting outfield that is just dreadful.
The big news on Friday night was just how poorly Madison Bumgarner pitched. He is almost a shadow of the pitcher he once was. Bum is now almost three seasons removed from his last great post-season game-the shutout he pitched against the Mets in the 2016 play-in game. In this game, he looked extremely hittable. Other than their three wins, one of the most valuable things the Yankees can take away from this series is that Bumgarner is probably not the solution to their desire to upgrade their starting pitching.
Most Giants fans are too smart to think their team is going anywhere this year, but because they have the good fortune to have the best ballpark in the big leagues, they still turned out in good numbers for this series as the Giants drew well over 100,000 for the three game set. Several of my fellow Giants fans with whom I talked baseball on Friday and Saturday found themselves coming to the same conclusion about the Yankees that the rest of the American League may be thinking. If this team can win, and stay in contention with likes of Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and Thairo Estrada in the lineup, they will create real trouble for every other team as they gradually add the injured players back into their lineup. This is a long season and the Yankees still need to play solid ball without Judge, Gregorius, and probably many others for several months, but this weekend in San Francisco, I saw the path to a good year for the Yankees.
Oh, one more thing, that grand slam by Gary Sanchez was jaw dropping, even to fans who were raised on Barry Bonds!