Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The best e-mail I've received in a long time

Some time ago, I blogged about buying my 78-year-old mother a device called the Mailbug, whose only purpose is to send and receive text-only e-mails. It's popular with seniors who don't have computers because it's easy to use.

She used it to send me an e-mail after tonight's games. a 6-3 Giants win over Arizona and the Padres' 2-1 victory against Los Angeles. I will share it in its entirety. You should know that she has never been to a professional baseball game, will not watch one on TV, and could not explain a single rule about the sport, which is what made this so precious.

Here it is:

To: Henry Schulman

From: Ella Schulman

Subject: Dodgers

"It looks like they can't hit a side of a barn from one foot away. It is up to the Giants to keep winning, like they are doing.

"Mom."

I should introduce her to Lasorda.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Celebrating life on the road not taken

My first real time away from home was my junior year at college. I went to Cal, where campus cops looked the other way at marijuana, dorm-room fridges were stocked with cheap beer and there was a 50-50 chance that any mushroom you consumed was not the kind you could procure at Berkeley Bowl.

So I had to laugh the following summer when I returned home to Los Angeles, my dad offered me a shot of whiskey and my mom said, "Ben, don't teach him to drink." Parents are the bomb, aren't they?

I think of that every time I visit my mom in Los Angeles, as I did this week. Though alone now, she still rattles around the same rent-controlled, three-bedroom apartment to which we moved during my senior year of high school. It's a nice place that I actually discovered because I was a fat little boy.

My folks were looking to move to a bigger place. One Sunday morning I grabbed the keys so I could drive five blocks (shaddup!) to Winchell's donuts, even though I needed to stuff more fried sugar cakes into my maw as much as people in Barrow, Alaska, need sunscreen. I had to turn right onto Havenhurst Drive, and being a good little motorist I looked to my left for traffic and saw the for-rent sign.

My folks were not drinkers. Both of their fathers were a little too enamored with the drop and neither wanted to follow the same path. So I found it funny that after I moved away for good my parents bought one of those standalone bars with two stools and storage shelves behind for all the bottles they received as gifts and never opened. They stuck it right in my old room. I'm pretty sure there used to be a "Dogs Playing Poker" painting behind the bar. Maybe my mom sent it to Sotheby's for appraisal.

Visiting my old room reminds me of how close I came to moving back home after college. I had a political science degree, which oddly enough opened few doors to $100,000-a-year jobs. I had no job lined up aside from the few dollars I earned covering Berkeley City Hall for the Daily Cal. Days before I was to load my worldly possessions into my orange Datsun B-210 for the drive down I-5, I got a tip that the Chronicle needed a Berkeley stringer. I phoned the editor in charge and he hired me over the phone. I'd get a $200 monthly retainer plus a few bucks for each story that got published, and let me tell you, when you get paid by the piece you become a real noodnik ("Hey, editor, two garbage cans near Wheeler Hall went up in flames. You want 500 words?"). Good thing there was no caller ID back then or he'd have blackballed my number.

So I stayed in Berkeley, renting a place with my buddies Steve and Gene above a Chinese restaurant on San Pablo Avenue. For half a year, I subsisted on Daily Cal and Chronicle stringer money and even managed to save a few bucks. I used those clips to get a sort of internship in Sacramento, which helped me land a job at a weekly paper in the Central Valley and so on and so on to my current gig covering the Giants at the Chronicle.

The decision I made that June day in 1981, to stay in Northern California despite the fear of being broke and no mom-and-dad cushion (and nobody to teach me to drink), proved to be an even bigger cornerstone in my life than I would have imagined. Because I managed to keep myself clothed and swimming in glazed donuts, I learned that it's OK to take risks.

How different my life would have been had I returned to Los Angeles. Dad would have turned me into a full-fledged alkie and the 'rents would have persuaded me to give up this ridiculous notion of writing for a living.

Being Jewish in Los Angeles is akin to being in the Mafia in New York. Whenever I needed something -- a suit, a bike -- my dad would say, "Don't go to the store. I know a guy..." I'm sure one of those "guys" would have employed me in a respectable trade. At this moment, I could be the top-selling wall-to-wall carpet salesman in the West San Fernando Valley territory.

Nothing wrong with that. You can't cut a mean rug on the dance floor without the rug. And I'll bet I'd be happy, too, because I'd be so close to family and not even realize how much of a dump Los Angeles really is.

The moral: Don't be afraid of the dark. Take a chance. Follow Robert Frost's advice and choose the road not taken.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go teach a couple of baseball writers to drink.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My name is Henry Schulman and I am a newspaperman

God I love that word, "newspaperman." Yeah, it's sexist. It harkens and era when newsrooms were full of men aside from the writers for the "women's pages" and the rare trailblazing woman who didn't gave a rat's backside about fitting into the old boy's network and went to work for newspapers because she loved the thought of it. We are lucky indeed that so many great women now work as journalists.

Yeah, I'm a reporter, and a sportswriter, and a scribe, and a hack, and a baseball writer, and I love being all of them. But a newspaperman is different. He is someone who might have worked with Hildy Johnson in "The Front Page," who smoke and drank and reveled in the camaraderie and actually garnered respect from the public, which saw newspapers as an important watchdog that fought corruption and toiled for the little guy.

I knew newspapermen. The teacher for my first college news writing class was a man named Maynard Hicks. He must have been a 80 then, and that was more than 30 years ago, and he told stories about working in newsrooms of the 20s and 30s, an era when the Internet and even television would have been laughed off as science fiction, when newspapers were king, when big cities like San Francisco had a half-dozen of them and all were important.

I first got the bug in high school, when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein brought down President Nixon. God, that was a heady time for the business. Two guys holding 50-cent pens and two-dollar notebooks asked the right questions and brought down a corrupt president. Who wouldn't want to be Woodward and Bernstein

As a high school journalist I toured the Los Angeles Times in the old Times-Mirror building in downtown Los Angeles. The first sensation was the smell of the ink as soon as you walked into the lobby. The presses were in the building. It was like liquor to me. Writing for the Fairfax High Gazette, I listed the winners of the recent swim meet and editorialized about the need for new band uniforms. Not exactly Watergate, but my name appeared atop it and it felt so good.

Fast forward to age 25, when I got hired at the Oakland Tribune. The Trib Tower in Oakland was the LA Times all over again, an old building, presses downstairs, the smell of ink and, best of all, working with older cats who back in the day were real newspapermen. My desk mate was old-timey guy who smoked cigars in the newsroom. I didn't care. I loved the scent. Then, smoking was banned in the newsroom. he bought cases of grape Bubble Yum to ease the withdrawal and told me I could grab as much as I wanted. One morning, I walked into the newsroom and learned that he died the night before. He had just gotten married. Another newspaperman gone.

A great story from the Trib. There was a newspaperman there who liked the sauce. In his later years, he did rewrite. Reporters who covered accidents, murders, government meetings, etc. phoned in and dictate stories. One reporter was covering a meeting in Berkeley at which activists were complaining about stronghand tactics by immigration officials. The reporter phoned in a quote that went something like, "We're tired of the INS coming in here and disrupting our town." In the paper the next day, the rewrite man had written, "We're tired of the iron ass coming in here and disrupting our town." Got by all the editors, too.

Another great story from the Trib, from before I got there. It used to be an afternoon paper. One Saturday morning, word came into the sports department that a former Cal athletic coach, Nibs Price, had passed away. With time short, the editor ordered one reporter to write a quick obit, another to fish for a photo from the library and a third to write the headline. It all got slapped together in a hurry, and an real old-time news guy who still employed colorful language of yore wrote a headline that read, "Death Calls Nibs Price." It ran over a photo of Price on the telephone.

As my old friend and editor John Simmonds used to say when telling this story, "No, Nibs, don't answer it!"

In 1992, the Trib died. Actually, it got sold to a cost-slashing company named Media News, which was worse than death. I wound up at the San Francisco Examiner, once the flagship of the Newspaperman of Newspapermen, William Randolph Hearst. but times were changing. We typed our stories on video-display terminals. Drinking was discouraged. Old newspapermen were pushed out in favor of hotshot kids with master's degrees in journalism. Some were fantastic. Others couldn't find a good story in a Shakespeare library, but by gum, they had that diploma.

There was a time a reporter earned his "master's degree" by working in the cop shop, when veterans would test the mettle of the neophyte by showing him gory crime-scene photos.

This is not just me channeling Herb Caen. There is a fundamental shift in this business I love. Instant opinion is welcomed, even encouraged, fact-checking be damned. I can live with the end of the printed newspaper. After all, I drive a motor vehicle, not a horse and buggy. But I cannot countenance the demise of newspapermen -- and women. With athletes, they say the name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back. It was the same in newspapers. The name on the masthead meant more than the byline. Yeah, there were stars, but really, it was all about telling a story, righting a wrong. Not selling a personality.

I have been blessed to write about baseball for the last 22 years. I am proud of my work and my vocation.

But, please, if you happen to blog or Tweet my obituary someday, please do me one last honor and call me a newspaperman.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ode to a cheesesteak

Let me say straight off that if the Israelites had gone through Philadelphia before writing their dietary laws, the mixing of meat and dairy would be kosher today. They probably would have run across an ancient cheesesteak place and tasted the perfect blending of cow flesh and provolone.

My arteries are begging me for mercy at the moment, but I'm giving them no quarter. I'm in Philly. There are cheesesteaks here. I love cheesesteaks. I am going to eat cheesesteaks -- more than one. If my arteries don't like it, they can go live inside a vegan.

Not all cheesesteaks are built alike. There are three famous places in Philly. Two of them, Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's, reside on the same corner in South Philly. Legend has it that Pat's invented the cheesesteak. There's another on South Street called Jim's. They are cheesesteak factories that get a lot of pub in tourist magazines. I'm sure many folks love their product; I am not among them. When I order a cheesesteak, I don't want to be served a barely warm sandwich with the cheese slapped on haphazardly and not melted. Can't blame the shops. They're making a billion at a time.

At Jim's you stand in a long line and watch the steaks prepared. It's considered a delicacy here to apply a liberal quantity of Cheez Whiz on a steak in lieu of provolone. Vats of the stuff line the kitchen. Excuse me, but yecch. Imagine sitting down at the House of Prime Rib to a luscious, thick slab, medium rare, then dipping it into a bucket of French's mustard.

D'Allesandro's. Now THAT is a cheesesteak. It's a tiny shop in the Roxborough neighborhood in North Philly. I found it by Googling "best cheesesteak Philadelphia no goddamn Cheez Whiz." God bless Google.

First off, the folks running it are real nice, even in a hurry. Behind the counter, workers chop the steak as you order it and cook it naked for a good while. Then -- and here is what makes these steaks better than the rest -- they top the meat with the provolone and let the cheese melt completely. Meat and cheese become entwined as one, like young lovers. Then, the roll is placed over the concoction, and the cheese is allowed to melt onto the bread.

Excuse me. I need a moment . . .

OK, I'm back.

My friend Pete picked me up downtown and drove me to D'Allesandro's this afternoon. I like my steak "without:" meat, cheese, bread. Pete went with mushrooms, onions and something liquid and red. Now, to me that's akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but I'm not going to judge. Pete's a native New Jerseyer. Grew up 10 minutes from here.

I have to go to work now. It's difficult. Leaving D'Allesandro's for a year, watching it shrink in the rearview mirror, must be what it feels like for a kid going off to boot camp and giving his girl one final kiss before the bus pulls away.

Till 2011, ma cherie frommage.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An achy back, Barry Bonds and the reason I'm still alive

I have a bad back. I've had one for the last six years or so. This is a story about a back spasm that might have saved my life, and Barry Bonds is very much a part of this tale.

Let's hark to those very dark days of yesteryear, 2005, and Bonds' terrible offseason. This was the height of the BALCO scandal, and my colleagues at the Chronicle, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, seemed to be publishing damaging information about the slugger every week. At the same time, Bonds had his knee scoped after the 2004 season and had to have it scoped again during spring training of 2005.

As an aside, allow me to explain my role in the Chronicle's steroids investigation. Mark and Lance would dig up incriminating information. Mark invariably would phone me in the evening and explain what they were going to publish the next day. When I saw his number pop up on my phone, I started to get the shakes. My job was to go to Bonds, present him with the info and ask if he wanted to comment. As you can imagine, that did wonders for my relationship with Bonds. To this day, when I'm kicking back at his pad in Los Angeles drinking his best hooch while we discuss which clubs to hit that night, we still laugh about it.

Even I wasn't prepared for what our paper published on March 20, 2005. Mark and Lance reported that Bonds' former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, told the BALCO grand jury what she knew about Bonds' alleged steroid use. In fact, Ms. Bell spoke to our reporters and provided evidence of their liaison. One document was a hotel receipt from the Westin Oaks in Houston, where the Giants stayed. The room was Ms. Bell's, and the receipt included the name of the Giants' then-traveling secretary, Reggie Younger. The implication was that Bonds had Younger book the room for her.

On March 19, I had a fortuitous back spasm in the press box at Scottsdale Stadium while watching the Giants play the Padres. I remember the opponent because former San Diego Union-Tribune beat writer Tom Krasovic had to carry my stuff to the car for me. I went to my condo for the usual treatment, ice then heat. When I awoke the next morning my back was still killing me and I decided not to go the stadium for the morning interview sessions. That was a good thing.

Mr. Younger saw the article that morning, and according to witnesses he bounded down the stairs into the clubhouse in a eye-bugged fury yelling, "Where's Henry. I'm going to kill him!" Never mind that I didn't write the article nor even know what it was going to say. I was the face of the Chronicle. I honestly don't know if Mr. Younger would have physically attacked me, but he was a large man, and given the state of my back I would have been defenseless.

Mark and Lance would have to admit -- and if I recall Mark did admit -- they did not go out of their way to let Mr. Younger know he was going to appear in a BALCO story linked as he was. The writers did not call me this time asking to get a comment, and their attempt to reach Mr. Younger was half-hearted. They phoned the Giants' offices in San Francisco on the previous Friday afternoon. Not being baseball writers, perhaps they did not know Mr. Younger would be in Arizona, not California.

Bonds was not in Arizona, though. He had returned to the Bay Area for the second of what would be three knee operations. He returned two days after the story ran, on crutches. That was the day of the famous "picnic table" press conference in which Bonds, with his son Nikloai seated next to him as a prop, quietly told reporters (in obvious reference to the Kimberly Bell story), "You wanted me to jump off the bridge. I finally jumped. You wanted to bring me down. You finally have brought me and my family down. You've finally done it, everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I'm done. I'll do the best I can."

Well, he didn't tell every reporter that. As Bonds emerged from the clubhouse and greeted a group of us, I decided I would be the one to ask Bonds if he would speak, fully knowing the storm that would follow. One of my baseball writing mentors, Kit Stier, told me if you (or your paper) write something that angers a player, your face should be the first he sees the next day. It shows you're not scared. It shows you stand behind your work.

I said, "Barry, can we get you for a few minutes?"

"I'm never talking to you for the rest of my life," Bonds said.

So I walked away from the group to let the interview proceed as Bonds told a Giants PR man in reference to me, "Make sure he doesn't listen in."

As Bonds and Nikolai sat atop the picnic table, I stood along the stadium gate watching from 30 feet away. A woman waiting to get into the stadium for the game shouted at me from outside, "Why don't you leave that poor man alone?" I looked at her and said, "You see me talking to him?"

The ESPN boys were nice enough to drive me to their satellite uplink facility and let me watch the videotape of the entire press conference. I wrote my story with the disclaimer that I saw it on tape.

Later that season, Bonds came to realize -- or somebody told him -- that despite my affiliation with the eventual "Game of Shadows" authors who wrote those stories for the Chronicle, I had nothing to do with it aside from receiving my paychecks from the same firm. My relationship with Bonds, never great to begin with, did not deteriorate from there. He did talk to me that season and every season thereafter until the Giants "retired" him in 2007.

I got to watch him set the all-time home run record that year. If not for a back spasm, I might have had to read about it from the beyond, in the Beelezebub Times.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's in a name? A lot if "24" says it

In my opinion, the two best sportswriters working today are Tom Verducci and Joe Posnanski, now both at Sports Illustrated. Verducci usually writes about baseball, but Posnanski writes about everything. If you care about baseball, anything he writes on the game is a must-read.

I just finished Joe's "where are they now" profile of Stan Musial in the current edition of SI. It is another remarkable effort from this writer.

One portion hit home for me. In the story, my friend and longtime St. Louis baseball writer Rick Hummel describes the first time Musial ever called him, "Rick." He was flabbergasted. I had a similar moment with Willie Mays.

Mays is not good with names, but you knew that. He got his nickname because he would see teammates as a rookie and yell, "Say, hey" because he couldn't remember. In my time knowing Willie, the only writer he ever called by name was Nick Peters, recently retired and winner of the J.G. Spink Award (Hall of Fame). To Willie, everyone else is, "Hey, writer."

A couple of springs ago, I was standing near the table in the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse where Mays holds court. He wanted to ask me something and said, "Hey, Henry...." I was floored. I knew I'd arrived.

Will Clark calls me by name, too, but it's like, "Hey, Henry, what kind of s-- are you trying to stir up in here?" Barry Bonds called me by name, too, only he thought my name was #%$&^!@!. Just kidding, Barry, wherever you are. Matt Cain called me by name during the last homestand as he was throwing an aerobie around the stands with Madison Bumgarner. Cain came up the press box, held up the hollowed-out Frisbee-like thing and said, "Hey, Henry. Looks like a donut, doesn't it? You like that. Don't you?

If you can read the Posnanski piece on Stan the Man, do it. It's terrific.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ten things I wish I hadn't done

In the underrated Albert Brooks film "Defending Your Life," Brooks is on trial in an afterlife waystation after he is killed in an accident in L.A. The trial is to determine whether he has conquered his mortal fears and therefore eligible to move to a more evolved state of existence. During the trial, the prosecutor shows vignettes of Brooks' life on a big screen, including a montage of stupid things he had done. It looks like a slapstick reel, and the two judges in the courtroom start snickering.

The prosecutors could create a pretty good slapstick reel for me, too. Here is a random list of 10 real-life scenes from my life:

1) When I was about 10, I used to take a running start and leap on a chair in the center of my bedroom so I could fly like Superman. Once, I placed the chair directly in the doorway, smacked my head on the jamb and nearly knocked myself out.

2) When I was 25, I asked a woman to a Pat Metheny concert (shaddup!). She said yes, but when I went to get tickets they were sold out. I asked her if she wanted to do something else and she said, "Oh, no, that's OK." Three years later we did go on a date, and we eventually got married. Pat Metheny was not on the wedding mix. I outgrew him by then.

3) As a sophomore at Cal State Northridge I played in the Matador marching band. Just before the pregame show at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I bent over and split the back of my black toreador pants right down the seam, exposing my tighty whities. I had to ask the really hot wife of our band director, over whom I routinely drooled, to re-sew the seam in front of my band mates. She and I later went to a Pat Matheny concert.

4a) As a rookie ball writer in 1988, I was covering the Mets-Dodgers National League Championship Series. Dodger Tim Belcher threw a gem in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. I ran into the home clubhouse, saw a huge scrum of writers surrounding a player and asked, "Was that the best you've seen Belcher pitch this year?" All the writers stared at me as if I were an idiot. So did the player. It was Belcher.

4b) Twenty-two years later -- last Saturday, if you must know -- I asked Buster Posey how good Barry Zito's stuff looked from behind the plate. Posey said he wouldn't know. He played first base that day.

5) When I was 15, my family and our neighbors went to Lake Tahoe. My sister and her friend got me to wear a T-shirt that read, "Hi. I'm Henry from Los Angeles," thinking it would help me make friends. All it did was make people hope I was getting the special education I needed.

6) At Cal, I routinely played in all-night poker games during finals week, which explains why I'm a sportswriter today.

7) In my mid-20s, I played in a semi-regular touch football game with colleagues at the Oakland Tribune. Though I weighed over 200 pounds, I volunteered to play cornerback. I was chasing a receiver on a "go" route. Knowing I was beaten, I just raised my arms and started waving them hoping the receiver wouldn't see the ball, which is patently illegal. My penalty was greater than 15 yards: The football hit me in the back, I toppled to the ground, tore cartilage in my left knee, sprained the anterior-cruciate ligament and, for good measure, fractured my right arm hitting the ground.

8) In my 20s, I had a date with a woman I really liked. I took her to a museum in San Francisco to see an Ansel Adams exhibit and to dinner. We had a great time. She actually asked me what was next on our date. I took her to my place and . . . insisted she watch my new "Reefer Madness" video. Never saw her again.

9) When I was in college, lots of folks had a bumper sticker that read, "Warning, I stop for small animals." I bought one for my car that read, "Warning, I speed up to run over small animals." The resulting vandalism to my Datsun B-210 was both expected and ruthless.

10) Actually bought a Pat Metheny album.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Behind my Twitter feud with @dylanohernandez

I've never been in a blood feud before. This is fun.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@hankschulman) have been amused and/or annoyed with the barrage of insults between me and Dylan Hernandez, the Dodgers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Some background: Dylan and I are good friends. He used to write for the San Jose Mercury News, and as soon as I met him I knew he was going places. He's a talented writer who speaks Japanese and Spanish, which naturally makes him an attractive commodity in the baseball-writing world. That the Times hired him when he was relatively young was no surprise.

I mentored Dylan some when he was at the Merc, answering a lot of questions about the job and guiding him when he asked. We've stayed good friends since he left the Bay Area.

As for the feud, it began when the Giants played the Dodgers in Los Angeles in April. I was eating a couple of Dodger Dogs in the press box before the game (shaddup!) and Dylan, as a lark, Tweeted a wise-ass comment about my eating habits. I Tweeted a wise-ass response. Dylan had just gotten onto Twitter while I already had more than 2,000 followers and noticed a spike in new followers after our little exchange. So he came to me and said, "Let's insult each other on Twitter all weekend so I can pick up more."

I thought he was kidding, but Dylan is a bulldog reporter and wouldn't stop. He kept Tweeting jokes about my food intake, and I had to respond with insults about his height (hey, we didn't have a referee to say, "No punches below the belt." Dylan started to enjoy the repartee and his rising Twitter base.

The thing has taken on a life of its own. Not only does Dylan maintain a steady barrage of fat jokes, his acolytes have taken up the cause. A few mornings ago, Dylan Tweeted, "I'm eating breakfast, or as @hankschulman calls it, "fifth dinner." The subject then turned to cake, and one of his followers wrote, "At @hankschulman's house, there is no such thing as a piece of cake. There is only whole cake." Another wrote, "@hankschulman is married? To a woman? I can't imagine cake gets through the front-door threshold in that house."

I howled out loud at the "whole cake" line. There really must be a bunch of folks in Twitterdom who think I weight three and a half bills. Truth is, I'm not as overweight as folks think, and Dylan is not the inebriate and life-hating nihilist that I have suggested in some of my Tweets.

Some folks are annoyed with the feud. One Tweeted that Dylan and I should get a room. Another said he was de-following me because the insultweets were cluttering his inbox. I'd like to think it adds a little spice to the Dodgers-Giants rivalry.

And I dare say I'm winning by the most objective standard -- Twitter followers.

@hankschulman 3,680
@dylanohernandez 2,213

Wrap that in a rasher of bacon and eat it, Dylan.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hide the women and children -- Mom now has email

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the first moon walk, or, for you nut jobs, the 41st anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong pretended to walk on the moon in a New Mexico sound stage.

It was highly appropriate, then, that today I watched my 77-year-old mother send her first-ever email, because I honestly thought I would pilot a rocket ship to Mars before this ever happened.

Some senior citizens embrace technology. Not at my parents' house. My mom and dad welcomed new technology like the clap. I had to buy their first CD player. If you visit my old room you can touch an actual working eight-track player. All my old tapes are still there, too. I guess my mom assumes I'll someday have an urge to listen to "Funktion at the Junction" again.

Anyway, there is this wonderful device called the Mailbug, which is sold by a South Bay company. It's a simple electronic device whose sole purpose is sending and delivery emails. It has a full keyboard, a small LED screen and a dial-up modem that connects to your phone. One recent morning, while I was drunk, I decided Mom should have a Mailbug, mainly so she could communicate with her grandchildren. They, of course, can respond through their iPod Touches or the laptops that their private school required my sister to buy.

It was a magnanimous gift on my part, for now I've provided Mom another medium she can use to complain how infrequently I call her.

I set it up today and showed her how to use this fairly foolproof device. There is no button on the Mailbug that can cause a hard drive to self-immolate, or worse, send my embarrassing baby photos to a distribution list of thousands. You can write an email, read an email and send an email, no pictures, just words.

I discovered a problem almost immediately. My mother has 2-inch fingernails, because you never know when you'll have to gouge the eyes out of a felon who barges into Edna's Hair Salon on Santa Monica Boulevard and demand that each septuagenarian hand over her lottery scratcher money.

Mom is as hunt-and-peck typist, and with her nails each peck sounded like a shotgun retort. That's not something I'll have to worry about much because, as she will tell you, I won't visit her enough to be bothered by her typing anyway.

She'll get the hang off it. She's a smart woman, though so technologically behind I imagine in the near future I will spend hours reminding her how to send an email that would take you or I 2 minutes to write. The bigger issue is what I have unleashed. All those complaints about her sore legs and indigestion and how she had to wait 40 minutes for the doctor and how it really might be a good idea if she took up driving again (God help us) now will be converted into binary zeroes and ones and sent through the ether, dropping into my and my sisters' inboxes as daily, or even hourly, nagmail.

Don't get me wrong. We love Mom, and ever since Dad passed 2 years ago she has gotten very lonely. We know we are all she has. I'd even love to set up a personal computer with a camera in her living room so she could enjoy video conferences with her grandchildren, but she'd be Miss Jane Pittman's age before she understood how to operate it.

Now that Mom has email, I can't wait for her to start getting spam. She'll be aghast the first time she pops open an email titled, "Enlarge your penis." She'll phone me and ask why somebody would send that to her. I'd explain the concept of spam. Then she'd hang up and forward it to me with a note asking if it was something I might be interested in.

God bless the Mailbug -- I think.

Friday, July 2, 2010

An old scribe's lament

As the great 19th century entertainer Lili Von Shtupp once sang, "I'm tired."

I'm wondering if I'm getting too old for this game. Yesterday, I rose at 5 a.m. after a few hours sleep and caught a flight to Denver. When I got to my hotel I had just enough time to order room service and take a half-hour nap before cabbing downtown to get a rental car and driving to Coors Field, where a long night's work was waiting after the Bengie Molina trade.

I was gassed. I really wanted to sidle up to a player who trusts me and say, "Look, I know you guys still have that amphetamine-laced coffee in the back. Howsabout you bring me a cup, and next time you commit an error I'll blame it on shoddy groundskeeping?" I got through the day, but it was tough, and I'm a little surprised my stuff in the paper today was as lucid as it was (shaddup!).

I'm in decent shape for 50 and a guy my size (shaddup Dylan Hernandez). I know I could stand to lose a few pounds and say "no" to the sexy siren song of a voluptuous buttermilk doughnut bar. As my friend Gonzo always used to say under his breath when he saw a real fatty, "Hey, mix in a salad once in a while."

As I was struggling to keep my eyes open in the press box 3 hours before game time, my competition bounded in. Andy flew in an hour before I did with just as little sleep but reported he had plenty of time for a workout in the hotel gym before he did a great phone interview with Bengie Molina, wrote a couple of blogs then came to the ballpark. He was still there when I left. If I had more energy, I might have strangled him and thrown his corpse into the humidor where they keep the baseballs.

Andy is a hell of a reporter, a terrific blogger and one of the funniest guys I know. He is also 15 years younger than I am. Sometimes at work I look at him and see the Energizer Bunny. Then I look in the mirror and see a lot of bags under my eyes and wonder how much longer I can do this.

Thing is, I love this job and can't imagine doing anything else. Well, that's a lie. If a casting director approached me and said, "You! You're the only man who can play Cameron Diaz's love interest in my next movie, and she gets naked A LOT," I'd turn in my Chronicle pass key so fast I might injure the security guy I threw it to. Other than that, there is nothing better than chronicling a team through a baseball season with all the attendant metaphors for life: the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies plus all the free gum I snatch in the clubhouse. Please don't tell Murph.

In a tremendous gem of casting, John Sayles picked the great writer and documentarian Studs Turkel to play Hugh Fullerton in the baseball movie "Eight Men Out." In the film, Fullerton is the gumshoe reporter who breaks the story that the 1919 Chicago White Sox (or Black Sox) threw the World Series against Cincinnati for money.

I looked it up. Terkel was 76 years old when that movie was released in 1988. Maybe in those days a guy that old could be a baseball writer, but not now, not with the blogging and the Tweeting and the post-9/11 travel.

I do have something to shoot for. The great and wonderful Bob Stevens was the Chronicle's full-time Giants writer from the time they moved to California in 1958 through about 1978. That's 21 seasons. This is my 13th season as the Giants writer for the Chronicle. If I can hang in there for another eight, I'll catch Bob for longevity. He was a wonderful man, and I know what he would say from beyond if I did catch him: "You fat bastard. You think you're as good as I was?" No, not really. I'm sure he would be just as supportive to me in the afterlife as he was in real life. He was one of the nicest men I knew.

It's a lofty goal. My only fear is that when I achieve it I'll have to ask Miss Diaz to hold my arm up so I can accept the congratulatory handshakes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

No more left turns on the road, please

I can't stand political correctness. There are so many things we want to say but can't, even if they're obvious, for fear of jarring someone's sensibilities.

Here is a for-instance. We all know there is one minority group that absolutely does not know how to drive a car. But it's somehow wrong to say it even if we see it every day and the evidence is overwhelming. Well, I don't care about political correctness. I'm going to take this minority group to task right here, right now:

There is nothing scarier on the the road than a liberal.

You know what I'm talking about. You're driving down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with a hankering for a Top Dog. All of a sudden a '77 Gremlin cuts you off and starts driving 15 miles under the speed limit and you know what you're dealing with right away, because the back fender is jammed with 15 bumper stickers that say things like, "Get out of Iraq now," and "Make Marijuana Legal," and "Keep Abortion Safe."

All sentiments I agree with, I should say. Truth be told, I'm more liberal than conservative, but there must be something about those bumper stickers that weighs a car down to the speed of a limping turtle.

I have no use for those firearm folks who aren't all that thrilled with parts of the First or Fourteenth amendments but consider the Second Amendment sacrosanct, you know, the ones who would fight a law barring handguns in a kindergarten. But I'll get behind a truck with a gun rack because, by gum, I know the driver will accelerate to freeway speed on the on-ramp.

What is it about liberal drivers? Do they think the gas they don't burn by going from zero to 60 in three days will preserve the ozone layer for another few years? Do they view traffic laws as just one more attempt by "the man" to keep them down? Are they oblivious to the road as they mull their next hunger strike?

Tell you what. I have no use for Sarah Palin or these Tea Party demagogues, but if they can find the accelerator without having to look at the owner's manual, I might just have to sign up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Travelog Toronto: A police state with smoked meat

Canadians have a good sense of humor. As evidence I offer John Candy and Mike Myers. Face it, a guy who dresses up in a "Laugh In" outfit with fake buck teeth and calls his apartment a shagadelic pad, well, that's comedy genius.

They call their dollar coins "loonies" because of the odd-looking bird that appears on it. (No, dummy, not Queen Elizabeth. The loon on the back.) When they devised a two-dollar coin, those, of course, became "twonies." I wish the United States would adopt coins for every denomination less than five dollars, if only to see how strip-club patrons would affix the coins to the dancers.

One thing does test the Canadian sense of humor: their perception of how the United States views their country. They see us as condescending blowhards who think of Canada as nothing more than a colony of beer-guzzling hosers who like arctic temperatures and 110-yard-long football fields. Maybe that's because we are condescending blowhards who think of Canada as nothing more than a colony of beer-guzzling hosers who like arctic temperatures and 110-yard-long football fields.

So, imagine the collective Canadian sneer this week when the U.S. State Department issued a warning for Americans to stay out of downtown Toronto next week when the G20 summit of world leaders takes place. These summits attract huge demonstrations that often turn violent. I might join them, because everyone knows that in bingo its "B20," not "G20." That's not right.

Essentially, the State Department lumped Toronto with other inadvisable destinations such as Tehran, Pyongyang and the delicatessen one cave over from Osama bin Laden's in the mountains of Pakistan.

But hey, maybe our government has seen what I've seen the last two days. Officials in downtown Toronto have lain miles of concrete barriers topped by high chain-link fences, either to keep protesters out or to pen them in should they get out of hand. Every key street corner is manned by three or four cops. And none of the summit participants even have gotten here yet. There are dozens of coppers hanging around the Rogers Centre, where the Giants are playing the Blue Jays. Maybe they were sent there to investigate why third-base coach Tim Flannery waved Aubrey Huff home in tonight's game when he clearly was going to be out by 10 feet.

Just kidding, Flan.

I'm glad I'm going to be out of here before all the chaos. I just hope Dunn's deli is safe. I found it today on King Street, and I'm glad I did. It's a Montreal deli that serves smoked meat (left), which is sort of like Canada's version of pastrami. I had a smoked-meat sandwich today and it reminded me of my wonderful trips to Montreal when the Expos played there. (By the way, if you want to see real contempt for Americans, go to French-speaking Canada.)

After lunch, I wandered into a coffee place called Second Cup. I assumed that meant my second cup would be on the house. The barista, probably for the 400th time this week, disabused me of the notion. But I enjoyed both cups as I sat outside on a brilliant spring afternoon watching a lunch-hour crowd buzzing about, hoping they all stay safe and sound next week when people are toppling buses and setting them on fire and destroying . . . no, wait a minute, that was Los Angeles after the Lakers won the NBA title last night.

Maybe the State Department should take notice and add L.A. to the list. I bet the good-humored Canadians would get a good chuckle out of that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Flushed with sorrow about my future

I am a very depressed newspaperman this morning. It finally hit me, on this 15th day of June in the year of our lord 2010, that my livelihood is doomed. By this time next year, I better know how to make a double mocachino pronto if I want to earn enough money to pay my bills and continue to add to my miniature troll collection.

I have been one of the staunchest advocates of the print newspaper and very Pollyanna about it survival until The Revelation hit me this morning while I was completing my daily indoor constitutional: That bastard Steve Jobs finally created a product that will end my stellar career (Shaddup! And this time I mean it!)

My mantra always has been, "Until they develop a product that lets you read the comics in the john, people will still want to buy newspapers." Now, people don't have to.

A vision burrowed its way into my head. Attached to the wall of my bathroom to the left or right of the commode, whichever is more convenient, could be one of those scissor-type extenders that often hold mirrors. But instead of a mirror it could hold an iPad just 2 feet in front of my face. Rather than clutch a newspaper to see exactly what Dagwood will put on his sandwich and wonder what Liz the vet sees in Garfield's master Jon, I can sit there with my hands free until it's time to flip the screen to "Luann."

With the comics read, I can check my stocks, examine my daily schedule, Tweet my innermost thoughts and track all flights around the country on the FAA website without leaving the plushness and comfort of my $250 Hammacher Schlemmer heated seat. When I'm done, I just reposition the iPad against the wall and go on with my day.

"Oh," you say, "newspapers were already doomed because people could read the comics on their iPhones."

C'mon. How can you tell on a screen that small what sick prank Lio is going to pull or trace the circuitous route Billy takes as he comes home from the drugstore with Jeffy's insulin. And besides, if you're a klutz like me, you do not want your $199 smart phone anywhere near a bowl of water.

No, it's time to polish that resume, or go into business for myself. I have a good idea, too. I might start manufacturing bathroom iPad holders and scissor extenders. I'm telling you, by 2015, "smart toilets" will be all the rage.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Surviving in the land of tobacco

My friend Chris, who writes for milb.com, calls people she does not like "douchenozzles." In the annals of ad hominem verbiage, this one might be a Hall of Famer.

I encountered a douchenozzle of the lowest order today when I was doing my power walk, which I must do to preserve my girlish figure. My hotel is in Covington, Ky., separated from downtown Cincinnati by many bridges. To start my walk, I cross one of the oldest and most spectacular spans, a suspension span that is well over 125 years old and, I've been told, was the model for the Brookly Bridge.

The car portion of the bridge is closed for a major overhaul, but you can still traverse the pedestrian walkways. However, much of the walkway is tented for the construction, as you can see in the photo below, so you essentially walk in and out of these canvas tunnels.


A man was walking in the same direction, about 30 feet ahead of me, and I saw him light a cigaret as he was entering one of the canvas tunnels. Not only did he want to inhale as much nicotine as he could directly, he wanted to collect any smoke that foolishly plotted escape by inhaling it as it rebounded off the canvas.

Of course, I had to walk through the same tunnel, and my efforts to run past him and the smoke were thwarted by a Bengie Molinian lack of speed and two cranky knees. I lost the race and had to suck down this douchenozzle's second-hand smoke. By the time we got to the next tunnel, I put on my afterburners (shaddup!) and passed him.

What is it with people in this part of the country? After lunch, I walked into the Starbucks near my hotel and two extraordinarily large women in line ahead of me each ordered sugary, whipped-creamy, caramely drinks. For the life of me I couldn't see the barista pouring anything into the two cups that looked remotely like coffee. After I quickly got my black cup of java, I followed the women out. One woman, before she even took a sip of her pepperoni pizza in a cup, lit up a smoke and started puffing.

She could not wait to kill herself with the a cigaret before she could kill herself with the drink.

I try not to be judgmental (again, shaddup!). But I really do appreciate the California attitude about health. Even I, who will never don a swimsuit calendar that is not published for the blind, look at the salad side of the menu before I look at the meat, and no, I don't smoke.

Long live the douchenozzles, if they can make it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A revised "Interpretation of Dreams," or, "Freud Help Me."

People of a certain age understand what it means for a person to be "touched." It implies he or she is mentally unstable. The term was used because it was culturally incorrect in those days to say, "Man, that dude is batshit crazy."

I'm afraid I might touched in another way that I think I once saw in a "Twilight Zone" episode.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I was covering a game in San Francisco when closer Brian Wilson came in to pitch. I remember the score, 2-2 in the seventh inning. Maybe the setup relievers were off playing with their iPads in somebody else's goofy dream. Anyway, Wilson goes batshit crazy on the mound.

I don't mean goofy Mark Fidrych antics. I mean he was wearing a spacesuit and dancing and waving and doing anything but pitching. He then ran to the dugout where he grabbed one of those gigantic air guns that some teams employ to shoot wrapped hot dogs into the stands, and he started firing away. A panic ensued, fans ran onto the field and the Giants had to forfeit the game.

Crazy thing is, I went to work after that dream and watched Wilson blow a save yesterday for only the second time this year.

Was I touched with a premonition?

(I'm not one of those "clean your plate because children are starving in Africa" guys, but could you imagine anyone from a poor nation visiting the United States and seeing meat being shot out of a gun and exploding to the delight of a crowd, or even one of those hotdog-eating contests? That would make for a hell of a "what did you do this summer" report in some third-world school.)

Last night I dreamed about being in a plane about to crash, and general manager Brian Sabean was the pilot. A lot of folks will say that's not a premonition as much as a metaphor.

I can't wait to see what my dreams hold tonight.

Maybe I'll dream that the New York Times will be less stodgy and try to compete with the Daily News and Post by publishing color photos of mangled bodies and subway accidents on the front page. A reader can be drawn to the gore then gaze up and say, "Oh, look, efforts to revitalize a two-party political system in Bangladesh are gathering steam."

Maybe I'll dream that researchers discovered that ice cream, chocolate, bourbon and steak, when eaten in precise proportion, will burn fat like nobody's business -- as long as you do not wreck the chemical process by exercising.

Or maybe I'm just touched in the head, Wilson was due to blow a save and this entire blog was a waste of Internet space and your precious time. I'll let you know if I have anymore batshit crazy dreams.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Travelog Pittsburgh: A better city than you think

This city continues to have a bad rap for something that no longer exists. There used to be a perma-haze over the city, smog from all the steel mills that have long since closed. Now, the air is pure and the skyline crisp.

I've always liked Pittsburgh. The people are friendly, and that includes Jim Leyland, who was managing the Pirates in 1988 when he stepped out of Three Rivers Stadium late one night, saw me waiting for a cab and asked this visiting rookie ball writer if he could give me a ride back to my hotel.

The view of downtown that one sees when exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel from the airport is breathtaking. The yellow bridges that span the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers every few blocks stand out as golden monuments to the steel that used to define this city. The point where those two rivers merge to form the Ohio is beautiful as well. I love doing my exercise walks (shaddup!) along the river promenades.

For all of that, though, the main reason I like Pittsburgh is Primanti Brothers, a chain of eateries that tells you all you need to know about how lustily Pittsburghers enjoy life. This is not Subway. Jared's head would explode if he walked into a Primanti Bros. The healthiest thing to eat on the menu is the menu.

This how it's done at Primanti: Whatever fried delicacy or coldcuts you order are placed between two large hunks of white bread, along with tomatoes, French Fries and coleslaw. An all-in-one sandwich. You bite into everything at once, which is challenging for anyone without a mouth like Mick Jagger's. A sign in the restaurant tells you that the cheesesteak is the No. 2 most popular item on the menu. No. 1 is not listed, but Pittsburghers know it's the Iron City beer required to lubricate your throat for the elephantine hunk sandwich about to slide its way down. I present you here the Primanti salami sandwich:

There is a Primanti Bros. inside PNC Park, where the Pirates play. When the stadium first opened, one writer went to the stand and ordered a sandwich but asked for the slaw and the fries on the side. A cook actually stormed through a door so he could see the infidel and ask him why the hell he even wanted a Primanti sandwich.

I must admit, I ask for the slaw on the side, mainly because I like its salt-and-vinegar flavor and don't want it masked by the meat and potatoes.

Last night, Baggs and I got to Pittsburgh at midnight and needed to eat. It had to be Primanti because little else is open downtown that time of night. The Primanti in the Strip District is open 24 hours. Baggs had the sweet sausage, I the bacon, egg and cheese. Four Iron Cities were consumed. For the purposes of expense-account reporting, please note that Iron City is a vitamin supplement.

Baggs and I knew we were in the right place when we walked in and saw two women (we think) sitting at a table, each weighing at least three and a half bills, the kind who would look at me and say, "Hey, Tiny, come to mama." Baggs and I sat at the counter, downed our food and "vitamin supplements" and walked back to our hotel through some dark and gritty streets.

I would love to open a Primanti Bros. in San Francisco, but I think I'd have to change the menu. I wonder how a California sushi roll, organic bell peppers, new potatoes and a pesto arugula salad would taste between two pieces of seven-grain bread, washed down by an Alexander Valley chardonnay.

I'm guessing we'll never know.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vive le French bulldog Cy


I'm falling in love and I can't stand it. My paramour has a scrunched face, eats off the floor and has big goofy ears, but I don't care. I am falling for Tim Lincecum's French bulldog, Cy, and this is a problem because I am a cat person.

I don't know what makes this breed a French bulldog. Maybe when challenged by another dog it immediately surrenders. Really, it makes no sense. Look at this guy above, who is not Lincecum's dog but an excellent copy. The French can be smug, but they generally don't have big bellies like this fellow. They eat and eat and eat, but all the wine they drink and cigarettes they smoke absorb and burn the calories. It's a medical fact. Look it up.

Tim the pitcher secrets himself in one corner of the Giants' clubhouse, dressing at the cubicle once brightened (cough, cough) by Barry Bonds. But Cy the French bulldog has free rein in the clubhouse and strays often from the little doggy bed that his owner has plopped at the foot of his locker.

A good part of my job is standing in the clubhouse like a cigar-store Native American waiting for the one or two players I need to interrogate. You get bored talking to the other stiffs carrying notepads so you look for any diversion you can. So up comes Cy, sitting on his haunches and gazing at you like the fellow above. And even if you and dogs have been as compatible as the French and victory parades, you bend over and start scratching him between the ears, which most animals seem to like. And Cy gets into it, and you get into it more, and he flops on his side and you rub his belly and you realize that maybe Cy likes you for reasons beyond your midsection looking like the biggest rib roast in doggy lore.

And I'm touched.

I did not have a dog as a child. I grew up in apartments, where most of the the biting and howling occurred in the community laundry room when a neighbor, God bless him or her, removed my mother's laundry from the dryer when it was still damp. My sister and I had birds, turtles and for two memorable weeks a homeless gentleman named Vic, but never a dog.

When I was little we would visit family friends who had a giant German shepherd. Now, the dad in this family was a concentration-camp survivor, which made his choice of dogs a little puzzling. My sister and the kids who lived there would race to the backyard to play with the dog, whose name escapes me. Let's just call him Himmler. I would stay inside insisting I was not scared of Himmler and declaring I really was more interested in the gin rummy game being played by the adults. Everyone knew better, but I didn't care, and my lifelong gambling addiction was born.

I first lived with a dog in Davis when I rented a room from two med students who had a beautiful Samoyed, a big fluffy Alaskan dog who went to doggy court and sued his owners for forcing him to live in 100-degree heat. I got to like the Samoyed, but when she died in a collision with a car I felt more for her owners. Then I felt contempt for this couple when they got two new Samoyed puppies who mistook the carpet in my bedroom for the great Alaskan pissing tundra.

I've had cats ever since, though one of my two current kitties really is a dog. He likes belly rubs, runs to the door to greet me and can actually open the kitchen cabinet that houses his food and drags out the canister. OK, no dog is smart enough to do that.

I don't know how smart Cy really is, but I can't imagine he's Harvard Obedience School material because he will play with a sportswriter. Brian Wilson's dog was more intelligent. Once when he saw me approach Wilson's locker he growled at me, to which the pitcher said, "He's well-trained."

Cy the French Bulldog is little more than a puppy. Lincecum will be a Giant at least through 2013. That's a long time for a love affair to grow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ten things that I can't get out of my head

1. Why is it that commercial drivers need training and a special license to prove they can safely drive a truck for a living, yet any coke-addled yokel can slap $19.95 on the counter at U-Haul and rent one?

2. I am a reasonable, mature adult, yet I cannot see or hear the name of Seattle pitcher Doug Fister without giggling.

3. If umpires were allowed to carry tasers, there'd be a lot fewer ejections in baseball.

4. The day airlines start allowing cellphone calls in flight is the day I rent a screaming baby for retaliation. You can get one for $19.95 at U-Haul.

5. The companies that produce Alec Baldwin's Schwetty Balls and Betty White's delicious muffin are ripe for a merger.

6. I'd wager a week's pay that boys named Peter, Willie, Dick and Johnson statistically get into more fights in junior high than the student population as a whole.

7. If the sun really is going to devour Earth and burn out someday, why should I pay all these flippin' tickets I'm getting?

8. Eight nights in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the next road trip. Par-TAY!

9. Each time I hear some family's precious soccer star screech the batting order in the third inning in San Francisco, or yell, "It's time for Dodger baseball" in L.A., I'm sure my life is being shortened by at least a day.

10. I have $19.95. Can I rent a taser at U-Haul?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A close call for this Pole

Let me tell you, loyal readers, I'm very fortunate to be a free man tonight. Hand to God, I got pulled over by a policeman in Phoenix tonight, and it was a close call. I'm shaking as I write these words.

Seems they installed a light-rail system to benefit the seven people in Phoenix who do not own automobiles. As I was leaving Chase Field following tonight's Giants-Diamondbacks game, I turned right against a red light at an intersection with light rail, having missed the sign that said it was a no-no.

(As an aside, can I get through one damn road trip without being hassled by The Man? Remember the ticket I got in Miami for cutting through a Shell station to pass a narcoleptic pig driving 15 in a 30 zone? Did I piss off somebody at Interpol? Why am I being picked on?)

Anyway, the police lights flashed behind me as I turned onto 7th Street and I pulled over, my throat choked with fear. You see, I am a first-generation American. My parents were both born in Poland, and I have distinct Polish features. That never has been an issue in my native California, where aside from a few Polish jokes that I don't really get, I don't get hassled much for being Polish. I've been mainstreamed and accepted.

This is Arizona, though, and thanks to the new immigration law the police are required to determine the immigration status of anyone they believe to be here illegally. That leads to profiling, which means no Polish American in Arizona is safe.

Now, I'm a U.S. citizen through and through. I was born in California. I love baseball, hot dogs and apple-kielbasa pie. I bitch about my taxes, overeat and piss off everyone in Europe by demanding service immediately. You can't be more American than that. But it doesn't matter in Arizona now. This handsome young copper tonight could have asked for my immigration papers, and had I said I was American, he just might have called bullshit and taken me in.

I wouldn't last 5 minutes in the Maricopa County jail. The sheriff, Joe Arpaio, well, he's what Freud would have called a freakin' nut job. He puts prisoners in striped uniforms, like the one George Clooney wore in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" And just like the movie, which was supposed to take place in the 1930s, Arpaio runs chain gangs.

Can you imagine how long a pencil-pusher like me would last in the 100-degree heat pounding rocks into gravel on the side of an Arizona highway? There's be a lot of Polish Americans like me on the chain gang with whom the shoot the breeze. This immigration law is tough. A lot of us are going to get ensnared.

Maybe my skin was not fair enough to look Slavic, or maybe this cop was tired of running so many Poles into the station for not having their papers, but he let me go with a warning. I bid him Dziękuje, which means "thank you" in my parents' native tongue. He gave me the evil eye one more time and drove off.

I tell you, under the current circumstances it's tough to look Polish in Arizona. It would be hard for me to live here full time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A small sample size

I was scrolling through Facebook this morning when I ran across a status update from a friend who said she had to pee in a cup for a pre-employment drug test. That got me thinking about one of the most bizarre mornings of my life.

There was a time when my physical ability to produce another human being was medically questioned. There are tests for that, and the male version calls for providing a sample of a certain substance that serves as a cozy-comfy home for the little buggers that do the work for you. Free of charge, too.

Generating such a sample requires an act that ordinarily would get you arrested if you attempted it in an office building during regular business hours. This is the one grand, happy exception. There are even laboratories that cater to this sort of thing. They have rooms equipped with a comfortable place to recline, magazines and videos. Now, in my case the best magazine for the job would have been Beckett's baseball-card value guide, but they went for a baser, least-common denominator group of publications.

In any event, you produce your sample sheepishly (watch the sheep jokes, perverts) and await the results.

Well, my big day came and I drove to an address in Concord. The problem was, my doctor did not send me to a center where these sorts of samples are produced and the staff becomes inured to the requisite behavior of the clients. No, this was a place where such samples ordinarily arrive in boxes to be analyzed.

When I walked in the door and told the receptionist what I needed to do, her eyes grew wide and she had a look of terror on her face. She said I couldn't do that there and I replied, "Look, this is a tough enough process as it is, and I just want to get it over with." She conferred with someone in the office behind her and finally handed me the plastic cup with instructions to use the men's room.

I have to believe that all office work stopped for the 30 or 45 minutes that I required to complete this medical procedure. There was no wine, no soft lighting, no magazines to get me in the mood. If I recall, there might have been a travel poster of Italy hanging on the wall and maybe a framed cross-stitch of a cat.

I really thought about having some fun with the staff and periodically shouting, "Oh mama! Bring it home to papa! Grind it! Grind it! That's right baby! Crank 'er home!" But I didn't have the guts to do it.

I finally emerged, sample cup in hand, and barely could look the receptionist in the eye as I handed it over. I have to think that company quickly sent a stern warning to doctors not to send them any more patients unless they walked in with the evidence already collected.

To this day, I can't look at a cross-stitched cat without snickering.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thanking the right people

I rarely go into the Chronicle office at Myth and Fission, as the late Phil Frank would say. I don't have a desk or a phone there. I usually work out of the house. When I show up without my badge, as I did yesterday, I have to go through a whole security rigamarole to get in. (Memo to the head of security: As much as I enjoyed the cavity searches, really? Really?).

I popped in yesterday to grab my mail and was stopped by someone I didn't know who just wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed my Giants coverage. I thanked him. This afternoon, as I walked into the ballpark, a gentleman my age who works in guest services stopped to say I was his favorite writer, that he and I had the same sense of humor and my game stories are the best way he relates to what is happening on the field.

That gentleman was my age. I thanked him and suggested he impart his message to his younger friends so we can keep this newspaper going for another decade or three.

Let me tell you, one encounter like this compensates for 20 of the other kind, when somebody sits at home with one hand on his schmekele and uses the other to let me know in the most vitriolic way possible that I am nothing more than a dingleberry. (Look it up. You'll be amused.) I'm not talking about just criticism of my work. That I can handle. I'm talking about people who have decided their lives are meaningless unless they demean the work of others.

You all can relate no matter what you do. I presume some of you work in the restaurant business and hear a lot of bitching about the food in your joint. You can tell the difference between someone who genuinely got a bad meal and merely wants it right, and someone who wouldn't be satisfied if the 15 top chefs in the world collaborated on his chili mac.

But isn't it wonderful when a diner calls you over to say he just had the best rack of lamb he ever tasted. (Sorry to those opposed to eating lamb. I was already thinking about dingleberry and, well, you know.)

When I had my house painted some years back by a man who took a month to do it right, I think he was happier with my effusive praise than the large tip I included with his payment. Either that, or he thought to himself, "That's a nice tip. I'm going to listen to this dingleberry for as long as he keeps his yap open."

Consider this a call to heap praise on the praiseworthy. There is too much negativity in the world. I know. I cover the Giants. Let people know when they do something right. It will make both of you feel good and, you never know, the guy busing your table today might be administering your Chronicle cavity search tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A writer plays hurt

I once watched a supposedly truth-based movie about the Three Stooges. I know what you're thinking. I really wanted to watch "The Brothers Karamazov," but that channel was scrambled. Really, it was.

The Stooges film was sad at times, particularly when Curly Howard had a terrible stroke in 1946. In the true spirit of show business, the act went on. It must have been hard. Moe Howard was more than just Curly's comedy partner. They were brothers. For the first time, while watching that movie, it occurred to me that the hardest thing a professional funnyman must do is to remain funny amid tragedy.

I don't consider myself a comedian, but I try to keep my baseball stories light and entertaining. That has not been easy the past few years. My father died a difficult death in 2008. Soon after that my only sister developed breast cancer, and soon after that my wife's mother died. Darkness has enveloped me in other ways that are best kept private. Those of you who guessed "arrested for public indecency," shaddup. Drugs and alcohol are not involved. As for that rumor involving live animals, a catapult and two members of The Tijuana Brass, well, no comment.

All of this is natural stuff that happens to people in the world every day, but I must confess it's hard sometimes to be creative when your mind is in a tragedy-induced fog. It makes me wonder how comics comics can remain funny when they are fighting their own demons. It's not like they can call in sad. Richard Jeni, one of the funniest men I ever heard, lost his fight. He blew his brains out in a Hollywood apartment. I never would have known from his public persona how depression ate him.

Playing hurt is another matter altogether, and last week I learned how tough but rewarding that can be.

I had the road trip from hell to Miami and New York, ordinarily two of my favorite cities. For one thing, I was sick the entire week. For another, I got mugged in New York -- by a sidewalk. I was walking the two blocks from the subway to my hotel, bags in tow, when I tripped on a chunk of sidewalk that was not level and fell forward. Despite the insistence of one Giants coach that my face must have hit the sidewalk because, well, just look at it, I actually landed on my left hand and right ribcage, bruising both. I really thought for two days my left hand was broken, but I was afraid to go to a New York emergency room and seeing all those mobsters in the waiting room with assorted bullet wounds.

I was not in good shape Saturday and Sunday, but I made my way to the ballpark and did my job anyway. Fortunately, I had no pain in my hand when I curled it to hold a pen or typed on my laptop. Other things I could not accomplish with that hand. I'll leave those to your imagination, you filthy, filthy people.

I'm proud of myself for what I accomplished in New York with bruises over my body and a throat that felt like I tried to be one of those circus fire-swallowers and hiccuped at the worst possible time. Though professional athletes can be shallow at times, they send a strong message by playing hurt, and it resonates with me. None of the stories will win a Wurlitzer Prize, but at least you didn't get Associated Press dispatches in your Chronicles.

Athletes also impress me when they play through their own tragedies -- deaths and illnesses and such. I doubt I'll ever have to perform at as high a level in my job as they do in theirs, unless President-elect Newsom asks me to write his first inaugural address in 2020. But I'd like to think I have the mental fortitude to do the job no matter how bad things are outside the office.

After all, if Moe can poke Larry in the eye and drop an anvil on his foot while his brother is fighting for his life in a hospital, a sportswriter should be able to make his readers laugh a little even if he loses his bout with a sidewalk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Can't escape Southern justice

How do the chronically A-holic manage to skate in life while we righteous people get the shaft, sometimes as a direct result of their A-hole-i-ty?

I'll give you an example. I landed in Miami on Monday afternoon after two long flights cross country. I was sick and tired -- literally on both counts -- but I was my normal cheerful self. (Shaddup!). When this woman with two small children burst to the front of the boarding line in Denver and demanded to be preboarded, even though this airline does not preboard kids, and told the gate agent, "You're going to be sorry later on," I let her live. When she snapped at the guy in front of her on the plane to move into his row so she and her precious babies could get to their seats, I spared her my rapier wit (Shaddup!).

See, nice me, right?

So I get my rental car in Miami and head for my hotel. For nearly a mile on this two-lane feeder road to the main drag that intersects with the freeway, I have to follow this douchenozzle driving between 15 and 20 mph in 30, driving me insane. I wasn't in a huge hurry, but it's hard to drive that slow in a car that has a little zoom.

We get to a traffic light at the main drag. He's the first car, I'm the second. I need to turn right. He has his right blinker on. So, to get ahead of him, I cut through a Shell station on the corner and get onto the main road. That appears to be illegal in Florida, as I soon learned, and a law-enforcement priority at a time when a couple bajillion gallons of fuel from the gulf are ready to envelope this state.

As an aside, I believe I should be able to do what I want at a Shell station short of robbing it or stealing gas. I live in a town with a Shell refinery. I buy their gas most of the time. They should welcome my little "detours" through their stations. Same theory applies when I need to pee. Being a Marriott platinum member who spends 100 nights a year in their hotels, I should get a key card that allows me to enter any locked men's room in any Marriott in the world.

Yes I have a sense of urinary entitlement. Make something of it.

Back to Miami. Cop sees me cut through the Shell station, pulls me over and tells me what I did wrong. Now, I know the era of the friendly warning is over now that cities are desperate for cash. I know there'll be no talking him out of my $179 fine for for that reason alone. But in my fantasy world, I imagine this scenario:

When the officer saw the Georgia plates on my rental car, he thought, "I'm gonna get this sumbitch peanut boy. Probably Jimmy Carter's bastard son. That's right, Georgia, come to Jacksonville like you did in '54 and beat my Gators, make my Betty Lou cry. I'll show you, you sumbitch. Time for a li'l South Florida justice."

Imagine his disappointment when he saw my California driver's license, but it only lasted a few seconds until he walked back to the car and thought, "I'll get this sumbitch anyhow, coming down here from fruity Cal-ee-FOR-nia with his Kim Kar-DASH-ee-an and his damned liberal governer and his "I'll be back." Made my Betty Lou laugh, though, in that 'Kinnergarten Cop" deal. Probably Warren Beatty's bastard son. Time for a li'l South Florida justice."

Of course, this cop had no southern accent, and he probably is much smarter than my stupid stereotype and, oh, by the way, I actually did cut through the Shell station.

The cop here isn't the villain. It's that A-hole who was driving in front of me, carrying on after his right turn, in blissful stupidity, as I sat in my car weighing the risk of getting tased if I got out to tell the cop my Shell Marriott piss philosophy in one last-ditch effort to escape the ticket.

A-hole driver knows who he is. He was probably starting a drive to Orlando. Should get there in time for the next Georgia-Florida football game.

Friday, April 30, 2010

How a beat writer wins

I'm often asked how I get along with my two primary competitors on the Giants beat, Andy Baggarly of the Media News Empire (San Jose, Contra Costa, Jupiter, Atlantis, etc...) and Chris Haft of MLB.com. I like them both, even if Haft is a convicted arsonist. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. He pled down to "incitement to riot."

We get along well because we respect each others' work and the boundaries. There are unwritten rules on a sports beat. If you are interviewing a player before the game for a note or a feature, and that player is not newsworthy in a way that requires everyone to interview him, the other writers are not supposed to horn in. There are many rules like that, and I won't bore you with them. But we all abide.

The beat was not always populated by such mensches. I want to tell you about one beat writer who was a real pain. I won't mention his name or paper out of respect for the dude, who still resides in the Bay Area.

He was a very good reporter and a fair writer, but he took the competition among beat writers too far. He was paranoid about what stories we had and we were paranoid about his paranoia. There was an unhealthy tension in the clubhouse with this guy, and I am not speaking out of school when I say the beat became a more fun place once he left. (If you're reading this fella, I hope your life is going well, but as the players say, it is what it is.)

He was the king of the "knockdown note," which is when you write something and your competitor the next day knocks it down by saying it's not true. I always joked that this reporter had a macro on his laptop so he could press one key and produce the words, "Contrary to yesterday's Chronicle..."

As I said, he was a good reporter and had his share of scoops. So did I, and two were sweeter than most (with the understanding that the first one regarded the poor health of a player I greatly admired, and I never wish someone ill for the sake of a news story.)

That one happened in the 2002 World Series, when a source told me and another confirmed that closer Robb Nen had shoulder troubles. I wrote a story before Game 4 in San Francisco that said Nen was having trouble getting loose in the bullpen and manager Dusty Baker would have to use him carefully. I had only a fraction of the story, of course. Nen's shoulder was linguini and his career was four games from being over.

That night, Nen saved the victory that tied the Series 2-2. Afterward, we talked to Nen. Our hero, the competing reporter, started the questioning by saying, "So, Rob, would you say today's story in the Chronicle was much ado about nothing?" Nen chuckled and said, "Yeah, much ado about nothing." Good to know I was surrounded by so many Shakespeare fans.

(As an aside, Nen wanted his arm pain kept a secret and wanted to kill me. We're pals now.)

Fast-forward to the day after the Giants' Game 7 defeat. We were in the clubhouse for the annual postmortem, which includes a review by the head trainer of all injuries previously hidden or not that will be addressed in the days ahead by surgery or rehab or whatever. First on Stan Conte's list was Nen. Conte informed us Nen was going to have shoulder surgery.

Again, I felt for Nen, but I couldn't help myself. This time I asked the first question of the trainer, with my evil competitor aside me, and I said, "So, Stan, what you're telling us is, this is not much ado about nothing?"

The other story happened a few months earlier. Catcher Benito Santiago was having a fine year and was up for an All-Star selection. He wasn't elected on the fan ballot, so it came down to the reserve selection. On the morning the names were to be announced, I reported that Santiago was going to be selected for the National League team. Our hero reported Santiago was off the team. One of us had a good source. One of us had a false prophet. Rarely do competing papers actually report diametrically opposed stories.

I was off that day and watched the game on TV. Duane Kuiper even mentioned the dueling stories. Later in the afternoon, I learned Santiago's fate like everyone else. I watched the selection show on ESPN.

When they announced that Santiago was picked for the All-Star team, I actually did a victory dance in my living room, which the missus found ghastly yet entertaining. I do believe my right knee has not been the same since.

There's nothing like having a good scoop.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ten more items for my bucket list

Before I die, I want to:

1. Carry a jumbo can of spray paint into a parking garage and tag the word "COMPACT" across every SUV parked in a spot marked "COMPACT."

2. See what kind of fun I could have in a Hummer equipped with a front-end cow catcher at one of those Friday rush-hour rallies when bicyclists block the streets in downtown San Francisco. What do they call those? Critical Mass? Tour de A-hole?

3. Walk into a restaurant wearing dark glasses, tapping a cane and holding a harness in the other hand attached to a cat.

4. Write a book.

5. Read a book.

6. Stand in the center of the Sistine Chapel for an hour taking 1,000 photos of the floor, then looking at the other tourists like they're crazy.

7. Work ONE series in Florida without a rain delay. Just ONE.

8. Buy a funeral home and wait for an airline executive to come in to pre-plan a funeral, so I can say, "Well, your best bet is to die on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. The coffin will cost $2,000 if you die two weeks in advance. It is nonrefundable, but you can change the date of your funeral for a $500 fee. And by the way, every artifact you put into the casket to take to the afterlife is $50.

9. Watch a married couple and their lawyers finalize a divorce on a stadium Jumbotron.

10. Enjoy one delicious hot dog without some A-hole riding to Critical Mass saying, "You don't want to know what's in that."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What baseball is

Baseball is the perfection of a 9o-foot baseline, the 60 1/2-foot distance between rubber and plate and the symmetry of a diamond, all mocking the imperfection of those who attempt to conquer the geometry.

It is the wonderful, delicious overdose of green that intoxicates our eyes and soothes our life-worn souls upon entering the stadium; the unmistakable and riveting crack of bat on ball; the smell of a leather glove; the peaceful sensation of summer sun beating on your forehead as you lean back in your seat during the anticipatory quarter-hour between the reading of lineups and the first pitch.

Baseball is America's metaphor for existence, from our birth in spring to our workaday struggles in summer to our demise in fall; and, if you roll that way, the promise of resurrection in spring.

It is the seabirds hovering over an emptying stadium in the late-afternoon chill, waiting to pounce on the game's carrion before the cleaning crew sweeps every memory of that day's existence into oblivion.

Baseball is numbers -- the absolute need to have them and the absolute need to ignore them.

It is a card game of "casino" in the Latin quarter of the clubhouse; the wonderful and nauseating uncertainty of a one-run lead in the ninth; the balletic beauty of a diving catch; the endearing optimism of a child with glove in hand waiting for a foul ball; the eight-dollar beer you cannot do without.

It is the debate and the commentary and the game story and the box score and the announcer's call. Good lord, how Buck and Greenwald and Scully have made us weep.


Baseball is the stifle of August at Busch and the numbness of Wrigley in April; the can't-miss prospect in the minors who almost always misses; the joy of those tickets resting on the dining room table awaiting tomorrow; the three seconds of orgasmic joy or paralytic panic, depending on your hometown, as the home run ball soars toward its final destination.

Most of all, baseball is a friend whose loss we could not abide.

Just as you suspected, I stunk as a ballplayer

I'm sitting in the press box three hours before today's game and I see about 3,000 Pony Leaguers in the stands listening to Tim Flannery talk about signs and Eli Whiteside talking about catching and Duane Kuiper going on and on about that one home run he hit. OK, one of those three things is a lie. Anyway, it made me hark to my own Little League days, which can be described in one word:

Awful.

I would have been known today as Moneyball player because I had a .500 on-base percentage to go with my .000 batting average. I walked a lot, because I was afraid to swing the bat, and I led the Poinsettia Park Little League in getting hit by the pitch. I had a lot of, um, padding on my body, and my coaches knew a good thing when they saw it.

"Put yer fat ass in front of one," they said in crucial situations. Fortunately, the pitchers stunk as much as I did and it was easy to oblige.

I was a catcher my first year. You hear about how the fat kid is always the catcher, but somehow league officials never get the word when they order the equipment. My mask was too small, my chest guard was too small and, most important, my shin guards were too small. They covered only half the knee, which meant many timeouts in anguish when I took a foul tip, or more likely just whiffed on catching a pitch. My glasses wouldn't fit under the mask. Also, my family was too poor to buy me a cup, so I'm fortunate I never took one "there."

OK, we had enough money for a cup. I just couldn't figure a way to broach the topic with my mom, who was our family's purchaser. Yeah, I would have preferred a baseball in the cojones to actually describing to my mom how I needed a device to project them. Boys just are that way. Many moms anticipate that particular need, but my mom, being an immigrant from a non-baseball-speaking country, was not in the loop. Where she came from, bruises in that region ordinarily meant the police were just doing their jobs.

The kids who listened to this morning's pregame lecture at the ballpark got to watch Brad Penny of the Cardinals pitch. Penny was a Giant for a month last year and the first player in many years to drop the old "you never played this game" on me when chafed at something I wrote. I stood my ground, and I will not accept that from a player because I've watched enough baseball and talked to enough baseball people to know what I'm talking about most of the time. I've never flown a plane, but if I see two pilots head from the bar to the jetway, I believe I have the expertise to call them on it.

One funny thing in a clubhouse is watching a writer tell an athlete, "Yeah, one time in a high school game I . . . " Memo to all sportswriters: Players don't give a rat's backside what you did in high school and do not respect you for playing at that level. College maybe, but even then. . . I do respect Haft because he played high school ball in the South Bay, but as he told me the other day in an attempt at self-deprecation, "Oh, we weren't that good. You could have made that team."

I seriously doubt that, though I played a mean first trombone and could have owned the band.

In fact, this one time in band camp . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coming soon: More accuracy in this blog

Former Examiner editor Phil Bronstein doesn't know this, but 12 years ago he insulted me.

After two years of covering the Giants for the Examiner I decided to jump ship to the Chronicle. I always worked for smaller "underdog" papers and I wanted a shot at "the big paper" while I was still young enough to get hired for something other than WalMart greeter. There was a real "us versus them" vibe at the Examiner. Whenever a reporter left the Ex to go to the Chron, Phil would hunt down the person, start screaming and demand that he or she empty the desk and leave immediately.

Me? He just said so long. Did I suck that much, Phil? No rant? No snide remark? Not even a sarcastic "good luck?"

I gave the Examiner a month's notice because it was right before spring training and didn't want my editor to force someone on short notice to go to Arizona for six weeks. It sounds like a plum assignment, but a lot of our reporters had kids and couldn't have done that. So in 1998, I spent three weeks covering spring training for the Examiner. I packed my stuff, moved from the Examiner's condo to the Chronicle's condo down the street, then started covering for the Chron the next day. Meanwhile, the Ex hired Shea and he moved into my old condo.

Once I got back to San Francisco I had a head shot taken for the Chronicle's files and my company ID card. If memory serves, the photo that accompanies this blog, the Splash blog on sfgate.com and my Twitter account is that head shot. If so, I'm a big fat liar. It is not intellectually honest to present a 12-year-old photo for public consumption. I got a haircut today, and as soon as I can get an updated head shot I will post it.

This is not a vanity issue. I have no great longing for 1998. I think that was the year I got a cease-and-desist letter from Jimmy Buffett when I wrote a song called, "Wasting Away Again in Mullet-ville (see 1998 photo). I don't long for my younger days so I can party like it's 1998. Even when I was in my 20s and single I partied like it was 1898. If I got to see a woman's ankles, I considered it "action."

No, just simple laziness at work here. We all take thousands of photos now with digital cameras and phones, but rarely do we take a nice head shot. I just haven't done it yet and I thank God I'm not a columnist at the Chronicle, which now runs full-color, high-def mugs that really do no columnist a favor except for Ratto. In his case, even an awful reproduction is less scary than the real thing.

Many of you have seen me on TV or at the ballpark. You know my current head shot is a lie. With all the frontal hair loss my head looks like a bowling ball adorned with half a toupee. Oh, and I rarely smile anymore. If nothing else I strive for accuracy. This will be fixed.

And by the way, Phil Bronstein works for Hearst now. Anytime he wants to pop by and yell at me for leaving the Examiner 12 years ago, I'll listen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Internet monsters

A recent study by the University of Virginia found that the typical comment poster underneath a newspaper story on the Internet is a 24-year-old high school dropout who shoots cats with BB guns, does not live in his mother's basement because she kicked him out for setting fires and does not realize that stories in "The Onion" are satirical.

OK, there was no such study, but if the University of Virginia chooses to promote one, I'll help finance it.

I picked that particular school because it was started by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father who promoted free speech but doubtlessly would say "holy shite" if he could rise from the dead and see what people write on the Internet.

I rarely look at comments underneath stories on the Chronicle's website anymore because I am depressed enough by my creeping old age and the thought of sharing the road with all the crappy drivers we have now that schools can't afford driver training. I'm not even talking about those who rip me. I have almost 30 years in the news business, my bosses like my stuff, I get lots of wonderful feedback on personal emails and I could give a shit what 19-year-old buttboy342 thinks about my game stories.

I'm talking about the wretched garbage put forth under news stories. How rare is it to see a good intellectual debate in these comments? It amazes me how 12 comments into a thread under a story about increasing garbage rates you can read something like, "Yeah, they ought to put bullets in the head of any doctor that does abortions," or, "Obama is a fascist who might not have been born on the planet Earth."

I'm speaking for myself, of course, and not my employer. The Chronicle promotes comments. In fact, we're revamping ours to make them bigger and better. We like lots of hits and page views because advertisers like them, and we like advertisers.

I'm just a cog in the wheel -- OK, a cog that might be a little smaller if I didn't eat Denny's fried pancake poppers at midnight on the road -- and nobody at The Chronicle really cares what I think about such things, but I want to go on record and say we should take the bold step and require every comment to be signed, with the author's real name, as we require with printed letters to the editor.

How are we advancing any debate when we allow megatroll_pigboy to spew his vile underneath a story. To me that stifles a conversation more than promotes it. Who really wants to proffer a rational opinion knowing he or she is going to be flamed?

You might not like what I write about the Giants, but you know who wrote it because my byline sits atop each story. I don't understand why people who absolutely ravage me, and more significant the players and team officials about him I write, can do so behind a veil. This isn't a police state. You are not going to be taken away in the middle of the night by the secret police if you sign your name to a comment that says, "The Giants wasted $18 million on Edgar Rent-a-Wreck." Show your face.

I admit the comments from the worst Internet monsters used to bother me until colleagues reminded me that most readers respect what we do even if they don't agree with every word; that there really is a silent majority of people who don't feel the need to pick a screen name like San_Leandro_Vulcan and denigrate everything on the planet.

I'm reminded of a onetime Cubs manager named Lee Elia who got into a load of trouble when, in a rant about Wrigley Field fans who were abusing the Chicago players, said, "Eighty-five percent of the f-- world is working. The other 15 percent come here."Elia said that in 1983. Now, he might amend that to say, "The other 15 percent come here. Then they go home and spend hours anonymously bitching on the Internet."

Please don't infer from my screed that I believe all who partake in Internet debates are bums. Many are earnest and intelligent, but I fear they are drowned out by the screeching rabble.

As I said, I rarely read comments anymore and I never let them bother me. But I checked in on the crowd who regularly read my Splash blog on the Gate (thanks for your loyalty, guys), and one statement did bug me. It came from a regular poster who professes to be a college student back east. When another poster joked that she was starting to sound like me, she responded, "I am a female Henry! Subtract 40 years though!"

Hey now, dearie, I'm not that old. If I were, I'd log into the comments section under the screen name baseball_Adonis and tell myself to get my ancient ass out of the press box and let somebody who actually can chew hard food take a crack at covering the Giants.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On the Lincecums, father and son, and a reporter's objectivity

Chris Lincecum is a wisp of a man, even smaller than his son Tim, and he's a smack-talker. I don't mean that in the talk-radio sense. I mean he smacks you during a conversation to emphasize a point. I've talked to Tim about this. Chris has always been that way. Won't change either. I like the guy, though. He amuses me.

Shea and I were in the Italian Grotto during spring training when Chris walked in for a nightcap. The three of us shot the breeze for a half-hour, and whenever the topic of Tim's Cy Young award from last year arose Chris made a snide comment about me voting for Chris Carpenter instead of his son. Then he'd smack me in the chest and say, "You know I'm joking." By the fourth time I started thinking how expensive a new sternum would be.

I tell that story as a long-winded intro to a point I've wanted to make about the job of a newspaper beat writer. I have to say I was stunned by how many fans tore into me for that Cy vote because they felt I had to be "loyal" to a Giant and vote for "my guy." I was equally surprised by the reaction on Twitter when I said I grew up a Dodger fan in Los Angeles (though I haven't rooted for the Dodgers since Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey manned their infield).

It's not just fans, either. My mom will call me after a Giants win and say, "You guys got 'em today."

I really did not think I would have to explain this, but as a beat reporter I cannot be a fan of any team. I have to think and write straight down the middle or I lose valuable credibility.

I fancy myself a writer (shaddup!), but a beat writer has to be a reporter first. My currency is information, and that comes from many sources inside and outside the Giants' clubhouse, manager's office and executive suite. The Giants front office is so secretive, I have to get much of my information and tips from agents, scouts and executives from other teams and garbage bins that I root through for documents. OK, that I don't do.

Anyhow, when I get on the horn and talk to sources, they have to trust they are talking to an objective reporter with no axes to grind and no team loyalties; and I have none, even if Giants bullpen coach Mark Gardner thinks I'm on the McCourt payroll because I sometimes wear blue shirts (very slimming, you know).

Do I want Giants players to do well? Sure. I get to know these guys and spend oodles of time with them over a season. But you should not be able to discern that by reading my stories. If I praise a player, the reader has to know I did so because I, as a fly on the wall, observed what he did and approved. Similarly, if I criticize a player, the reader and other players need to know I have nothing against the guy. During the 12 years I covered Barry Bonds, nobody could read my prose (shaddup!) and accuse me of running a vendetta, even though Bonds treated me like merde, as the French would say.

I have an easy objectivity gauge. It comes in my email and on fan bulletin boards and Twitter and from what I hear. I get ripped in many quarters for being a Brian Sabean toady, yet there are many times Sabean won't talk to me because he's angry about something I've written. Right now, I'm getting lots of "Schulman, you're such a homer" and lots of "You still bleed Dodger blue."

Perfect.

The minute the praise-scorn needle starts tilting in one direction or the other, I'll know I have to reassess my writing.

I expected to be ripped for bypassing Lincecum in my Cy Young vote by people who thought he had a better year than Carpenter. That's worthy of debate. I did not expect so many emails suggesting I stick my head where the sun don't shine (or in the alternative remove it from that very place) because I should have voted for "our" guy. Nor did I expect so much negative reaction to having grown up a Dodger fan long before many of these haters were born. OK, that I should have expected. This rivalry runs deep.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to Costco and see if I can buy a 12-pack of chest shields. Chris Lincecum has retired from Boeing and plans to travel more to watch Tim pitch, and I expect to knock more than a few back with the smack-talking old man.