Friday, November 5, 2021

With seven words, Buster Posey told us exactly who he was and what he meant to the Giants, plus other recollections of the man and his career

    Seven words.

    Buster Posey spoke tens of thousands of words during his 13 years as a San Francisco Giant. He needed just seven to create the quintessential Buster Moment, the few seconds that cemented who he was and how he acted as sheriff and chief executive officer of a major-league baseball team.

    It was Aug. 15, 2012, the day National League batting leader Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone in violation of the joint league-union drug policy.

    The Giants had an afternoon game against the Nationals. Beforehand, reporters piled into the clubhouse to gauge reaction to what seemed like a knockout blow for a team good enough to reach the postseason for the second time in three years. 

    Buster emerged from the off-limits area of the clubhouse knowing the inquisition would land on his doorstep. He clearly had decided precisely what he would say when asked about Cabrera. He distilled it to seven words:

    "Ultimately, it was just a bad decision."

    Understand, during his tenure Buster never said an ill word about anyone no matter how warranted. When posed with a difficult question, he could dance like Ali to avoid making waves. Now, with seven words, he punched like Ali, and we instantly understood that Buster, the unrivaled clubhouse leader, had just vocalized an entire team's disgust with a player who put himself above the team.

    A violation of the 11th Commandment for a player of faith who took the first 10 as the word of God.

    The Giants had met after news of Cabrera's suspension. Who spoke and what they said remain a mystery, but I have to believe Buster rose to challenge the Giants to show Cabrera that they did not need him to win.

    The morning of the suspension, the Giants and Dodgers were even atop the National League West at 64-53. Without Cabrera, they went 30-15 to win the division by eight games over Los Angeles en route to a World Series championship that required wins in six postseason elimination games.

    Posey, who spoke softly on Aug. 15, carried a big stick into those 45 games. He batted .348/.411/.561 en route to a Most Valuable Player award he richly deserved and a batting title that even he would admit was slightly fuzzy.

    Cabrera had accrued enough at-bats before his suspension to earn the title with a .346 average, 10 points higher than Posey's, but Posey was granted the batting championship when Cabrera voluntarily relinquished it -- as if Melky had the power to alter mathematics.

    While that was the quintessential Buster Moment, other memories bubble to the surface in the wake of his retirement.

    -- When Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to cement the San Francisco Giants' first World Series championship in 2010, Buster raced to the mound toward his pitcher the way countless catchers had done before and since. Difference was, he kept turning his head toward the visiting dugout in Texas, smiling, as if to say, "This is for all of us! Get out here!"

    -- A personal reflection: When I missed the final two months of the 2015 season undergoing treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, my fellow writers constantly told me the same thing, that Buster asked how I was doing. I was mostly forgotten within the clubhouse except in one corner, where Buster dressed.

    You can't imagine what that meant to me. 

    When I visited the clubhouse on the penultimate day of the season, mostly to bid my friends in the press a good winter, I sought out only one player -- Buster -- to thank him for keeping me in his thoughts.

    I reiterated that in a text I sent him after he announced his retirement.

    -- Buster is sneaky-funny, usually with an under-the-breath quip, often at the expense of Madison Bumgarner, the ONLY Giant who could get away with calling Buster by his given name, Gerald.

    One day, in spring training 2015, Buster took live batting practice against Bum. it was a big deal because it rarely happened in springs past. When asked about it afterward, Buster said, "Cain throws harder." 

    Lest anyone doubt how funny Buster could be, his performance in the "Mi Amor" Giants ad with Sergio Romo, lives on. 

    Of all the stories I wrote about Buster, my favorite was spring training  2015, after the third title, when I showed him photos of the three championship #BusterHugs with Wilson, Romo and Bumgarner and asked him to recollect his thoughts at those moments.     

    His recollection of the Game 7 Buster Hug with Bumgarner in Kansas City, depicted here in a photo by my talented former colleague Carlos Avila Gonzalez, stood out because it bespoke the relationship between two of the club's greatest, quietest warriors with Alex Gordon standing at third base and the championship on the line:

   The first thing when I see that picture is, I can’t believe Bumgarner just did what he did. What stands out to me is the conversation we had after (Alex) Gordon got on third, and just how calm and confident Bum was. He just said, “I got this. I’m going to get him out.” There was no other thought in his mind. It definitely made me settle in a lot more once he said that.

    So much more could be said, and will be, when the first spring training without Buster arrives, when he appears on the field in uniform for the first time as a special coach, as fans and the media debate his Hall of Fame credentials. (A topic that deserves its own blog.)

    Buster said so very little about himself over the years, I did not expect we would learn much about him we did not already know during his retirement press conference, but I found his Sid Bream anecdote instructive.

    He talked about his grandfather's favorite moment, when Bream sputtered home with the clinching run of the 1992 National League Championship Series for the Atlanta Braves.

    Perhaps out of kindness, Buster did not mention that the throw that Bream outraced came from the hand of the Pirates left fielder, one Barry Bonds. Though Buster and Barry were not teammates, I consider them linked in one way.

    Toward the end of his career, Bonds symbolized an unhappy period in Giants history, four straight losing seasons (three with Bonds) in which the organization placed Bonds' personal home run feat above team goals. 

    Nine months after Bonds' final Giants at-bat, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and John Barr drafted Posey, who, with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, symbolized the rebirth of the Giants as contenders and, frankly, of organizational pride.

    That feeling continued unabated through the rest of Buster's career, which ended after a 107-win season and a division title over the Dodgers.

    Now, the difficult part for fans is wrapping their heads around Buster's permanent departure from the roster. They will grieve, which is understandable, because he enriched their love of baseball and the Giants, and thus, by extension, their lives.

    I tend to look at events like this less melodramatically, perhaps the result of journalistic objectivity, but also knowing that everything in life is cyclical. 

    A time to arrive, a time to go.

    Eight words.

    I should have asked Buster for a way to say it in seven.







Thursday, October 14, 2021

Ever want to get travel advice from a bored former baseball beat writer? Well, blackjack! Here are 21 tips on air travel, hotels, rental cars and ground transport

    It's Wednesday night. There's no ball. I'm bored. And I got into brief Twitter discussion about travel. It's been awhile since I've done anything useful, so I thought I'd attempt to help y'all with some travel tips based on my decades of flying to and from Giants games.

    Yeah, there are a bazillion travel blogs, but a lot of those are written by folks who get access to the best seats and suites because, well, they write travel blogs. I hope to offer some more practical advice now that travel is starting to come back some. I think you'll find this a pretty exhaustive set of tips.

    Another "yeah, yeah, yeah." I mostly flew on an airline on which I had status, which comes in handy for booking, picking seats and especially when things go higgledy-piggledy at the airport. But I also flew on plenty of airlines where I had no status, and I still know a few tricks. I'm also going to limit this to domestic travel because that's what I know best.

    One caveat: Some of these tips might not be as sound now as they were pre-COVID. If you have traveled recently and can describe your experiences -- especially if they contradict my advice -- please do so in the comments section.

    So, some tips, in no particular order, starting with flights (then on to hotels and rental cars, and one piece of advice on ground transportation): 

    1. Don't dismiss the legacy carriers: We've all gotten used to checking Southwest and other discount carriers for the best deals. Southwest also has a lot of fans because of its policy of not charging change fees. Nobody wants to pay hundreds for a flight then a couple hundred more if plans change, which was SOP with legacy airlines.

    COVID changed that. To win back customers they lost during the pandemic, United, America, Delta and Alaska eliminated their change fees for most fare classes on domestic flights, also eliminating the biggest reason not to fly them. 

    It's important to check each airline's policies. For instance, some won't waive change fees for those uber-cheap no-frills fares they added to woo bargain-hunting passengers, and there are time limits for using your travel funds.

    Also, note that legacy airline prices are competitive in some markets. Just remember that cost isn't everything.

    2. Early-morning flights are best: Flight delays daisy-chain during the day. It's common sense. The first flight in the morning is less likely to be delayed because the plane and crew have been in your city since at least the night before. 

    It's not a 100 percent guarantee. Sometimes a previous-night flight arrives so late it can't leave on time the next morning before the crew gets its FAA-mandated rest. This has happened to me, but it's extremely rare.

    3. Check for premium-economy upgrades: Nowadays, if you don't have status on an airline you're probably going to be among the last to board, which means no overhead space, which means checking your bag at the gate, which means it'll probably end up in Cleveland even if you're not going to Cleveland.

    Frequent flyers get to board first and have access to premium seats up front. A lot of those seats used to go unfilled, so airlines began offering them to the public for sale. Sometimes you get more leg room, sometimes you don't, but you always get some form of priority boarding. Before COVID, some upgrades came with free cocktails.

    These upgrades can be surprisingly cheap, depending on the length of the flight, time of day and routing. I've paid as little as $19 for one of these upgrades.

    It sucks that we now have to pay more just to sit up front and board first, but it can be worth it, especially if can snag an exit-row seat with terrific legroom.

    4. Day of the week matters: This might not be as true as it once was, amid COVID, as airlines try to regain lost revenue by limiting flights and packing the ones they sell, but it's always been true that cheaper fares were available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and late Saturdays. Maybe some of you more recently flyers can comment below on your experiences.

    5. Get rolling on Hawaii, now! You don't need any proof of vaccine or recent COVID tests to board a domestic flight now -- except for Hawaii. If you are planning a Hawaii trip soon, you must create an account for each traveler on the Hawaii safe website and answer a boatload of questions. You can also upload your proof of vaccine. 

    You can go if unvaccinated, but you'll have to take a COVID test at a site approved by the state of Hawaii within three days of your trip. With no vaccine or test, you'll have to quarantine for 10 days. And if you're thinking of submitting a phony-baloney vaccine card, think again. 

    I just went through the website application process. It takes time. Don't wait till the last minute. You'll still have to complete an online questionnaire within 24 hours of your flight to get a QR code you will need to show when you arrive on the islands.

    6. Hubs have advantages: Everyone hates flying out of O'Hare, Denver, Houston, Atlanta and Dallas, right? Right.

    But if you fly an airline to and from its hub  -- United at SFO, Delta in Atlanta, American in Dallas, etc ... you get one potential benefit: If a flight gets canceled or faces a long delay you have a better chance of getting on another plane that day because the airline simply has more routing options and seating inventory than its non-hubbed competitors.

    Airlines also have pilots and flight attendants on call in their biggest hub cities if needed, or at least they did before COVID-related staffing shortages. They can be summoned if the original crew gets waylaid in another city to prevent a canceled flight.

    All that said, I love flying out of smaller airports when I can because they have fewer weather and air-traffic delays. My favorite airport in the Bay Area is easily San Jose-Mineta.

    7. Use social media: Like all industries, airlines now employ Twitter agents to talk to customers, and it's often much faster than calling the 800 number. That can be extremely useful in a delay/cancellation to possibly get on another flight.

    Even if you're in the air, you can contact airline customer service on WiFi.

    (Speaking of which, airlines are pretty good about refunds for spotty wifi on planes. They've always taken my word for it. Check the various airline websites.)

    If you're sitting on a tarmac long enough before takeoff (because of weather or mechanical delays) or after landing (because there's no open gate) and think you'll miss a connection, you can also call customer service from your seat if the captain allows it. You might get a jump on the other passengers who will wait to find an agent after deplaning.

    8. Get a credit card: I just got a new card and within three months easily spent enough to qualify for a points bonus worth $1,000 in free travel for any airline or hotel. Plenty of similar offers exist.

    If you mostly fly one particular airline, getting a partnered credit card can get you earlier boarding. It does with United, which also provides one-time passes to their private lounges. Save those when you have a long layover or delay. Those lounges were a life-saver for me.

    This website, while acknowledging that it partners with some of the credit-card companies, has a pretty objective rundown on the value of each. That site also does the math on what the various airline and hotel points are worth dollar-wise compared to the others. It's a pretty good service for free. 


    1. Book early, but keep checking rates: While a particular flight almost never gets cheaper, as the lower-priced fare "buckets" get sold, hotel rooms often do. If you book real early, the hotel usually posts its most expensive rack rate. Over time, hotels sometimes lower prices to boost demand. You can then rebook your reservations.

    I spent a lot of down time in the press box rechecking rates for hotels I already had booked. (You're welcome, Chronicle.) More times than not that paid off, particularly if I was willing to go to a different hotel run by the same chain nearby.

    Caveat: Don't expect prices to drop for popular resorts like Hawaii, especially now that more people are traveling.

    Important note: This applies to rental cars as well. We all know rental-car prices are sky high because the companies have fewer cars amid the pandemic. But I just rechecked my rental reservation in Hawaii and got the same car for $200 less than my original reservation. And I'll keep checking as the trip gets closer.

    2. Caution with third-party booking sites: The Internet has really boosted comparison shopping, with a lot of good aggregators and online travel agencies that attempt to find the best rates. These are names you know, such as Hotwire, Expedia, Kayak and the like. 

    I've used these with no issues most of the time, but I had a couple of experiences where a problem arose with my reservation and the hotel directed me to the third-party booking site. That just adds a layer you might not want to deal with, especially late at night when you arrive.

    If prices are similar, I prefer booking directly with the hotel or chain. It removes that layer, and these sites sometimes offer decent direct-booking discounted rates. 

    3. Call your hotel: I always call the hotel the day before my reservation, first to confirm the reservation, but also to make specific requests.

    Hotels start assigning rooms overnight, so if you want a specific location, such as a higher floor, a quiet area, something close to the pool, etc... it's best to make that request the day before and ask the employee to "put a block" on that room if possible so you won't get moved the next day when front-desk personnel start shifting income guests around.

    Without this step, your shot at getting a desired room decreases with every hour before you show up.

    3a: Definitely call if you're arriving late at night, especially after midnight: You don't want the hotel's night auditor to list you as a no-show. It's a paperwork hassle. And I've actually witnessed travelers arriving late to find their room had been resold. 

    Yes, hotels overbook just like airlines do, and you could, as they say in the trade, "be walked," which means being sent to a different hotel in the area. 

    4. Breakfast? Maybe not: We all love going to the breakfast room at the hotel and using that flip-over waffle machine, right? Well, every hotel I visited during the pandemic closed its breakfast room, instead offering a bag breakfast THAT HAD NO WAFFLES. 

    I've heard tell of breakfast rooms reopening, though, so it pays to ask ahead of time, if that's important to you.

    5. Daily room service? Think again: If you haven't stayed in a hotel during the pandemic, you're in for a surprise. Hotels no longer automatically clean your room daily, a move that initially began amid COVID when we were all afraid of passing germs through our fingers and businesses wanted to keep staff and customer a safe distance apart.

    I have a conspiracy theory that hotels are never going back to daily housekeeping, not for health reasons, but because it's cheaper and folks are getting accustomed to it.

    At the start of the pandemic, hotels I booked had absolutely no housekeeping during your stay. You could call down for clean towels and toss your dirty ones in the hallway. 

    Now, I've found, you can get daily housekeeping, or every other day if you prefer, but you have to ask for it.

    6. What about Airbnb? I have no idea. I don't use them. I know people who swear by it, but I've also had acquaintances who shared horror stories, as recently as last week when a golf buddy arrived to find she had the wrong combination for the front-door lock and the owner was out of the country. 


    1. I like bigger companies: If you're still reading, you've already gathered that a lot of my decision-making rests on the simple question of what happens when something goes wrong.

    With rental-car companies, especially, bigger is better, even if it's also a lot more expensive.

    I've had an "issue" or two with rental cars. There was that one encounter with a cement mixer. (Seriously.) And that time in Ireland when I had to drive on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car, and well, let's just say the car was not returned in the same shape it left the lot.

    That's when I discovered you really do get what you pay for in rental-car customer service. It's a lot easier to reach someone with one of the big companies when you really need to. Hertz, Avis, etc. also have better, quicker ways to get your car faster at the airport, which I'll note in the next item.

    You might not be aware of industry consolidation. But Budget and Avis are owned by the same firm. Same with National, Enterprise and Alamo. So you could get better deals within the same outfit if you comparison-shop.

    2. Join the loyalty programs: Even if you rarely rent a car, it pays to join Hertz #1 Gold, Avis Preferred, National Emerald Club, etc... These accounts allow you to forgo the paperwork or online reservation hassle each time you rent, and bypass the rental counter. 

    Many of the firms followed National's lead in letting loyalty members not only head directly to the lot, but also choose any car within the class they paid for. It's pretty cool.

    Unlike airlines and hotels, you don't need status with the rental companies to enjoy these benefits. Just an ID number.

    Even if you don't want to join, most of the firms have online check-in to save you time and in some cases let you bypass the counter. But, if you're using a no-name discount brand, double-check to make sure you don't need to wait in line. I've cringed at some of those lines.

    3. To buy the CDW, or not to buy the CDW? I swear some firms aren't really in the business of renting cars but selling insurance, which is understandable considering how profitable it is.

    Enterprise has the worst hard-sell. Honest to God, one time in Arizona the Enterprise agent scared my wife so much with tales of the torture and financial repercussions that would befall her if she didn't buy the insurance she was afraid to drive the thing.

    We're talking about the Collision Damage Waiver, which has gotten expensive and in some cases can cost as much per day as the car itself. 

    Should you buy it? Depends.

    The biggest pro is that if anything happens to the car, and you have the CDW, you are 100 percent off the hook. You just drive the battered machine to the lot, fill out some paperwork and off you go. I got, um, acquainted with the procedure during my career. 

    (Our corporate rate included the CDW. Yours might as well.)

    However, many credit cards now include CDW coverage if you use them to pay for the rental. This next part is so important I'm going to resort to ALL CAPS:


    If it's the primary insurer, it will pay all the damage, assuming your claim is accepted. If secondary, you have to go through your own insurance company or pay out of pocket, and the credit card only your regular insurance policy's deductible. Also note the rules might be different with a rental abroad.

    Your own insurance company almost certainly includes rental coverage, but if you use your policy to cover the cost of an accident your rates will rise as if you wrecked your own car.

    If you are one accident away from being uninsurable, you might find the CDW worth the exorbitant cost.

    4. Insist on a car check before you go: You are entitled to drive off the lot with a sheet of paper that describes or shows on a diagram every ding, scratch and nick on the body of the car, so you won't be accused of creating them when you return it. Look for any flaws before you take the car and make sure the person at the exit gate gives you the paperwork.

    5. Never buy the "return gas tank empty" option: It sounds good in theory. Pay in advance for the gas and return it empty. Don't ever have to think about the gas. Tra la la.

    Do you know how hard it is to coordinate your trip in a way that uses every drop of gas in the tank? This is a borderline sham that almost guarantees you will pay for gas you don't use.

    Some rental companies do offer the alternative of filling the tank for you upon return if you agree to it in advance. The price per gallon is fairly competitive, but beware, there's usually a fee tacked on a well.

    Just fill 'er up yourself near the airport if you can.


    1. Consider a taxicab: We've all gotten accustomed to using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft when we arrive at the airport. Paying via app is convenient, the cars are usually more comfortable than cabs and we tend to think of them as a money-saver.

    But remember, Uber and Lyft can raise and lower prices by the minute. Surge pricing can blow the cost way higher than a taxi, whose rate is fixed by law. In Phoenix once during spring training, an unknowing acquaintance paid $80 for a Lyft ride that would have cost $20 in a taxi.

     In most airports and most times, cabs are quicker, too, because they queue just outside baggage claim.

    2. Rent off-airport: The bigger rental firms have locations throughout the town you're visiting. You can save tons renting there because they don't charge high airport taxes and concession fees.

    In Phoenix, I can take a $25 cab ride to the Hertz Local Edition in Scottsdale and save over $100 in fees for a three-day rental. When making the reservation you also can choose to return the car at the airport rental center, usually for no additional charge.

    The biggest drawback of the off-airport rental is the lack of car choice.









Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Ed Asner, "Lou Grant," and my early-career taste of "The Front Page" era of newspaper journalism

     The TV show "Lou Grant" did not push me toward newspapers. By the time it debuted on Sept. 20, 1977, I had just started college pointed in that direction. But you can bet I watched all five seasons, and again in reruns, as I hoped to launch my career.

    The show bore some realism, aside from the literary requirement that two reporters and one photographer do all the important work at a major Los Angeles metro. This wasn't "Love Boat," where a revolving cast of guest stars could grab pen and notebook each week. 

    I can't remember if I wanted to be Joe Rossi or Billie Newman, although I did have a crush on one of them.

    Ed Asner's recent death got me nostalgic for the days I watched him as the editor Lou Grant. The show depicted a newsroom that soon would die, not that anybody knew it at the time. The Internet soon killed classified ads, a newspaper life blood, sending an entire industry down a sinkhole.

Robert Walden and Ed Asner in "Lou Grant."

     At the same time, the Internet ignited a revolution that decentralized news dissemination, which had centered in newsrooms and network studios.

   As a newspaperman, I deeply felt the crumbling of print journalism, although I came to appreciate how change was necessary on so many levels.

    The fictional Los Angeles Tribune newsroom led by Lou Grant mirrored most real ones around the country. It was very white and very male. Now cringeworthy, to be honest.

    Although newspapers and online publications still have miles to go to create staffs that mirror an increasingly diverse population, many are making an effort. Hiring journalists of color and members of the LGBTQ community can only help raise the sagging -- some would say depressed -- level of trust that the public has in the media.

    That said, I am grateful I was able to start my career at the tail end of what I describe as "The Front Page" era, referencing a farcical play about newspaper reporters that was written in the 1920s and subsequently adapted into a variety of movies. Most of you probably remember the Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon version from 1974.

    My first daily-newspaper editor was Lou Grant personified -- not the version from the eponymous drama, but from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

    B.W. was a middle-aged, balding, roly-poly graduate of a major metro newspaper who covered the Mafia then settled into a career at small papers helping young reporters make their way in the craft. Bob was also a cliché.

    He always had a bottle of cheap whiskey in one of his desk drawers and invited reporters into his office for a daytime belt. He said and did other things that would get him fired in half a minute today. While interviewing young women for reporting jobs, B.W. would sometimes emerge from his office, which had glass windows, to comment on their physical appearance.

    B.W. also conducted a lot of business from a barstool at a nearby bar, which also would not go over well in 2021.

    It's easy to look back and see how wrong all this was, but I'd be lying if I denied that working for B.W. was a load of fun for a newbie in his 20s.

    A couple of years later I went to the Oakland Tribune, which had a newsroom stuffed with oak furniture that would have been state-of-the-art in the 1920s. It also maintained old-fashioned wire machines that made a constant clickety-clack noise while spitting out stories on a continuous roll of paper, which copy clerks ripped out of the machine to distribute to editors. When a major story broke, the machine would ding four times.

    Diversity was not an issue at the Tribune, which was owned by a Black man, Robert Maynard, and had a staff of editors and writers that looked more like its community. But it still had its share of old-timers, some crusty, some not.

    I sat aside a reporter named Bill Eaton, a soft-spoken man in his 60s who captivated me with stories about his airplane and flying and always had a supply of grape Bubble Yum that he shared liberally. Bill died of a heart attack ishortly after remarrying, which saddened me immensely.

    Not long after, the Tribune made me a baseball writer. That essentially ended my days of working inside newsrooms. 

   Nostalgia is quite the hallucinogen. It can create euphoric memories while blocking our ability to reason that things can be much better today. It's OK now and then to be Abe Simpson yelling at clouds as long as you don't go on about how much bigger and fluffier the clouds were 50 years ago.

    Ed Asner was a great actor and "Lou Grant" was a great show. And I'm grateful I got a taste of the newsroom life that he and the show depicted before it disappeared into a 21st century that demanded more equality and diverse thoughout.

    Today we have newsrooms real and virtual that pump out copy from a diverse array of people that we could not have foreseen 40 years ago. A lot of it is crap; more of it is very good. 

    I just hope that 40 years hence today's young reporters can say that journalism got a lot better during their career spans, as it did mine, and that the cynical distrust of earnest people who carry pens, notebooks and cameras will have disappeared into the ether as well.


Friday, April 2, 2021

On senior discounts, our screwed-up society and reaching an inevitable nexus

     At a Noah's this morning, the kid behind the counter gave me an unsolicited 10 percent senior discount on my bagel sandwich. The clichéd response would have been indignation, a harrumph and a demand to see the manager.

    Not here. I was like, "Score! That's 60 more cents to toss into my Hair Club for Men fund."

    Bring it on, corporate America. Dear landlord, if you're reading this, how about 10 percent off my rent? Hey, Artichoke Joe's. Gimme $100 in chips for $90. I'm old. I've earned it."

    People tell me I look younger than 60, but the Noah's clerk can be excused. I was unshaven, and had just finished a two-mile power walk and desperately needed to pee. Maybe the last thing that got me the discount. With apologies to Simon and Garfunkle, the senior-citizen theme song could be, "Hello bathroom my old friend."

    I don't feel 60, whatever that's supposed to feel like. I've dropped nearly 20 pounds post-retirement and resumed a regular walking regimen. Fitness seems like a common-sense priority for anyone who alights from the figurative treadmill of the daily work grind, not just to potentially extend life, but to make retirement pursuits more enjoyable.

    Still, turning 60 hit me harder than 50 did, and more mentally than physically. 

    You do the math and realize how much of your life has passed compared to how much remains. The temptation to brood over mortality sometimes overpowers your gratitude and mantra that every year after surviving cancer is a gift. 

    The despair of moving into my seventh decade is really not a function of the ever-louder TICK TICK TICK of life's clock, however. Most of the time I am blessed with the perspective that comes with good health -- physical and financial -- and the zen of  the unrelenting cycle of life and death that comes to all beings, planets and galaxies. 

    We all die. You'd have to have quite an ego to take it personally.

    It took me awhile to divine the true source of the intermittent despair. It has everything to do with my second-favorite topic beyond baseball -- politics.

    We white, straight males have enjoyed a privilege of ignorance, sheltered from the breadth of the racism, misogyny, sexism and anti-gay hatred that still make life miserable for so many Americans. That ended with Barack Obama's ascent to the presidency in 2009, for it smoked out all the creepy-crawlies who felt aggrieved by the maturity this country showed in moving forward.

    By the time Donald Trump befouled 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2017, the state of America had become all too clear. On Jan. 6, 2021, when the nation survived a white-supremacist coup attempt, nobody could deny how backwards we have gone.

    Therein lies the nexus with my impending senior-citizenry.

    I know our society is fucked up. I know it will be repaired. But the realization that I won't live to see it hit me like a Wile E. Coyote anvil to the head. 

    Granted, this is selfish. Working to improve life for the next generation is our sacred duty, right? Designing and laying the foundation for a beautiful building should be just as rewarding as seeing it gleam in the skyline, no?

    But I still wonder how Gaudi felt when he knew he would never see a Sunday service in his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia. Was he OK with that? Saddened?

   The pursuit of instant gratification is ignoble, but difficult to shake just the same.

   We who will not live to see the society we idealize have a recourse. We can get off our butts and do what we can to accelerate the process. Now, in retirement, I hope to find my way there. My initial weapon is social media, saying what's on my mind and hoping I can make at least one person think.

   You can help us, youngsters. Keep feeding us bagels at 10 percent off so we have the energy to help enrich your lives down the road.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Time for my first post-retirement mailbag!

     I miss doing mailbags now that I'm retired from covering the Giants, so I asked my Twitter followers to send me questions about anything not related to the 2021 Giants, whom former colleague Susan Slusser are covering so well.

    I got a lot of questions about my 30 years on the beat, especially food and travel. I answered a bunch, starting with a question from former beat-mate Kerry Crowley.

    Q: @ko_crowley: What's your ideal three-city, National League road trip? On a newspaper budget, which hotels would you stay at and what bars/restaurants would you visit?

    A: On your newspaper's budget? Does Motel 6 have a loyalty program? 

    I kid. I kid.

    I've gotten this question a lot, usually not from overachieving Gen-Zers with bad haircuts, but Kerry's question had no spelling errors so I picked it to bat leadoff.

    I would go with New York, Chicago, San Diego. The first two should be obvious. These are two of the world's great cities, alive with people, great places to eat and drink (back in the days when one could do that) and in Chicago, of course, Wrigley Field. I went there dozens of times, and the awe and mystique of being there never disappeared.

    San Diego is a terrific city and perhaps the only place I'd settle if I chose to leave the Bay Area. The baseball vibe around Petco Park is almost Wrigley-like. The Gaslamp Quarter houses all sorts of food and drink. An abundance of young folks make it vibrant, especially on weekends.

    As for hotels and food/drink:

    New York: Unfortunately, my two favorite haunts (Foley's, Finnerty's) are no more. Trying to pick one bar or restaurant in this city is challenging. If I were there for one night, I'd dine at La Nonna in Little Italy because it offers the menu of now-closed Pellegrino's next door. Amazing Italian cuisine, and Mulberry Street is a trip back in time. I don't have a favorite hotel in New York, but I like staying in Chelsea. Good neighborhood and central.

    Chicago: Lou Malnati's for pizza. You'll thank me. The Lodge is a small bar on Division Street that used to be a big player/coach/writer hangout and still has a unique vibe (and great jukebox) for those who want to escape the thump-thump-thump of the bigger places in on Division. And at least once you have to go to the Billy Goat Tavern, the inspiration for John Belushi's "cheezborger, chips, Pepsi" skit on Saturday Night Live. I like staying in the North River section.

    San Diego: Cafe Sevilla in the Gaslamp is an amazing tapas place with a great wine selection. If you ever meet Kerry, ask him about the time he almost called an ambulance for me there. I like the Hilton Gaslamp hotel, a short walk from the ballpark with a nice, understated Italian place around the corner (Toscana) that has good breakfast and coffee in the morning.

    Q: @alexsensei: Any good stories about the crazy travel schedule for beat writers?

    A: Craziest day was Game 162 in Denver in 1998. The Giants rose that day unsure if they would fly to Atlanta to start the National League Division Series, Chicago or New York for a one-game play-in or home after being eliminated. 

    It came down to the Giants-Rockies, Cubs-Astros and Mets-Braves games because the Giants and Cubs opened the day tied at 89-72 for what then was a lone National League wild card. The Mets were a longer shot at 88-73.

    And we all had to fly that night to get to New York or Chicago, or the day after for Atlanta, and really spent most of the day ignoring the Giants-Rockies games with our heads buried in airline websites.

    Newspapers do not like to pay day-of-flight rates, so we all used every ounce of our sneakiness and knowledge of flaws in airline ticketing conventions to buy flights for every city. (The airlines have long since gotten wise and now use website algorithms to prevent such shenanigans.)

    We lucked out when the Mets fell behind early and it was clear they'd be eliminated, so New York was out. Naturally, though, our game in Denver and Cubs-Astros in Houston were nuts, and with every twist and turn at Coors Field or the Astrodome we'd be yelling, "We're going to Chicago!" "We're going to Atlanta!" "We're going home!"

    When the Giants took a 7-0 lead in the fifth inning it became clear that we were going to Atlanta for the Division Series -- until the Rockies came back for six in the bottom half. The racking of press box nerves intensified as our game moved into the ninth inning at 8-8 and Cubs-Astros spun into extras at 3-3.

    At the very moment Neifi Perez homered off Robb Nen in Denver to beat the Giants 9-8, the Astros scored a run in the 11th off former Giants closer Rod Beck to bet the Cubs, which meant a one-game playoff at Wrigley Field.

    Beck saved that one, and the Giants were eliminated.

    I had much worse travel days, but none as nuts.

    Q: @milesdividendmd: Ted Cruz: Love him or adore him?

    A: He makes me laugh every time I see him because....

    Wait, I thought you asked about Ted Lasso.

    Ted Cruz is a hump.

    Q: @almajir: What do you miss the least about covering baseball?

    A: Zoom group interviews and the lack of personal interaction with players. But since that is temporary, I have a broader answer.

    I won't miss the silly "who tweeted it first?" race that has become a cottage sub-genre of sportswriting. Scoops are now measured in seconds. You'll often see a "so-and-so has signed with the this or that team, I have learned" 30 seconds before the team announces it to everyone.

    When Twitter arrived, we on the beat tried to add a measure of civility to the pregame manager interviews by asking reporters not to tweet news such as injuries and lineup changes until the group session was done, because it seemed rude to make the skipper talk finish his answer while staring at 20 reporters typing into their phones.

    The only time I remember breaking the rule was when Bruce Bochy announced his retirement. We all did. After a while I gave up caring because there was no way to stop this rudeness. 

    Fortunately, my editors at The Chronicle realized good sportswriting was not about who tweeted first, but the follow-up reporting and analysis that added important perspective.

    Q: @seharmon: What do you miss most about being on the beat?

    A: The flip side to the previous question has an easy answer. I miss the press-box camaraderie with fellow scribes and talking ball in the dugout during batting practice with whatever baseball folk happened by.

    In a press box, you laugh more in one night than most people do in a month at other jobs. I never took that for granted. Now, I have to laugh at Kerry's haircuts remotely.

    Q: @kelly7552: Have you ever had an uncomfortable experience as a Jewish sportswriter?

    A: Nah. The pain from the circumcision was gone by the time I covered my first game.

    Seriously, though, no. I can't remember any issue like that.

    Q: @gingerkid1616: Do you think it’s fair that some players who accomplished more in let’s say 5-6 years of their career than most ever do or take 15-20 years to accomplish are not voted into HOF because they didn’t have 10-15 good years due to injury etc...?

    A: I love this question because it underscores how ball writers, like any electorate, travel many routes to arrive at their ballots.

    I probably land in a minority who believe that anyone who impacted the game in a major way regardless of stats should qualify, which is why I voted for Tommy John every year. When you volunteer to be a guinea pig for a radical surgery that would change the game so radically, you deserve a plaque.

    John won 288 games but earned what I view is a silly epithet as a "compiler," whose stats are less valued because he gathered them over such a long career. But Jesus, if you can pitch for 26 seasons bisected by an experimental elbow rebuild now eponymous, they should create a Hall of Fame around you.

     As to the question, Sandy Koufax was elected on the first ballot after six remarkable seasons that followed six that were "meh." So there is a precedent. But nowadays most voters want to see at least 10 years of greatness. Without that they land in the "Hall of Very Good."

    I feel the Hall has room for six great years and 26 steady ones.

    Q: @gillee: Is there an embarrassing @extrabaggs story you are hoping to pay him back with? 

    A: Do I have stories? 


    Can I ever tell them? 


    Andy has something on me that he and I term the "nuclear option," great for blackmail. Why do you think I'm always ripping on Kerry instead?

    OK, I'd probably do that anyway.

    Q: @grobbex2: Bonds vs. Kent dugout fight. Anything you can tell us we don't already know?

    A: After the game, Barry Bonds bolted from the tiny clubhouse at Jack Murphy Stadium as if the place were on fire. But Jeff Kent stood by his locker waiting for us. He was smart. He knew that with Bonds gone he owned the narrative. David Bell, the subject of the fight, wouldn't talk.

    Kent did the writers another huge favor. He refused to talk until the television cameras left. I don't know why he did that, but we hated the TV cameras because the stations often sent them without reporters, so they would collect video based on our questions. They were enjoying the fruits of our work.

    At first they wouldn't leave, and here's the part none of us will forget.

    The Giants had a young media-relations guy named Matt Hodson (now with the Twins), His bosses felt this would be a nice, easy assignment for a newbie to go on his first solo trip. It lasted just three days in San Diego. What could happen?

    Then, of course, the 2000 and 2001 National League Most Valuable Players went at it in the dugout, a fracas shown on TV.

    "Hoddie" became an animal. He started screaming at the TV guys when they wouldn't back away from Kent's locker. "You heard him! Back off!" They tried to sneak video and audio from the other side of the clubhouse, but Hoddie drove them off.

    We learned, of course, that Bonds was actually the "good guy" in the fight protecting Bell from Kent's haranguing over a defensive play on the field.


    @RayHorwath1: Do you prefer the Oh Henry candy bar to a Baby Ruth? 

    Baby Ruth by a mile. I don't like Oh Henrys.

    @margiehmb: When it is all safe again to travel, where's the first place you'll go out of state? Out of country?

    Maui, then Italy. I blame Stanley Tucci for the latter.

    @SamTass: Do you plan on ever taking road trips to attend baseball games now in retirement?

    Yes, maybe even San Diego and Denver in September -- leisure only.

    @be_a_backstop: How many rental bikes/scooters lying on the middle of the sidewalk have you thrown into the bay?

    Moi? That's not ecologically correct. Next mailbag, ask me how many I lifted off the sidewalk or wheelchair curb cuts and tossed them into bushes.

    @gmanderson88: Any substance to the rumor that you are practicing trombone in preparation for joining your high school bandmates on a reunion tour, maybe play another Super Bowl?

    No, I live in an apartment building and some of the neighbors own guns. As for the Super Bowl, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have my contact info.