Carbon copy Giants can't get complacent

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Carbon copy Giants can't get complacent

One of the things that has always motivated baseball teams when they go to the winter meetings is, “When can I get the hell out of here?”

In other words, urgency is high early to accomplish the things on the bucket list, so that by mid-week they can be at the airport. I mean, Nashville’s a nice town and all, but for as much as baseball people see of it, it might as well be Cedar Rapids.

So it is that the Giants had a great winter meetings. They got their two wish-list items fulfilled – Angel Anthony Pagan and Marcos (yeah, with a –s) Scutaro – and so their work is done.

[RELATED: Giants bring back Pagan | Scutaro signs for three years]

Plus, they did it while Brian Sabean was home miserable with what the team described as a respiratory problem. It’s probably that bastard flu that’s been going around, but far be it from us to pretend to be a doctor to a patient we haven’t seen.

Now turn your head and cough.

Sorry. Got lost for a moment there.

What they did was fill the holes they could fill. What they didn’t do, though, is make many changes in the team that sprinted best to the finish line in 2012, and therein lies the burning question, “Is this team too much like the last team?”

This was a problem in 2011, when several members of the All-Parade team didn’t stop celebrating when the streets were cleared. While most folks believe that Buster Posey being knocked into fresh angles was the thing that undid the season, the Giants turned out to be substandard at almost every everyday position, in part because their offense became a lethargic, out-of-shape mess.

There is no metric for it, trust us, but self-satisfaction in several places manifested itself as poorer numbers, with the result being a team so offensively deficient that it was a testament to Bruce Bochy’s skill that he could choke 86 wins out of it.

Sabean swore he would not do that again if he could help it, but the 2013 team looks remarkably like the one that finished 2012, and no, we don’t have any delightful alternatives to that result. We merely point out that the 2013 Giants start out as the 2012 Giants, and this was something the organ-eye-zation had hoped to avoid. But let's compare:

 2012  POS. 2013
 Buster Posey  C  Posey
 Brandon Belt  1B  Belt
 Marco Scutaro  2B  Scutaro
 Brandon Crawford  SS  Crawford
Pablo Sandoval  3B  Sandoval
 Gregor Blanco  LF  Blanco
 Angel Pagan  CF  Pagan
 Hunter Pence  RF  Pence

 

Oh, and the rotation will be the same, too. Maybe in a slightly different order, but the same five gentlemen will take the ball.

If there is still some tweakage to come, it will be subtle, maybe even imperceptible. Maybe they bring Brian Wilson back at a reduced salary and restore him to the closer’s role (why else would you bother?), and maybe they trim the branches on the low end of the bullpen tree.

And there is the matter of depth, which is always going to be an issue. Hector Sanchez and Joaquin Arias, sure, but Blanco will probably need a co-equal in left, and a power-hitting pinch-hitter who has not yet manifested himself would be a nice touch.

But for the most part, those Giants are these Giants. Rosters are not set in stone, and we have seen how midseason course corrections have helped them win two World Series, so this isn’t a crisis.

The lesson that needs to be imparted, repeated and hammered home to any and all is that 2011 happened because such a chunk of the roster was so happy and secure after 2010. The urgency that helps create great teams had gone, and even had Posey not been freight-trained in May, this was too flawed a team in too many places to make the playoffs again. They got, ultimately, what they deserved.

Thus, the Giants will have to be particularly vigilant this winter for signs of sloth, because those who enjoyed the fruits of victory are the same ones they will see come February. If this wants to be one of those teams with dynastic aspirations, it cannot lose a sixth of its offense as it did in 2011, and it cannot keep the party going forever. Winning requires many numbers, but it also demands a keen edge that the 2010 and 2012 teams developed and that the 2011 team never achieved.

And the first test of the 2013 Giants has begun – how to remember the day when 2012 ended, and not try to recreate it in all the ways that turned 2011 into a such a slovenly mess.

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

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Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
 
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
 
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
 
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
 
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
 
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
 
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
 
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
 
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
 
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
 
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
 
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.