I am a San Francisco Giants fan. The Giants play in the National League’s West Division, and are currently in first place in that division, ten games ahead of the Dodgers. There are eleven games left to go in the season. Which means our Magic Number is 2.
Magic Number, in this case, means that any combination of Giants’ wins and Dodger losses adding up to 2 will mathematically eliminate the Dodgers from contention. The Giants play the Padres tonight; the Dodgers are currently playing the Reds. If the Reds win (and they’re ahead) and the Giants win, the race is over. We will have won the division.
You may have noticed several odd things about that previous paragraph. For one thing, I said that “we” will win. But I didn’t play a single inning. The team I root for–the laundry for which I cheer–will have won. But I call them ‘we’ even though I don’t actually know them at all, and if I ran into them at the airport and introduced myself, they’d probably be fairly polite and all, but I would just be some random guy. Apparently the other day the guys were kidding around with Pablo Sandoval, the Kung-fu Panda, because he hadn’t hit a home run in awhile. Madison Bumgarner, who, as a pitcher, isn’t exactly paid to hit home runs, teased Sandoval about how he–Madbum–had hit two this season. And Panda got ticked, and that night golfed an ankle high slider 400 feet down the right field line, then hit three more the next two nights, and it was all jock-friendly ribbing and horseplay, and I only read about it in a blog. I wasn’t there. I don’t play baseball. Except in my dreams. There, I’m awesome.
‘Cause, see, here’s the thing. Two months ago, Melky Cabrera was the Melk Man, and fans were showing up to the park in milk man costumes, and cheering like mad for the guy. Now he’s off the team, in disgrace, having pleaded guilty to steroid use, plus creating a fake website to hide his guilt. We didn’t know him. We just liked our image of him; we liked what we imagined him to be like. Panda’s one of the most popular guys on the team; Panda hats sell like crazy and grown men wear these silly looking things in the stands, with a ‘I like Sandoval, you wanna make something of it?’ glower on their faces. Early this season, Panda was accused of sexual assault. We all assumed he wasn’t guilty, and in fact, charges were dropped. But also maybe we don’t know him all that well after all?
But dang do I like baseball, even knowing liking it is ridiculous. And buy Giants’ hats and pennants and baseballs and bumper stickers. And a Panda hat. I’m a fan; that’s what we do.
Back to Magic Numbers, though; baseball is all about numbers. It’s a long season, 162 games, and winning the division (which we’ll likely do tonight,and certainly will do soon) is both the point of the season and sort of unimportant. Because all it does is qualify you for the playoffs, along with two other division winners and two wild card teams. Then come these brutal short series, two of them, just until you get into the World Series, which is tense and scary all by itself.
And some numbers become iconic. 660. 3283. 2062, 1903. .302. Meaningless, right? Except for Giants’ fans. Those are Willie Mays career statistics: 660 home runs, 3283 hits, 2062 runs scored, 1903 runs batted in. Most great hitters have more RBIs than runs scored; that’s the nature of the game. But Willie Mays was not just a great hitter, he was probably the greatest baserunner of his generation.
This year, we got some new ones. One of my favorites is Angel Pagan: 15. That’s 15 triples this season, the all-time record for a San Francisco Giant. It’s a huge number, honestly; triples are hard and rare, requiring both power and speed. You have to hit the ball a long ways, and run really fast, in other words. Angel’s a wonderful player, and, I’m reliably told by those in my household of the female persuasion, a very good looking man. And the record he broke, most season triples, was previously held by Willie Mays. But it’s not the Giants’ record; just the San Francisco Giants record. The team moved from New York in 1957, and the New York Giants record is–this blows my mind–25. By Laughing Larry Doyle, in 1911. Called that, apparently, without a trace of irony; one of the friendliest and nicest guys in baseball back in those pre-WWI days.
Angel Pagan, after struggling in the Mets’ system for years, had his best season this year, in part because he had his happiest season. He’s talked about it, how much he enjoys this team, this group of guys, this fan base. He would agree with the sentiment once expressed by an Giants’ old-timer, who is famous for the line: “Gee, it’s great to be young and a Giant.” Spoken by none other than Laughing Larry Doyle. Another guy I think I would have liked. In my dreams.