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October 29, 2010
On the Beat
Reveling in the Moment
SAN FRANCISCO—Aubrey Huff waited a long time to finally get to the postseason. He played 11 seasons and in 1,479 games before the Giants clinched the National League West title on the final day of the regular season.
Huff is certainly enjoying every minute of the Giants' run to the World Series. He has become somewhat of a cult hero for the lucky thong he wears under his uniform pants and he has relished the media attention that eluded him for a decade playing with the Devil Rays, Astros, Orioles, and Tigers. The closest Huff had ever come to celebrity before was through some unruly radio appearances with Tampa shock jock Bubba The Love Sponge.
However, Huff admits that playing on this stage has been different. He never felt as much adrenaline as he did during Game Six of the National League Championship Series when the Giants finished off the Phillies for their first pennant in eight years.
"It's been a little bit more than I thought it would be, actually," Huff said Thursday before Game Two of the World Series at AT&T Park. "I've always been the kind of guy that plays this game kind of loose and not a whole lot of nerves, but I've got to tell you, there have been some nerves."
Huff is a major reason why the Giants got to the postseason. The first baseman led the team with a .316 True Average, a career high, along with a 6.1 WARP. That's a pretty big bounce-back season for a 33-year-old coming off the worst year of his career in 2009 when he had -1.9 WARP with the Orioles and Tigers.
The bad season resulted in a big pay cut, as Huff signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Giants as a free agent in January after earning $8 million a year ago. However, Huff was unsure about getting any offers when he hit the open market.
"It seems like baseball is trying to root the older players out," Huff said. "When I packed up and went home for the winter last year, I was fully prepared for the possibility that I might have played my last game. I wanted to keep playing but I knew it might not be my choice."
Huff got the opportunity to keep playing and ran to the World Series with it. Making his first Fall Classic even more special is that the Giants are playing the Rangers, the team Huff rooted for while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. The first major-league game Huff attended was at old Arlington Stadium.
"I barely remember it. I remember you could stomp on that stadium in the outfield and hear the whole thing shaking," Huff said. "I thought that was the most beautiful park I had ever seen in my life. I was at the final game at the old park, when they moved the plate over to the new one, and watched that whole ceremony. I just remember Dollar Hot Dog Night when I was a kid, 12, 14 years old, just up there in the upper deck eating dollar hot dogs all day."
Huff will get the chance to play in his home territory Saturday when the Series shifts to Arlington for Game Three at Rangers Ballpark. He admits it will feel strange playing a big baseball game in October in a place where football is king, queen, prince, and princess.
"I know it's all Cowboys all the time, but they seem to be out of it right now, so I'm sure all the folks are just turning to the Rangers," Huff said. "I'm sure they've got a lot of diehard fans there, though. I know my grandparents were. They've passed, and they got me into baseball, really, by listening to Rangers games on the radio or watching TV when my mom worked late at night."
The major leagues have been playing under two different sets of rules for nearly 40 years with the National League continuing to have pitchers bat while the American League began using the designated hitter in 1972. In the World Series, the rule of the home team's league applies.
The debate continues as to whether Major League Baseball should once and for all decide to either use the DH in all games or strike the position from the rulebook. Rangers club president and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan thinks the DH should be dumped.
"I'd like to see it standardized," Ryan said. "I do it out of the fact that you manage the game differently when you have a starting pitcher that hits. It's not fair for a National League team to come into an American League park. And we have a person that we've gone out and got for strictly that position as a DH, and the Giants don't have that because they play a different game."
The lack of a DH hurt the Rangers in Game One as manager Ron Washington decided to play Vladimir Guerrero in right field; the veteran made two of his team's four errors in an 11-7 loss. Guerrero appeared in the outfield in just 18 of his 152 games during the regular season.
Washington said after Game One that Guerrero would be back in right field in Game Two. Instead, Washington benched him on Thursday night, starting David Murphy in left field and moving Nelson Cruz from left to right field.
The Giants made one coaching staff change at the end of last season, firing hitting coach Carney Lansford and replacing him with Triple-A Fresno hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens. The move was understandable, as the Giants scored just 4.06 runs a game in 2009, ranking 13th in the National League and 26th in the major leagues. The biggest sticking point for Giants' management was that the hitters were last in the majors in walks.
Changing hitting coaches has worked. While the Giants didn't make dramatic offensive improvement this year, they raised their runs score a game to 4.30, jumping to ninth in the NL and 17th in the majors. The Giants also rose to 21st in the majors in walks by bumping their total from 392 to 487.
The knock on Lansford, who was hired by the Rockies to replace Don Baylor as hitting coach earlier this month, was that he tended to give up on players quickly. Meulens has a more patient approach.
"Bam-Bam has got a great way about working with all the players and keeping them positive and believing, and I think he's done a great job," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He doesn't let these guys get down, and that's probably as important a part of his job as anything is to get them to believe, and he has them believing."
One of the more interesting aspects of the Giants getting to the World Series is that they have done so without anyone having an outstanding season. Huff will likely appear on some NL Most Valuable Player ballots but has no shot at winning the award, and it is highly doubtful that Tim Lincecum will three-peat as the Cy Young winner.
So how have the Giants gotten this far? General manager Brian Sabean provides the explanation: "I think it's kind of a lesson in baseball 101, in some cases humility, in that A, we don't have a superstar and B, we really don't have a team of stars and C, we've got enough talent, whether young or old or experienced with people who have won the World Series, and also depth. It's truly a team that knows that on each given day they've each got to do their job and somebody will step up and help us win a game. For that very reason the fans are endeared by it."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Sandy Alderson, who will be introduced as the Mets' GM this afternoon, is going back to his Oakland roots to build a front-office staff as he is expected to hire Paul DePodesta to oversee the analytical department and J.P. Ricciardi to head up player personnel. Among those expected to get interviews for the manager's job are Mets scout and former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, Royals bench coach and former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, and former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. That Gibbons decided to remove himself from consideration for the manager vacancy with the Pirates is seen as evidence that he is potentially a strong candidate with the Mets. … ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine has emerged as the favorite to become the Brewers' next manager, though Melvin, White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, and Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke are also in the running. … The Pirates' managerial search has been at a standstill since Gibbons dropped out, and there is a growing feeling they may stay in-house and promote bench coach Jeff Banister. … The Marlins' managerial search is becoming harder and harder to read, but some insist they will likely retain Edwin Rodriguez, who finished out this season as the interim skipper, on a one-year contract. … The Cubs have interest in signing Kerry Wood as a free agent. GM Jim Hendry has often referred to his relationship with the right-hander as "big brother/little brother." … The Reds are leaning toward making backup Ryan Hanigan their starting catcher and not re-signing Ramon Hernandez. … The Athletics have interest in hiring Dave Eiland, who was just fired by the Yankees, as their pitching coach.