Andrew Baggarly, the Giants beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News, has released his first book, "A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants." It recounts the franchise's first world championship since leaving New York. Baggarly is in his eighth season of covering the Giants. He had previously spent two seasons on the Angels beat and two seasons on the Dodgers beat for the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He is a Baseball Hall of Fame voter and a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. His blog is Extra Baggs and you can follow him on Twitter @extrabaggs.
ThePostGame: Tell me how you came up with the title of the book, "A Band of Misfits," and how you think it helps to explain the story of the 2010 San Francisco Giants season and eventual World Series victory.
Andy Baggarly: Not all of the Giants were misfits, in the sense that they were all players who were claimed off of waivers, like Cody Ross, or released like Pat Burrell. I mean, a lot of the guys fall into that category. Not all of them do. Tim Lincecum is a misfit in a different way. He's a guy who was looked at his whole career, and people wondered how the heck he could sustain throwing the ball as fast as he does. He doesn't fit the scouting profile of what an ace is supposed to look like. Or even Buster Posey. You'd think there is very little "misfit" about him. He's just an absolute Boy Scout, but for a rookie catcher to do what he did, to show the poise, that was pretty uncommon as well. And they were a team that bore no resemblance, lineup-wise, to the group that began the year on opening day. They definitely had sort of a misfit, "Dirty Dozen" element to them, and I think that represents what is in the book pretty well.
TPG: Who do you think would most appreciate this book, new fans of the Giants, or die-hard fans that read your daily blog posts, too?
Baggarly I've gotten some really good feedback from people in all of those camps. The people who have read everything I've written over the last couple years, for them, a lot of the stories are stories that they’ve heard before. But to hear them told in this sort of narrative way that I wrote the book -- from going through the season, but also flashing back, telling you about these players as they sort of step into their spotlight moments -- it's a different way to experience all of these stories, as one narrative story. And people who are new to the Giants, or are more casual fans and didn't follow the coverage all year long, are obviously going to learn a lot of new things about these guys.
And the other thing I really wanted to do was put all of my reporting -- the paper is so ephemeral, in people's recycling bins the next day -- from 2010, and from previous years, too, even going back 10 years when I covered Bengie Molina as a rookie with the Angels, and put them in a format that was a little more permanent. And to hear that people are going to re-read the book every spring training, to remind them of everything that happened, is pretty cool. I knew that Giants fans would like the book simply because it ends with them winning a World Series. I mean, it's pretty hard to mess that up.
But I think it's a book that appeals to baseball fans, even out-of-market baseball fans, just because of the nature of the team and how they won. There's a lot of stories that have a lot of appeal-- a lot of inside the clubhouse stuff. So if you're just interested in what these guys' life were all about, there is a lot there that people will find compelling, even if they aren't Giants fans.
TPG: What's something specific in the book you can give us, that might interest a potential reader, that wasn't previously known or published?
Baggarly: There was a story I wrote several years ago, the year after Tim Lincecum's rookie year. In his rookie season -- no one knew it at the time -- but he missed a team flight to Cincinnati, which never happens, especially for a rookie. And so he had to pay out of his pocket to catch a later flight, and met up with the team. He got in a few hours after the team, so no real harm done. It's just really, really rare for that to happen, especially when you're a rookie. The next day, Barry Bonds called a meeting -- this was in 2007 -- and Bonds, in front of everybody, ripped into Lincecum and just really dressed him down, and enjoyed it as Barry liked to do, pinned the itinerary to his chest, and said, "This isn't leaving your sight." When the team went to St. Louis after that, they made him deliver all the luggage and they only gave him one cart to do it, to deliver the 40 or 50 (bags from) people on the traveling party, and he was doing it until 3–3:30 in the morning. He's never missed a flight since, obviously, but that was a story that told you that this guy was a slacker, and he definitely needed to take his job more seriously.
Even during his Cy Young season, he's so talented that he was able to get by on thinking he could cram for the midterm and ace it the next day. And you just can't function that way no matter how talented you are, and expect to match up against Cliff Lee's and Roy Halladay's and win those kind of games that they needed him to win down the stretch. So in his personal story, there were a lot of stories like that, that sort of tell you about his growth along the way, and that one is probably one of the most illustrative, and very few people took notice of when I wrote it in 2008. And it was a way for me to, sort of, breathe some new life into that. That's probably a good example of something that would be new to you if you only followed things in 2010.
TPG: When did you know you were going to write a book? What was your turnaround time on the book once they won it? And tell me a bit about the process once you knew you were going to write it.
Baggarly: I always copy down my notes and keep everything from every season just in case it turns into that magical season. I'd never covered a playoff team, let alone a team that won the World Series, in 13 years as a beat reporter. So it's kind of interesting that my first playoff team that I covered, they get in, they go all the way. I had all the notes at my disposal, and obviously everything I had written for the blog -- all my game stories, notebooks. And I wasn't going to do a cut-and-paste job. This was something that I really wanted to use all of my material as base material. Some things might be repurposed, but I wasn't going to be lifting whole paragraphs, doing a quickie book. I really wanted to do a lot of weaving here and tell a story about all these guys, and they all came from different places, and years from now, there are all going to end up in different places, but all their lines intersected during 2010, and obviously it became bigger than the sum of their parts.
So I was fortunate that I had all of things at my disposal. It took a long time to organize them, and in terms of the actual writing of the book. It's a little more than 90,000 words and I basically wrote the whole thing in a little less than three weeks. I had to do it in December, after we got the contract signed, and I had to turn in my manuscript December 16 or 17, I think. I was working on it most of the off-season, but the actual writing was something that I had to do very, very quickly. And once the organization got done, the writing came a lot quicker. It was just knowing what elements needed to go where. That was probably the toughest thing to do.
TPG: A review of your book called the 2010 Giants the most unlikely World Series champs of all time. Perhaps you would agree with this, and your title alludes to that. Why or why not? What about the 2004 Red Sox?
Baggarly: I think they are in the sense that the Red Sox came from three games down in the ALCS to win, and that was obviously unprecedented in baseball history at the time. The Giants didn't really have to do that. They never had their backs against the wall, as many times as they tortured their fans. They never played a game where if they lost, they were out. They won the World Series in five, they won the NLCS in six, and that was probably the most against the wall they were. Winning Game 6, to avoid playing Game 7 in Philly, and then even in Atlanta, they were down to their final strike a couple times in Game 3 of that series and they were able to come back and win with a little help from Brooks Conrad, and they avoided an elimination game the next day. So they never had their backs against the wall the way the Red Sox did in 2004. But I think they’re similar in the respect that they almost had to just tune everything out and not hear all of the reasons why the Red Sox had never won, or the curse, or the underdog thing, or whatever. They pretty much just looked around the room and said, "You know what, we like each other, we respect each other. I want to win more for the next guy than I want to win for myself."
And that's chemistry in action, and how it leads to winning. Those teams, from everything I understand about the Red Sox that year, were pretty similar in that regard. Are they the least likely champs of all time? I don't know if you can say that definitively. There are other teams certainly who have won fewer games in the regular season. The Cardinals from a couple years ago. The '88 Dodgers were certainly an unlikely team. But their pitching was so good -- in the whole misfit theme, and the whole underdog theme, people are going to lose sight of the fact that their pitching, especially their bullpen, was really that good to be a World Series winner. So they went out and they achieved it, but they were certainly the team that probably would have been someone's last pick to win the World Series once the postseason began. Whether they were the most unlikely, that's in the eye of the beholder, but they certainly were very unlikely in eyes of most people.
TPG: Just generally, what is life like on the beat covering the team?
Baggarly: It's a very laid back atmosphere, and yet professional at the same time. There are a lot of characters. Brian Wilson -- you can never get a straight answer out of him. A lot of these guys came to the big leagues and I’ve been their beat writer the entire time, whether it is Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum or Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner. So there's a comfort level there, and there are very few people who are difficult to deal with, or who aren't very agreeable personality-wise. So it's definitely a lot different for me, having started on this beat when Barry Bonds was on this team and the clubhouse dynamic was just so completely different. It's a pretty friendly atmosphere and I'm very, very lucky because I've heard about a lot of other teams where people are either afraid to say anything, or they're afraid to be themselves, or people are just short-tempered. It's very rare for people to be very competitive, and have that edge, but not have that edge manifest itself in sort of a hostile way. And the Giants manage to do it. They manage to be themselves and show a lot of personality.
That's one of the reasons that they were so endearing to the Bay Area, why a million people came to the parade. These guys would have been legends as the first team to win a World Series in 53 years in San Francisco regardless of how they did it, but the fact they won it the way they won it. San Francisco is a city that can identify with people who are maybe a little different, so it really was a group that resonated with the city and that part was really cool to experience.
TPG: The Giants have already been involved in two of the bigger national stories on this young season. What is your take on what happened to Bryan Stow down in Los Angeles?
Baggarly: That's obviously a real shame. It's just a sickening feeling to know that someone can come to a Major League Baseball game and just be there to have fun with their friends or family, and not feel safe. The Dodgers, this has been a problem for them for many, many years. If someone really wants to get you, and do harm to you, and they actually have a criminal background, maybe have a couple strikes, they're not going to start something in the stands. They’re going to get you in the parking lot and get away, and that's exactly
what happened. The Dodgers had no security out there.
It looks like some good will come out of it. I think certainly the situation in Dodger Stadium has changed and I know that Bryan Stow is back in the Bay Area now, and responding just a little bit to light and to people. It's going to be a very long road, and I don't know if he’s going to gain any or most of his cognitive function, or be anything close to the person he was before that. It's just a real tragedy. We use that word a lot. We talk about Buster Posey's ankle being a tragedy, but this was a real tragedy because the guy was a paramedic. He made the community better by doing his job and being who he was. And obviously his two little kids, that's the part that really makes your heart break, to think about the kids growing up being deprived of their father. It's a sad situation, but one that hopefully won't happen again.
TPG: And then, the injury to Buster Posey, what are your thoughts on that? Was GM Brian Sabean in the right on what he came out and said? Can the Giants repeat without Posey?
Baggarly: It's a fascinating story, not only because of who Buster Posey is, what he means to the Giants, the fact they are defending World Series champions, it's the fact that they are just so enamored with him and so respect him. Brian Sabean is a baseball lifer. He's been in this game a long, long time. And he doesn't win a World Series ring -- the thing he's been chasing his whole life --- without Buster Posey. This is a guy, Sabean, who drafted a lot of the core that became a dynasty with the New York Yankees: The Jeter's, the Posada's and the Andy Pettitte's of the world. He wasn't around to see them win the World Series. He's so proud of that (2010) ring and what the team has accomplished, and overwhelmed by everything that happened last year, and Buster had a huge hand in him doing that and getting that ring. So to see Posey taken out by a player who may have a very brief big league career is infuriating. The longer you think about it, the more it probably got to him.
There's a lot of misconceptions with the story. Johnny Bench came out the other day and said he was blocking the plate, and if you look at the stills, it's a very quick play. It's very difficult to see -- you have to watch it in real time to have an appreciation for Scott Cousins and the decision he had to make. It was not an easy decision. I think it was a clean play, I think it was a legal play, but it certainly was an unnecessary play in that he did have the plate open. I don't know if he could assume that -- that's a-whole-nother argument -- but the way the Giants see it, Cousins had a choice to go for the plate or not, and he opted not to. I don't think you can fault the kid for playing to the scoreboard, 6–6, 12th inning, but they feel wronged in this whole thing and Buster feels wronged because he wasn't expecting a collision at all.
Now the hope is that he'll be able to resume his career as catcher in 2012, which is not a sure thing. It's just something that flared up so many people in so many ways. Obviously, I'm sure Brian wishes he could take back what he said, especially some of the threatening things about having a long memory. Nobody in baseball rushed to defend him, obviously, so I guess he realized that he was in the wrong. And as for Buster, I don't blame him for not taking Scott Cousins' phone call because, maybe someday he'll find forgiveness in his heart, but if it hasn't reached that yet -- if he hasn't had any time to process it yet -- then there probably isn't a whole lot he can do in taking the phone call and making the guy feel better. That's his right if he feels that way. In terms of whether they can win a World Series without him ... I do think they are going to have to go out and get a catcher. I don't think Eli Whiteside is an everyday player, even though he does know the staff pretty well. As long as their pitching and bullpen remain healthy, they're going to be in every game, and they've won a lot of games that they by no means should have won -- they win 2-1 or 2-0 -- so as long as they can keep up that formula, it's a similar formula to how they won last year.
And as we know, the team may look a lot different in a couple months, just as last year's team did. They absolutely can win it. There’s nobody in their division who is very good. Colorado suffered a huge loss with Jorge De La Rosa. The Dodgers are not very good. The Padres are not very good. The Diamondbacks -- we'll have to see if they can sustain their success. So the West is absolutely winnable. The Giants are in the driver seat now even though they're obviously pretty banged up and pretty wounded.
TPG: What about Barry Zito? What is going on with him, and will he ever live up to that huge contract?
Baggarly: No, he'll never live up to that huge contract. He knows everybody knows that. There's just no way. It would be hard for any pitcher to live up to that contract. It's going to be hard for Cliff Lee to live up to the money he’s making, and he's obviously a pitcher much closer to the top of his game. Zito is just trying to be a functional major league pitcher, no matter what he gets paid. The paychecks are what they are, they aren't going to change. And right now, the big issue is that Ryan Vogelsong has pitched so well and really been one of the great comeback stories in recent baseball history. And if he gets to the All-Star Game -- I kind of hope he does because then people will realize what a terrific story Ryan Vogelsong has been -- but because he's pitched so well, and everybody is healthy, there is no place to put Zito.
He's on minor league rehab now. They're probably going to bring him back at the end of this month. They have a doubleheader at Wrigley Field on June 28, and then obviously they play six games in five days, so at some point during that span, they’re going to need another pitcher, and I'd imagine that will be Zito. He doesn't have a lot of experience pitching in relief, he’s willing to pitch in relief, but then again, they don’t have a lot of guys with options -- I can't think of anybody with options -- in the bullpen. They do have a roster crunch. Maybe they bring Zito up and go with 13 pitchers for a while. I'm not sure what they're going to do. But for now, Zito is probably keeping the best attitude you could hope. He's not feeling a sense of entitlement, and he realizes he needs to win back his job, regardless of how much he’s being paid. This is a chance for him not just to get his foot healthy, which it is, but to sharpen up his weapons and really think of throwing in some new wrinkles and get some confidence that he can take some new things that could allow him to get big-league hitters out, because obviously it wasn’t looking very good. He's got some reinventing to do, no question, and I think he realizes that.
TPG: What can you say about the job Bruce Bochy did with the team last year?
Baggarly: People in the Bay Area tend to be pretty well read and pretty well educated. Bochy is someone, I would imagine, not a lot of people had a lot of respect for him and his intellect. He does sound like a bit of a dullard in some of his soundbites. He's not much of a charmer. He's not going to kill you with his soundbites, but he knows baseball. He knows, more than anything, how it takes an entire team to contribute over a long season. You can't really give up on guys as fast as your average fan might want you to. And that's why Edgar Renteria stayed a Giant. He looked absolutely done, and it turned out he won the World Series MVP. That’s one thing that Bochy did during the regular season. It was madding to fans at the time, the amount of patience he would show. You got a glimpse of it when Don Mattingly doubling back to the mound in Los Angeles, that he knew the rulebook up and down, and he helped them win that game that day.
And in the postseason, every move he made was brilliant and worked out tremendously. Even Game 6 in Philadelphia, using three-quarters of his playoff rotation in one game. That was not an elimination game. I mean, that took some real stones to do that and it was the right thing to do. He drew the line in the sand right then and there. I think that there is a huge appreciation for Bruce Bochy now. There's some times, especially when playing Miguel Tejada that the fans are not very happy, or the time that he doesn't sacrifice the player, when the situation might call for it, but he certainly has earned the respect of Giants fans and appreciation of the Giants fans, and he has a lot more currency now than he ever did before.
TPG: What has been the reception of the book thus far, and anything else you'd like to share about it?
Baggarly: If there is anything that surprised me, it's that a lot of people have told me that there are a lot of parts in the book that made them sort of choke up, or shed some tears, and a lot of other parts that made them laugh out loud. And that was great. That’s really beyond anything I was hoping for. People really connected with these players, so to hear those stories retold or told again, or hear new stories about them, that's obviously going to resonate with Giants fans. I would just say, I hope people pick it up whether you're a
Giants fan or not, and just want to hear a story about how a team came together, probably in a way that no team ever has come together, and that a lot of them didn't being the year in Scottsdale. They didn't being the year on opening day or in the roles that they were in. There are so many different individual stories. If there was ever going to be a World Series book worth reading, I would hope it would be about the 2010 Giants.