OBSERVATIONS: Of numb fingers and chattering teeth in Candlestick Park

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave after staying up late to watch the Cincinnati Reds finally expunge a seven-game losing streak in San Francisco. OK, so I dozed through the seventh inning and needed Tommy Pham to slap me awake.

—As most of the nation sweltered at near-record temperatures, I noticed that on Friday night in San Francisco’s Oracle Park, fans were wearing hoodies, sweaters, jackets and ski caps.

It reminded me of a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Turns out he never said it, but whomever did had to be a Giants fan who spent some nights in old Candlestick Park, the world’s largest walk-in freezer.

Before my first trip to Candlestick in 1973, my mentor, Earl Lawson of the Cincinnati Post told me, “Don’t forget a jacket.” What? It was mid-summer on the west coast. Why would I wear a jacket?

I wore a thin short-sleeved shirt and it was the first time I wrote a story with numb fingers and chattering teeth. When I went to my rental car after the game, the windshield was frozen over.

In addition to the cold wind blasts off Candlestick Point, some games were enshrouded in a dense fog and you couldn’t see the outfielders from the press box. And a chilling mist sometimes invaded the place.

The wind blew hot dog wrappers all over the field and the gusts kicked dirt granules into the eyes of the players.

The Giants had a great promotion. If a night game went extra innings, all fans who stayed until the bitterly cold end could turn in their ticket stubs as they left and they would be given a pin called the Croix de Candlestick.

They didn’t give them to writers, but we deserved one because we HAD to stay.

As one San Francisco writer penned, “They built Candlestick next to the water. They should have built it under the water.”

Former outfielder Ken Landreaux said, “I played many games outdoors in Minneapolis, but I was never more cold than during games in Candlestick.”

Then there was the 1989 earthquake during the World Series. I was certain the press box was going to land on the field in bits and pieces. . .but that’s another story. The earthquake destroyed bridges, but Candlestick endured until, gleefully, the wrecker’s ball took the place down after the Giants moved to a new stadium, as did the NFL’s 49ers. I only wish I could have pushed the plunger.

—It was 1985 and famous sports writer George Plimpton wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated reporting that the New York Mets had a pitcher in spring training camp who could throw 168 miles an hour.

His name was Sidd Finch and he grew up in an English orphanage and never played baseball.

The article appeared on April 1. What does that tell you? Yep, “April Fool’s!”

Well, there is a kid at the University of Tennessee named Ben Joyce, and that’s no fictional name. He is for real and his fastball would be considered fictional if not that it was clocked. And it was clocked at 105.5 miles an hour in a game against Auburn last month.
It was the fastest pitch in college baseball history and the 21-year-old right-hander threw 28 fastballs of 103 mph or faster in four shutout innings.

He is a relief pitcher for the Volunteers, so naturally his nickname became ‘The Volunteer Fireman.”

“The coolest part for me was talking to my mom after the game and she actually started crying,” said Joyce. Meanwhile, in the Auburn dugout there were enough tears to fill the Tennessee River.

The only major league pitcher to exceed 105.5 is former Cincinnati pitcher Aroldis Chapman, clocked once at 105.8 and once at 105.7.

—QUOTE: From New York Yankees closer and former Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who liked to drive his Lamborghini at the same speed as his fastball (105-plus): “I want to be the best pitcher in the world.” (That won’t happen with Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander around, but he can claim to have the speediest fastball in the world.)

—Speaking of myths and fiction, this happened on a golf course. . .and there are witnesses.

Andrew Ruthkoski, preparing to qualify for a PGA tour event, shot a 55, 17-under par. And he shot a 25 on the front nine. Twenty-five!!!

The round at the Oak Ridge Golf Club in Muskegon, Mich., began with him chipping in for an eagle on the par-five first hole, then two birdies, two back-to-back eagles and another birdie. And he made a two (eagle) on the 300-yard par-four ninth.

His 55 tied for the lowest score in golf history. Rhein Gibson and Alexander Hughes both did it, but theirs were on par-71 courses. Ruthkoski’s was on the par-72.

—QUOTE: From radio legend Paul Harvey: “Golf is a game in which you yell fore, shoot six, and write down five.” (In Ruthkoski’s case, he wrote down a whole bunch of twos.)

—They are crowing and bursting their buttons in the MLB offices in New York over the success of the pitch clock in Triple-A. Supposedly the clock is knocking off 29 minutes from the average time of game.

A pitcher has 14 seconds to make a pitch after he receives the baseball and 19 seconds with a runner or runners on base. If he doesn’t comply, a ball is called.

Look for a clock dangling from a major league scoreboard near you next season.

But wait a minute. . .or wait 12 seconds. If umpires just enforced the rules, a clock would not be needed. And the rule states the pitcher must deliver in less time than 14 seconds or 19 seconds.

Rule 5.07©: “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating, the umpire shall call a ball. The 12-second timing begins when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher.”

So kill the clock. Just do your job, Blue. Right now, some pitchers delivering a pitch within 12 seconds is laughable. FedEx could deliver some of those pitches quicker.

—From good friend Dave Ross up in Shelby County, God’s country:

In a recent Triple-A game involving Louisville (Reds) and Charlotte (White Sox), Charlotte used the game as a bullpen day. . .a true bullpen day. Charlotte used nine pitchers, one each inning, and beat the Bats, 6-1.

The final pitcher for Charlotte, in the ninth inning, was Brandon Finnegan. Remember him?

In 2015, he was the centerpiece of a trade with Kansas City. The Reds sent pitcher Johnny Cueto to the Royals for pitchers Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed.

The deal was a three-ply bust for the Reds. Finnegan is 29 and trying to scratch his way back, Lamb was last seen pitching in three games in 2018 for the Angels and Reed was last heard from with Tampa Bay last season and is 2-13 with a 5.22 career earned run average.

Cueto? Still pitching in the bigs, currently in the Chicago White sox rotation. Cueto was 20-9 for the 2012 Reds, the last Reds’ 20-game winner, and was 19-9 in 2014.

—In the 1930s, only two umpires worked MLB games, one for balls and strikes and one on the bases. Most were ex-players and had to be handy with their fists. Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb both more than once engaged in fisticuffs with umpires.

Bill Dineen was an American League umpire from 1909 until 1937. Before that he pitched in the majors. He won three games in the first-ever World Series in 1903 and pitched the first shutout in Game Two for the Boston Americans.

In 1904 he was 23-14…and he completed all 37 games he started. He also pitched a no-hitter. As an umpire, he was behind the plate for five no-hitters and he was the home plate umpire for the first All-Star game.

—QUOTE: From long-time umpire Harry Wendelstadt, talking about robot umpires long before it was deemed possible: “If they did get a machine to replace us, the players would bust it to pieces every time it ruled against them. They’d clobber it with a bat.” (And the ones they are using in the minors are encountering accuracy problems, just like Angel Hernandez.)

4 thoughts on “OBSERVATIONS: Of numb fingers and chattering teeth in Candlestick Park”

  1. Was at Oracle Park in 2015 I believe, near the 4th of July – day before Joey Votto messed up his knee. Night game; was so cold there when we got off the airplane… At the park, the wind was blowing so hard that the flags atop the stadium on the 3rd base side were cracking like rifle shots. Had on everything we had with us; left in the 7th as we were totally frozen. Reds lost, too.
    Fast Forward to the next Sunday in SD, beautiful day, sitting in the sun was good; in the shade, an uncomfortable cool breeze chilled us. No wonder all the surfers wear wet suits all the time!

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