Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect starting date for K-Zone. It launched on July 1, 2001.
PHOENIX — They are the old guys who symbolized the San Francisco Giants’ glorious past.
They were going to get their tributes and celebrated sendoffs, fans could cheer them for one last time — but then would be tossed aside at the end of the season, ushering in a new era of Giants baseball.
Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, it turns out, had different ideas.
Posey, 34, is having the best start of his career and was voted as the National League’s starting catcher for the All-Star Game.
Crawford, just two months older, has also had a great first half with 17 home runs and an .865 OPS — just four homers shy of his career-high. He likely will be joining Posey in Denver, and perhaps even face brother-in-law Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees in the Midsummer Classic.
Together, these two have helped make the Giants the biggest surprise in baseball’s first half, with a 51-30 record, the best record in baseball through Friday and one of the best starts in franchise history.
“It’s always nice to prove people wrong,” Crawford tells USA TODAY Sports. “I thought we were going to surprise teams, but I don’t know if I had us winning the most games in baseball.”
Posey, who sat out the 2020 COVID-19 shortened season to be with his family after adopting twin girls who were prematurely born, also is having quite the resurgence. He is hitting .327 with 12 homers and a .417 on-base percentage and .548 slugging percentage. He is only the fourth catcher in NL history to be voted at least five times to the All-Star Game, joining Hall of Famers Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter.
“Thinking back earlier in my career, if I would have been told that I would be starting an All-Star Game at age 34,” Posey said, “I would be pretty happy about that.”
If the Giants front office and coaching staff were told before the season that Crawford and Posey would be having a renaissance, and they’d be sitting atop the NL West, well, they’d be pretty elated too.
The Giants would have been able to shut down all of the speculation this would be Posey and Crawford’s final year with the club. Crawford is eligible for free agency and Posey has a one-year, $22 million club option with a $3 million buyout.
Instead, they are have their own new marketing slogan for the game: “Let the old guys play”
“I try not to think of myself as an old guy,” Crawford says, laughing. “I think it makes my body hurt more than it already does.”
They’re proving that age is just a number, and the Giants will tell you they are playing as well as they have at any point in their career, with Crawford’s defense and range as stellar as his offensive production, and Posey showing he still hasn’t lost a thing on a possible path to Cooperstown.
“It’s good for the game when older players play well,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler says. “They bring so much more to the table than what they’re doing on the field. Sometimes intangibles are hard to quantify, but when you see them talking to guys in the clubhouse, and the younger players are able to see how you go about business, how you handle failure, how you handle success, the winning streaks and losing streaks, all of those things are really important to the team.
“They have a lot of pride, and both feel like they have a lot of years left to accomplish great things in the game.”
Kapler will forever be indebted for how Posey and Crawford listened, and eventually embraced his new staff’s ideas and philosophies. He had been fired after just two seasons in Philadelphia and came in replacing a manager, Bruce Bochy, who led the Giants to three World Series titles and is ticketed for the Hall of Fame.
They could have shut him down. They could have flashed their World Series rings. They could have shown their glossy resumes.
“When you come to a new organization and you’re meeting veteran players who have won multiple World Series titles,” Kapler said, “it’s hard not to have the impression that they might be dedicated to doing things the same way that helped them win those titles.”
They instead welcomed Kapler and his staff, showed a willingness to listen to their new approach, and now are crediting them for helping them regain their greatness.
“The staff deserves a lot of credit,” says Posey, the only remaining player from all three World Series teams. “They’re extremely prepared every day. And our hitting coaches, it’s not a one-size-fits-all program, but they’re able to mesh that philosophy with the overall approach to each game.”
Says Crawford, who raves about hitting coaches Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind: “I told them whatever you have for me, I’ll try it. They just bought in some new ideas, and you’re seeing the results.”
Crawford dramatically altered his hitting stance, moving his hands away from his body, and simplifying his swing with a direct plane to the ball, has never shown this much power. He is barreling the ball 16.9% of the time compared to 4.4% just two years ago, ranks among the top 10 in the National League in homers (17), RBI (52), slugging percentage (.537) and OPS (.885).
“He’s always gotten more out of his batting average than a lot of players do,” Giants third base coach Ron Wotus says. “He’s always come up with the big hit. He’s always driven in the big runs. This is probably the most consistent that he’s been doing it.
“He’s healthy, and it’s a contract year, too.”
Crawford, who has played more games than any shortstop in franchise history, heard all the rumors like everyone else. The Giants, with plenty of money coming off the books, were expected to be among the top contenders to sign Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa or Javy Baez to be their next shortstop.
Well, their shortstop may already be in place, with Crawford staying put until prized prospect Marco Luciano is ready in a few years.
“I’m not thinking about upcoming free agency or anything like that,” says Crawford, who could be in line for his fourth Gold Glove award. “I’m just trying to win games like everyone else, and not worry what the media or anyone else is thinking. Really, I’ve been doing that even going back to the draft and slipping a few rounds (fourth round in 2008), trying to prove that I’m better than the experts or anyone else thinks I’ll be.”
Posey simply is showing that retirement is years away. He has started 52 games, usually getting a day off after two consecutive games, but when he plays, he still has the same lethal bat. His .327 batting average is 92 points above the league average, his .965 OPS is the highest of his career, and his 12 homers already equal the combined total since 2017.
“I’m just feeling consistent for the most part and letting things fall where they may,” Posey says. “I’m having fun. We all felt we had a good team with all of the pieces we added and the pieces coming back. I don’t know if we thought we’d be in this position halfway through the season, but we’re in a good spot.”
The way Posey and Crawford are performing, and the way the Giants are playing, who knows, the band may be around a little longer than anyone thought.
“There’s a lot of motivation in proving people wrong,” says Wotus, who’s in his 34th year with the Giants. “Any player that has a down year, people always say, ‘Oh, they’re done.’ Well, it’s human nature to say, ‘I’ll show you.’
“And they’re sure showing everyone, aren’t they?”
Story of a superteam?
The Colorado Rockies are telling teams that they won’t trade prized shortstop Trevor Story until after the All-Star break, but as they field calls from teams, there has been one major surprise suitor:
The Chicago White Sox, who already have a fabulous shortstop in Tim Anderson, have serious interest in Story.
The way the White Sox see it, they could shift Story to second base for the rest of the season, believing he would have no trouble handing the position, despite never having played in in the big leagues.
Even though it would be only a two-month rental, the deal would be costly. Story is earning $17.5 million this year, and the Rockies likely will be seeking at least one of the White Sox’s top five prospects.
Yet, the White Sox believe there’s a clear path to the World Series and Story would be a huge bat in the middle of the lineup.
Chicago was looking to acquire infielder Eduardo Escobar from the Arizona Diamondbacks until he injured his quadriceps two weeks ago and and has been running gingerly since.
The White Sox, who built a six-game lead in the AL Central, can afford to be patient. They can wait to see Story’s price tag and what the Pittsburgh Pirates will demand for All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier, knowing they can turn back to Escobar.
It was 20 years ago on Sunday Night Baseball when ESPN introduced the K-Zone, forever changing the way we view games.
Now, we can see the precise location the pitch is thrown, whether the umpire missed the call, and whether the hitter or manager really has a valid complaint.
It was launched on July 1, 2001 in the Sunday Night game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves — two years after the 1st-and-10 down virtual yellow markers in the NFL — with ESPN senior coordinating producer Phil Orlins introducing it to broadcasters Jon Miller and the late Joe Morgan.
“There was a curiosity on what we can do to augment reality with the virtual reality graphic,” Orlins said. “It was how does the first-and-10 line apply to that type of technology and other sports. The strike zone was somewhat of a logical place to go, but it was more challenging, more difficult and less precise.
“The idea of the strike zone was never as clear-cut and concise as a first down-line. The strike zone is extended in the air, not stuck on the ground.”
The K-Zone was used only sporadically at the beginning, for about 30 or 40 replays a game. ESPN didn’t fully trust that every pitch was accurate, but knew it was would enhance their broadcasts. Yet, while the umpires initially hated it, MLB embraced it, encouraging ESPN to use it, believing it was an important step for the sport.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the K-Zone was used on every pitch televised on ESPN games, and just about every broadcast league-wide utilizes the overlay.
And one day, perhaps in the next few years, an official automated strike zone will be the final form of K-Zone.
“I think we’re headed into the world that you can see anything that happens in the game,” Orlins said. “You’ll be able to recreate anything at any point of any game from a three-dimensional point of view. You’ll be able to see where the ball hits the bat, how the ball looks from every possible position, plays from every possible angle, everything.”
It’ll be a whole new experience, just as it was 20 years ago with the introduction of K-Zone, and wondering how we ever watched a ballgame without it.
The All-Star Game is going to feature the greatest players in all of the world, but there’s one man who will be the epicenter of attention.
You will be able to watch Shohei Ohtani in the Home Run Derby. You will watch him hit as the American League’s starting DH.
And, you will likely see him pitch, too, with Angels manager Joe Maddon leading the charge.
“It is very good for the game,” Maddon said. “The maximum participation of Shohei — within limits — is the right thing to do. That means hitting and pitching. He’s already hitting in the Home Run Derby. What else could you possibly want?”
Really, as Ohtani has proven all season, he can do everything, leading baseball with 30 homers, stealing 12 bases, while going 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 starts on the mound.
“When you watch Barry Bonds,” Maddon says, “it was a lot like this. When you watch Ken Griffey Jr., it was a lot like this on offense. … He fits in extremely well with these Hall of Fame caliber players.”
Oh, and wait until you see him in the derby at Coors Field.
“To see him in Colorado with those balls they use in the derby,” teammate Mike Trout says, “it’s going to be must-see TV. I can’t imagine. The balls they use for the derby, he might leave the stadium.
“You’ve seen him the last few weeks, he’s unconscious at the plate. Anything he hits is over the fence.”
How times have changed …
It was in 1961, the year Roger Maris broke the home-run record, when Gwen Goldman, a 10-year-old girl, wrote a letter to Yankees GM Roy Jamey asking if she could be a Yankees’ bat girl. He wrote back saying that “in a game dominated by men, a young lady such as yourself would feel out of place in a dugout.”
Well, 60 years later, Goldman got her wish, and was an honorary batgirl as part of the Yankees’ HOPE Week initiative.
It brought back memories to former Padres executive Andy Strasberg, who wrote the book, “My 1961,” chronicling Maris’ magical season as a 13-year-old fan, with the two later becoming best of friends.
Strasburg also applied to become a Yankee batboy that summer, and the winner was 15-year-old Theo Cornelius.
“Then it was announced that when the judges asked for Theo’s measurements,” Strasberg wrote, “they found out that Theo was a girl and disqualified her. So the winner of the contest became a loser.”
Around the basepaths …
– The Minnesota Twins could be the epicenter of trade deadline talk in the coming weeks. Jose Berrios may be the top starter available on the market, Nelson Cruz could be the best slugger, and closer Taylor Rogers could be a key for any bullpen.
– The Mets are looking for infield help, particularly at third base, and recently sent out scouts to watch a familiar face: Asdrubal Cabrera of the Diamondbacks, who spent parts of three years with the Mets.
– The best trade of the season so far? Easy: the Brewers acquisition of Willy Adames of the Tampa Bay Rays. Adames was hitting .197 with five homers, 15 RBI and a .625 OPS when the Brewers acquired him along with pitcher Trevor Richards for relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.
He has since hit .292 with eight homers and 29 RBI in nearly the same amount of games for the Brewers with a .916 OPS. And the Brewers are 29-10 since his arrival, opening a 7 ½-game lead in the NL Central.
– What will be the biggest pickup of the second half? Easy. Ace Chris Sale, who has been out for the last 1 ½ years, is scheduled to rejoin the Red Sox by early August.
– The Rockies won’t stop teams from calling, but with German Marquez still under club control through 2024, teams would have to completely overwhelm the Rockies for them to even consider moving their ace. Jon Gray, who’s a free agent after the season, is a different story.
– The late George Steinbrenner changed managers 11 times in his first 12 seasons as the Yankees’ owner. His son, Hal Steinbrenner, has changed managers only once in his 11 ½ years. Aaron Boone isn’t going anywhere now, but if they miss the playoffs, there could be a second managerial change.
– Coolest All-Star Stat: Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker are the first two Reds’ outfielders to be voted to the starting lineup since Frank Robinson and Gus Bell in 1956.
– Yes, that announced crowd of 4,320 for the Texas Rangers-Oakland Athletics game in Oakland was real. It was the team’s smallest crowd in 34 years with full capacity.
– Congratulations to Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel, who celebrated his 50th year covering baseball on July 3 for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
– The Mariners aren’t going to make the playoffs, but stunning to see that they are above .500 despite AL Rookie of the Year outfielder Kyle Leiws missing 45 games with knee surgery, ace Marco Gonzlaez missing all of May with a strained forearm, and former ace James Paxton undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery after one start.
– Remember when the Rays let catcher Mike Zunino go last winter, declining his $4.5 million option? Zunino came back on a $2 million deal. Well, here he is, second among all catchers with 18 homers, with a chance to make the All-Star team. “I wouldn’t have dreamed about it,” Zunino said, “in a million years.”
– Excuse me, didn’t you used to be Aroldis Chapman? The Yankees closer gave up just one run in his first 23 appearances this season, converting 12 of 13 saves with a 0.39 ERA, striking out 42 and walking 11 batters. In his last nine appearances, he is yielding a 17.47 ERA in 5 ⅔ innings, giving up five home runs with six strikeouts and eight walks.
– Adam Frazier is the first Pirates second baseman to start an All-Star Game since Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski. The coolest part? Frazier was scouted and signed by Mazeroski’s son, Darren.
– A glimpse of hope? The Tigers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but for the first time since 2016, they had two consecutive months with a winning record, going 14-13 in May and June.
– No one is confusing Kyle Schwarber with Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, but his stats as a leadoff hitter in June were mind-blogging. He hit 16 homers with a .986 slugging percentage and a 1.384 OPS as the leadoff hitter. Rickey Henderson, according to Jayson Stark of the Athletic, never hit more than five homers in a month.
_ Phillies Brandon Kintzler on pitchers complaining about the ban of illegal substances, via the Philadelphia Enquirer: “The excuses I hear are amazing. I think it’s ridiculous. We grew up throwing without that stuff and now all of a sudden everyone is dying without it. I think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I think it’s great. Everyone who thought they were good, they’re not so good anymore.”
– It wasn’t like he realistically considered it, but shortstop Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros can genuinely laugh at the five-year, $125 million offer the Astros offered him. The dude may get at least $200 million more with the way he’s performing.
The Astros have $57 million coming off the books with the expiring contracts for Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, so we’ll see how much they increase their offer.
– Phillies starter Zack Wheeler has five starts this year in which he has pitched at least seven innings without giving up a run. No other pitcher has more than three.
– The Dodgers are filthy rich in catching depth with one scout who recently saw Diego Cartaya in the California League calling him the next Salvador Perez.
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