On a day that the Giants honored Ryan Vogelsong, they won. He soaked up the cheers, acknowledged the crowd, and the crowd gave him cheers to soak up and acknowledged him back. Then they went out and played like a team that wasn’t dead inside. That’s probably a coincidence, but I’d like to think it wasn’t. Remembering that Vogelsong existed is a nifty batch of smelling salts.
By now, you’ve probably read this article, in which a misguided fellow spent 142 words explaining that the Giants were silly to honor Vogelsong. It’s the kind of article that exists when a site’s niche is, “Dumb person did dumb thing, and we’re here to point and laugh at them for being dumb,” and if that’s Deadspin’s niche, at least they do it really, really well. But talking to even one Giants fan would have made the article unnecessary. The kicker of ...
I remember Eli Whiteside. Maybe the Giants can retire his number.
... would have been promptly peed on. No, Vogelsong isn’t the equivalent of a random backup catcher to Giants fans. Vogelsong was the gift of the unexpected. He was delayed gratification. He was the extension of hope. After failing and failing again in San Francisco, the Giants finally won for the first time since moving from New York, and the baseball gods rewarded them by hitting their best player with a train. There were no guarantees that Buster Posey would catch again, much less be the best player on his team, and 2011 was a dark season for a while, man. It felt like the end of something to me, and I can’t be the only person who thought that.
Well, here comes Ryan Vogelsong, a dude who was a Giants prospect back when Candlestick was a thing, someone known only in team lore as the losing pitcher in a 1-0 18-inning game and the main prospect given up for Jason Schmidt. He was a minor-league invite, no different than Ricky Romero or Byung-hyung Kim, both of whom wore a Giants uniform in March, and the only notable thing about him was the oh-yeah-that-guy factor.
Then he made it through spring training and impressed everyone enough that he stayed in the organization.
Then he was called up.
Then he made a spot start.
Then he made another spot start.
Then he made another couple of spot starts.
Then he was a thing. And he didn’t leave for a few years.
Vogelsong kept grinding out quality starts and unexpected gems, and he was suddenly the best story of the season. He was the best story of a lost season, the only thing that went right in the odd year before we knew what odd years were. If he were just a consolation prize, a way to feel better about Posey, he would have been remembered fondly. But then he came back the next season and repeated his success. Repeated it in a way that allowed his team to make the postseason. Then he pitched well enough in the postseason for them to advance, advance again, and sweep the World Series.
Then he did it again two years later, to a lesser degree, but the overarching point is that he existed, and he was a huge part of what made Giants baseball the best possible experience in sports for a few years. It didn’t matter what other team you came up with — Patriots, Lakers, other Giants, Yankees, whatever — the Giants were the best time a sports fan could have. A lot of that had to do with Vogelsong, who came out of nowhere, a 33-year-old drifter by way of the Hanshin Tigers, Orix Buffaloes, Salt Lake Bees, and Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It would be like Mike Kickham coming back to help the 2023 Giants win a World Series, but only if they had never won one before.
Anyway, Vogelsong is the best, and if you can’t see why he was the best, maybe you weren’t there? Just a thought.
This ties into Sunday’s win because you still get to use Vogelsong as a way to explain away whatever you want. Take Pablo Sandoval, for instance. He had forgotten how to baseball, and he was the best living embodiment of the 2017 Giants until he had a game. Three runs batted in, a dinger, and some tough at-bats when strikeouts were what everyone was expecting. It is, without hyperbole, about 50 times more likely that he’ll work out for the Giants than it was for Vogelsong to work out. He’s three years younger that Vogelsong was in 2011, for one. He had a much, much longer track record of success in the majors in a prior life, for two. He’s a hitter instead of a pitcher, someone who could plausibly be one tweak away from regaining his prior form, as opposed to someone who was 47 tweaks away from claiming a form he could never claim in the past.
Take Chris Stratton, former first-round talent and current curiousity. I mentally adjust downward for Stratton’s ceiling because he’s already 27, but when Vogelsong was that age, where was he? He was the bane of the Pirates, the perfect example of why they were never going to win, and he was about to spend way more time with Dr. James Andrews than he wanted to. He was about to sail around the world and come back begging for Triple-A gigs. Stratton is ahead of that pace.
If Vogelsong could do that, why couldn’t I do something similar?
Hey, use it on whomever you want. The Giants won because they put 16 runners on base, but they also won because the jolly nostalgia factory had one of his most complete games with his new old team. They won because a pitcher who keeps setting fire to low expectations pitched well again. They won because all sorts of things happened that were far more likely than Vogelsong returning and pitching as well as he did. That’s because everything is more likely than Vogelsong.
Can the Giants really return in 2018 and play well enough to make us forget about this awful season? Can they extract great performances out of the same players that threw up on the bathroom rug this year? Dunno. Probably not.
[thinks about Ryan Vogelsong for exactly four seconds]
Well, maybe. I mean, this is a funny sport.
The Giants won because they had three sac flies, which is something that happens about once a year, on average. In a way, it was a testament to how disappointing they were when the bases were loaded, a celebration of the bare minimum. But in another way, it was a celebration of the grind, grind, grind that Vogelsong deployed so expertly. It wasn’t pretty, and it was often ugly, but it sure was decisive. And it led to a Giants win.
Yeah, that’s about right. That’s what the guy does. That’s what he inspires. It was a treat to watch him tip his cap to an adoring crowd right before the Giants didn’t play like bozos. He deserved it.