That day four weeks ago started well enough, sunny but not oppressive in the Phoenix AM. Guys were clumped around the field, jogging, stretching, talking with coaches. Seemed bucolic to the untutored, but...Scutaro's facial tic was off the charts; roster day will never be easy for that guy. The Artist formerly known as Jairo wore the same forlorn look we'd seen all spring. Dude's cover is blown, man. If he were a spy the Director woulda had him waxed, and he'd be happier for it. "Jairo" was a dumb smiling kid; Santiago Casilla is a dead man walking. And I don't need to tell you Matt Watson was pissed as he saw yet another goddamn year in Sac ahead. The edges were sharpest today, though, because Billy was here. Beane feeds on the fear, both inspiring and digesting it like a blood parasite. He strides the grass sucking in great draughts, loud and long, literally tasting the fear. It sustains him.
You know, despite approaching '06 with fear and loathing, spring hadn't been going too bad. I hate the gig and Billy hates me, but we'd both realized we're better off with each other than without, at least for this year. Besides, I'd dropped a couple pounds, and was cutting my Old Grand-Dad with V-8 for nutrition. I had a deal with Phoenix Muni to clean up the postgame spread a couple times a week, so I was eating. I was even making a few bucks on the side burning bootlegs of the players' DVDs in the team video room, and selling them in the parking lot of the Airport Travelodge.
Anyway, I was feeling good. I was stretching for a footrace Jay Payton had going: me against Ray Ratto, winner gets a shot at Blanton. I was sure I could take both of `em and had been sandbagging all day to get odds, and now the money was going down. I dropped another c-note down with Kotsay at a cool 15-1, and already had my new Coliseum-El Monte RV used trailer picked out when someone tapped my shoulder.
"Billy wants to see you."
This couldn't be good.
* * * * *
"Stomper, I'll get right to it. You're pathetic. You mope around here in the suit you sleep in, you reek of booze, and you bitch and whine like T Long. No one likes you." Billy's legendary candor was not refreshing. It got worse. "I was ready to put up with this for one more year...better a skulking resentful employee than an expensive one...but that's not all. Who's leading the NCAA pool?"
Uh oh. "Bynum, sir. He can't lose."
"What's his cut?"
"Uhhh...about a hundred brackets, at $50 a pop, comes to...three grand."
"Yeah, that's what Freddie told me you said too, three grand. Three grand." He arose from his desk and circled the room towards me. "Three grand?! What kind of goddamn morons do you take us for? Just because you can fool Swisher with math...." Words failed but his knuckles didn't, and they tightened on the edge of his chair. The worst was coming and I dropped to the ground.
"Get your weak, weak ass off my carpet. If I wanted you gone Sheriff Joe woulda picked you up days ago. I'm going to give you a chance to keep your job...maybe."
He paused and looked me up and down. I later learned this was my Dirty Dozen moment. I was angry and desperate...Billy needed to know if I was John Cassavettes, still clinging to tatters of right and wrong, or Telly Savalas, waiting for my chance to burn the fucker down. I'm not sure he liked the answer he got.
"No one can get to MacGowan, and he's calling Wolff's bluff. Won't listen to reasonable offers, says we can call ourselves the Lodi A's of San Jose for all he cares, but we're never building a park on his South Bay turf. Very stubborn. If this doesn't change we might actually have to play in Fremont...Fremont! I wouldn't rent a Public Storage locker in Fremont."
"MacGowan thinks he can't be touched. I need for him to know that's not true. The Giants are back in their pretty, pretty little ballpark tonight. If you can make MacGowan know there's no such thing as safe at home, I'll make your other problems go away."
With Billy you never really have a choice.
* * * * *
Which brings us to today, menaced by the clouds and rain which have soaked body and spirit all month. They call it AT&T Park now, but it's the same fortress of muted shades and sushi that we knew as PacBell. But by whatever broken shard of Mother Bell it goes, to me it's the Death Star...as drawn by Martha Stewart.
I approached warily:
It was gonna take a lot to make my end of the deal with Billy. Running in and writing Stomper Was Here in the Club level men's room wasn't gonna cut it. Billy had made it clear he needed hard visual evidence that MacGowan would see, and know fear. The fear that opens up territorial rights. The fear that Billy must taste, or die.
A quick fin slipped to the hollow-cheeked security guard and I was in. So the first thing to try was some garden-variety embarrassment. Expose their flaws, prick their balloons of pretension with my pin of...well, desperation. And nothing says impotent pretension like branded trashcans...with the old brand!
And what's the deal with this centerfield grass? Look familiar to anyone? Naw, me neither.
But these are just minor blemishes on the pristine makeup of the smiling, sinister AT&T face. Billy was gonna need a lot more than that, and I was prepared to deliver. Armed with stealth and a few choice words from Calero, terse, guttural words that made me to tremble though their meaning I knew not, I reached the field. I repeated the powerful curse which Kiko had taught me, and fled to the dugout to behold a ballfield upon which the home team would now rarely triumph.
So I had embarrassment, and I had the black arts. Not nearly enough. Time for some good old fashioned shit talking. I decamped to the leftfield stands, and found a perch from which epithets of derision might be heaped upon their champion. I unfurled:
So far I was focusing only on external effects. All well and good, but how to hinder the Giants' actual attempts at victory? I pondered...what tool do these actors in the garish orange and black depend upon most dearly? What might I obstruct among the grinding gears of their braintrust? I hit upon the answer and dashed back to the field, to the dugout, to render inoperable the single most vital piece of equipment in the Felipe Alou toolbox...the phone to the bullpen:
OK, we're rolling now, but still a long way from satisfying Billy. And what satisfies Billy the most? Ah, yes, the fear. Perhaps this postcard, sent without words but bearing an Oakland postmark and threatening black hand, might be vague, unspecified (and unactionable) threat enough to send a chill down what remains of the spine of Peter MacGowan:
Good. Much better, getting there. But not good enough. I simply cannot leave to interpretation the question of whether I've gotten MacGowan's attention enough for Billy and Lew to whipsaw the SJ rights out of him for pennies on the buck. This has to be clear, a message which will not be missed. Something like: Lou Seal sleeps with the fishes.
I can almost taste full employment, and the salvation from angry creditors of which Billy has scratched only the surface. What you've heard so far should have been enough: humiliating their facility, cursing their home field, mocking their star, defiling their bullpen phone, vague sinister threats, and offing their mascot, Sicilian style. That should have been enough.
But again, I knew I could not leave this to chance. I needed that extra coup, which anyone, even Billy, would acknowledge as mortal blow. And I knew what it had to be. Down the tunnel from dugout to clubhouse I slunk. Slowly, carefully now, they're playing here tonight, and flunkies are everywhere. I pass the Barry Bonds charitable speech pathology clinic lodged alongside the batting cages. Words float out..."Did I fuckin stutter? Did I fuckin stutter? Say it! Again!" I'm interested but I have no time, and the words recede as I head to the clubhouse. The door opens; Stan Conte emerges, cut off at the knees. As that pathetic spectacle moves down the tunnel I dash for the closing door and make it by a nose.
Once in the Giants clubhouse it cannot be missed. A wall of brown leather, insurmountable, dominating the scene. Ray Ratto himself could be subsumed by its overstuffed splendor: it is Barry Bonds' recliner. Quickly to my work now, as sycophants linger everywhere, I enter the chair's presence and begin my work. A wrench here, a screwdriver there, and it's off, fly now, fear no flunky nor alarm nor ancient balldude for the exits are alit and my future is in my grasp.
* * * * *
By now you know the end of this story. Though the papers label it structural failure from undue demand on the head support, Peter MacGowan and Billy Beane know exactly why Bonds' recliner failed. And the tantrums which ensued, and the tears and the threats, and finally the realization among Giants player and scribe alike that they had been under the thrall of the recliner for far too long. The plans of an aged franchise set reeling by a Turn of the Screw. Billy better make good on his end of the deal.