Sunday, February 14, 2010

Retro B/R Article: Can Pablo Sandoval Be "The Man" for the San Francisco Giants?

This was my first lead story on Bleacher Report. Unfortunately, this was before the "awards" system, so it went unrecognized. In order to get lead story status now, it seems that you have to right about a big news story with your own spin or you have to write about Manny Pacquiao. I don't like to do either, so I haven't had many lead stories on Bleacher Report since this one.

This was me in my typical element: wanting to combine movies and sports into my writing. Looking back, I'm not sure if it worked or not. I think I got a little too carried away with the "Man" motif to be perfectly frank, but at the time, it sure made a whole lot of sense when I wrote it.

Now that we're going into 2010 though, I will say this: Pablo Sandoval definitely is "The Man" for the Giants.

From Bleacher Report

It is difficult not to like the "Kung Fu Panda" if you're a San Francisco Giants fan.

Pablo Sandoval can do it all.

He can hit for power, he can hit for average, he can make that great defensive play, and for a guy 5'11" and 246 pounds, the guy has a little more speed than one might think.

There is no reason why Giants fans shouldn't vote for Sandoval for that final National League All-Star spot. He has earned a place in the Midsummer Classic after an amazing first half that has produced a .326 average, 13 home runs, 48 RBI, and a .379 OBP.

However, as a Giants fan, I am curious to know how the second half will unfold for Sandoval.

With the Giants in a very tight race for the NL Wild Card spot and still looking to somehow catch the Dodgers in the NL West, the Giants will not just need him to continue to be a strong presence in the lineup with his bat.

They will need him to be "The Man" for this Giants team.

Now being "The Man" isn't easy. Being "The Man" in baseball is similar to being a Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen in the movie world: Many male actors aspire to capture that kind of status, but very few ever achieve it because of how difficult it is to acquire the kind of moxie those actors had.

Movie fans thought at a time Vin Diesel could be "The Man" in the modern movie generation. However, he starred in the terrible children's flick The Pacifier and lost that potential in one fell swoop.

Those kinds of stories are similar in baseball.

A lot of players certainly get the opportunities to be "The Man," to be that kind of player to a baseball team that Clint Eastwood was to the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

However, many players often fall flat on their face because they can't handle the pressure and don't necessarily have the right stuff to put it all together.

Manny Ramirez is an example of a guy that can handle being "The Man." Albert Pujols is a guy that has been "The Man" since he was a rookie in St. Louis.

Hank Blalock, on the other hand, couldn't become one, even though we thought he was capable after his All-Star game-winning homer in 2003.

Ken Griffey Jr. used to have "The Man" status in Seattle but lost it after injuries and mediocrity in Cincinnati.

David Ortiz was the quintessential one after the 2004 ALCS but then lost it this year when he only hit one homer in the first two months of the season. On the other hand, he might regain it again if he can capitalize on his current hot streak.

As you can see, being "The Man" is a tough challenge. It requires a person to be not only the main bat in the lineup, but also be the guy everyone looks to when the going gets tough.

If an opposing pitcher is mowing down the lineup, players and fans look to "The Man" to get a rally started.

When it is the bottom of the ninth, the team is down by one, and "The Man" is three batters behind the leadoff guy, fans are praying that somebody gets a hit or walk so the pitcher will have to face "The Man."

Because if "The Man" gets up, the fans, players, and manager know he will win the game.

That's how much confidence "The Man" imbues in people. That's how good and how special he is.
Sandoval has all the tools to be "The Man" for this Giants team. Pitchers have a hard time getting effortless at-bats from Sandoval, unlike the rest of the team. You can get bad at-bats easily with the right pitching combos from guys like Aaron Rowand or Nate Schierholtz.

The same can't be said of Sandoval.

Sandoval can get behind 0-2 in a count and still hit a grand slam two pitches later.

Pitchers used to be able to get Sandoval to swing at that high fastball at the eyes.

Now Sandoval just spits on it as it passes by.

Sandoval is the only bat in the lineup who is capable of being dependable and dramatic at the same time—two qualities typically characteristic of a player who is "The Man."

If the Giants want to have a serious shot at the playoffs in the second half, they need him to become "The Man" and embrace it as soon as possible.

Now a lot of people will ask, "Why can't Tim Lincecum be 'The Man?' Or how about Matt Cain?"

A starting pitcher can't be "The Man" because "The Man" needs to be playing every day. "The Man" needs to be able to excel despite the fact that each day could easily make or break his reputation, as well as the team's momentum.

Starting pitchers can only affect their teams every five days. Hitters affect the team every day they're in the lineup, and for anyone who is "The Man," that usually is every game.

Closers have the potential to achieve "The Man" status, but that is even more difficult to see.

In the history of baseball, in my mind, only two closers have achieved "The Man" status: Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees and Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A's.

Even now, though, it looks like Rivera's starting to lose that status after blowing save after save against the Red Sox since 2004.

As you can see, Sandoval is the only guy with a shot to capture this legendary standing on this Giants team, and whether or not he is able to be "The Man" will be the difference between the Giants making the playoffs and another season removed from the postseason.

The pressure will certainly be there. After this latest "Vote for Pablo" voting campaign, Sandoval is no longer a player that goes under the radar anymore. Pitchers will be gunning for him, as will opposing managers.

Teams will be sure to not make mistakes against Sandoval when he is up at the plate, and thus Sandoval won't get those breaks he got so easily when he was still relatively unknown.

Yet Sandoval is capable of rising above that. His approach to the plate has improved, and his swing has gotten better as well throughout the course of the year.

And when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter if the pitchers and managers have a plan for somebody who is "The Man."

"The Man" gets the job done regardless.

Is Sandoval going to be "The Man?" I certainly hope so. Like I said before, you have to be crazy not to like him, and not just for his bat either. The fun-loving way he plays the game and his crazy customs at the plate are a sheer delight not just for Giants fans, but for baseball fans in general.

On the other hand, you never know what can happen. For every Ryan Braun who successfully handles the pressure of becoming "The Man," there is an Alex Gordon who can't quite do it.

All I know is that every World Series champion has a guy that was "The Man" on their squad, and this is a Giants organization that has produced its fair share of "The Man" status players in the past.

Mel Ott. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Will Clark. Matt Williams. Barry Bonds. All those players were "The Man" for their respective Giants teams.

Hopefully "The Panda" joins that list.

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