10/09/10 10:23 PM ET
Consistent Huff keeps Giants clubhouse light
Slugger stresses importance of having fun while leading SF
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
What the veteran manager found out was that Huff can deliver more than a powerful stroke from the left side. He can bring some corner versatility in the field and a steady hand at the plate. On top of that, he provides a clubhouse presence that has helped a diverse group of Giants come together through numerous roster changes and challenges to reach the postseason.
And, in the grand tradition of the venerable American pastime, Huff does it all while wearing a red rally thong under his double-knits, at least since Aug. 30.
"Well, I'm not going to go there on the red thong, but he's a better all-around player than I even thought," Bochy said of Huff on Saturday, as the Giants prepared to play Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Braves at 1:30 p.m. PT on Sunday.
Thong or no thong, Huff has been a boon for Bochy and the Giants, becoming a "glue" guy for a team that has ridden team success into the playoffs.
For Bochy, the depth of Huff's abilities on and off the field came as a pleasant surprise.
"I just didn't get to see him play out on the field a lot and what he can do with the bat," Bochy said of Huff, who played all but a half-season of his previous nine years in the American League. "You know, he's been pretty much in our three-hole [hitter] the whole season, so he's been the stabilizer in the lineup. But also in the clubhouse, he's very competitive, but very loose -- keeps the guys loose, great sense of humor.
"He doesn't take himself so seriously, but he takes the game very seriously, and he plays hard. He has fun doing it, and he makes sure that the rest of the guys are doing the same."
Exhibit A: The thong. Huff said he donned the skimpy underwear to loosen up the troops in the heat of the postseason chase, and the Giants erased a six-game lead to win the NL West on the season's final day. Mission accomplished.
"I couldn't stop, and I'm wearing it right now, if you're interested," he said to laughter in the media interview room Friday before Game 2. "Kind of get used to it."
And as he exited the interview room, he reached back and gave that thong a playful snap.
Really, the method to Huff's madness is to become a leader with a helpful, humorous hand, not a hard-scrabble veteran who shows youngsters the ropes with harsh words and rookie hazing.
That's the type of treatment he says he received when he was younger. Coming up to the Rays just two years after signing as a fifth-round Draft pick out of the University of Miami, where he played with current teammate Pat Burrell, he didn't really appreciate it.
"I know when I came up as a rookie, I had older guys that rode me hard and it made it tough as a rookie," Huff said. "And I always told myself, 'I don't want to be that guy,' because it makes it harder, and everybody is wearing you out and making it harder than it should be."
So while rookies such as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner made the transition to the big leagues, Huff was there. And while established young Giants stars like Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval went through their periods of struggle, Huff was there -- in the starting lineup 154 of his team-high 157 games played this season, mostly at first base.
Along the way, he led the club in batting (.290, while Posey's .305 was short of plate appearances to qualify), homers (26) and RBIs (86), while ranking 10th in the NL in on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS) with a .891 mark. He was fifth in the league with 28 RBIs to put his club ahead, and seventh with 14 game-winning RBIs.
And all those numbers put to rest a really big one: By the end of the season, Huff had played in 1,479 games without reaching the postseason, at the time the third-longest postseason drought.
Once he got there, he was a little more loose than he thought he'd be in the playoff atmosphere. He got his first hit out of the way in Game 1, and though he's 1-for-7 thus far, he remains a threat in a crucial spot in the Giants' lineup.
"I went out and took the field, and it felt like a regular game to me, to be honest with you," Huff said, citing the tense San Diego series as a good primer for the postseason. "I was very surprised."
Maybe his own looseness wore off on himself. Or maybe it's the thong.
Or maybe it's just a 33-year-old veteran realizing he can have a place of leadership on a team that goes to the playoffs by bringing the fun.
"I don't care if you're a veteran or a younger guy, if you're having fun in the clubhouse and everybody is having a good time and everybody really starts caring for each other, I think that has a lot to do with winning on the field," Huff said. "I don't think you can actually play baseball without a good group of guys that mix well together."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.