Two out of Three
I used to be a long-suffering fan of the San Francisco Giants. I can’t say that any longer and likely won’t be able to say it for the rest of my life. I was born in 1955, the year after the New York Giants won their last world series against the Indians. Most people remember 1954 as the series during which Willie Mays made “the catch” off of Vic Wertz. I first attended a major league game in 1963, the night after the Marichal vs. Spahn 16 inning 1-0 game won on a Willie Mays home run. It was also the year after the Giants took the Yankees to 7 games in the Worlds Series and Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson. After that, it was 48 years of bad karma best exemplified by the Loma Prieta World Series in 1987 when the first World Series game in Candlestick Park in 25 years was interrupted by a major earthquake. In the 2002, Rob Nen’s arm suddenly gave out right before the world series. This ended with 2010 and the Island of Misfit Toys team. Edgar Renteria was the MVP of the World Series. The next spring he was with the Cincinnati Reds. Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres, and Brian Wilson all played major roles on that team. Only Huff played in 2012. That team was built around ultra-reliable starting pitching and the ability of the entire lineup to hit a home run now and then. Pablo Sandoval looked like he’d eaten his way out of baseball and Barry Zito was left off the playoff roster. The 2012 team hit fewer home runs than any team in the majors. The starting pitching was up and down all year and through the first half of the playoffs. Sergio Romo’s career high for saves before 2012 was four. The team dealt with the loss of Freddy Sanchez, Brian Wilson, and Melky Cabrera. In fact, the Giants went through two suspensions for performance enhancing drugs. Guillermo Mota was suspended for 50 games too. Marco Scutaro had the best three month stretch of his 12 year major league career. The team went with an All Brandon infield. Both Belt and Crawford were homegrown and neither player was a lock to even make the team in the Spring. Partly because of them, the team morphed from leading the majors in errors in April (Crawford went through a really bad stretch) to being the best fielding team in the baseball. Fear the beard became bullpen by committee. Barry Zito started the first game of the World Series and beat Justin Verlander. Tim Lincecum suddenly became a middle reliever. Bottom line, the team won 2 championships in 3 years and even more amazingly totally changed formula in doing so. It may be time to recognize Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti as the best manager/pitching coach combination in baseball. Believe it or not, Davey Johnson (deserving in many ways) was named the Sporting News National League Manager of the Year. The baseball writer’s award is yet to be announced. As much attention as Buster Posey has received, the other factor is that Bochy has quietly gotten guys to produce, set guys down who weren’t producing without any disruption to the team’s chemistry, and found ways to keep players like Ryan Theriot relevant and ready. Bottom line, I don’t know that I’ve seen a team managed better than this one. Righetti’s run as pitching coach has been similarly miraculous. One last thing. In the sixties, the team built around the best player in baseball, Willie Mays, and finished second 5 times in a row. That team had 5 Hall of Famers who played significant roles for the team. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, and Gaylord Perry. In the Nineties and early 2000’s, the team built around Barry Bonds who like him or not was the best player of his generation. Throughout that time, there was this whole steroids business hanging over the team and there was sense that whatever success the team had during that era was some sort of deal with the steroid devil. In 2010, the Giants became the Los Angeles Dodgers of the mid-sixties. Under Bochy, the Giants transformed from one man show into a team. Melkey Cabrera could have joined the team for the playoffs. He had been the MVP of the 2012 All Star Game and had the highest batting average in baseball, though Buster Posey officially won the batting title. The team simply said ‘no’, one player does not a team make. Tim Lincecum quietly gave up his starting role for the playoffs and turned into a tremendous middle reliever. Hunter Pence, in the middle of a horrible slump and a late season pickup, rallied the team after it went down 0-2 to the Reds. This team was all about being a team and the result was a run through the playoffs that appeared to be about winning the right way. No high-priced free agents (Zito being the exception), no egos, mostly home grown starters, no one caring about who was getting the credit or the attention. I could make the argument that this Giant team (the playoff version) might be the best thing to happen to baseball in the last twenty years. As the team with the fewest homers in the game, they spiritually put the steroid era behind the game for at least a little while. Just think, had it not been for Scott Cousins (btw he hit .163 in 2012), it might have been 3 in a row. But would it have smelled this sweep?