Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.
For one thing: Where is the Torture?
And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?
The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.
No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.
The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.
I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.
And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.
One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:
Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.
It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.
Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.
He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.
I can’t wait to see what they do in October.
If there’s any doubt that going to a baseball game can be a near-religious experience, the Giants removed it this weekend.
It felt like the Church of Baseball when we had a moment of silence at the home opener for the Giants who died in the past year, from Gino Cimoli (first batter on the West Coast) to Duke Snider (“Yes, Duke Snider was a Giant, although only briefly,” said Jon Miller, reverentially). It felt like it, too, when we had another moment for Brian Stowe, our fellow fan who lies comatose in a hospital after his beating at the hand of Dodger fans.
And there were plenty of rapturous, euphoric moments, as the team was announced one by one on Opening Day, and the championship flag went up, and again the following day, as the players received their rings. The best line, of course, went to Duane Kuiper: “The rings, the tuxes – no, Mike (Krukow) and I are not here to renew our vows.”
I have to say, the Giants did everything right in those ceremonies. I was not immune to the occasional lump in the throat. For some reason, it especially hits me each time Tim Lincecum is announced. He always gets the loudest cheers, and I guess it’s emotional because he is so small, yet so gutsy, and carries the whole team on his back at such critical times. I was at his 14-strikeout gem against the Braves in the NLDS, which gives me what I feel is an intimate connection to his greatness, and then the way he outpitched Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the World Series in Texas last year just elevated him to another plane. Freak, indeed.
And then, of course, no planned or contrived moments of wonder and awe could compete with the Giants on the field themselves. Of course Brian Wilson blew the save, reminding us all of the Torture we endured in 2010. We joke about it now, but it is painful! And then, of course, the gutty gritty Giants never gave up, no matter how many rallies were squelched, ultimately prevailing, because they are not going to lose their first game at AT&T Park since the World Series, the game in which Wilson dramatically ran that championship flag across the field, through the stands, and up the pole.
Nor were they going to lose the game after the ring ceremony. I’m reading “The Hobbit” with my son right now, and the Giants’ rings – won by magic – seem as mystical as the ring that Bilbo Baggins uses to get out of so many jams in that book. And so, just when it looked like Matt Cain was going to fall victim to a lack of run support again, of course the Giants came back and won, but only when down to their last strike.
And how sweet was it that the newest Giants did it – that Miguel Tejada got the clutch hit, and Brandon Belt scored the winning run. That was their baptism into baseball, Giants’ style – castoffs, yes, but winning Dirty Dozen style nonetheless.
Bring on the rest of the season.
The San Francisco Giants’ whole improbable, ridiculous, joyful, torturous ride through the 2010 baseball season has ended in the most improbable, ridiculous, joyful but definitely not torturous fashion. The Giants are World Champions and San Francisco is celebrating like never before.
The rings that the players will get are more than just symbols of this incredible season. They are pure redemption for all the incredible players who came through here before, all the close calls, near-misses, heartaches and yes, Torture, that the Giants and their fans have endured for more than a half-century in San Francisco.
It’s redemption for Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz and that exhausted, overworked bullpen of 2002. It’s redemption for Robb Nen who was so clutch yet couldn’t stop little Neifi Perez in 1998. It’s redemption for Saloman Torres and the 103-win team of 1993. It’s redemption for Candy Maldonado and the sliding-catch-that-wasn’t in 1987. It’s redemption for Juan Marichal, blowing his top in 1965 and blowing a pennant in the process. It’s redemption for Barry Bonds, who thrilled us on the field, but left us in the humiliating position of defending his behavior. It’s redemption for Horace Stoneham, who gave us frigid Candlestick Park, and for Bob Lurie, who tried and failed to get rid of it.
These and so many other people have given Giant fans so many great memories, so many winning seasons, so many pennant races and playoffs that we have no right to complain. But like Chris “Mad Dog” Russo declared so plaintively after that punch to the gut from the Florida Marlins in 2003 — and yes, this is also redemption for Jose Cruz Jr., as hard as that is to write — we wanted to know what it would be like for the Giants to win just one time. Just one lousy goddamn time!
Now we know.
It’s amazing. Gratifying. Stupendous. Mind-boggling.
I am soaking it all in. We screamed til we were hoarse. We leapt off chairs at Paragon, a block from the ballpark. We high-fived and hugged friends and strangers. We honked our horn all the way through the city, with every landmark – the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, City Hall – bathed in orange light.
I heard Mike Krukow quoting J.T. Snow on the radio last night, saying this was closure for 2002. Kruk clearly felt closure for 1987/1989, and he cited all those same players who were all pulling for this Giants team to finally exorcise those ghosts.
“It’s crazy to think with all the great baseball players who have come through San Francisco, there hasn’t been a World Series championship. The beautiful thing about the organization is, you’ve got guys like Will Clark here. You’ve got J.T. Snow here. You’ve got Shawon Dunston here. When we get back to San Francisco, we’ll have Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry. The list goes on and on. It’s so humbling to have won the first World Series in San Francisco. It’s unbelievable.”
Thank you, Buster, for saying that. And thank you, Matt Cain, the longest serving Giant, who has known such hard luck and come through like such a pro. And thank you, Brian Wilson, who has defined this team and this city, from torture to the whole bearded freaky orange-and-black Halloween championship. (Neither Wilson nor Cain gave up an earned run in the playoffs!) And thank you, Bill Neukom, Brian Sabean, Bruce Bochy, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Edgar Renteria – what is redemption if not Renteria (and Bochy and Sabean), vilified by fans, turning heroic on the biggest stage of all? – thank you to all the Giants past and present for making this moment possible. Thank you Aubrey Huff, for the thong, the quotes, the home runs and most of all, the first sacrifice bunt of your career. What a sacrifice! Thank you, too, to Duane Kuiper, for giving us Torture, and to Mike Krukow, Jon Miller and Dave Flemming, for unparalleled insight and enthusiasm. Thank you to the great middle relievers, the incredible untold story of this team, and to Barry Zito, a class act and hard-luck, hard-working pitcher. Is there any Giant we don’t just love today?
I can’t wait to see those Hall of Famers participating in the parade they long-deserved. hope the great Willie Mays, who was in the parade that welcomed the Giants to San Francisco in 1958, will be well enough to ride in this one. I look forward to Willie McCovey, a fearsome slugger best remembered for his line drive out in 1962, getting that round of cheers from the fans who love him so much.
Our Giant fandom has been torture at times. We reveled in the torture. How sweet it is to revel in victory instead.
With the World Series that opened in San Francisco tonight, the Giants started battling some old ghosts. The team had been greeted with a ticker tape parade on its arrival in The City in 1958, but it hasn’t had one since, as it’s always come up just shy of winning it all.
But this year feels different. I know, I know, we should not get ahead of ourselves and predict a Giant victory – but I can’t help but feel that this team has what it takes for that ultimate Champagne shower. And believe me, I am one of those fans who is reminding everyone that, even as the Giants were romping in Game One, the Rangers had lost Game One to the Yankees, too.
But the tension at the end of tonight’s game – tension that should not exist in a game where you have an ace pitcher and score 11 runs – reminded me of the essential difference between this Giant team and all the other San Francisco squads that fell short is: Torture.
Yes, that word. Giant fans know it all too well. But we kept it in our closets. It lurked underneath our orange jerseys, the ones with Mays or McCovey or Clark or Bonds on the back – all those Giants who never won World Series in San Francisco (Mays won one in New York). We did not wear it on our sleeves, like Red Sox fans. We did not have a Curse that we could curse, like the Cubs and the Red Sox and the White Sox.
Yet this year, Duane Kuiper – he of the one career home run – put a stamp on the Giants early, recognizing a team that would win or lose its games by one Torturous run. “Giants baseball!” he would declare after such a finish. “Torture!”
The Giants adopted the phrase. It even started turning up in manager Bruce Bochy’s postgame interviews. Kuiper told me in September that the Giants organization wanted him to tone it down, but even if he stopped, his partner Mike Krukow – sunny Kruk, who always predicts the possibility of a pennant – picked up on the theme. And Torture was too true not to stick.
Anyway, these Giants have barely been in town long enough to know the Tortured history. The entire starting lineup basically arrived either this year or last. Matt Cain is the longest tenured Giant, and he just turned 26 and made his debut in 2005. No one knows 2002, to say nothing of 2003 (Jose Cruz!), or 2000, or the other epic choke jobs that long defined Torture for the fans.
But now we are buying Torture T-shirts and laughing in the face of Torture — at least, when it isn’t Torturing us, with Brian Wilson walking the go-ahead run in the ninth inning and then getting a 3-2 count on the Phillies most dangerous hitter.
Of course, if they don’t win, I anticipate it’ll be in pretty Torturous fashion as well. The people who proclaimed the Torture to be over after the Giants won the division learned the hard way that it doesn’t end; as Ashkon sings in the YouTube video that defines this playoff run, “it goes on and on and on and on.”
Torturous Giant losses are nothing new. They go back to the team’s earliest days. Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on a game-winning hit, costing the Giants a pennant. Fred Snodgrass muffed a fly ball, costing the team the 1912 World Series. There are botched rundowns at home plate, bad hop grounders in the ninth inning of seventh games, and years of devastating defeats to the Yankees, who taunted them from right across the Harlem River.
And that was nothing. Once the Giants got to San Francisco, they raised Torture to an art form.
They lost their first West Coast Series to, yes, the Yankees, in a heartbreaker that still stings: a 1-0 Game 7 loss to the Yankees defined by the final pitch, which resulted a smash off the bat of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey that somehow landed in Bobby Richardson’s glove, instead of scoring the tying and winning runs from second and third bases. A team full of Hall of Famers never made it back, instead taking five straight second place finishes, often to the hated Dodgers.
And never mind other ignominies, like 1987 (Candy Maldonado! Jose Oquendo!) – the Giants’ World Series experience has always been an exercise in creative Torture, as if devised by some Folsom Street dominatrix: a four-game sweep in the earthquake marred 1989 Series; and a horrific meltdown in the 2002 Series when – up 3 games to 2, and with a 5-0 lead and eight outs to go in Game 6, the Giants managed to cough up the lead, the game, and the whole World Series.
That sort of wrenching loss has long been a Giants hallmark, even when they were based in New York, but the San Francisco iteration has turned it into an art form.
Yet along came the 2010 Giants, and we are believers all over again. And with the team back in the Fall Classic, I thought it prudent to look for historical comparisons and calculate the reasons why the Giants will – or won’t – win the Series this year.
Here – in honor of Cody Ross, and the most superstitious of sports, are 13 reasons why the Giants will win:
- It’s Magic Inside. Corny? Yes. Silly marketing-speak? You bet. But how else to explain how this ragtag group – these so-called knuckleheads, the so-called Dirty Dozen – could actually come from so far back to win the National League pennant? Whoever came up with the Magic campaign must have known something. Baseball is the most superstitious of sports. Why else would Aubrey Huff of the Giants parade around in a red thong?
- It’s Torture Inside. This team has embraced the Torture. For years, the Giants have denied their cursed position, unlike the Red Sox or Cubs. (I have a t-shirt purchased at Wrigley Field that reads: Chicago Cubs, World Champions, 1908.) But once you take ownership of something, you can start to use it. Owning the Torture means knowing that Brian Wilson can walk two guys in the ninth inning, because even though our ulcers start screaming, he’s going to get the called third strike and save the game.
- Curse-busters. If you’re going to end a curse, it helps to have people who have done it before. Like Juan Uribe and Aaron Rowand, veterans of the 2005 White Sox, which lifted the cloud of the 1919 Black Sox scandal in winning the club’s first Series in 86 years. (Javier Lopez pitched for the 2007 world champion Red Sox, but that was a second title for Boston, which broke its curse in 2004.)
- Curse opponents. If the Giants are cursed, the Rangers have it even worse. This squad has never even been to the World Series, either in its first incarnation as the Washington Senators (the second team with that name, established in 1961 after the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins), or in its many years trying to convince Texas football fans to brave 100 degree temperatures and watch baseball. Sorry, Rangers. It’s football season now.
- Players with no sense of history. Look at the heroes who joined the team this year: Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Cody Ross, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez. Last year brought Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, and Andres Torres. No one on this team was here for Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. They don’t know that they can’t win.
- Revenge for 2002. The Giants are one-by-one erasing the memory of 2002 by dashing the latest dreams of former Angels David Eckstein (2010 Padres), Troy Glaus (2010x Braves) and now old teammate Bengie Molina (2010 Rangers).
- Will Clark. Will the Thrill – in many ways, the ultimate Giant – hit a home run off Nolan Ryan in his first major league at bat, and Ryan now owns the Texas Rangers.
- The Giants have some unfinished business with the Washington Senators. Okay, maybe a stretch – I mean, the Giants never played the Rangers’ actual precursors. But the last time the Giants played the original Senators, when John McGraw managed the “Jints” and Walter Johnson pitched for Washington, the Senators won their only Series when a routine grounder hit a pebble and skipped over Giants Hall of Fame third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, knotting the score and setting the stage for another bad-hop grounder that won the game and the Series in the 12th inning.
- The Yankee factor. The Rangers beat the Yankees – just like the 2004 Red Sox and 2002 Angels did in overcoming their curses. But the 2005 White Sox didn’t need to beat the Yankees. And the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays beat the Yankees and still managed to lose to the Phillies.
- The Texas factor. The 2005 White Sox won the Series by beating a team from Texas as cursed then as the Rangers are now – the Houston Astros.
- George Bush used to own the Rangers. ‘Nuff said.
- Ex-Cub factor: This rule of baseball, nearly immutable, decrees that the team with more ex-Cubs will lose. The Giants have Mike Fontenot, and Mark DeRosa has been out all year with an injury. The Rangers, though, have Andres Blanco and Clay Rapada – and the Cubs originally drafted Josh Hamilton, the Rangers’ best player.
- The underdog factor. The last time the Giants won the World Series, of course, no one gave them a chance against the Indians who destroyed the American League in 1954. And the Giants won four straight.
But of course, don’t take my word for any of this. That’s why they play the games. Which will, of course, be Torture.
I love the way Duane Kuiper has characterized this Giants’ season. He first nailed it early in the year, when heart-stopping, heat-throwing closer Brian Wilson nearly blew a lead in that inimitable way of his. But it describes everything the Giants are doing to us – the way they lost all those low-scoring games early in the year when the pitchers were brilliant and the hitters anemic, and then lost all those high-scoring games in August, when the hitters scorched everything and the pitchers fooled no one.
And yet the Giants stayed in the hunt, and kept us on the edge of our seats. And now they are in an honest-to-goodness race for the playoffs, 3 games out of first place and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, with only 28 games to go.
Here we go again! I’ve already done it, even though I should know better – I’ve given my heart to this team, after all the times it has broken it in the past. I can’t say I’ll be satisfied with a near-miss of the playoffs; I want post-season baseball at AT&T Park. It is within reach.
Having said that, I want to report (since I have not updated this in ages) that I have had a glorious summer, filled with baseball games, book events, and family vacations from coast to coast. I will try to offer up a recap at some point, but a few baseball highlights include a book party in Portland, a pair of Mariners-Yankees games in Seattle (one with Steve Steinberg, co-author of “1921,” with whom I’ll be appearing in New York City in November), the SABR convention in Atlanta in August (stay indoors!), a brutal, sweltering Giant loss to the Braves at Turner Field, and a Bulls game in Durham, NC. And – I now have a bobblehead of Joe DiMaggio in a San Francisco Seals uniform, thanks to the Giants!
What could be better than that?
Ask me in October…