It is almost as hard to believe it now as it was in 2010. Did the San Francisco Giants really win the World Series? You’d better believe it.
If 2010 was a team of castoffs and misfits, at least it was a veteran club, and one with dominant pitching. The 2012 Giants seemed like a bunch of kids, and the arms all seemed to fade as the season lurched to a close. The word I heard the most from the Giants this year was “grind.”
Even as the playoffs started, the Giants did not carry any air of inevitability, or invincibility. Falling behind the Reds, and then the Cardinals, the season could have ended at any moment.
Until, suddenly – dramatically – for the second time in the post-season, the Giants got their wake-up call. It was an unlikely time. Barry Zito, who had not looked good against the Reds, got the call as the stopper in St. Louis. He gave up three hits before the Giants had one.
And then Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval singled, and with one out, Hunter Pence hit a weak dribbler back to pitcher Lance Lynn, and the Giants got the sort of lucky break that defined this entire post-season – and, I suppose if you believe in these things, defined the Giants as a Team of Destiny. Lynn threw to second base, and there was no one there. He tried to hold up his throw, and it hit the bag. Scutaro scored. Another out, another couple of singles – one on a beautifully planned bunt by Zito – and the Giants were on their way to a 5-0 victory. They would never lose again in 2012.
About those lucky breaks the Giants caught, whether it was Johnny Cueto leaving Game 1 of the Cincinnati series, or Angel Pagan‘s grounder hitting third base against Detroit (again with the base!), or Gregor Blanco‘s exquisite bunt, stopping incredibly inside the chalk. Include in those the sloppy defense by the opponents in every series, and then consider: the Giants made no such blunders.
And that’s by design. The Giants are built around pitching and defense. It makes sense, when you think that pitching wins games, and defense is a big part of pitching. Manager Bruce Bochy could have played Xavier Nady or Hector Sanchez in a quest for more offense, but he knew the formula. If you keep the other team from scoring, you don’t have to score too much yourself.
In building that type of team, General Manager Brian Sabean also built just the right lineup for AT&T Park. The best defenders are not necessarily sluggers in the Barry Bonds mold. Instead, Sabean acquired and promoted contact hitters, who can spray the ball into the gaps. Players like Melky Cabrera, Pagan, Blanco, and even Pence, Buster Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Sandoval all fit this model. With Scutaro in particular showing the virtue of taking pitches, and not striking out, the Giants were built for the modern post-season.
The Giants had one more ingredient: Heart. It sounds like a cliche. It is said of nearly every team. (Well, maybe not the 2009 Yankees.) But consider some of the stories on these Giants – and not just overcoming the Brian Wilson injury or the Cabrera suspension. Instead: Ryan Vogelsong, wandering baseball’s wilderness for years before he came home to San Francisco and became a bona fide star. Scutaro, the very definition of a journeyman infielder, earning the nickname Blockbuster as he turned into Ty Cobb when he arrived on the Giants in July. Zito, never living up to his massive contract, but suddenly becoming a consistent winner. Tim Lincecum, losing his magic touch, but happily accepting a role as a middle reliever, and becoming unhittable once again. Posey, coming back from the most devastating (and unnecessary) injury this side of Joe Theisman to become National League MVP. And plenty of other players – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Crawford, Pence, Sandoval – putting plenty of other struggles behind them for the sake of the team. I have to believe even having guys like Nady, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot just in the dugout cheering (never mind scoring the winning run in the clincher, as Theriot did) had to help.
Without these guys, there’s no parade in San Francisco on Halloween.
Nicely done. And thank you. Every one of you.
When the Giants won the World Series (yes!), the Record, the newspaper in Troy, NY, went on a crusade to bring the trophy to Troy, arguing that the Giants had their start as the Troy City Trojans in 1879.
Troy is getting its way: It’s close enough to Cooperstown so I guess the Giants capitulated, and will bring the trophy there on its national tour in the spring. But it’s a pretty thin connection.
I don’t know the sources that Troy Record writer Kevin Moran used — particularly in his pivotal assertion that John B. Day and Jim Mutrie bought the Troy franchise and moved it to New York. In the excellent book, “The Giants of the Polo Grounds” (Doubleday, 1988), author Noel Hynd lays out the history of the National League, including how after the first year, 1876, the cash-strapped New York and Philadelphia teams were booted out of the league.
In 1881, Day, a wealthy businessman, and Mutrie, a baseball enthusiast, formed an independent team, the New York Metropolitans, or Mets, and then in 1882 applied to be in the National League , along with a team from Philly. The NL pressed Worcester and Troy to resign from the league – the two last place teams; Troy drew 25 fans to its last game, and the year before had drawn TWELVE to its last game!
According to Hynd, the NL gave Day the New York franchise – and he then put the Mets in the rival American Association, and decided to start a new team for his National League venture. Hynd writes: “With the Troy club conveniently disbanded, its roster – even those players under ‘reserve’ – was free to be pillaged. Day promptly signed the best of them,” Roger Connor, Buck Ewing and Smiling Mickey Welch. Other players went elsewhere, including some to the Mets, and other players came from elsewhere.
I think it’s nice that the Giants are doing it for Troy – but it’s not quite historically accurate to say they started in Troy. They started in New York as the Gothams, winning their opener in 1883 at fields that actually had been used for polo (and which were owned by New York Herald founder and publisher James Gordon Bennett), before a crowd that included former President Ulysses Grant.
The Giants and A’s have a long history – one that predates their moves to the Bay Area. The New York Giants and Philadelphia A’s met several times in the first decade of the World Series, with the Giants taking the 1905 classic behind Christy Mathewson’s amazing three shutouts. Alas, the A’s roared back to beat the Giants in the Series in 1911 and 1913 (and the Giants fell to the Red Sox in 1912 as well).
Before they ever even met in a World Series, Giant manager John McGraw referred to Connie Mack’s A’s as a bunch of “white elephants,” part of McGraw’s contempt for the American League that had cast him out. Mack showed McGraw, however, adopting the elephant as the team mascot – the forerunner of Oakland’s friendly fuzzy pachyderm Stomper.
Of course, the A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955, the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, bringing the rivalry to California. The move worked for the A’s, who roared to three straight Series wins in 1972-1974, and with one more coming at the expense of the Giants in the earthquake-marred 1989 Bay Bridge World Series.
The two teams have been fairly competitive in the 20th century, with both of them seemingly in sync through playoff runs and rebuilding years. They appear fairly evenly matched now; the A’s swept the Giants in Oakland in interleague play in May, and the Giants returned the favor, sweeping the A’s in San Francisco in June.
And now – did I bury the lead? – the rivalry takes on a new dimension, when I bring my “Giants Past and Present” book tour into A’s territory, and read and tell stories at Oakland’s Laurel Bookstore, 4100 MacArthur Blvd., at 7 pm Thursday, June 24.
I hope to see you there!
Does baseball still give its players good nicknames? From my chapter on Nicknames in “Giants Past and Present”:
Baseball players used to need nicknames like they needed gloves and bats. Getting a nickname was almost a rite of passage.
From the first Gothams team—featuring Dasher Troy, Buck Ewing, Tip O’Neill, and Smiling Mickey Welch—the Giants have featured some of baseball’s most evocative nicknames.
Fortunately, the Giants have kept the tradition alive, all the way through today, with stars like The Freak and The Panda. I had some fun discussing the tradition in this video, now on my YouTube channel:
Today is a big baseball day for me. At noon, my son Harry’s Cubs play for the Mill Valley City Championship. From 3:30 to 6 pm, I’ll be signing books at the Borders by AT&T Park. And then at 6:05, I’ll hustle across the street for the Giants-A’s game tonight.
It was great to see the Giants beat the A’s last night. Tim Lincecum appears to have gotten his groove back, and the misery of the A’s three game sweep of the Giants in Oakland last month is gone.
Borders Mission Bay store, at 200 King Street, San Francisco, has always seemed to me the ideal place to sell baseball books. Hundreds of fans stream by on their way to the ballgame. Stop in and say hello this afternoon!
I survived. I wore a Giants cap and shirt to Los Angeles and lived to tell about it.
I was a panelist on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and can’t say enough good things about the great time I had in enemy territory. My panel was titled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and featured Michael D’Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” about Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers’ move out of Brooklyn, and Mark Frost, author of “Game Six,” about the pivotal game of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Novelist Bruce Bauman, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic baseball fan, moderated.
I was clearly the novelty act. Bauman was surprised a Giant book was picked for the festival, but there are Giant fans in LA. And I think all five of them came to the panel. We have to stick together. I acknowledged being surprised myself that I was included, but noted my gratitude that festival staff was wearing orange and black t-shirts to make me feel comfortable. (That may not be the reason for the color choice, but I’m sticking with my story.)
The Times also did that one better: They sent a guy named Sandoval to write a post about the panel, and he did a great job capturing the laughter in the room. (Writer Joshua is no relation to Giant Pablo, but no matter to me!)
We had a lot of fun telling stories and talking baseball. D’Antonio told how he spent a year combing through O’Malley’s personal documents – 30,000 of them – that had been stored in musty boxes, and revealed an incredible, never-before-told story that completely upended the modern myth of the Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn. O’Malley was not the diabolical villain who engineered Brooklyn’s misery, but instead worked tirelessly to build a new ballpark in the borough, only to be thwarted at every turn by Robert Moses, the unelected autocrat who ruled New York City politics for decades.
Frost also offered up great untold stories, including about the alcoholic, inept owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, and the boozing, drug-addled, nearly forgotten hero of the sixth game, Bernie Carbo. And he told how that Series – featuring a dozen Hall of Famers – marked the end of an era, as six weeks later, free agency began and baseball changed forever. It also remains the single most watched baseball game of all time, with an audience of 76 million people – the “high water mark” for the pastime, Frost said.
We had a lively discussion of steroids and cheating, and I reiterated my belief that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. When Bauman offered one last chance to pitch our books to the audience, the best I could come with was, “I think Dodger fans will love the stories of Giant heartbreak and frustration that populate my book.”
The festival itself is a marvelous celebration of the written word. I attended two other panels that inspired and encouraged, both featuring my friend, David Ulin, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, as moderator. The first – featuring Nicholas Carr, David Shields, and Ander Monson – addressed how reading and writing will survive in an age of increasing fragmentation. Some conclusions were inspiring (the written word is constantly evolving, and there is more writing and reading now than ever) and some depressing (people are increasingly incapable of reading at any length). But by the afternoon, when Ulin engaged Dave Eggers in conversation, optimism ruled the day. Eggers was funny, witty, upbeat and inspiring on so many levels: as a writer, as a publishing business visionary, and as a pied piper of the written word, whose “826” centers in San Francisco and elsewhere teach so many young people the joy of writing.
I think it’s rather a sad statement that Eggers is such a publishing visionary, because the simplicity of his vision reveals how broken the industry is. His publishing house, McSweeney’s, looks merely to recoup its costs and make a little bit of money for its writers, and get great stories out to the public in the way that writers like to tell them. He is satisfied with little or no profits and an 8-person operation. He looks at publishing and sees that more people bought books last year than ever before. The sad part to me is that book publishers – like the newspaper publishers I know all too well – want to run a high volume, high profit business, and the disappearance of those big profits is what has the industry wringing its hands and declaring doom.
As if that wasn’t enough, the weekend was full of many other personal highlights:
- A visit to friends at the Los Angeles Times, a magnificent Art Deco building that stands as a monument to great journalism, but which sadly now has vast empty sections as the paper struggles in the new economy.
- My first game at the Big A – Anaheim Stadium – where the Angels beat the Yankees Friday night. (Yes, I wore pinstripes.)
- Two outstanding meals at some of Los Angeles’ legendary Jewish delis: pastrami at Junior’s in Westwood on Saturday night, and matzo brei at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills Sunday morning. (Thank you, David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” for the inspiration.)
- Post-panel surprise encounters with two friends from my childhood in New Jersey. One of them came to my panel with a friend – the friend was there to see her friend, Mark Frost! The other, Carol Fitzgerald, was my babysitter; her mother, Sylvia Cicetti, had been my third grade teacher. Carol has run the site the Book Reporter for years now, and knows more about the publishing industry and the Internet than anybody I’ve ever met.
Just like the Giants themselves – who are tearing things up on the field so far this year, sweeping Houston, pitching great, hitting great, and going 3-0 into the opening homestand – “Giants Past and Present” is getting a great reception in the season’s opening week.
* I was on KQED’s “Forum” with Michael Krasny today, along with Giants President Larry Baer and San Francisco State University Prof. Eric Solomon, and we spent a delightful hour talking baseball. One of my favorite moments: When Baer told how the Giants would sell Tim Lincecum wigs this year, Solomon blurted, “Have you no shame?” I also enjoyed lobbing one of my pet issues in Baer’s lap: I want to see a Barry Bonds statue at AT&T Park. And Baer offered up an amusing story as well, after Solomon defended the Giants’ 1951 sign stealing as part of a long tradition of cheating in baseball; he said Giants’ Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry — a
notorious spitball thrower — was not only welcomed at Spring Training this year, but he was embraced by Commissioner Bud Selig, sending a subliminal message to the minor leaguers that it’s OK to doctor the ball. You can listen to the hour at KQED’s site, or if you prefer, right here:
* I was on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Chronicle Live last night, with host Greg Papa effusively praising the book as “comprehensive.” You can see it below, or on the Comcast site. I was glad I brought my camera: I was able to get photos with Papa and with my green room compadres, the 49ers’ offensive lineman Alex Boone, and a couple of Raiderettes, Cole and Anna. I’ll skip the cheerleader jokes, but will say that the Giants could use someone Boone’s size to bat fifth.
On the one hand you have long-time fans of the team, both in the East and West Coast incarnations. You also have younger fans, who grew up on the San Francisco version. In addition, there are the history buffs, the photography buffs, the pop culture buffs, you name it. In that regard, Giants has the proverbial something for everyone in one slim package. Fost, a freelance journalist in the Bay Area, shares his love for the team with anyone who wants to listen, or, more appropriately, read.
* The California Media Workers Guild — the union of which I was a proud member when I worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, and which I now belong to the freelancers’ unit — posted a nice write-up about me and the book in its section “We Love Our Work.” Rebecca Rosen Lum’s piece, “Capturing the history of baseball Giants,” gives a good description of some of the work that went into my book:
Fost had long nurtured an idea to write a book chronicling the 125-year history of the Giants – heartbreaks, gaffes and glories. When San Francisco magazine published his story commemorating the ball club’s 50th anniversary in the City, it caught the attention of MVP Books, a publishing company with a series of ball club profiles to its credit. They needed it turned around in two months.
No problem: “I had half the work done already,” Fost said. “I had notebooks full of stuff. My whole dining room became a baseball library.”
The project presented an opportunity “to play in the toy department” for Fost, the former sports editor of his college newspaper. In his life as a metro, features and business reporter, he has covered just about everything but sports. He developed a niche as a technology and business writer at the Marin Independent Journal and later the San Francisco Chronicle.
* I’m also getting some nice reviews on Amazon.com, and the book is consistently in or near the top 10 in the categories of baseball history, baseball writing and New York history.
There’s more to come – but I’m grateful to everyone for all the ink and airtime.
Welcome to GiantsPastandPresent.com, the Web site for the book, “Giants Past and Present.” The book will be a celebration of the Giants baseball team, from its founding in 1883 to the present day, from New York to San Francisco.
“Giants Past and Present” will be published in Spring 2010 by MVP Books.
I plan to use this Web site to post news about the book, links to interesting sites, and commentary on the Giants. And I welcome your feedback!