Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Are the San Francisco Giants the Real Cubbies?

Look at who's enjoyed the throne since the Arizona Diamondbacks broke the New York Yankees' stranglehold on baseball in 2001.

2002 - California Angels (or whatever you want to call them)
2003 - Florida Marlins
2004 - Boston Red Sox
2005 - Chicago White Sox
2006 - St. Louis Cardinals
2007 - Boston Red Sox
2008 - Philadelphia Phillies

I want to draw your attention particularly to '04, '05, and '08. Those years saw long-suffering franchises finally remove the Baseball Gods' collective foot from their throats. It's true that Philly won a championship as recently as 1980, but the franchise's history dates back to 1883.

And 2008 was their second title. Oof.

Everyone knows the story behind the '04 Red Sox - the Curse of the Bambino, blah, blah, freakin' blah. Ditto the '05 White Sox - no titles since the Black Sox scandal in 1919.

Now consider that the Chicago Cubs, the heretofore unquestioned most lovable loser, clocked in last year with a payroll just a hair under $118 million. Only seven teams showed more human bling on the diamond.

Uhhh, you don't get to play "lovable loser" while you're trying to buy a World Series. Or is it just me?

And what if a group spearheaded by Mark Cuban purchases the team?

Without Boston, Philadelphia, and both Chicagos, there is a noticeable void in the baseball world.

Whose fanbase is the longest-suffering, most battle-scarred loser we should all pull for when it's the last one standing? After our teams have been eliminated?

Provided of course they can make it back to the playoffs sometime in the next millennium, ladies and gentlemen, I submit my beloved San Francisco Giants.

First, allow me to run through the Shakespearean resume:
  1. No championship since 1954, which means no world titles since the team relocated to the City.
  2. Lost to STL in the 1987 National League Championship Series.
  3. Swept by the Oakland Athletics in the 1989 World Series after the '89 Quake postponed Game Three.
  4. Devastated losers of the Last Pure Pennant Race in 1993; winners of 103 baseball games, watching the postseason from the couch.
  5. Bounced by the eventual champion and wild card Florida Marlins in 1997.
  6. Losers of the one-game playoff tie-breaker to the Cubbies in 1998.
  7. Unceremoniously shown the exit by the wild card New York Mets in 2000 after completing the regular season with the best record in baseball.
  8. I can't yet talk about it; I'll just point at the 2002 World Series.
  9. Bounced by the eventual champion and wild card Florida Marlins in 2003.
  10. Barry Lamar Bonds is no longer under the employ of the franchise, which also brought the payroll back to the middle of the pack.
Except for the lack of championships, all that heartbreak has been crammed into the years since I moved to the Bay Area in 1987 (Bonds' departure is both sadness for us and one less reason to root against the Orange and Black for you).

There's more disappointment in the years between the Giants' first year in SF, '58, and '86. I'll leave the stories behind those scars for the people who bear them.

Furthermore, the bullet points of '89, '93, and '02 don't even scratch the surface.

Consider the '89 Quake did untold physical and psychological damage to the Bay Area, especially the City of San Francisco. True, it did some of the same to Oakland. But the Nimitz Freeway was less a part of Oakland and more a part of California's infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Bay Bridge is as much a part of SF as it is of Oakland.

Regardless, neither is as personally significant to the area's identity as SF's Marina District, which crumbled and burned.

Within the less important reference frame of baseball, the Quake prevented the start of Game Three, which was the Giants' first home game and first chance against a pitcher not named Dave Stewart or Mike Moore. It damaged Candlestick. It allowed the A's to get two starts in four games from their two best pitchers.

In all honestly, the Giants were probably not winning that Series. The offenses were competitive but Oakland's pitching had SF's dominated. Still, Loma Prieta took a lot of the psychological fight out of our boys and facing Oakland's two aces twice in four games didn't help matters.

The Last Pure Pennant Race was almost more devastating from a baseball perspective.

I remember spending the entire summer listening to the Gents on the radio while oiling the shingles on my parents' house.

I remember the day the Atlanta Braves acquired Fred McGriff and Fulton County Stadium literally caught fire.

I remember Will Clark running up the back of Mike Jackson's legs, sending Jax to the shelf and doing immeasurable damage to our hopes.

I remember tearing up every single Thrill poster that adorned my walls. He was my favorite player so it took a while.

I remember Salomon Torres when he was still an insanely young, blue-chip starter.

And I remember the last game of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers that began Torres' career as a reliever.

Most of all, I remember 103 wins and no postseason. An injustice so cruel it broke the wild card camel's back, ensuring San Francisco would be the last team to suffer such a shocking and cold-hearted fate at the hands of the Baseball Gods.

Alas, all the misery to date heaped together pales compared to the agony of 2002. As I said, I won't discuss it. I cannot yet get passed three words: five outs away.

Finally, look at the baseball landscape.

You have to remove from the discussion any expansion teams or those who have won a title in the last 60 years, unless there are extenuating circumstances like those just exorcised from Philly. That's a lot of teams, including those discussed above:

Good bye both New York teams, Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida, Washington, both Chicagos, Kansas City, Detroit, Minnesota, Houston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, both Los Angeles teams, Oakland, Seattle, Texas, San Diego, Colorado, and Arizona.

That's the entire American League except for Cleveland. The entire National League except for Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.

The Pirates won two titles in the '70s plus another in '60, but they make the list because of their recent putridity. Still, three titles are three titles.

Milwaukee won a title in '57, but that was the Braves' franchise and they have been pretty awful recently, too. This is a little closer to SF.

But really, the only team that can give the Giants a run for Shakespearean tragic supremacy is the Cleveland Indians.

And I don't think they've got a shot. Of course, I haven't been paying attention too closely to the Tribe. Plus, they got to enjoy Major League (then again, I guess the sequels would have to factor in as additional misery - forget I said anything).

I guess I can't blame you if you run to the Indians, but we need you in San Francisco.

The heaviest foot of the Baseball Gods is on our throat.

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