In the 1950’s, baseball ruled in America, and New York City was the center of the baseball universe. Every year of the decade (except one) the World Series was played in Gotham. The Yankees were the dominant franchise, but the Giants and the Dodgers were always nipping at their heels. Those two National League clubs were bitter rivals, who were involved in many epic duels.
The most memorable battle occurred on October 3rd 1951, when Bobby Thomson homered off of the Dodgers Ralph Branca, propelling the Giants to the World Series. The “Shot Heard Round the World” was culminated by the shouts of the Giants radio announcer Ralph Hodges, who screamed “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT, THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT”.
The Giants then went on to the World Series, where they fell to the Yankees in six games. Three years later, in 1954, they returned to the Fall Classic, and swept the heavily favored Cleveland Indians.
In 1957 the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved across the country to Los Angeles. The Giants followed them in 1958, and ventured west to San Francisco.
New York was left with one team. The baseball landscape was about to change. New York was no longer the center of the baseball universe, and the demographics of the sport were about to change, inexorably.
The City by the Bay welcomed their new team with open arms. They played their first two seasons in Seals Stadium, and then moved to Candlestick Park in 1960, their home for the next 39 years until they moved to PacBell (AT&T Park) Stadium in 2000.
They had very good players, and very successful teams. Willie Mays was a Hall of Famer, and one of the best center fielders of all time. Juan Marichal won 238 games and had 244 complete games. Willie McCovey hit 469 home runs. There were other great players, including Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Ray Hart, Bobby Bonds, and Will Clark. Not to mention Barry Bonds.
Good players and good teams. But one thing was missing. No world championships. Since 1954, the cupboard was bare. What was even more galling was that the Dodgers, their hated rivals, had attained five World Series championships since moving west. The former “Bums of Brooklyn” had repeatedly climbed the mountain top. The Giants were perennially left behind.
There were many close calls. There was the line drive that Willie McCovey hit in the 7th game of the 1962 World Series that was caught by the Yankees Bobby Richardson, robbing the Giants of the Championship. Between 1965 and 1969, the club had 5 consecutive second place finishes. In 1971 they lost the NLCS to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1993 the team won 103 games but finished second, one game behind the Braves. There was the 1987 NLCS loss to the Cardinals with Jeff “One Flap Down” Leonard. The club also came up short in the1989 and 2002 Fall Classics.
What is astounding about the 2010 Giants is that no one expected much of them. The team had transformed themselves since the Barry Bonds years, deciding to rely on pitching and defense, but no one expected them to make the playoffs. Trailing San Diego by 7 1/2 games in the NL West on July 4, they meandered in the wild-card race until the stretch run, winning the division and finishing 92-70.
The team was a collection of cast-offs, with no marquee players. They did have outstanding pitching and good defense, with a stellar bullpen, proving the adage that pitching and defense does indeed win games.
After defeating the Braves in the divisional playoffs and the Phillies in a very exciting NLCS, even the most ardent Giants fans were cautiously optimistic. History was not on their side. There was the 54 year drought. There were the memories of the repeated failures. However, the other franchises with extended droughts (Red Sox, White Sox) had exorcised their demons, so MAYBE it was to be their year.
And in retrospect, the details of the Giants World Championship are less important than the history of the clubs futility prior to this point. Of course credit must be given to Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson and Edgar Renteria and Butch Posey and Bruce Bochy and the rest of the club. The team that FINALLY brought an end to the drought.
But to long time Giants fans, it’s more of a chance to reminisce. One thinks of many things, including the horrid conditions of Candlestick Park. Or John “The Count” Montefusco. Or Herman Franks. And Jeff Kent and his motorcycle excursions as well as his battles with Barry Bonds. Or the Juan Marichal/John Roseboro incident. Or Sal “The Barber” Maglie. Or John McGraw and Coogans Bluff. Or Bobby Bonds and his battles with alcohol and the press. Or the 1983 All Star experience of Atlee Hammaker, when he surrendered 7 earned runs in 2/3 of an innings, including Fred Lynn’s grand slam.
The great Christy Matthewson also has to be mentioned.
As well as Mel Ott and his 511 home runs.
Also Carl Hubbell, his 253 wins and incredible screwball.
The Giants have an incredible history. The fans that supported them through their drought now have reason to celebrate. As does all of baseball. Because in baseball, hope springs eternal. Having said that, spring training is just around the corner.
Are there any Cubs fans in the house?