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San Francisco Giants

A professional baseball team in the National League

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These Giants Stand Tall

  • Oct 25, 2012
Rating:
+5
Despite the juice, the cream, and the clear becoming big time factors in the home run's recent surge in baseball, looking at the all-time home run numbers can really boggle one's mind. In the history of Major League Baseball, over 10,000 players have suited up in one uniform or another at some point. Of those players, though, a little over a tenth of them have ever hit a home run. Notice I'm not using any plurals there. That's well under 2000 baseball players who have hit even a single home run, ever, in the entirety of their careers. As the number of home runs grows, the number of players who have done serious damage with them drops very sharply. 300 players have managed to cross the 200 mark in home runs. Once you get to 400, you start to see the names of guys who created their entire reputations and careers on being feared sluggers. Only 50 players ever got there, and there are a bunch of popular baseball names you would be surprised to learn never got out of the 400 range: David Ortiz and Adam Dunn only just got there, and the list includes other names like Dave Kingman, Chipper Jones, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, and Jose Canseco. 500 is extremely rarified territory. 25 players got there, including Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Frank Thomas, Mickey Mantle, and Mark McGwire. The List of players between 600 and 700 consists of Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, and Sammy Sosa. That's it. The 700 level has room for only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth.

That makes it all the more remarkable that of the top four guys, two - Mays and Bonds - have played for the San Francisco Giants. That's pretty incredible as it stands, but Mays and Bonds are also both in the conversation for best all-around player in history. They are just two of the players who made the Giants one of the most important, powerful, and respected teams in baseball history.

The Giants seem to be on the backburners a lot in baseball conversation about the greatest overall teams, which isn't fair to them. Look at these staggering numbers: The Giants have won more games than any other team in professional baseball, or any other team in professional sports. As I write this, they won their 22 National League Pennant, placing them into their 19th World Series. Both of those are records in the National League. They have more players in the Hall of Fame than any other team. They've won the World Series six times. Only the New York Yankees, Saint Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, and Boston Red Sox have won it more often, and if they pull through in this year's Fall Classic, they'll be tied with Boston. (And have one more title than their archrivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

The Giants play in the senior National League and are one of the oldest professional sports teams in the United States. They were founded in 1883, at the very beginnings of professional baseball, as the New York Gothams. At the time, the National League was the only professional baseball league in the country, and it was withdrawing from many of the country's big cities as the teams in New York City and Philadelphia were expelled for not playing out their full schedules in their first year, 1876. Teams in Saint Louis and Louisville were kicked out for being caught throwing games. Cincinnati was thrown out in 1880 for having the NERVE! to play baseball on SUNDAY! In 1882, people whom I assume were National League One Percenters fed up with the puritans taking charge got together and formed the American Association, taking up residence in the big cities where they could cater to the blue collar folks by offering cheaper ticket prices, letting patrons act more like they wanted, and (gasp!) playing baseball on Sundays. The National League fought back by dissolving its teams in Troy, New York and Worcester, Massachusetts and returning to New York City and Philadelphia. The NL was hoping to lure the New York Metropolitans - no relation to today's New York Mets - but they decided to enter the AA. The Metropolitans' owners, John Day and Jim Mutrie, did realize a good opportunity when they smelled one, though, so they also made up a whole new team for the NL. Those were the original Gothams.

The Gothams were a reigning powerhouse by the late 1880's, and the proud Mutrie began referring to them as his giants. That's the name which eventually stuck. In 1889, they won their first Pennant. In 1890, though, a group of players got pissed off at the way they were being treated by management, and they formed a new league called the Players' League which all the Giants stars jumped into. A few years later, the Giants were sold to Andrew Freedman, one of the most hated owners in the history of the sport. After a ton of disastrous moves which left the Giants 53 games out of first, Freedman hired as player/manager the equally hated John McGraw in 1902. Although McGraw was hated and is still known today as one of baseball's supreme pricks, no fans can deny the man got results, either. Hiring McGraw was the last and second-best move Freedman made with the Giants. The best thing Freedman did came shortly after - he was forced to sell the team.

Meanwhile, McGraw took the Giants off on a run which, for the first few decades of the modern era, made them the absolute class of New York City baseball. The man managed the Giants for three solid decades, during which they won ten Pennants and three World Series titles. Who the hell was built to compete with that? The Brooklyn Dodgers, with their pedestrian talent? The New York Highlanders, in that new upstart (read: inferior) American League? HA! It might have been four World Series titles had the Giants not boycotted it in 1904. The 1904 World Series was supposed to be the second ever, but McGraw refused to play, citing the inferior talent of the American League, even though the AL representative from the previous year, the Boston Americans, had beaten the Pittsburgh Pirates in the showdown. Part of the problem cited by historians was that the owners of the Giants were somewhat nervous and not at all happy about the prospect of potentially facing the Highlanders, who had made a spectacular run at the Pennant in 1904 before eventually falling second to Boston. The Giants took a lot of shit for that, which led to the World Series being formalized in many ways which are still around today. They did win the Pennant again in 1905, though, as well as the World Series that ensued.

During this era, a lot of big names honed their skills under McGraw. The man had a hell of an eye for talent, and he dug up Christy Mathewson, Joe McGinnity, Bill Terry, Jim Thorpe, Mel Ott, Casey Stengel, and Red Ames. Even with all that talent, though, they still endured a lot of frustration. In 1908, they finished in a tie with the Chicago Cubs, which forced them into a one-game playoff which resulted in the Giants being on the wrong end of one of the most controversial plays in baseball history. The play, called the Merkle Boner, revolved around player Fred Merkle not touching a base after scoring the winning run. In the early 1910's, they won three Pennants in a row but lost all three World Series, first to the Philadelphia Athletics, then to the newly renamed Boston Red Sox, then to the As again. In 1915, they finished last. By 1917, they were Pennant winners again, but they lost the World Series to the Chicago White Sox. It wasn't until 1921 that the Giants finally followed through on their Pennant victory, knocking off their American League counterparts, the Highlanders, who would soon be known exclusively by their other name, the Yankees. They beat the Yankees in the Series the following year, too, before bowing to them in 1923 to give the Yankees their first title, and the Washington Senators their first title in 1924. (Which was also their only title as the Washington Senators.)

In 1932, McGraw finally stepped aside. He let Bill Terry manage the team. Terry held the Giants for ten years, during which he won three more Pennants and defeated the Senators in the 1933 World Series. Mel Ott emerged during this era, and Carl Hubbell became one of only three pitchers in baseball history to master the screwball. (The other two were Mathewson and Fernando Valenzuela.) Mel Ott managed beginning in 1942, but those were the war years, and they were hard on the Giants. After the war, the Giants made major waves by hiring manager Leo Durocher in 1948. Not only was the switch - which came in the middle of the season - unusual because of timing, but Durocher was a rather colorful character in an unwholesome way. He was coming off a gambling suspension in 1947. Also, his former management assignment had been with those fucking Dodgers, their archrivals. In fact, Durocher had been their face. Giants fans did warm to him, though, when he brought them the 1951 Pennant through Bobby Thompson's Shot Heard 'Round the World and won the Series in 1954, which included a spectacular catch by a young Willie Mays, maybe the greatest Giant.

That was their final memorable hurrah in New York City. The Giants stumbled through the next three seasons, and Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, who was moving to Los Angeles at the end of the 1957 season, convinced Stoneham to move out west with him. Part of it was simple practical convenience - it wasn't very reasonable to have baseball teams fly out west for only one series, then immediately go back east, so O'Malley needed another team in California to get the move approved. So he sought Stoneham, thinking it would be awesome if they could continue their ferocious rivalry out in the Golden State. So after the 1957 season, both teams bolted the boroughs, the Dodgers for Los Angeles and the Giants for San Francisco. The Giants, though, were left with a curse: The Curse of Coogan's Bluff, an overlook of their old stadium, the Polo Grounds. It said they would never win the World Series again.

The curse was right, as it turned out, or at least it seemed that way to longtime fans. The Giants hit it off in the Bay Area, and won another Pennant in 1962 only to lose the World Series to the Yankees. It was a tight seven-gamer, too. They contended through the rest of the decade before becoming a disappointing team in the 70's a period when they never finished higher than third. In the 80's, they actually bottomed out. Their Pennant drought was, by this time, their longest, and the 1985 Giants lost 100 games, which is the most in their history. Roger Craig was hired to manage in 1985 after that disaster, and he was able to return them to their former glory, at least somewhat. The Giants never finished with a losing record in his first five years and won the Pennant in 1989. Unfortunately, the Loma Prieta Earthquake interrupted the World Series that year for ten days. After it resumed, the Giants were swept by their Bay Bridge Series rivals, the Oakland Athletics.

1993 brought the man who is, in my personal opinion, the greatest Giant: Barry Bonds. I don't care what anyone has to say about him. He was the best player in baseball for a reason, and pitchers eventually grew to be so afraid of Bonds that they kept pitching around him and intentionally walking him. With Bonds in place and Dusty Baker at the helm, the Giants were eventually able to get back into the World Series in 2002 with the help of other talented players like Jeff Kent and Robb Nen. Despite an exciting, offensively based World Series which saw Bonds put up inhuman numbers, the Giants fell to the Anaheim Angels. During this period, Bonds also broke the single-season home run record in 2001 by belting 73. In 2007, the career homer record was also his. Those should have been more powerful moments than they were. Unfortunately, Bonds was a steroid junkie, so his records are often disputed by those who simply don't want to accept them. This was exasperated by the fact that Bonds is also universally seen as a major ass. Some people have seen Bonds display genuine warmth and affection. Unfortunately, there was too little of that good side of Bonds being seen, and after 2007, he was left in a rather unique position: After breaking the home run record, Bonds was left off the Giants roster the following year. The team refused to re-sign him. And since his bad reputation as a demanding locker room cancer had spread far and wide, no other teams wanted to take a chance with him. The arguable greatest player in baseball history was plump not allowed to play anymore.

Without Bonds, the Giants struggled. He really WAS that important. In 2008, they finished 72-90. They won 94 games the following season, though, but they spent most of 2010 playing keep-up with the San Diego Padres. When the Padres suffered a nasty losing streak in September, though, the Giants closed in, moved into first with an 18-8 September record, and took the division. In a playoff they were supposed to be excluded from, they faced the Atlanta Braves and beat them 3-1. In the NLCS, they faced the two-time defending NL Champions, the team many considered the best in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies, and beat them 4-2. Then came the World Series against the Texas Rangers, in their first-ever World Series and with the services of AL MVP Josh Hamilton and Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. Staring the 56-year-old Curse of Coogan's Bluff in the face, the Giants overcame the long odds, beat the Rangers in five games, and won their first-ever World Series as the San Francisco Giants.

San Francisco finished second in 2011. In 2012, pitcher Matt Cain pitched the first perfect game in Giants history. Melky Cabrera was the MVP of the All-Star Game. Cabrera got suspended for 50 games for using steroids, but his loss was made up when the Giants got Hunter Pence from the Phillies and Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies. Most importantly of all, though, the Giants are now back in the World Series, where they're facing the Detroit Tigers. They just won the first game behind stellar pitching from ace Barry Zito and a tough, smart lineup of batters that shellacked Detroit ace Justin Verlander, who may be the best pitcher in baseball right now.

The Giants share one of the oldest and greatest rivalries in professional sports with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Walter O'Malley talking the Giants into moving west with his was a brilliant move, and it ensured that the incredible rivalry between these teams would always have a sense of importance for the fans, no matter how the teams are doing. San Francisco and Los Angeles are rivals in many other ways, in culture, economy, and politics, so sports is just natural. To me, this is the greatest rivalry in baseball, not the catfight between the Yankees and Red Sox. (And I'm a Yankees fan.) This rivalry is enduring in part because of the great balance in it, and the Dodgers only have one less Pennant (to maybe be followed by one less title.) Unfortunately, this leads to inexcusable behavior on the part of the fans, which hit a low at the start of the 2011 season when a Giants fan at the opener in Los Angeles was beaten almost to death by a pair of punks in Dodgers gear claiming to be fans. It was eventually learned that the guys responsible were members of a street gang that uses the Dodgers as a call sign. Still, the two teams are responsible for many of each others' great moments, including the Shot Heard 'Round the World, and the hiring of Leo Durocher.

The Bay Area is also home to the Oakland Athletics, a team with a great history of its own. It's a lot like the Subway Series rivalry between the Yankees and Mets in New York City, Red Line Series between the Cubs and White Sox in Chicago, and Freeway Series between the Dodgers and Angels in Anaheim and Los Angeles. The difference is that the Bay Bridge Series, as the Athletics/Giants rivalry is called, is a lot friendlier, and to a large extent it's considered acceptable to be a fan of both teams. (These are the luckiest baseball fans on Earth.) Their rivalry goes back a little bit too; the teams met several times in the World Series while in New York City and Philadelphia, and John McGraw managed the Series against As management legend Connie Mack. In 1989, after both were established Bay Area teams, they met in the World Series again.

There are many more players in the Hall of Fame from the New York Giants than the San Francisco Giants, but it isn't like either one is lacking. Carl Hubbell, Rube Marquand, Christy Mathewson, Mel Ott, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Leo Durocher, John McGraw, Gary Carter, Steve Carlton, Monte Irvin, Duke Snyder, and Warren Spahn are just an inkling of Giants greats. 66 representatives of the Giants in all are in the Hall. For comparison, the Dodgers have 54, and the Yankees have 52. Ten numbers have been retired, including Jackie Robinson, a Dodger who was retired by the league. The jury is out on Barry Bonds.

San Francisco, while not getting nearly as much coverage as New York City, is known for having baseball fans who are every bit as rabid and foaming at the mouth as New York City or Chicago, Saint Louis, or Philadelphia. If you're getting into baseball, there's no way to go wrong picking them.

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December 13, 2012
I agree. Nice review!
 
October 27, 2012
Nice write-up. I happened to be at the April 16th game against the Phillies (no the game that Cain beat Lee in extra innings was the next night) and though it was early in the season, there was definately a playoff buzz in the stands and the crowd was pretty loud. It would be nice if they could win the last two games and add a second title in 3 years.
October 29, 2012
Well, what do you know!
October 29, 2012
In the immortal words of a Staples commercial - That was easy!
 
October 25, 2012
Nice!
 
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More San Francisco Giants reviews
Quick Tip by . January 10, 2011
posted in Just Baseball
One of the sport's true classic teams. Formerly of New York, they went to San Francisco in 1958 and built a new legend and history, as well as one of baseball's most understated but great fanbases. Finally won their first Fall Classic sine the move, well deserved for them and their fans.
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The San Francisco Giants are a Major League Baseball team based in San Francisco, California, that currently play in the National League West Division. One of the oldest of the MLB teams, the Giants hold the distinction of having won the most games of any team in the history of baseball. The Giants also have the most members in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Giants played in New York through the 1957 season, after which they moved west to California to become the San Francisco Giants.
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League: National League
Ballpark: AT&T Park
Championships: 5

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