MAYS, McCOVEY, AND MARICHAL. Yes, the Yankees had their M&M boys (Mantle and Maris) piling up championships, and the Amazin' Mets had their Miracle, but my Giants had the Say Hey Kid, Stretch, and the Dominican Dandy--and Gaylord Perry, Jim Davenport, Orlando Cepeda, Tom Haller, all three Alou brothers, and so many others. Still, no championship. My 45 seasons as a fan of Frisco slipped by quietly--and quickly. You know how life is. All of a sudden, you're not a wide-eyed boy anymore, or even a wise-guy teenager, or that infuriating angry young man, or an up-and-coming sportswriter, or a how-did-I-ever-get-so-lucky-to- find-her newlywed, or a novice father. They say you've reached middle aged but, at 52, I have to believe I'm more than halfway there--wherever there ultimately proves to be. Finally, though, I am secure in the knowledge that I will be arriving replete with a treasure that has proved to be so elusive for so many years: a World Series title for the San Francisco Giants. I'm reminded of the N.Y. Rangers' fans who waited 54 years to raise the Stanley Cup, and also the banner: At Least I Can Die Happy Now.
Both my grandfathers rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers; they never could quite figure out how my father raised a Giants fan, although the signs were there early on: when my dad went with his dad to Ebbets Field, he cheered on Gotham's black-and-orange over the Dodger blue-just to be a contrarian. My father, Brooklyn born and raised, paid no loyalties to cities when it came to favorite teams. He grew up cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates (because of Ralph Kiner); Boston Celtics (Bill Russell was his favorite player): Chicago Black Hawks (the stories he could tell about Stan Mikita); and the New York football Giants (the Cleveland Browns were their big rival back then, so, of course, I became a Browns fan; there's that contrarian gene again).
I, too, was born in Brooklyn, and the Giants and Dodgers left town for the West Coast four months later. So, you might say that the SFGs and I grew up together. Four seasons prior to their move--and three years after Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World"--the Giants pulled off one of the biggest shockers in World Series history, sweeping the Cleveland Indians, who had just set an American League record by winning the 1954 pennant with 111 victories--and the Giants had not (at least until earlier this month) won since. Funny thing is, in terms of longest waits for a title, the Giants, before this Series, had been bookended by the Indians (1948) and Texas Rangers (1961). The Chicago Cubs (1908) head the list.
The San Francisco version of the Giants won the pennant in 1962--I was not a fan yet; I took up the mantle in 1965--and faced the mighty New York Yankees in a meeting that truly lived up to its "Fall Classic" billing. With two out in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 and S.F. trailing by a run, the Giants had runners on second and third with Willie McCovey coming up. The contest ended with his screaming line drive nestled securely in second baseman Bobby Richardson's glove.
The Giants did not get another crock at the crown for 27 years, and then were a victim of the Earthquake and the most-lopsided sweep (to the Oakland A's) in Series history. An unlucky 13 years later, led by Barry Bonds (his father Bobby, whom I loved--Barry not so much--was part of the 1971 West Division winners), the Giants returned to the World Series stage; were up three games to two and leading 5-0 heading into the seventh inning of Game 6 (and 5-3 going to the eighth) before letting it all slip away against the California Angels. They won the West again in 2003, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Florida Marlins, who went on to win the World Series, which is the exact same path the Marlins took when winning the Series in 1997. (Ironic that the Series-winning hit for those '97 Marlins was provided by Edgar Renteria, the same man who delivered the victorious blow for the 2010 Giants in the Game 5 clincher against the Texas Rangers.)
These were heady days for the Giants under manager Dusty Baker. In '98, S.F. tied for the wild card, but lost a one-game playoff to the Cubs. In '99, they finished second, but were in the race until the very last. In 2000, they had the best record in baseball, but lost to the Mets--woe is me; I was there--in the NLDS. In 2001, another frantic last week of the season once again resulted in a second-place consolation prize.
This season, with the best pitching staff in baseball and a patchwork lineup of "castoffs and misfits," as manager Brace Bochy likes to call them, the Giants were the kings of the nail-biting one-run victory. They won the West on the final day of the season, then, in succession, beat the Atlanta Braves (NLDS), the two time defending National league champion Philadelphia Phillies (NLCS, hooray for me; I was there), and the Rangers (W.S.)--all the clinchers coming on the road. For a franchise born in 1883 that boasts the most wins of any team in the history of American baseball, that makes 21 pennants and six World Series championships (1905, 1921-22, 1933, 1954, 2010). Yet, even while the club was weaving its magic, I couldn't shake the shadows of disappointments past, as the history books kept sending disheartening disclaimers my way. For instance, the Rangers were born as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961, when they entered the big league fray with the Angels. (They relocated to Texas 10 years later.) The original Senators won their only World Series in 1924--over the Giants. The Angels, meanwhile, had never even been to, no less won, the W.S. until they faced the Giants in 2002. Now, their compatriots in championship futility, the Rangers (who had never advanced in a playoff series before this postseason), were heading to Frisco. Ominous vibes, indeed.
In the end, though, my concerns proved groundless. It turns out that broadcaster Duine Kuiper and rotund comedian Jackie Gleason had it right all along: Giants baseball ... torture, but how sweet it is!
Wayne M. Barrett is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of USA Today.