The grizzled cabbie craned his neck out of the taxi window to survey the madhouse on Market Street. San Francisco’s busiest downtown boulevard, even on normal days, was teeming with thousands of jubilant Giant followers. Car horns were honking. Orange and black confetti was fluttering from the windows above. Strangers were shaking hands, then embracing. More than a few pedestrians were already drunk or headed in that general vicinity. The driver shook his head and proclaimed, “There hasn’t been anything like this since V-J Day.”
—David Plaut, Chasing October
Some years you just know the World Series was won by the right team. This was one of those years.
We won’t care about the San Francisco Giants come May 3 when they are the visitors at Citi Field. We didn’t care about them last May when they swung by to spend a weekend. I didn’t think I was looking at a team that within six months would be world champions when I saw Henry Blanco take Guillermo Mota deep to end a windy Saturday afternoon in breezy style. I didn’t think I was looking at anything more than a competitor for the Wild Card (if we fell much further behind the Braves in the East, that is) when I watched them take three in a row from the Mets in mid-July and Phil Cuzzi take one from them on our behalf before we continued along on our merry Pacific time zone death march.
Yet the 2010 Mets are ancient history and the 2010 Giants are the best team in the land. They are the right team to have earned that designation. They rolled over the Texas Rangers with methodical precision Monday night, as they did Sunday night, as they did in two of the three previous games of this World Series. Texas was the right team to win the American League pennant, but couldn’t have looked less capable of competing as their final Game Five outs slipped away. This was San Francisco’s stage, and they deserved to take the final bow.
Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and the increasingly legendary Tim Lincecum were the genuine article in this Series. They and their black-bearded closer give them an excellent chance of winning any three games they pitch. They figure to be pitching for quite a while and they figure to be pitching to Buster Posey, who figures to be hitting for quite a while. As for the rest of this championship roster, who the hell knows? It’s the kind of collection you look at in any Spring Training and, if it’s yours, you think, “Well, I dunno, maybe if they all get their act together and we get lucky and enough things go wrong for everybody else…”
Do these San Francisco Giants have the figurative legs to go with their literal arms? That’s a private matter for Giants fans to fret. We won’t care by next season. All that mattered was in October and the very beginning of November, they were 25 easy pieces. They fit. They gave us an outstanding show and provided pleasant company before we’d be forced to face the fact that once Brian Wilson fired his final fastball, the baseball season would be finished.
It was done by our parochial reckoning just over four weeks ago, maybe just over four months ago, back in Puerto Rico, back where Cody Ross was a nettlesome Marlin getting all up in our grill. It’s hard to recall through the crisp autumn air and the equally crisp pitching of young Lincecum, Bumgarner and Cain that the Mets were once a part of the same season whose champion was crowned only hours ago. All we’ve had lately are press conferences and speculation.
Yet it’s all the same game, the same one we leaned into when Pitchers & Catchers strapped on their gear in February; the same one we relished that bright April afternoon when Johan Santana reeled in Ross’s Marlins to start us off 1-0; the same one that left us more and more jaundiced as the Mets fell further and further from competence. It’s still baseball, still what we love. It’s why some of us — if not nearly enough of us, by Nielsen’s accounting — stick with this game long after our side has taken a seat.
We brush off our personal disappointment and we turn our attention to eight brand new teams. Some are total strangers to us, some are disgustingly familiar. Some are the San Francisco Giants of 2010, fuzzy figures from May and July who suddenly come into focus and remake their introduction to us. They become the reason we can cling the slightest bit to the summer before. They serve as our motivation to keep reading and keep watching and keep writing.
I’m a romantic about the World Series. I yearn for the World Series to loom as more super than any Super Bowl in the public imagination. I absorb jealously descriptions like that proffered by Roger Kahn in Memories of Summer as regarded the first Fall Classic he covered, in 1952:
Six hundred of the best and most popular sportswriters in the world would cover every inning of every game. The ranks included [...] Vincent X. Flaherty of San Francisco. The closest major league stadium, Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, stood 2,140 miles east of Flaherty’s home base, but the old World Series transcended geography. It was a front-page story across the country, especially exotic to people who lived thousands of miles away.
The World Series is no longer a national observance, not like that. NBC and the NFL garnered more viewers than Fox did with baseball. I knew they would, but I don’t get it. I don’t get sports fans who would choose run-of-the-mill football over championship baseball. I don’t get media that dismiss franchises based in San Francisco and next to Dallas as unready for prime time. I don’t get Mets fans who stepped around this postseason. I don’t get baseball fans who stepped around this postseason. If you love pitching (and who doesn’t?), you had to love these last four weeks. If you love endings that aren’t predestined, you had to love the Giants versus the Rangers as opposed to far grislier potential matchups. If you love baseball, you should love it as long as it’s there to be loved.
I’ve never been a San Francisco Giants fan, but I feel ridiculously good for those who are San Francisco Giants fans, at least the ones who weren’t obnoxious to a friend of mine who visited gorgeous Phone Company Park this year. I’ll brush those nitwits aside and consider instead my kind of fan. I always believe there is a version of me rooting for every team that’s gone too long without reward. The Giants who are redolent of dried champagne and are to be feted by parade and are to have their fingers measured for ring size…good for them, of course. They made it happen, I liked watching them ply their craft and all, but most of them will be people I root against next May 3.
The Giants fan version of me and of you…not the nasty ones, not the nouveau obnoxious, not the bandwagoneers, but those who wondered if this night would ever come…ohmigod, how can you not be thrilled for that Giants fan? That Giants fan who has his own war stories, who has his own tales of front office malfeasance and favorite players unfairly shipped away and Octobers that didn’t go nearly as swimmingly as this one.
On nights like these, I feel good for that fan, whoever he is.
I also feel sensational for a friend of mine whose love of the Giants dates to the Polo Grounds of Mel Ott. To use a phrase I heard a lot in college, Bill Kent is a trip. He’s the Gray Tornado, and there’s no stopping him. He’s wiry, he’s energetic, he’s got nearly 35 years on me and I wouldn’t bet against him outlasting me. Bill organized the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society. It was founded out of the ashes of another group that was rendered dormant by lax management. There’s nothing lax about Bill. He got my phone number from the previous group, enticed me to a West Side warehouse on a hot July night in 2004 to eat terrible pizza and dine out on delectable stories of what it was like when there were New York Giants roaming the city.
There were maybe six of us sitting around a table under a buzzing fluorescent light that first evening. Then the warehouse became unavailable to us and Bill moved the meetings to a Chinese restaurant in Riverdale. Then an Italian restaurant across the street with a little more space because we kept attracting new members. It was word of mouth. Bill’s mouth mostly. Bill called and e-mailed and welcomed everybody who was interested in the Giants. New York Giants. San Francisco Giants. Anybody who might be Giants. If you wanted in, Bill wanted you. He still does.
We’ve lately met in a church annex in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. We are, I swear, turning into the modern equivalent of the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York, except the only stakes are ten bucks for slightly better pizza than we ate in the West Side warehouse. Bill has taken to inviting guest speakers: authors, historians, bat boys who once handled Don Mueller’s lumber, whoever knows something the rest of might be fascinated to learn. They’re all good, but what I like best, still, are the stories from the guys (and dolls) who chip in their ten bucks, the guys who, between slices, let on casually about the time they met Bobby Thomson.
Most of those fellas were New York Giants fans who stuck by their first allegiance even if Horace Stoneham didn’t stick by them. They morphed into San Francisco Giants fans who never gave the New York Mets a second glance. Some are the National League loyalist sons (and daughters) of New York Giants fans who carried on the family tradition, also immune to Amazin’ charms. There are a few camp followers like myself who find the New York Giants irresistible and the gang’s stubborn San Francisco fealty harmless in the context of modestly improved pizza and ever excellent stories.
Once Nelson Cruz swung and missed to end Game Five, I thought of Bill and I thought of the rest of them. I felt as good for them as I did the San Francisco version of me.
Fifty-six years for my senior compatriots in the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society. Fifty-two years for those out west who fell into a misplaced New York institution. Too many years for any San Franciscan who decided sometime after 1958 that the Giants were the thing for them, that this team would be one of the touchstones of their lives, just as the Mets are a touchstone of ours.
Any year now, they thought after losing the World Series in 1962.
Any year now, they thought after losing the NLCS in 1971.
Any year now, they thought after losing another NLCS in 1987.
Any year now, they thought after being swept and shaken but definitely not stirred by the Earthquake Series of 1989.
Any year now, they thought after losing a division series in 1997 and another one (yay!) in 2000 and a seven-game World Series that seemed so close to being won in six in 2002 and one more damn LDS in 2003.
Any year now…and that year is now. Every fan who’s waited through enough of the above (to say nothing of the acres of years that weren’t nearly as good) deserves one of these.
If we can’t have it, that is.
Already, the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants are, per Don DeLillo, falling indelibly into the past. We are parting company, no matter how pleasant it’s been. The next time I take a good look at Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, Wilson, Posey and whoever remains from their ad hoc roster of castoff conquerors, it will be May, they will be the other team, and I will hope they lose three straight in the beautiful borough of Queens, New York.
Until then, good for them.