World Series-bound Giants a band of misfits
MARK EMMONS; San Jose Mercury News
SAN FRANCISCO – After every Giants home victory, the sounds of Tony Bennett’s iconic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” spread through AT&T Park as smoothly as a fog bank.
While Bennett may have left his in the city, these likable Giants have won Bay Area hearts – and often stopped them, too, with their cardiac arrest-inducing style of play. Even non-baseball fans have fallen in love with an overachieving group of underdogs who possess both characters and character, and could win the team’s first World Series since moving to California in 1958.
“People have really come to accept this band of merry misfits as ours, and they’ve really charmed everyone,” said broadcaster Duane Kuiper, who famously labeled Giants baseball as torture. “I mean, how can you not like them?”
They are an unlikely ballclub that features a lights-out pitching staff and a lineup filled with rejects and retreads. This mutt-like quality has made them utterly endearing during their postseason run.
Everybody loves a winner, of course. And the Bay Area has been starved for one of any kind. The region has been a No Title Zone in the traditional major sports since the 49ers won their last Super Bowl on Jan. 29, 1995. The Bay Area holds an ignoble streak for the longest championship drought among metro areas that have had continuous baseball, NFL, NBA and NHL franchises.
But something more is at work here. These Giants are a collection of quirky individual stories who have captured imaginations.
There’s Cody Ross, the National League Championship Series MVP, who as a kid dreamed of being a rodeo clown and was claimed off waivers – baseball’s version of being kicked to the curb – by the Giants in August.
Closer Brian Wilson’s shoe polish-colored beard has become the sports fashion statement of the year. First baseman Aubrey Huff wears a red, rhinestone “rally thong” under his uniform for good luck. Local boy Pat Burrell was out of baseball and on his couch in July when the Giants called and gave him the chance to resurrect his career.
The best position player is a rosy-cheeked rookie catcher named Buster (Posey) who started the season in the minors. And there is ace Tim Lincecum, who is nicknamed The Freak because such a skinny guy shouldn’t be able to make a baseball explode and dance the way he does.
“They’re led by a kid who might weigh 165 pounds, and that probably says it all,” Kuiper added of Lincecum. “With that long hair, he probably looks like every parent’s worst nightmare of what you think your kid would become if he went to San Francisco. But here, we like guys like that.”
Mix them all together and they’ve morphed into what manager Bruce Bochy affectionately calls his “Dirty Dozen.” Actually, they are more like 25 baseball musketeers who seem to honestly like one another and have a different hero every game.
“We don’t have any outcasts on this team,” said Wilson, whose fearless demeanor has made him the Giants’ ringleader. “We have a bunch of guys who would genuinely take a bullet for the next guy.”
Being generally nice guys is just an added plus. After the Giants defeated Atlanta in the divisional series, they all tipped their caps to salute retiring Braves manager Bobby Cox. In that series Burrell also sought out Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad, who had made three errors in one game, to tell him to “hang in there.”
In baseball parlance, they respect the game. And people around the country finally are paying attention to these mostly anonymous Giants, seven years removed from their last playoff appearance, as they emerge from the shadow of Barry Bonds. While the all-time home run leader remains popular in the Bay Area, Bonds is a deeply polarizing symbol of baseball’s steroid era everywhere else.
But there’s something infectious about these Giants. Even though they have been constantly overlooked – Philadelphia was heavily favored in the last series – they never lapse into that obnoxious jock-speak of being “disrespected.” They just go out and prove people wrong.
“I think any fan can relate to us,” said Aaron Rowand, who has stayed a positive clubhouse presence despite losing his center field job to Andres Torres. “I think going out and playing the game hard draws interest from your everyday baseball fan and even those who aren’t baseball fans.”
How they win, of course, has only added to their growing legend. They never do it the easy way.
The end of Saturday night’s NL pennant-clinching victory provided the usual dramatics. Clinging to a one-run lead, Wilson issued two walks in the bottom of the ninth before recording a full-count strikeout of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard to send the Giants to the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
“They might drive your blood pressure up a little bit higher, but they’re always fun to root for,” said retired Giants star Will Clark, now a front-office special assistant. “All these one-run ballgames, you end sitting on the end of your chair through the whole nine innings. It’s fun.”
It’s also gut-wrenching as they both infuriate and delight.
But Giants baseball has become a welcome diversion during these tough economic times, when many people could use one. Real torture is sleepless nights over finding a job or making the rent. Compared to that, watching a seesaw, three-hour-plus ballgame is a piece of cake.
Besides, the Giants so far have made sure that there’s always a happy ending, complete with a champagne-drenched celebration.
“Not bad for a bunch of castoffs and misfits,” Bochy said.