The San Francisco Giants are a nuisance.
There was a time I couldn’t imagine saying that. The old Giants contended now and then but usually just stayed out of the way, playing games in a baseball park known for its perpetual fog, fierce gusts, and hot dog wrappers swirling in the outfield. Candlestick Park was so dispiriting, The Beatles finished off an indifferent 11-song set there in 1966 and decided they were done with live-performance gigs.
The Giants boasted Willie Mays, who’d lash triples into the gap typically described on the radio like this: “The only man who could have caught that ball was the man who hit it.” They boasted Juan Marichal, the high-kicking pitcher who personified grace and power, and Willie McCovey, who made fans still and stop talking, and that was just during batting practice.
Because the Mays-Marichal-McCovey crew never got back to the Fall Classic after losing a Game 7 heartbreaker to the 1962 Yankees, rooting against San Francisco seemed almost uncivilized for anybody who wasn’t a Los Angeles Dodgers fan.
Not anymore. The Giants, who are three home games away from clinching their third world championship since 2010, have crossed the line from tolerable to insufferable.
Take Wednesday night, when the meltdown of relief pitcher Hunter Strickland against the Kansas City Royals recalled the 1985 World Series antics of St. Louis pitcher Joaquín Andújar, similarly frustrated by the Royals.
At least Andújar had a proven record before he embarrassed himself. A four-time All Star who’d finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award race, he was a 21-game winner that year. Those accomplishments didn’t give him an excuse to play the fool — or to destroy a toilet in the visiting clubhouse with a bat — but Joaquín Andújar had some cache.
Hunter Strickland? The call-up from Double-A went into October with a total of seven innings of regular-season work, and yet there he was in the sixth inning of Game 2, stepping off the mound to challenge the Royals with fighting words.
Only lip readers could discern the particulars of the fiery exchange between Strickland and Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez, but I suspect it went something like this:
Strickland: “You want to mess with me, hot shot? Do you know who I am?”
Perez: “Uh, not really. Who are you?”
All I know about Hunter Strickland is that he’s got the name of a college president. And if you juxtapose his first and last names — if you call him Strickland Hunter — he’s still got the college president.
Oh, and I know this: He has faced 23 batters during the postseason, and surrendered home runs to five of them.
It’s fair to wonder why Giants manager Bruce Bochy would turn to an inexperienced, obviously volatile reliever with the game on the line. Then again, I guess it’s not fair to wonder, because Bochy is a brilliant strategist who’s on his way to the Hall of Fame.
The Giants, incidentally, are represented by more former players, managers and executives in the Hall of Fame than any other franchise. Born 131 years ago in New York, the Giants have won 10,616 regular-season games: No North American pro sports team has won more.
The Giants this week are making their 20th appearance in a World Series. It should have been their 21st, but manager John McGraw deigned Boston’s 1904 American League championship team unworthy of taking the field against them.
McGraw, who considered the NL the only “major league,” died in 1934, but the arrogance of the Giants has survived him. They’re locked in a territorial dispute with the Oakland A’s over Santa Clara County, which the late A’s owner Walter Haas ceded, without compensation, as a goodwill gesture made to prevent the Giants from relocating out of state.
The Giants moving to a new ballpark in Santa Clara, Haas believed, was a win-win for both Bay Area clubs. But when the Giants concluded AT&T Park in downtown San Francisco was a better fit for them, they declined to give the A’s market rights to territory that belonged the A’s in the first place.
It’s a complex saga, yet pretty simple when condensed into a nutshell: The San Francisco Giants are what the Yankees used to be, and will be again.
My newfangled disdain for the Giants is not comprehensive. Right fielder Hunter Pence, with those mad-scientist eyes reminiscent of a Boris Karloff silent movie, is a whatever-it-takes gamer. So is catcher Buster Posey, the apparent identical twin of Wally on “Leave it to Beaver.”
When Posey approaches the mound for a few words with the pitcher, I can hear him saying: “I’m not sure that breaking ball is a good idea, Beave.”
But enough is enough. The Giants were a nice little story in 2010, and the 2012 reprise proved that 2010 wasn’t a fluke. I’m ready for a changing of the guard in 2014.
When Strickland Hunter — er, Hunter Strickland, he of the seven-innings-pitched portfolio — provoked the benches to clear because he was getting shelled, the Giants did something consistent with their San Francisco Bay roots.
They jumped the shark.