The Aughts began with the San Francisco Giants on top of Major League Baseball, almost literally. They finished with the best record in baseball in 2000, came six agonizing outs away from the World Series in 2002, and made it back to the postseason in 2003.
They were strong contenders in 2001, 2004, and 2005 (although I'm being liberal with "strong" on that last one).
Then came the Darkness. Or maybe it was a Fog.
Los Gigantes slid into baseball obscurity, toiling in the cellar of the Show's weakest division. But a new day seems to have dawned as the Gents bursts back into relevancy in 2009.
It hasn't been pretty and it isn't finished, but the franchise seems to have finally found some solid and successful ground again. It finally cut ties with beleaguered and/or spent veterans, invested wisely in young pitching, and caught a couple breaks along the way. Plus the National League West is not quite the juggernaut it could/should be nor does it look to be improving too much for 2010.
While my fellow Featured Columnists Evan Aczon and Danny Penza will be handling the facets that have driven the resurgence, I'm getting the group (or the man) who drove the early success...
You're about to see why I refer to the group as perhaps being more aptly described as an individual.
I've got a soft spot for vets who made timely contributions like Shawon Dunston, Ellis Burks, Kenny Lofton, Reggie Sanders, Michael Tucker, and Eric Davis.
But those guys were rentals.
Outside of the obvious left fielder, there have NOT been a ton of distinguishing performances pass through the Giants' big green. Consequently, the other two members of the San Francisco All-Decade outfield didn't leave many able bodies in their wake.
With that, and the fact that I'm a die-hard Giants fan in mind, it's with little or no apology at all that I omit:
—Moises Alou and his crumbling body
—Jose Cruz Jr. and his "Gold" glove
—Marvin Benard and all his inexplicable chances
—Todd Linden and all his potential
—Tsuyoshi Shinjo and his flair
—Steve Finley and whatever he was supposed to bring
—Calvin Murray, Armando Rios, and Jason Ellison (why? just why?)
Randy Winn was actually an obvious choice and not merely by default.
The 35-year-old is almost certainly done in a Giants uniform (unless San Francisco bizarrely brings him back as a bench player) and that means his days as a starting outfielder are also a thing of the past.
However, from the moment the Santa Clara graduate arrived from the Seattle Mariners in 2005 until age seemed to finally catch up with him in 2009, Randy Winn was as consistent a .300 hitter as you could hope to find.
As a bonus, Randy would throw in 10-15 home runs just for kicks.
Obviously, his bust is not destined for Cooperstown, but most clubs would sign up for four years of .300 and 10-15 taters.
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy who will give you a tougher at-bat in a big situation.
But maybe the most underrated aspect of his game while with San Francisco was his defense.
AT&T Park's right field is no simple day at the beach. There's still a tricky wind (though not even a breath by Candlestick standards) and the brick wall/archways play havoc with caroms.
Part of the reason this isn't a well-appreciated aspect of the yard is because Winn made it look so easy for most of the decade.
Okay, now we've hit the arguably default selection.
No disrespect to Marquis Grissom, who was an outstanding San Francisco Giant in spirit, if not in deed, but his exploits in the Orange and Black wouldn't exactly merit placement on most franchise's All-Decade teams.
Forget whether the raw numbers are impressive or not, 'Quis didn't even have that many AB when you consider we're talking about the third best outfielder for an entire DECADE.
Nonetheless, Grissom had a knack for registering key hits and he gets a lot of extra credit for seeing the rays of enlightenment after spending time in the Hades of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Most importantly, the dude was an absolute rock in the clubhouse by all accounts. He took home the cherished Willie Mac award in 2003, which goes to the Giant who most embodies the spirit and leadership that were staples of the great Willie McCovey's career (as voted on by players and coaches).
These virtues continue to shine from Grissom, although the curtain has been pulled on his Major League career. He's purchased farm land for his family, sponsors 12 Little League teams, and helps provide food/shelter for orphans.
Nah, just kidding.
Yeah, yeah, the big fella was probably using a little something from Grandpa's medicine cabinet ... assuming Grandpa is code for Victor Conte.
Don't pretend that makes Barry unique or particularly worthy of scorn. Given subsequent revelations, I think we can all agree Barry Bonds was not playing with an unfair advantage as compared to his adversaries.
Against history? Almost certainly, but not against his contemporaries.
If you're against Bonds, at least admit it's because the guy was a colossal donkey and not because of all this "he cheated" nonsense.
Unless, of course, you're prepared to write off large swaths of the modern game.
Regardless, Bonds without question leads this group. His seasonal averages from 2000 to his last year in 2007 defy explanation (that's part of the problem)—123 G, 359 AB, 97 R, 40 HR, 87 RBI, 141 BB (49 intentional), 53 K, a .322 BA, and a 1.241 OPS.
Mind you, these stats INCLUDE the lost years from 2005-2007.
Take a peek at the man's averages before his health fell of a cliff following the '04 campaign—143 G, 424 AB, 123 R, 52 HR, 109 RBI, 174 BB (61 intentional), 63 K, a .339 BA, and a 1.316 OPS.
Look, if the rumors are real, hundreds of professional baseball players were/are on performance enhancers. The number includes athletes from all strata of talent.
How many AVERAGED 52 bombs, 174 walks (over a third of the intentional variety), a .339 average, and an OPS of 1.316?!?!?! For any period, let alone five years.
While whiffing a mere 63 times; that's perhaps the most gawk-worthy data point of all.
Say it was the drugs if you want, but that's oversimplifying the situation.
The truth is that Barry Lamar Bonds combined plate discipline, patience, focus, consistency, and power like nobody else before him.
And like nobody else since.