Two weeks ago, the sun shone brightly on Market Street where streams of orange confetti rained down from the skies as the city of San Francisco celebrated its first World Series Title. It was a party the likes of which had never been seen in the golden city by the bay, as thousands of fans (with crowd estimates reaching as high as one million) jam packed the streets to welcome home their world champion San Francisco Giants.
They say moments like these are made for the kids. And while there were plenty of adorable looking five year olds with premature beards and shaggy long hair flowing from underneath their caps, adults front and center could barely hide the droopy boyish grins on their faces as they waved their rally thongs and screamed UUURRIIIBE at the top of their lungs.
They had dreamed of this moment ever since Willie Mays was tracking down fly balls in the tundra that was Candlestick Park. Their Giants had previously participated in three extraordinary World Series and came up empty handed in each one of them – six outs away in 2002, and two inches (that’s how much higher Willie Mac’s line drive had to be to escape the glove of Bobby Richardson) away in 1962.
It was a pair of heart wrenching losses which added to a legacy of futility overshadowed by an 86 year championship drought for the Boston Red Sox.
The story of an ancient curse had earned the obsession of the national media in 2004, and fans across the country (and overseas) immediately jumped on to the Red Sox bandwagon, hoping to see an embattled group of underdogs overcome the October boogeyman which had plagued them for nearly a century.
Curses sell a lot better than beards you see.
But the underdog label was a huge conundrum. What was it that made the Red Sox underdogs? It certainly wasn’t their payroll, which was the second highest in the majors after assembling a cache of superstars that included Manny Ramirez, Keith Foulk, Curt Schilling, Johnny Damon, and Pedro Martinez.
If you lived outside the New England area, there really wasn’t much of a reason to root for the Red Sox apart from the fact that they were playing the hated Yankees.
Not so with this Giants team, which had grown deeper and hairier with each month during the regular season and had accepted the torch of destiny bestowed onto them by the White Sox and Red Sox teams of the early aughts. Shortly before winning their division against the San Diego Padres, Ken Burn’s documentary “The Tenth Inning” highlighted the collapse of 2002 and its close proximity to the Balco debacle which hung over the franchise like a thick blanket of Bay Area fog during the years Barry Bonds remained on the roster.
The documentary concluded with the Red Sox ending their plight, and Giants fans were the ones left waiting for an elusive championship that seemed nowhere in sight.
Three days later, the Giants won the NL West and karma seemed to have finally found its way into the torture chambers of AT&T Park. This new group of players was not only easy to root for (and more importantly, free of suspicion and doubt), but they started to look a lot like the band of schmucks destined to overcome any obstacle in order to bring home the ultimate prize.
It was a team that embodied the cult like characteristics that make a World Series run legendary. The images from the Red Sox’s 2004 championship run forever engrained into postseason lore was Johnny Damon’s mangy “Neanderthal” beard and Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. Years from now, fans will still be waving around orange rally thongs (the origin of which should make interesting conversation at the ballpark for some time) coloring their faces with black markers, and singing Ashkon’s version of “Don’t Stop Believing”
The Giants were finally likable now in the eyes of the national media, which had vilified the organization throughout the 2002 postseason and during the long and dark years of baseball’s biggest steroids scandal. Remember how Fox kept showing clips of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent’s push fight in the dugout? Don’t forget Sports Illustrated Jeff Pearlman, who whined that the Giants defeat of the Cardinals in the 2002 NLCS proved that God didn’t exist. After all, how could a kind and merciful God allow a team with perennial douchbags like Barry Bonds and Kenny Lofton to beat the saintly Cardinals headed by Tony LaRussa?
Giants’ fans also earned the media’s wrath for cheering Bonds during his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s hallowed home-run record, and for recently applauding his appearance during the championship series against the Phillies.
Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel ripped Giants fans for having the audacity to give Bonds a standing ovation when he returned from a four month stint on the disabled list back in 2005. Wetzel sanctimoniously wrote:
"Perhaps San Francisco is full of the most naive bumpkins in America, people who actually believe BALCO Barry's parsed-word explanation that while, yes, he did use the cream and the clear – which federal prosecutors said contained steroids – he did it unknowingly. We certainly forgive those people."
"Politically correct that we are, we have nothing against imbeciles. But anyone else should be ashamed for lovingly hailing the return of their pathetic slugger in hopes of getting back into the pathetic NL West race."
That’s right, San Francisco is a nesting ground for some of the dumbest Kool-Aid drinkers in professional sports. But then again, no dumber than the sheep in Chicago who cheered Sammy Sosa one day after cork spilled out of his shattered bat, or the simpletons in New England who wholeheartedly continue to support Bill Belichick after Spy Gate.
John Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Inquirer had things in much better perspective:
"Some people think the natives are numb or maybe clueless to what Bonds represents. They aren't. They know full well how Bonds is perceived outside the Bay Area, and they're equally aware of how supporting him makes them look. They understand that he was chemically enhanced and then accused of lying about his conduct to a grand jury. They get it. They just don't care."
Personally I don’t like or hate Barry Bonds. When I’m at a game and his name gets called for some kind of special acknowledgment, I clap my hands for a second or two before getting back to my garlic fries. According to Gonzales that makes me guilty of rooting for the devil:
"Aside from being comical, there's something tragic and ugly about Bonds - defiant and smug, even in the face of an ongoing perjury prosecution - being the game's all-time home run leader. Of all the inmates hypothetically housed in Baseball's Alcatraz, Bonds is among the most infamous - right up there with the Black Sox, Pete Rose, and the rest of the cons on Cell Block D (for disgraced). And yet even the wicked have loyal supporters. If Bonds ever ends up on the inside for real, he'll have no trouble finding someone to bake a cake with a file in it."
You hear that? It doesn’t matter that almost every big name superstar (Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGuire, Roger Clemens, etc...) were as much of a cheater as Bonds was, Barry’s reputation as the de facto syringe user makes Giants fans guiltier of ignorance and idiocy than the millions across the country who display the same level of enthusiasm for their disgraced athletes.
The media’s loathing of Bonds is a fascinating thing. He was someone they loved to hate ever since his early days in Pittsburgh when his cap (unlike his ego) was four sizes smaller. Giants’ fans eager to see a winning team were forced to endure the toxic publicity that trailed their slugger on the field and in the locker room. Defiant to the end, the running tragedy that was Bond’s career would plague the Giants in print for over a decade.
This year has been different to varying degrees. While San Francisco still had to put up with the insufferable commentary of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver throughout the postseason, the scornful indifference once tied with Giants fandom had been dispelled, lost in a sea of beards and funny catch phrases.
And a city rich with legends that included Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, and Marichal, finally had a World Series title to add to its nonpareil history.
They won it the way you’re taught in little league – with stingy defense, timely hitting, team execution - and a pitching corps that often produced seven or eight goose eggs a game. The Giants held the Ranger’s league leading offense to a .190 batting average and went a stretch of eighteen innings without allowing a single run. They never relinquished a lead once in the series.
It was a fitting conclusion for a franchise whose greatness was defined more by failure than by winning more games than any other team in the majors.
While The Red Sox had Bill Buckner, Bob Gibson, and Bucky Dent, the Giants had Loma Prieta, Dusty Baker, Scott Spezio, and Felix Rodriguez.
Their fans had known heartache and frustration better than anyone while they were shivering through night games at Candlestick Park, hoping that a new stadium would save their team and bring their city a new form of excitement and glory that could only be achieved by getting the final out of a World Series.
With the way things looked at the beginning of the season, no one could have ever scripted an ending like this.
It’s part of the reason why on a surprisingly warm November afternoon when even the sky was orange, the sidewalks were giddy with excitement as the Giants rode through the streets in cable car trolleys, waving to the sea of rally towels that had boosted them through every playoff home game.
For a city which had seen their 49ers bring home five Super Bowls, they would have gladly traded any one of them to see this day.
It was a surreal atmosphere that seemed frighteningly like a dream with the ultra bright colors and the smell of marijuana wafting across the city hall lawn.
But after pinching themselves ever since Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the ninth inning in game five, and nearly screaming their voices into extinction during a wild celebration that permeated across the Bay, it finally sunk in for Giants fans. After 52 years of waiting, the most sacred object in baseball (a big golden trophy with a circle of flags) was gleaming brightly under the clear blue sky as a grinning Bruce Bochy held it high for San Francisco to admire.