San Francisco Giants: 10 Most Disappointing Seasons in Giants History
While everyone digests the implications of (former) Red Sox GM Theo Epstein bolting to Chicago's North Side, here's a question:
Of all the stinging disappointments endured by Giant fans during the team's 54 years in San Francisco, which were the worst?
According to Baseball Almanac, the Giants have won the most games of any team in the history of American baseball. It also is North America's all-time winningest professional sports team, period.
There are more Giant players enshrined in Cooperstown than any other baseball franchise. (Remember all this the next time you're arguing with a Dodger, Yankee or Red Sox fan.)
For such a proud franchise, the Giants have produced some memorably bad teams.
Awful pitching? Check.
Lack of offense? Shoddy defense? Check. Check.
Late-season choke-jobs? Check.
Playoff failure? Check.
Unmet expectations? Check, and checkmate.
The Black and Orange is a storied franchise, indeed—but it's not without its share of legendary failures.
Here's my take on the 10 most disappointing seasons in the Giants' 54-year San Francisco history.
1963: Wasted Opportunity
Season record: 88-74, third in NL.
One season after winning the NL pennant—the club's first since 1954—and the infamous seventh-game World Series loss to the Yankees (Willie McCovey's infamous ninth-inning line drive with the winning runs in scoring position was snagged by Bobby Richardson).
1) The team won 13 fewer games and finished a distant third to the rival Dodgers.
2) Improved pitching—team ERA dropped from 3.79 to 3.35—was insufficient to offset a steep offensive decline (153 fewer runs).
3) Willie Mays' productivity materially declined (to 38 HR/103 RBI from 49 HR/141 RBI).
4) The club wasted a brilliant season from Juan Marichal (25-8, 2.41 ERA, 321.1 INN, 18 CG, .99 WHIP), who also lost the Cy Young to the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax (25-5, 1.88 ERA, 306 SO), who would add two more Cy Young's in 1965 and '66.
5) The hated Dodgers won the World Series with a four-game sweep of the Yankees.
1965: Always a Bridesmaid
Season record: 95-67, second in NL (two games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the World Series in seven games over Minnesota).
This was the first of five straight years that the Giants would finish in 2nd place—twice to the rival Dodgers (1965 - '66), twice to the Cardinals (1967 - '68) and once to the Braves (1969, the first year of divisional play).
Over this five-year stretch San Francisco averaged 91 wins a season. Under current playoff guidelines the Giants would have been a (wildcard) playoff team each season.
1) Marichal's brilliance (22-13, 2.13 ERA, 24 CG in 37 starts, 10 shutouts, 091 WHIP) again was wasted.
2) Three offensive performers—Mays, Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart—combined for 114 HR, 300 RBI and delivered 44 percent of the club's offense. A lack of complementary run support plagued the team.
3) Willie Mays' second (and last) MVP season—52 HR, 112 RBI, 1.043 OPS—was wasted.
4) The Giants blew a four-game lead in the season's final two weeks when L.A. won 13 straight and 14 of its last 15 games to overtake San Francisco.
1972: The Decline Begins
Entering the fourth year of divisional play, the Giants were defending NL West champs (they lost the 1971 NLCS to Pittsburgh, three games to one).
While no one knew it at the time, the Giants were entering one of the bleakest periods in team history. A year after earning its first postseason appearance since 1962, the club would go another fifteen years before returning to the playoffs (in 1987).
1) Willie Mays was traded in May to the New York Mets for reliever Charlie Williams and $50,000. Nearly four decades later, it is still difficult to contemplate this.
2) The team imploded, winning 21 fewer games.
3) A year after going 18-11, Juan Marichal went 6-16.
4) Attendance plummeted from 1.1 million to 647, 744. During a five-game June home stand, the club drew a combined 28, 485. The final home game attracted 1,578.
5) Candlestick's natural grass was replaced with hideous-looking, concrete-hard Astroturf to accommodate the San Francisco 49ers, who had moved there from Kezar Stadium one year earlier.
1975: Rock Bottom (...so We Thought)
Season record: 80-81, third in NL West (27.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds, who would win the NL Pennant and World Series, over Boston).
Three years after sending Mays to New York, the Giants traded Bobby Bonds to the New York Yankees for outfielder Bobby Murcer, who had struggled under constant comparisons to Yankee icon Mickey Mantle.
Facing financial pressures amplified by continued attendance declines, club ownership was dumping young talent (Dave Kingman and Gary Maddox were gone; Garry Matthews would follow). During the season word leaked that negotiations were underway to sell the club to a Canadian brewery that would relocate the team to Toronto.
1) Season attendance was 522, 519 (a slight increase over 1974); a Monday home game in mid-September drew 748 fans.
2) The team's nucleus of young talent was being dismantled as ownership struggled to conserve cash.
3) No one outside San Francisco knew about its refreshing, young pitching staff (John Montefusco went 15-9; Ed Halicki tossed a no-hitter, which would be the club's last until Jonathan Sanchez no-hit San Diego in July 2009).
4) Talk of the team's possible move to Canada overshadowed everything else.
1985: Still Sliding
Season record: 62-100, sixth in NL West (33 games behind the Los Angeles, who lost the NL pennant to St. Louis).
After a brief resurrection in 1982 under manager Frank Robinson, the mid-1980s may have been San Francisco's rock bottom as a franchise. Roger Craig—who would lead the Giants to the NL West title in 1987 and the World Series in 1989—was hired late in the 1985 season, replacing the overmatched Danny Ozark.
1) The 1984 - '85 Giants were a combined 68 games under .500, finishing dead last both years.
2) The 1985 offense scored a franchise-low 556 runs (only 14 fewer than were tallied by the 2011 defending World Series champs).
3) No one hit 20 HR (team leader Bob Brenly hit 19); no one had as many as 70 RBI (Jeffrey Leonard led the team with 62).
4) 62 wins was a low for the franchise since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
1993: Oh so Close
Season record: 103-59, second in NL West (one game behind the Atlanta Braves, who lost in the NLCS to Philadelphia).
Buoyed by new ownership, rescued from an imminent move to Tampa and energized by the offseason blockbuster signing of Barry Bonds, the Giants burst from the starting gate in 1993. They would lead the division for five months, until the Braves caught them in early September.
The season's final month was a dramatic see-saw of momentum swings. An eight-game losing streak dropped San Francisco 3.5 games behind Atlanta on Sept. 15. The Giants then went on a tear, winning 11-of-12 to pull even with the Braves with five games to play.
The 1993 Giants tied a San Francisco franchise record for wins, and set a Candlestick attendance record, drawing 2.6 million.
1) Needing a win on the final day of the regular season to set up a one-game playoff with Atlanta, the Giants were dismantled by the Dodgers 12-1.
2) Dusty Baker's choice to start that game, Salomon Torres, blew two starts in the final week of the season. Torres' earlier loss came in the club's final home game against the expansion Colorado Rockies.
3) After beating Torres the Rockies wrapped up their inaugural season in Atlanta, where they lost four straight to the Braves.
4) 1993 was the final year of two-division play. The following season teams were reorganized into three divisions with a fourth wild card playoff spot added. Had this been in effect in 1993, the Giants would have qualified for the postseason.
1998: Closer Still
Season record: 89-74, second in NL West (9.5 games behind San Diego Padres, who lost the World Series to the New York Yankees).
Context: A year after winning the NL West, the 1998 Giants never seriously challenged San Diego (managed by Bruce Bochy) in the division race. In September, San Francisco battled the Chicago Cubs for the wild card spot.
The 1998 Giants scored plenty of runs—Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds combined for 68 HR and 250 RBI—but lacked rotation and bullpen depth.
1) The Giants put themselves in position to claim the wild card by winning six straight and nine of ten, tying the slumping Cubs (losers of six of eight) entering the season's final day.
2) Knowing the Cubs had lost their regular season finale, the Giants took the field in Denver knowing a win over the Rockies would cinch the wild card.
3) The Giants took a 7-0 lead into the fifth inning, allowed Colorado to take an 8-7 lead, then tied the game in the eighth.
4) Light-hitting shortstop Neifi Perez homered in the bottom of the ninth, defeating San Francisco 9-8 and sending the Giants to a one-game playoff at Wrigley Field the next day.
5) The Giants lost the playoff to the Cubs 5-3. Former Giant closer Rod Beck saved the game (his 51st) for the Cubs.
2002: Not Meant to Be
Season record: 95-66, second place in NL West (to Arizona).
Context: Everyone remembers the Giants' bullpen collapse in game six of the 2002 World Series in Anaheim. A 5-0 lead evaporates into a bone-crushing 6-5 loss. A World Series title so close...so close...evaporates in a nightmarish instant. Sad, because the horror of those memories casts a shadow over many incredible accomplishments by that 2002 team.
Like: overcoming a 2-1 NLDS deficit and taking out the Braves (who had the best regular season record in baseball) in game 5 at Turner Field. And then defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 in the NLCS, winning game 5 and clinching the NL pennant in front of a jubilant throng at Pacific Bell Park (not Candlestick; thanks to reader Eric Wood for catching my error).
1) The Giants blew a (largely forgotten) 9-7 fifth inning lead in Game 2 of the World Series, allowing the Angels to rally for a 11-10 win that evened the series.
2) Their pitching imploded, surrendering 37 runs to the Angels (5.55 ERA) after posting the NL's second-lowest team ERA (3.54) during the regular year.
3) Esteemed closer Rob Nenn pitched through that postseason with an undisclosed shoulder injury that ended his career.
2003: The Fish Strike Again
Season record: 100-61, NL West Champs.
Context: A year after the crushing World Series loss to the Angels, the 2003 Giants opened the season with seven straight wins. Leading the division by five games at the All-Star break, they ripped off nine straight victories to open the season's second half and were never threatened.
They won the NL West by 15.5 games, went 53-23 against division foes and led the division wire-to-wire.
Their NLDS opponent, the Florida Marlins, had history against San Francisco. Florida had swept the Giants 3-0 in the 1997 NLDS en route to their first World Series crown.
After winning game one at home 2-0 behind Jason Schmidt, the Giants collapsed. Florida won the next three, ousted the Cubs in the NLCS and beat the Yankees to win their second World Series in seven years.
1) The Giants dominated Florida in the regular season, winning five of six.
2) Midseason trade acquisition Sidney Ponson blew game two. Ponson went 3-6 for San Francisco after going 14-6 for the Orioles prior to the trade.
3) Tim Worrell blew a save opportunity in game three. Worrell was the Giants' closer-by-default in 2003, assuming the role after G.M. Brian Sabean declined to acquire a replacement for Rob Nenn.
4) The series ended with J.T. Snow, the potential tying run, being thrown out at the plate to snuff a ninth-inning rally in game four. The Giants would not return to the playoffs until 2010.
2011: Well...you Know
Season record: 86-76, second in NL West (to Arizona).
Context: We've been over this. Defending world series champs return seeking more glory...they lead the division through the first two-thirds of the season...then the tank run dry.
Meanwhile, principal investors push managing partner William Neukom out the door; first baseman Aubrey Huff is publicly scapegoated as the symbol of the team's failures; division winner Arizona bows out in the NLDS to Milwaukee.
1) G.M. Brian gave manager Bruce Bochy a roster-full of mismatched, aging players; a brilliant pitching staff deserved better.
2) As history shows, the window for winning closes fast; no telling how long the pitching staff can be kept intact. 2011 may be seen in retrospect as a huge missed opportunity.
3) Managing partner Neukom deserved a better, far classier send-off. And there is no certainty that Larry Baer will prove to be an effective top executive.
4) We'll never know if San Francisco's pitching could have neutralized other 2011 NL playoff teams.