A Giant Surprise: Pablo Sandoval Making San Francisco Giants Relevant Again

Jordan JurkowitzCorrespondent IJune 12, 2009

DENVER - MAY 07:  Third baseman Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants plays defense against the Colorado Rockies during MLB action at Coors Field on May 7, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Giants defeated the Rockies 8-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Over the last five years, being a San Francisco Giants fan has been about as pleasant as getting a root canal.

We’ve watched an aging, shell-of-his-former-self Barry Bonds hobble towards the all-time home run record at the expense of a competitive team. We’ve watched general manager Brian Sabean lavish ridiculous contracts onto the likes of Omar Vizquel and Dave Roberts.

And if those contracts were ridiculous, what adjective should we use to describe the 126-million dollar contract given to Barry Zito?


For whatever reason, the franchise has had a hard time finding balance. During the Bonds years, the team often had one of the most feared offenses in the game. If Bonds wasn’t hurting you, then Will Clark, Matt Williams or Jeff Kent probably was.

But there was little pitching to back up the sluggers, so the team was never quite able to make it over the hump.

In recent years, the team has gone down the opposite path. Young hurlers like 2008 NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the hard-luck Matt Cain appeared at 24 Willie Mays Plaza just in time to watch any semblance of a respectable offense leave the park quicker than a Bonds homerun flew into McCovey Cove.

Watching Giants games from 2006-2008 often made me think of a line from Bob Uecker’s incomparable Harry Doyle character in the Major League movies.

“Hello fans,” Doyle says as he drunkenly watches the Cleveland Indians get beat again. “Welcome back to Major League Baseball…sort of.”

In 2009, despite no major upgrades to the team’s offense during the off season, the team has become a dark-horse contender for the National League wild card. They are still heavily tilted towards pitching, but suddenly, it seems they find a way to get just enough hitting to be competitive every game.

Even if they don’t win the wild card, for the first time in several years, the team is actually relevant and watchable.

The biggest reason for the team’s new-found watchability comes from a man who has affectionately been given the nickname “Kung Fu Panda.”

As if appearing out of fat air in August 2008, first baseman/catcher/third baseman/first-in-line-at-the-post game-buffet Pablo Sandoval made his Giants debut.

Not even considered to be one of the organization’s top prospects before last season, all he’s done is mash the ball. 

In 2008, Sandoval hit .369 with 12 homeruns and 59 RBIs in 68 games for the Class-A San Jose Giants. Then he went to Double-A Connecticut and hit .337 with 8 homeruns and 37 RBIs in 44 games for the Defenders.

Finally, he got to the majors, where he hit .345 with 3 home runs and 24 RBIs in just 41 games, the lone bright spot of an otherwise anemic Giants offense.

Sandoval has shown no signs of slowing down this season, either. He is leading the team with a .322 batting average, and is third on the team with 27 RBIs.

In many ways, Sandoval is the anti-Barry Bonds. If they were Snow White’s dwarfs, Bonds would be Grumpy and Sandoval Happy.

Even before the constant steroid allegations ruined Bonds’ reputation, he was renowned for his offseason training and his chiseled physique. Sandoval, by contrast, looks like he might start the day thinking about going to the gym, but end up getting sidetracked by a Dunkin' Donuts or a neighborhood bar.

Whereas Bonds in his prime was considered to be an incredibly smooth leftfielder; people sometimes forget about the eight gold gloves he won, Sandoval is anything but smooth in the field, yet more often than not he seems to find a way to make the play.

All this is not meant to pile on Bonds. Truth be told, he’s my favorite player of all-time, and the single biggest reason I’ve been a lifelong Giants fan despite living in Arizona. I’m not naïve, I know that most athletes are far from angelic, and I don’t really care.

It’s just that, for the first time since Charles Barkley played for the Suns, my favorite player on my favorite team has both a large personality and a large gut, and seems to be successful in spite of him self.

More importantly, Sandoval has inspired his teammates with his enthusiasm and personality. Hell, even Zito has looked like a major leaguer again.

It may not lead to a playoff berth this year, but it sure beats getting a root canal.


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