Build a time machine, set your coordinates for 2009, find the nearest Giants fan and ask him this: Quick, which one of the three recent championships was the best?
After he gets done marveling at your futuristic fashion, he'll surely offer up a blank stare. For that guy, after all, the Giants haven't won a single Commissioner's Trophy since the Eisenhower administration. What's all this talk about three?
Well, here we are in 2014, where the Giants have indeed won a troika of World Series and built a nascent dynasty.
So now Giants fans get to sit back and pose that improbable question: Which one was the best? Not necessarily in the "most talented" sense or "most dominant," but simply which one stands out above the others?
In a way, that's as hard as picking a favorite child or Ben & Jerry's flavor. Each was special in its own respect. But, as the Orange and Black and their faithful bask in the afterglow of another October triumph, what better way to celebrate than by reliving each title and making that tough, ridiculous choice?
2010: The Original
After grabbing the National League West from the San Diego Padres on the season's final day, the Giants headed into the postseason for the first time since the height of the Barry Bonds years.
This was a different kind of team, led by skinny, shaggy-haired ace Tim Lincecum, hirsute closer Brian Wilson and a freshly-scrubbed rookie catcher by the name of Buster Posey.
After dispatching the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series, the Giants went on to upset the defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series on the strength of their starting pitching—Lincecum, Matt Cain and a 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner—and some improbable offensive heroics by late-season waiver pickup Cody Ross.
Riding high, the Giants beat the Texas Rangers in five games in the World Series to cap a taught, magical run that play-by-play man Duane Kuiper summed up with one word: "torture."
Why It's the Best
There's nothing like the first time, and for every Giants player and many of their younger fans, this was indeed the initial taste of championship baseball. In fact, it was the first title in San Francisco Giants history—the last one came in 1954 when the franchise was still in New York.
More than that, though, it was a new chapter for a team that had endured years of futility and suffered through the ignoble end of the steroid era, when Bonds was breaking baseball's most cherished home run records even as accusations of cheating rained down around him.
These Giants, by contrast, were exuberant, likable and pure. "He’s one of us," a fan said of Lincecum per David Waldstein of the New York Times after the clinching game. That sentiment easily could have applied to every member of the team. "He’s just a regular guy like the rest of us, doing what we like to do. Except he’s also a great pitcher. Hey, it’s San Francisco. What else do you want?"
2012: The Follow-Up
How about another championship? After a disappointing 2011 season that saw Posey go down with a season-ending ankle injury, the Giants reclaimed the NL West crown in 2012.
Things started inauspiciously when they fell behind 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five NLDS. But San Francisco rallied to win three straight. The Giants then overcame similar odds in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, winning three more elimination games to punch their World Series ticket.
The NLCS clincher ended in a torrential Bay Area rainstorm, with second baseman Marco Scutaro squeezing the final out and looking reverently to the heavens. If it were a Hollywood script, you'd reject it as too corny.
After that, the Giants dispensed with the drama and swept the favored Detroit Tigers in four games to hoist their second trophy in three years.
Why It's the Best
While the 2010 championship felt like a wild, once-in-a-lifetime ride, the 2012 run proved that this was no fluke. The Giants formula—stellar pitching mixed with timely hitting and a dash of old-fashioned mojo—was clearly working.
The familiar cast of characters, meanwhile, was augmented by some new faces, including midseason acquisition Hunter Pence, who brought power, speed, energy and a knack for inspirational speeches.
Like 2010, but with its own unique twists, 2012 felt like a fated, fanciful ride. "We've seen the weirdest things happen in this postseason," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said at the time, per ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. "And we were in the middle of all of them."
2014: The Trifecta
Which brings us to 2014. You don't need all the particulars—they've been well-documented in recent days. Suffice it to say the Giants eked into October as the second NL wild-card team and proceeded to do what they do in the postseason, largely on the back of a now full-grown, 25-year-old Madison Bumgarner.
In the end, they outlasted the equally scrappy Kansas City Royals in seven games and stormed the field at Kauffman Stadium as champions yet again.
Why It's the Best
In a word: legitimacy. It seems strange for a team that has enjoyed so much success in such a short period of time, but by winning another title, the Giants have officially put to rest any talk about luck or karma or choose your sour-grapes excuse.
There are simply too many connecting threads on this club—beginning with manager Bruce Bochy, who has cemented his Hall of Fame credentials—to dismiss what San Francisco has accomplished. There's a rhythm to it now, a symmetry. Random, perhaps, but too beautiful to be ignored.
As Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle put it after Game 7:
It’s getting to be a habit, and behold the wondrous monotony of it all: The Giants are world champions again.
As the calendar strikes an even-numbered year, they rise up to conquer. Each time it is different. Each time it is the same.
Well, not exactly. Each one was unique and worth cherishing in its own right. Forced to pick, we'd go with 2010, if only because it broke the seal and ushered in this gilded epoch.
Really, though, you might as well build that time machine and ask the dumbfounded fan from 2009. He'll make just as much sense out of this as anyone.