|Great Time for Giants Fans||| Print |||Send|
Written by Lewie Pollis (Contact & Archive) on March 31, 2011
It wasn't that long ago that it stunk to be a San Francisco Giants fan.
After Barry Bonds' steroid-infused power surge helped the team to a 473-335 record from 2000-4, the Giants derailed in 2005, dropping to 75-87 as their best player began to show his age. Over the next three seasons, they maxed out at just 76 wins.
And yet, there wasn't much fun around AT&T Park. The Giants were surrounded by drama about Bonds' egocentric persona and perceived lack of dedication. Vilified by the media, his monstrous home run totals were marred with asterisks -- testaments to the PEDs that turned the scrappy five-tool player into a hulking goliath who could seemingly deposit pitches into McCovey Cove at will.
Of course, that wasn't the only thing that went wrong for San Francisco. Some questionable spending -- $60 million for Aaron Rowand and $126 million for Barry Zito weren't exactly boons for the team's ledger sheet -- and a relative lack of young impact players resulted in a series of expensive teams that didn't provide much bang for their buck.
By the end of the 2009 season, something had changed. The Giants finished 88-74, and while they didn't end up making the playoffs, they were in the hunt for the Wild Card all season. But perhaps more importantly, the franchise regained an enormous amount of goodwill from their fans.
It wasn't just the team's success that gave Giants fans reason to cheer. It was how it happened. Pablo Sandoval captured the hearts of spectators nationwide with his great play and natural charm. The loveable, portly "Kung Fu Panda" swung at everything but still managed to hit .330 with 25 home runs.
How about Tim Lincecum? A flamethrowing shrimp who scared off scouts with his flawed mechanics and insane windup dominated the National League, going 15-7 with a 2.48 ERA and 8.2 WAR. He backed up his outstanding superficial stats with a 10.4 K/9 rate, a 3.8 K/BB ratio, and a 2.34 FIP.
Last year, the Giants got even better. They improved to 92-70, holding off the surprising San Diego Padres to win the NL West. And, most importantly, they won the World Series. The best way to energize a fanbase is a victory parade.
But, great as they were as a team, the Giants were even better as a story. One should be careful not to attribute their success to their great clubhouse chemistry, but it sure made them fun to watch.
Brian Wilson, who may be the most awesome man in the majors, became the face of the franchise (along with his friend "The Machine"). The Giants' closer, who was fined by the league for "having too much awesome on my feet" (his orange shoes didn't match his team's uniform) has gained a cult following for his outrageous public persona and his rockin' beard.
Don't forget Buster Posey. The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year made his presence known as soon as he reached the majors, going 6-for-12 with two doubles and four RBIs in his first three games. Opening Day starting catcher Bengie Molina was deemed expendable and traded in June, and Posey gained national attention after hitting .417/.466/.699 with seven homers and 24 RBI in July.
The team was chock full of interesting characters. Flamethrowing rookie Madison Bumgarner also played a key role in the team's championship run. Andres Torres was a breakout star, Pat Burrell found new life in a Giants uniform, and Cody Ross became known as a postseason hero. Then there was the resurgent Aubrey Huff and his lucky thong.
There are legitimate reasons to doubt San Francisco's ability to repeat as World Champions in 2011. As a 32-year-old breakout star, Torres was probably playing over his head, and Burrell and Huff's career paths suggest that last year's success might have been a fluke. In the rotation, there's no telling how Lincecum will hold up over time, and Matt Cain can't outperform his peripherals forever.
Still, the Giants look like easy favorites to win the NL West, even if they can't recapture the pennant. But even if they don't, San Franciscans need not despair when this team takes the field. They don't need to win to be fun to watch.