By Scott Miller
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SportsLine) – When Willie McCovey scalded a liner that found Bobby Richardson’s glove at second to end the 1962 World Series, there was no way for San Franciscans to know that, 48 years later, the Giants still would never have won a Fall Classic in San Francisco.
When the Loma Prieta earthquake wreaked unspeakable horror on the area in 1989, the once-highly anticipated Bay Bridge World Series became an afterthought.
When Dusty Baker famously handed Russ Ortiz the game ball as a keepsake when the manager summoned a reliever to protect a 5-0 lead with the Giants just eight outs from clinching the 2002 World Series, nobody could know then that the Giants were headed for their greatest train wreck yet.
And around town, they call Giants baseball “torture” in 2010?
As if the 51 years before this have been as sweet as Ghiradelli chocolate.
What do you call some of those seasons in San Francisco baseball?
Cruel and unusual punishment?
When the current band of “misfits” — manager Bruce Bochy’s term — lines up to face the Texas Rangers as the 106th World Series opens on Wednesday evening, the Giants will drag with them the third-longest World Series drought in the majors (55 seasons, including the Giants’ final three years in New York, behind the Cubs’ 102 seasons and Cleveland’s 62). The Rangers, by the way, are tied with their Texas brethren, Houston, at fourth (49).
Since moving west from New York for the 1958 season, the Giants have gone 0-for-the-World Series.
Their U-Haul Cousins, the Dodgers, have won five World Series since accompanying the Giants west in ’58.
Somehow, a World Series title eluded a city that has fielded Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda and other luminaries ranging from Will Clark to Jack Clark, from Jeffrey Leonard to Barry Bonds, from John Montefusco to Atlee Hammaker.
Now, San Francisco gets a fourth chance.
“A lot of times, the best teams don’t win,” says Roger Craig, one of only three managers (along with Baker and Alvin Dark) to have managed a San Francisco team in a World Series. “Who would have thought the 2010 Giants would be in the World Series? Isn’t that amazing?
“I’ve played and coached in a lot of cities, and San Francisco’s the best city in the United States, I think. They deserve it. They’ve wanted it a long time. I hope it can happen.”
“I think any of the cities that have major-league teams want bragging rights when it comes to the World Series, Super Bowl, whatever,” says pitcher Matt Cain, who will start Game 2 against Texas on Thursday at AT&T Park. “San Francisco fans want to win so bad.
“To have 3,000 of them greeting us in the rain coming off the bus [from Philadelphia on Sunday night], that shows the fan support we have.”
Not only do the Dodgers out-rank the Giants 5-0 in World Series titles since the two moved west, Los Angeles has played in nine World Series to the Giants’ three.
“You’re talking the Alou brothers [Felipe, Matty and Jesus], Marichal, Cepeda, Bobby Bonds,” Craig says. “They had like an All-Star team, and they still didn’t win.”
Neither did Craig’s ’89 club, which starred Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Robby Thompson and Brett Butler, among others, and was not dissimilar to this 2010 team in that the sum was probably greater than the whole of its parts.
“We lost the first two at Oakland, and then the earthquake hit,” says Craig of his Giants club that would go on to get swept once the Series resumed. “They had a better ballclub than we did. And they might have had a little help with something else, too.”
Speaking of which, the ’02 Giants, featuring Barry Bonds — who, it turned out, had a lot in common with the Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire of those ’89 Athletics — let that late 5-0 lead slip away in Game 6 and then lost Game 7 in Anaheim.
Making baseball’s western migration even worse up north, until beautiful AT&T Park opened in 2000, Los Angeles played in a jewel of a place in Dodger Stadium while the Giants were stuck with Siberia West — Candlestick Park.
Candlestick was designed with a “boomerang-shaped concrete baffle in the upper tier to protect the park from the wind”, according to Wikipedia.com. Architect John Bolles’ best-laid plans, however … it just never worked. Best-known for swirling wind, dampness, fog and teeth-rattling cold, Candlestick Park, which opened in 1960, was a hellhole of a place to play baseball.
Talk about a lack of foresight. Giants owner Horace Stoneham spent time on the construction site in 1959 — but during the day. He had no idea of the devilish weather that moved in at night — the fog, the wind and the cold. Though he would commission a study on ways to improve the park, all that did was report that conditions would have been far better had Candlestick been built several hundred yards to the east.
On that godforsaken Candlestick field, had he not lost dozens of homers to the stiff and swirling winds, Mays surely would have finished with far more than 660 career homers. Maybe even more than Hank Aaron’s 755.
“I had six box seats next to the dugout when I managed there, but my wife seldom came to the games because it was so cold,” says Craig, who managed the Giants from 1986-1992. “I’ve seen hot dog wrappers blow out of the stands, never touch the ground and stick against the center-field fence.”
Current Giants, with the good fortune to not be stuck in Candlestick, are reminded almost daily of the club’s rich history. Mays, McCovey — now in a wheelchair — and Marichal are around often.
“In spring training, they’re around a lot,” closer Brian Wilson says. “We’re picking their brains about what it’s like to put on a Giants uniform. This is one of the classiest organizations around. We’re spoiled. We talk to them on a consistent basis.
“We talk to Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. They’re [at] the field all the time. They’ve got lockers next to us.”
“It’s awesome,” says Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand. “The Giants do a great job of bringing back their legends. They’re around constantly. To be able to pick their brains is awesome. Just being able to talk to Mays, McCovey, Orlando Cepeda … Vida Blue’s around a lot.
“They’re greatness. They’re royalty.”
Yet … so close to the ring, and then, poof.
“They had a lot of talent,” Rowand says. “But you’ve got to get lucky, too.”
What if McCovey’s liner, with two on and two out in the ninth inning of a Game 7 the Yankees led 1-0, instead had been out of Richardson’s reach?
What if Felix Rodriguez, Scott Eyre, Tim Worrell and Robb Nen would have been able to hold the 5-0 lead in Game 6 in ’02?
Maybe this is the year with the different ending.
“Maybe it’s our time, and it will be very rewarding if it happens,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean says. “The players have a lot to do to decide if this is their time. They have to have the will, they have to have the determination and they have to have the confidence and, ultimately, they have to perform on big stages. To this point, we’ve done that.
“The other thing, too, in kind of a crazy baseball way, sometimes the time picks you. And when the time picks you, you have to seize the opportunity.”
Great as some of them were, the Giants of the past turned out not always to be giants when the time picked them. Now it’s time for Tim Lincecum, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Cain, Wilson and the rest of the gang to reach for the stars in what could be San Francisco’s most historic baseball moment yet.
“It’s great for baseball,” Craig says. “San Francisco. And a team like Texas, with a great player like Josh Hamilton. The story about him is unreal. It’s good for baseball, two teams like this playing — unlike the Red Sox and the Yankees again.”
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