Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hatin’ Them Rays Right Now

If you’ve spent any time talking baseball with me or reading my stuff, you know that one of my tiny little pet peeves is the fact that the San Francisco Giants have staunchly refused to win even a single World Series in the entire 50 years of their existence. Now, yes, I too am aware that they spent lots of years in New York, where they won a handful of World Championships, but that’s the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants are still holding tight to their championship cherry.

Some fans feel a sort of proud ownership of those New York titles, and I have to admit, so do I, to an extent. What Giants fan doesn’t get chills every time they hear the recording of Russ Hodges screaming “The Giants win the pennant!” over and over? What Giants fan feels no particular way about the Giants sweeping the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in 1954? But to me, the San Francisco Giants are as far apart from the New York Giants as San Francisco is from New York. They’re different worlds. It’s one franchise, but two teams. And sadly, the difference between the two isn’t that far off from the difference between M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H.

All right, maybe that’s harsh, and maybe that’s my annoyance talking. Well, it is, to an extent (but that’s okay because annoyance is what the concept of “EEEEEE!” is all about). It’s wrong to say that the Giants have been worthless for 50 years: They were pretty much the best National League team in the 1960s; they were mostly fairly good from 1986 through 2003, if you can believe it. But no freaking rings. Frustrating? How can it not be? Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Cepeda. Clark, Clark, Thompson, Beck, Nen, Aurilia, Kent, Williams, Schmidt, Bonds, Bonds. Krukow, Kuiper, Brenly, for that matter. Nary a ring among them—at least while they were Giants.

The one constant, at least since 1958, is the fans. For the most part, I’m talking about fans who, for example, actually know who Marichal is and his place in Giants history. (For those who don’t, well, it’s not their fault they were born too late.) I don’t know how many long-time, rabid Giants fans there are in the world, and they fill the spectrum from highly optimistic to, well, me, I guess. But those who don’t feel frustration about the Giants’ half-century of non-winnerness probably are those lucky few who don’t feel frustration about anything, and good luck to them.

Almost all of the Giants fans I know, no matter how optimistic, feel deep down that It Just Ain’t Gonna Happen. And it’s a crappy feeling. Giants fans truly have had to sing for a supper that still fails to arrive, and we’re lucky—I guess—that the kitchen didn’t close forever after 1992, when the Giants nearly moved to Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Which suddenly brings me to the team I’ve tried to avoid thinking about: the Tampa Bay Rays. I hate the Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I don’t, but they certainly will annoy the hell out of me if they win the World Series this year. I will resent them forever, or until the Giants win their own World Series, whichever comes first, and I fear that I know all too well which will come first. And my current hostility toward the Rays is exacerbated by the fact that, throughout their 10-year history as the Devil Rays, they were awful awful awful, never winning more than 70 games in a season; and now, all of a sudden, they’re juggernauts who might become the next team to win a World Series before the San Francisco Giants ever do. And because baseball isn’t baseball without annoying me along the way, I’m quite convinced that the Rays will win this year’s World Series easily.

As far as I’m concerned, even Phillies fans would have a reasonably fair gripe if the Rays beat their team, since the Phillies have gone nearly 30 years without a championship—having won their previous one 30 years before. But until the day the San Francisco Giants win their first World Championship, you will never convince me that fans of the Phillies—or any other team, including the Cubs—have a more legitimate gripe than Giants fans.

Those are pretty chilling lists. (I decided arbitrarily that the last 20 years were recent enough.) For one thing, of all the teams that have ever won a World Series, only three have not done so since 1979 (inclusive)—and, of course, only one of those teams has moved from the place where it last won a ring. That in itself is so odd: In the 48 years since the leagues first expanded, the Giants are the only non-expansion club never to win a ring after moving to a new metropolitan area. (That’s only mildly different from my usual gripe, namely that no club in its current home has gone longer than the Giants without even once having won a ring, but still, I hadn’t thought out the non-expansion thing before, so now I’m mildly more annoyed.) As far as I’m concerned, only Montreal fans have anything like as much to complain about, given 37 years of no championships… and then no team.

Also amazing, really, is that the Dodgers and A’s haven’t won it all in such a long time—which I’ve failed to lament. In fact, most of the teams in that second column had a real “story”… and yet haven’t won since: Giants (sweep heavily favored Indians; Dusty Rhodes), Pirates (“We Are Famileee,” “Pops” as MVP), Phillies (first ring in eons), Tigers (35-5 start, Roger Craig’s book), Royals (bad call, Andujar meltdown), Mets (Buckner), Dodgers (Hershiser, Gimpy Gibson, crappy team, hateful season).

I deeply wish to be wrong about this, but I see no reason for the Giants to win anytime soon, if ever. Well, you could remove the words anytime, soon, and if. Indeed they currently play in a weak division, but they’re one of the key reasons the division’s so weak. This year the Dodgers were 84-78, and the Giants, at 72-90, were only 12 games out. The Rockies started to return to form, which is fine, but the Padres were almost entirely injured all year and should’ve been better. I don’t think the Dodgers played over their heads, and what’s really disturbing is that they started playing well when they started benching (or disabling) multimillion-dollar millstones such as Juan Pierre and Andrew Jones. So barring loads of injuries next year, I don’t see them going away. Ditto Arizona, which seems to have put together a good team, and not by simply throwing money around. So unless, say, the Giants’ rotation seriously puts it together, and they pick up a bat (or two) that matters while getting rid of some deadwood, I don’t see them doing better than third place for the foreseeable future… by which time Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will have become free agents in order to go and win Cy Youngs for other teams, and the guys the Giants are really high on won’t have panned out, so they’ll be a tail-ender again. (As it happens, though, the Giants have gotten rid of some deadwood, which I suppose is encouraging.)

David Beck directs my attention to the 1973 Giants, who finished in third place at 88-74. “I’d always just had this idea,” Dave says, “that after ‘71 the Giants just sucked always. What’s awful is that this record was not only better than the Dodgers this year, but was way better than the 1973 Mets, who came within a game of winning the whole thing that year. It is just so putrifyingly Giantsesque.”

I remember that year all too well: good team that faded down the stretch. Reruns took place in’78 and ‘86. Mostly, though, 1973 was the year Bobby Bonds hit 39 home runs and stole 43 bases. I thought he had a terrific year and was most annoyed when Pete Rose won the MVP anyway.

At the time, though, I didn’t connect this to the Mets’ rather pathetic 82-79 record, probably because I was as yet unaware of the utter, utter unfairness of life and/or Major League Baseball. You should know, too, that the Mets’ top RBI man had 76, and the top slugging percentage on the team was .423; the team had an ERA of 3.26, but still somehow managed just those 82 wins. But I digress.

Dave points out the injustice of the Giants being such a good team in the 1960s, yet almost always being a bridesmaid—usually the maid of honor. “Yes, it is meaningless to go over this,” he says, “because bad things happen to all teams, and it’s a long long time ago, but you know? Sorry, the entire San Francisco Giants history has just been more horrific than any other team.”

Cubs fans, who at least have a 100-year-old ring to feel proud about, would say that they have it worse because the Cubs almost always reek, and let’s not even talk about what Kansas City A’s or Montreal Expos fans might say. But I too am sorry: we have it worse. The way many of us feel about the Giants can’t be that different from how Sisyphus felt about the boulder.


  1. I hear what you're saying, but Red Sox fans are so obnoxious, I'm glad their team lost to the Devil Rays.

  2. I dunno. At least Red Sox fans don’t seem to have that level of entitlement we’ve come to see in fans of certain other teams....

  3. Just to let you know, I have never ever even heard of "After MASH." So I'd say that was a pretty decent comparison as to the light-year-inal nature of the distance between the New York and San Francisco versions of the team.

    The light urinal nature, as well.

  4. I said 50, having sort of refused to count 2008 as being over and done with, but of course I really should have said 51. Fifty-one. That’s years. Sorry about any potential confusion.