…Without a doubt.
It sounds silly to say that my favorite San Francisco Giants season dating back double-digits is the one where they’re threatening to not win 60 games. It was a miserable and Jekyll-and-Hyde run that started out with Madison Bumgarner hitting two home runs opening day, ending up with the no-decision (his bullpen enabled Arizona to key off their playoff run with a come-from-behind win) and wrapping with Pablo Sandoval re-joining the team and hitting a predictably inglourious .185.
Everything that happened in between, including Matt Cain’s ignominious final 3-11 campaign capping a 12-year run where he served as the reluctant keynote for the Giants’ rise and fall (Cain, it should be noted, will likely finish his career with a losing record, thanks to those early rebuild seasons and injury-marred latter ones), Bumgarner’s ostensible season-sending dirt bike injury, Buster Posey’s daily grinding to his most well-rounded campaign since his 2012 MVP season and the disappointing audition of rookie after rookie (Christian Arroyo, Ryder Jones, Mac Williamson, Roberto Gomez, Reyes Moronta, Sam Dyson… starter Ty Blach at 8-12 and Austin Slater, hitting a respectable .282, perhaps the lone bright spots of the franchise’s pending youth movement—if mediocre is bright in this context) proves that the Giants’ retooling needs to be systemic; a to-the-studs restoration project that will have to match, if not best, the post-2002/post-Bonds-era rebuild that focused on building a battery and infield from the farm and filling in the cracks with the acquisition of key undervalued veterans.
Giants who should be dying to leave the confines of AT&T this winter, most with hardware to go along with no hard feelings, include: starters Matt Morris, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, closer Mark Melancon, outfielders Hunter Pence and Denard Span and mid-career anchors of the middle infield, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik, whose services, it seems, could be better put to use on a smaller market contender while the Giants re-tool from the front office down.
I’m not one for calling for the heads of the executives, or even a manager, in the dark times—especially when they’re future HOF’ers. Bruce Bochy and EVP emeritus Brian Sabean (the longest tenured exec in the game) punched their ticket to Cooperstown in 2010 and again in 2012 and again in 2014, they know the game practically better than anyone and they know the value of the down seasons which only make sweeter the moments when the gods shine upon you, the ball bounces true and the clubhouse is ebullient.
Bruce Bochy’s health problems over the last two years, if anything, have been under-documented. He’s got an atrial flutter, or abnormal heartbeat, and while it’s been corrected with a couple “minor” surgeries (to the extent that heart surgery can be characterized as minor: “I was in a minor head-on collision”, “My minor second marriage just fell apart”), including going under the knife as this season was getting going in April—the issue has indeed wrecked havoc on his stamina and demeanor.
It’s a poorly kept secret that the Giants clubhouse is a fractured unit, and that starts with Bochy. Players who have spoken on a condition of anonymity characterize him as a man whose fuse is markedly shorter and his reputation for galvanizing different personalities has been diminished. At 62, after twenty-three consecutive seasons as a skipper and 1,850 wins buffeted by a trio of rings, there is more than enough reason for Boch to hang up his size 8¾ hat and spend a little time with the Mrs. or at his favorite fishing hole for a couple years before taking a cush front office consulting gig either in San Francisco or with his home club in San Diego.
Sabean hasn’t had the obvious health issues to point at, but his fingerprints on this current team are smudged at best. Though always available for an incendiary quote, he recently lambasted the team for its “total ineptitude”, Sabean is an enabler and reluctant to shift blame to GM Bobby Evans (his protégé). At the same time, who else is to blame?
Since August, Sabean has taken a “we’re ahead of schedule [with the rebuild]” approach, saying it’s going to take a few seasons to really see what some of the young Giants talent, patience young Padawan, can do. Sabean’s been right in the face of criticism before and he’s delivered a team from the ashes of also-ranhood thrice during his tenure in San Francisco, so common wisdom says to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, taking a half-step out of Sabean’s chamber of wisdom, things don’t look so bright.
The Giants’ current prospect pool is ranked 25th out of 30 clubs with a future outlook that is equally bleak: “The system as a whole remains among the thinnest in baseball, though. In the midst of a disastrous season at the big league level, they’ll likely be looking to add more prospect talent as sellers at the deadline” and has yet to deliver a Tim Lincecum-esque prospect whose obvious talent puts a lump in the throat.
In the early days of The Big Three era (Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner) the Giants’ system was feted with accolades from around the league. Their overstock of homegrown starting talent and middle- and late-relief was the envy of baseball. There is no such joy on the farm today as the Giants minor league squads finished (record-wise) last among all MLB franchises this year. Unlike 2007-’08, when Lincecum seemed to come from the Northwest like a lighting bolt and give fans of a struggling franchise hope, there is no Wonder Boy waiting in the wings to deliver the orange and black from the doldrums next summer, or the summer after that.
Why then, with a prognosis so bleak, was this season a standout for me? I guess as a long-suffering Giants supporter and the son and the grandson of one, it is these seasons, when all seems lost, that make me feel most at home in my fandom.
It also matches the time we live in. For every come-from-behind-to-tie-only-to-lose-in-extras disappointment this season, I took a mental screenshot of the opposing team celebrating near the mound at AT&T and captioned it “current mood.”
Indeed, whereas the early teens, or whatever we’re calling this decade, seemed pungent with promise for us all, an economy on the mend, a sincere and too-well-spoken black president, a feeling of calm and tranquility in a world frenetic yet connected like never before… the notion that science and reason would win out to or at least counter the problems we now face and will soon hand down to our children was prevalent. Instead, that feeling has been replaced by a literal dick punch from our own dark selves as we’ve let hubris, ignorance, prejudice, hatred, greed and fear take over. Everything, indeed, seems lost.
That’s what being a Giants fan feels like, that’s what being an American actually is.
But in these times, down to our last chip, something happens. A spark from nowhere, a tiny light poking through an unseen corner—with a little luck, some careful nourishment and a lot of determination, that light grows. You don’t see it at first, nobody does, but once it starts to shine, you realize it’s been there the entire time.
As a Giants fan and an American (sometimes in that order), I’m in constant awe of the notion that we can continue to soldier on even when all hope, and hope-adjacent has left the room. I embrace the pain in loss, the bleakness of a failed moment and look forward to a time better.
It has to get better. Doesn’t it?
Andrew J. Pridgen is a writer and editor. His old book can be found here. His new book comes out in November.