With all apologies to Meat Loaf for the admittedly ripped off title, after watching the best hitter in baseball barely move as the third strike crossed the plate to end the 2012 baseball season, my mind turned to what seems to be the question of the day in sports and I wondered to myself what the legacy of the Giants will be in this current era. At this present time, I believe it is premature to place the dynasty label on this group. Frankly, it’s a word thrown around very haphazardly and should only be reserved to the truly exceptional times in which a team has had sustained excellence. Over the past 25 years, only two teams can legitimately classify themselves as such.
The Yankees of 1996-2000 with four World Championships cannot be disputed as the dominant organization of this era. I would also argue for the Braves despite the fact that their fourteen year run of divisional dominance only netted them one World Series. A couple of bad weeks in October should not dismiss the work they performed over 162 games from 1991-2005. With the visitor’s clubhouse in Comerica Park barely dry, I set out to put my history degree to use and perform some research as to where the Giants compare with previous winners.
Let’s start with some background information to put this accomplishment into perspective. Since the 1987 season, seven teams have won multiple championships with the Yankees leading the way with five (’96, 98-00,’09). The Twins (’87, ’91) Blue Jays (’92, ’93), Marlins (’97, ’03) Red Sox (’04, ’07), Cardinals (’06, ’11), and Giants (’10, ’12) captured multiple championships during this time with eight teams capturing one (’88 Dodgers, ’89 Athletics, ’90 Reds, ’95 Braves,’01 Diamondbacks, ’02 Angels ’05 White Sox, ’08 Phillies). Also keep in mind that there was no World Series in 1994 which makes this a legitimate 25 year sample.
Right off the bat the single winners can all be eliminated as the Giants have eclipsed their accomplishments in terms of winning baseball’s top prize. At the other end of the spectrum, they are clearly not in the same class as the Yankees at this time which leaves us with six teams that we can compare against this year’s champs. In eliminating the obvious once again, we can immediately cross the Red Sox off of our list. This talent-laden group played in a larger baseball market and spent freely to compete with the Yankees. When your payroll is the second highest in all of baseball as it was during their championship seasons, you had better be winning something.
The Cardinals are also easy to remove as they play in what many consider to be the greatest baseball city in America with the premier hitter of his generation. Throw in a talented pitching staff with a Hall of Fame manager and it’s not shocking to see how the Cardinals were able to win. In eliminating the Marlins, the distance between their first and second championships may have well been sixty years as opposed to the actual six. Their organization completely overhauled everything as the philosophies of their two winners were polar opposites. Many forget that the Blue Jays drew over four million fans to SkyDome in their heyday (yes, that would be a four followed by six zeroes) and that they were a truly outstanding organization. The great Pat Gillick was the architect of back to back winners that had very few holes anywhere on their roster.
Admittedly, I became a little discouraged and wondered if there was any point of reference for this Giants team until I turned my attention to one of the most unappreciated winners of their time, the ’87 and ’91 Twins. Much like the Giants, this team was very much under the radar and left many of us wondering how these guys were winning. In addition, the way in which they compared to one another offensively and defensively was eerily similar as well especially when considering that both organizations essentially rebuilt their lineups between their two great seasons.
Both teams were about middle of the road in terms of salary but consistent in proportion to their attendance figures. San Francisco was eleventh in all of baseball in 2010 but one third of their payroll was allocated to two players (Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito). Their payroll rose to seventh this season but attendance continued to move north of three million as well. Conversely, Minnesota only drew a little over two million fans in 1987 and just over 2.3 million in 1991 with their payroll ranking at 18 and 13 respectively.
On the field, each team’s first World Series was built very similarly offensively with both teams ranking sixth in their league for homeruns. Batting average was also on par as the Twins hit .261 compared to the Giants .257. Perhaps the greatest indicator of each team’s offensive success is where they ranked in strikeouts. Both were among the most difficult to strikeout in their league with both sharing a ranking of twelve which of course led to outs that might be considered more productive. The trends among the teams remained consistent offensively in their second championship seasons as both teams continued to be among the leaders in average with their power numbers falling precipitously.
In fact, although finishing sixth in the league, the Twins fell off of their ’87 pace by 56 home runs with the Giants finishing dead last in ’12. World Series hero Pablo Sandoval only hit twelve during the regular season. So much for needing third base to be a power position. Once again though, each team prided itself in being able to put the bat on the ball as the Twins were the most difficult team in the league to strikeout while only the Phillies struck out three fewer times than the Giants.
Pitching was another point of comparison in which each team proved consistent. The Twins staff was finished eleventh in the AL in 1987 but was revamped and improved dramatically in 1991. While Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven were the only starters to reach double-digit wins in ‘87, Jack Morris, Scott Erickson and Kevin Tapani were all tremendous in ’91 with Rick Aguilera proving to be a much more dependable closer than Jeff Reardon. One could also argue that although the Giants staff ERA was higher this year by half a run they were a better group than the ’10 staff that led the league in ERA. Matt Cain became dominant while Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong began to emerge. Barry Zito’s ERA was exactly the same at 4.15 but went from 9-14 to 15-8. If Tim Lincecum had been a shell of himself in the regular season there’s no telling where this staff would have finished the regular season.
Both teams were exceptional when it came to catching the ball and making plays as the Twins led the league in fielding during both of their title seasons while the Giants finished at the top of the NL in 2010. However, this season was something of an anomaly as the Giants were fourteenth in the league in team defense. Consider though that they only committed twenty-nine more errors than the Braves and when spread out over the course of a 162 game season that’s only one additional error over each five and a half games. Not too shabby.
While the numbers and results are similar for each team perhaps the greatest parallel can be seen resides in the demeanor of the players from those teams. Both organizations boasted players that were consummate professionals, played hard and cared for one another. This character was readily displayed in playoff situations in which they each faced elimination and kept fighting. Much like the underrated challenger whose heart cannot be measured, these teams took every punch from their supposedly superior opponents and found a way to get themselves off of the ropes, back to their corner and ready to go one more round. This attitude in professional sports is rare and can be traced back to great leadership. With their steadying hands both Tom Kelly and Bruce Bochy created environments in which players would thrive.
Each man was respected in their clubhouse and accountability was placed in the hands of the players, not management. When the policing of a clubhouse or locker room is placed at the responsibility of those playing the game and subsequently accepted then something special is happening that transcends any numbers or statistics. When this happens, it sends the message to management that they have earned both trust and respect and a belief from their players that they will find a way to lead them as far as they can go. As we’ve seen from these two organizations, the sky’s the limit. Players will play harder for a leader they believe in and brings about a character that enables very good teams to become just a little bit better when they absolutely have to be. It’s that character that allowed Kirby Puckett to nearly single-handedly win Game 6 in 1991 or for the Giants to overcome the loss of Brian Wilson and Melky Cabrera this season. Character still works in team sports.
The Giants do not have the talent of some previous champions. They don’t have a free-spending payroll and the concept of luxury tax is completely foreign to them. There’s no traditional big bat behind Buster Posey and much like I did in 2010 (after they defeated my beloved Phillies) they leave everyone wondering how they did it. While it’s always nice to hear your hometown team lumped in with the so-called big names I can think of no greater compliment than to compare their heart and courage to that of those Twins teams that simply knew how to win. Congratulations San Francisco.
Mike Fulk is a guest writer for Philliedelphia.