I wrote this up today, thinking about my Giants history and tonight's game--which has now started! I wrote it for some friends who aren't Giants fans, but I thought maybe the McCoven would enjoy it, too, and as long as I had already done the work, why not a fan post? That, by the way, is why there's stuff in there that you already know, so please excuse me if I sound like I'm patronizing y'all--mostly, I'm just too lazy to rewrite for the appropriate audience.
Anyway, read the ridiculously long note after the jump. It starts in 1935, or maybe 1933, and ends later tonight.
I often refer to myself as a third-generation Giants fan. That’s only sort-of true, as it wasn’t my Grandfather, may he rest in peace, who took my Dad to the Polo Grounds. It was his Uncle Adolf, my Grandmother’s brother, who as I understand it arranged for my Dad to play hooky and meet him at the ballpark, now and then. They would sit up in the stands behind left field; he talks about how his uncle would arrive looking immaculate in a wool suit, and then, as the sun came around and the line of shade moved, he would take off the jacket, and then the tie, and then the shirt. The whole group of men, in fact, would wind up stripped to the waist—the old newsreel footage of suited and hated men in the stands was taken before the game got underway, he says.
Anyway, he was born in 1935, as the Giants’ historic era of dominance was coming to an end, and I assume he has no memory of the World Series losses in 1936 and 1937. Not only because he was a toddler, but because I doubt his parents would have had it on the radio. Possibly, just because of the peer pressure, but my Grandfather never followed baseball. I always thought he found all sports silly, actually, but when he was in his nineties and the satellite TV came in, he turned out to be passionate about soccer, so I suppose you can take the boy out of the old country, but you can’t take the old country out of the boy.
Anyway, Giants fans suffered through some lousy years when my Dad was growing up. After three pennants in five years (1933, 1936, 1937), the Giants wouldn’t sniff another pennant until my Dad was seventeen. The 1950 season ended with a nice couple of weeks, winning nine of their last eleven after they were eliminated, ending in third only 5 games back. And then 1951 happened.
My Dad’s story is this: he cut school for Game One, traveling to Brooklyn with his buddies but unable to actually get in to Ebbets Field to watch the Giants win against Ralph Branca. He cut school for Game Two. He cut school for Game Two, getting tickets somehow and watching the Giants get demolished with Jackie Robinson homering off Sheldon Jones in the first inning to start the Bums toward a 10-zip final. Then his mother found out he had been cutting school, so he had to go to school and could not go to Game Three and the Shot Heard Round the World. It’s a great story, not any less great for being implausible, and much better than an implausible story that placed him at the actual game.
Well, anyway, the Giants won the pennant, and made a run at it the next year with a great September but fell a few games short. In 1953, they fell to the second division, but then in 1954 they cruised to the pennant and swept the Indians for the World Championship. My Dad was 19. The next year they finished six games over 500 and never led, falling into third in May and staying there. In 1956 they were a second division team, twenty games under .500, and were even worse the next year. And in 1958, they left town.
My dad did not stop being a fan, although he was heartbroken. In 1992, when I was 23 and living in San Francisco, the Giants announced their move to Florida, and he sent a postcard saying that the Giants left his town when he was 23, and he never got over it. Fortunately, the move didn’t happen, but that’s later in the story. What did happen was that the Giants settled in Ess Eff and improved quickly, winning the pennant in 1962. My Dad was 27 by that point and married, and had moved out West himself, settling in my home town of Phoenix AZ, too late for the Giants farm team, which had moved out to Tacoma in 1960. For the rest of the decade, the Giants were pretty good but not good enough, enjoyable but heartbreaking, with the famous string of five consecutive second-place finishes. With the advent of division play, they did finally reach what was now a postseason in 1971, although they didn’t win the pennant. I was two years old, and I have no recollection of that team, although I am informed that I listened along with the rest of the family.
That was the last gasp for the Giants being competitive for quite a while, though. I grew up in what I call the Mike Ivie years, although of course Mike Ivie was only there from 1978-1981; he just seems to me to symbolize the Giants of my youth. They are probably best described as the Johnnie Lemaster years of futility, 1975-1985. Mike Ivie was one of the first baseman in between Willie McCovey (in 1973) and Will Clark (in 1986); two great players who were stars on pennant-winners sandwiching a series of mediocrities, or good players in their last years, or guys out of position. Mike Ivie is my Schenectady for Enos Cabell and Willie Montanez and Steve Ontiveros and all the guys who passed through.
In those years, from before I remember until I was sixteen, they were never really in contention, never really very good. I was a fan, anyway. Not a lot of Giants fans in Phoenix in those years; there were a pretty good handful of Cubs fans and a lot of fans of that team from Ell Lay. Enough of those that there was a local station that carried the games, so that Vin Scully selling Extra-Long Farmer John Hot Dogs is the sound of my youth. We sometimes could catch the Giants game, if the weather were right, for a few innings, but mostly we got updates from Vin Scully and the box scores in the morning paper.
I took a fair amount of grief as a Giants fan in those years, although certainly nowhere near as much as my Dad did growing up in the Bronx in the forties. I went to Spring Training every year, not only a few games but the workouts, which in those days were held at a local public park. The Giants’ AAA team had come back to Phoenix, and we went to a few games a year at Muni, hoping to see future stars. We did some, but as with all minor league teams, the Max Venables and Rich Murrays stay around and the Jack Clarks move on pretty quickly. Every year, we would try to get to a few games in Southern California; there were trips to LA where we would make the six-hour drive on Friday, catch three games, and then drive back on Sunday. We would take a vacation on Coronado off of San Diego, timed so we could go in to see the Giants at Jack Murphy for a game or two. That was pretty much it; no SportsCenter in those days. Oh, sometime in the mid-eighties, we got cable, and we could watch the Braves games; it was a big deal when the Giants played the Braves and we could watch.
I went away to college in Fall 1987, and spent four years largely away from the Giants and other fans. A terrible coincidence, as my Fresh Fall was the first time in my memory that the Giants won their division. I had spent the Humm-Baby summer following the day-by-day struggle between the Astros, the Reds and the Giants. A week before I left, all three were within half a game. In September, as we pulled ahead, I was busy with classes and new friends (I don’t know the exact date I met my Best Reader, but it was probably, oh, the day Will Clark hit a homer in the tenth off Wally Ritchie. That would have been the week I discovered that the Giants home games didn’t turn up in the box score in the next morning’s Inquirer. Brutal. I did listen to the playoffs on the radio, but mostly by myself. I didn’t know any other Giants fans at college, and while I took the time to listen, I can’t say I was truly heartbroken when Jose Oquendo hit a home run off Atlee Hammaker and our season ended. Two years later, I watched part of a few Cubs games on television, and listened to a bit of the Series on the radio, but was more worried about my brother and sister-in-law who lived in Oakland being safe after the quake than heartbroken about being swept.
Over those years, I did get to a few games at Veterans Stadium, but Bad Things happened to the Giants in Philadelphia. I think I was at this game at the end of my Fresh year. I’m pretty sure I was at this game before my Sophomore year; my room-mate from the year before picked me up at the airport, and then gave me a ride to campus after the game. I was definitely at this game. I wasn’t at this game, though. I was at this game, in pretty good seats, and I was at this game in even better seats—and I can still hear the crowd when Gary Carter came in to pinch hit. I was also at this game in crappy seats, if I remember correctly, although I don’t actually remember Von Hayes hitting that walk-off. And I believe I was at both this game and that game, my last games in that terrible place. If you clicked through all of those, you can imagine how low my confidence was in the last game of the NLDS this year.
When I bullied my Best Reader into moving to San Francisco with me in 1991, my adult Giants fan history began in earnest. Pretty nearly every home weekend, we went to a day game, sat in the bleachers, and rooted for the good guys. We watched the local broadcasts in the evenings, and I listened to the road games while I worked. After the team was sold (but kept in Ess Eff) in 1993, we lived through the Last Pennant Race; we went to a dozen games that year, picking up same-day bleacher seats for $5. We were there for this game, when the Giants came back from 5-0, from 11-6, and from 12-8 in the ninth to beat the Braves 13-12 in the eleventh. I think we were there at this game, when Paul Kilgus got Will Clark, Matt Williams and Barry Bonds one-two-three to get his only save of the year, our fifth loss in a row to drop us two games back. We were definitely there for this game when Robby Thompson hit what appears to be the only walk-off home run of his career.
We left California in the summer of 1994, but fairly soon the internet and cable gave me lots of info on the games, and I was able to follow their 1997 and 2000 division-winning years pretty closely. My Perfect Non-Reader was born in the summer 2001, and the Giants won the pennant in 2002.
So. The Giants won the pennant when my Dad was two, and then not again until he was sixteen. The Giants won the division when I was two, and then not again until I was eighteen. They won the pennant when my daughter was one, and then not again until she was—nine? She suffered through four or five bad years, but most of that time she was too young to care. Nine years old is a great time for your team to succeed, it seems. Well, and she is too young to stay up and watch the late games, but then she can watch the condensed games in the morning, and isn’t that something my Dad couldn’t have imagined when he was nine. Tonight, though, we’re letting her stay up: the game starts at seven our time, and could well be over before ten, and she doesn’t have anywhere to be tomorrow morning (Hebrew School being cancelled for some reason unrelated to baseball), and I would have loved to have watched a Giants World Series game with my parents when I was nine. I didn’t have that chance, and my Dad didn’t have that chance, and I sure hope we enjoy it.
And that we win, of course—but you know, mostly I hope it’s something she gets to tell her grandchildren, who will be sixth-generation Giants fans: the Giants won the pennant when I was nine, and my Papa let me stay up late to watch one of the games with him.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,