San Francisco was given a team with Willie Mays."Here, take this team with the greatest player on the planet," the universe said.
"Okay," San Francisco responded.
In their first season here, the Giants brought up Orlando Cepeda. The season after that, they brought up Willie McCovey. The season after that, they brought up Juan Marichal. In 1957, San Francisco didn't have a major league team. Five years later they had a fantastic one with four future Hall of Famers.
Yet with all that talent, the Giants couldn't win a World Series.
Age destroyed everything, which age tends to do. Mays started to disintegrate. Marichal slowed. McCovey's knees kept him off the field half the time. And there was that damned AstroTurf smothering everything, a daily reminder that everything was awful and there was no hope. In the offseason between 1971 and 1972, the Giants were merrily sailing along, expecting to contend just like they always did, and they cartoonishly went over a surprise waterfall.
In 1970, the Giants installed AstroTurf at Candlestick Park. That decade was the worst in franchise history. That was not a coincidence.
Assistant: Sir, the ballpark is hideous and freezing. People aren't coming to the games anymore.
Horace Stoneham: BETTER INSTALL ASTROTURF, THEN.
That 1971 season, then, might be the most tragic in San Francisco history. It was the last chance for Mays to win in San Francisco. It was the last time McCovey, Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Bobby Bonds would ever appear in the playoffs again. No one knew it at the time, but that was it. They were going to be the Toronto Giants at one point.
"It is very sad. The (Bay Area) is just not large enough for two big league teams. There would have been no problem if the American League (Oakland A's) had not moved in."
- Carl Hubbell
The Giants' last chance was '71. That was their last chance to spin their gaggle of Hall of Famers into championship gold. They couldn't do it, and all the Giants could do for the next 39 years was sit on the curb and continue to wonder why McCovey couldn't hit the ball two feet higher.
You know who ruined it all?
Clemente already had a World Series victory. Stargell was going to get another one. Yet they both got grabby with another championship in 1971, ruining the chance for McCovey, Marichal et al to get just one. The Pirates almost singlehandedly forced the Giants to move. Well, the Pirates and the cruel march of age. And probably the AstroTurf. And market conditions. And that disaster of a ballpark. But focus on the Pirates. The Giants wouldn't make the playoffs for another 16 years, and the easily identifiable demarcation line between the classic San Francisco Giants era and the lousy AstroTurf '70s was the 1971 NLCS.
The Pirates, man. Now you're getting fired up.
In exchange for this slight against the Giants and the doomed Hall of Famers, the baseball gods forced the Pirates to help the Giants out at every opportunity for a decade or two. I've catalogued this before, but it's worth bringing up again because the Pirates are on our mind. A partial list of everything the Pirates have done for the Giants:
- Allowed Barry Bonds to leave
- Traded Jason Schmidt for wet peanuts
- Took Matt Morris off the Giants' hands because YOLO
- Traded Freddy Sanchez for wet peanuts
- Traded Javier Lopez for wet peanuts
- Released one of those wet peanuts, only to watch him travel the world and return to the Giants and win a championship
They're aiming for another addition to the list.
Today the Pirates selected LHP Jonathan Sanchez to the Major League roster and have designated RHP Hunter Strickland for assignment.— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) March 27, 2013
Does all that make up for '71? Probably. But never forget what the Pirates ruined. The bittersweet '60s turned into the morbid '70s, and the Pirates kicked the Giants off the cliff.
There. Do you hate the Pirates now? Because you should.
I mean, it's not like I'm stretching to make some sort of connection because the Pirates really do deserve a little happiness by this point and they're the first sympathetic Giants playoff opponent since the Cubs in '89 and I'm conflicted and I don't want to hate the Pirates and I'm not going to hate the Pirates and why couldn't the Pirates and Cardinals be playing?
I can't hate the Pirates. I just hope that the '71 NLCS and the legacy of Pirates gifts in recent years cancel each other out, and we get to watch a clean, well-played baseball game. May the best team ...
Justin K. Aller, Getty Images
SCREW YOU, PIRATES. HOW DARE YOU.
HOW DARE YOU.
There. That works. Russell Martin is on the Pirates, everyone. I don't even remember why we hate him so much, other than him being on the Dodgers, but look at that guy. Do you want him to win? You do not. Now you hate the Pirates.
Bad luck, Pirates. May the best baseball team win, unless that's you.