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Best Giants of the Decade: Pablo Sandoval

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Though there are many Giants in this category, none have quite the same story as the beloved Panda.

San Francisco Giants v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If you were making a list of which players you thought would be on a list like this six years ago, it’s a sure thing that Pablo Sandoval would be on our mind. If you were making that same list four years ago, maybe it’s not as sure of a thing.

Sandoval has had his share of ups and downs with the franchise. From his playoff heroics (especially his 2012 World Series MVP performance), to an ever present battle over his weight and a perception of his commitment to the game because of it; from his departure as a free agent to his subsequent return as a dominant reliever. No one has a story quite like his.

And no one was quite as beloved, both before he left and after he returned. Sandoval caught the last out of the 2014 World Series, then went on to sign with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. The Giants actually beat Boston’s offer, but Sandoval seemingly wanted a fresh start. Much speculation went into the reason for his departure that isn’t really worth getting into.

Suffice it to say that things didn’t go as planned for Sandoval in his time at Fenway. He went from being a beloved franchise icon to being one of the worst position players in baseball, on one of the game’s largest stage (in front of one of the game’s most critical audiences).

Because of that, the Red Sox parted ways with Sandoval in 2017, eating the money still owed on his contract, and opening the door for a return to the city by the bay. And it seemed as though the ocean air and circling seagulls did a world of good for him.

Was it a return to his prime? No, but it was a night and day difference compared to his time in Boston. Most of the fans embraced his return with glee, though some held grudges about him leaving in the first place, but even the most curmudgeonly armchair GMs couldn’t really complain about him being on the team. Boston was paying his salary, after all, and the team was basically tanking, but trying not to say they were tanking.

Although I suppose at least some of those fans still hold a grudge over his home run that won the final game of the 2017 season, costing them the number one draft pick. Hopefully they get over that when Joey Bart eventually comes up.

One of the most notable things about Sandoval was his devoted legion of fans. Something that I will always remember about the 2014 World Series is the group of fans with the giant panda heads that attended every game, including those in Kansas City. Panda hats were all the rage throughout his tenure, and even those upset about him leaving seem to have opted not to throw theirs away, quickly pulling them from their storage places and dusting them off upon his return.

One of the other most memorable moments, specifically from after his return to the team, was his turn as the team’s most dominant relief pitcher in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. I say this sarcastically, of course, but he DOES have a career ERA and WHIP of zero, which doesn’t mean much but it was incredibly entertaining and easily the only saving grace of each game in which he pitched (for a whopping total of two innings).

Sandoval’s time with the organization does, finally, seem to be over, though. He was granted free agency at the end of this season, but unfortunately his last season was shortened due to an injury requiring Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. This is terrible at any point in a player’s career, but more cruel when it comes right before free agency.

It’s highly unlikely that Sandoval will return to the organization, but