Giants' youth look to do what Hall of Famers never could

Giants' youth look to do what Hall of Famers never could

By Sean McAdam

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a sense, it hardly seems fair.

From the time they moved from the Polo Grounds to Seal Stadium in 1958, the San Francisco Giants have been a team with enormous star power.

Willie Mays, considered by some the game's most complete player in the post-World War II era, made the cross-country trek with the Giants as they, with the Dodgers, established a major league beachhead on the West Coast.

In time, he was joined by Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, Hall of Famers all.

After a relaively fallow period in the late 1970s through the late 1980s, there was Will Clark, and eventually, the notorious Barry Bonds.

All of them have one thing in common: they never won a World Series with the San Francisco Giants. (Mays had the good fortune to be with the Giants in 1954, when the franchise won its last title).

Which isn't to say they didn't come tantalizingly, infuriatingly close. Mays, Marichal, McCovey and Cepeda had the tying run on third in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series when McCovey's smash liner found its way into New York Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson's glove.

Bonds, having freed himself from the suggestion that he was a post-season flop, was two innings away from winning in Game 6 of the 2002 Series before the (then) Anaheim Angels rallied to win that game, and Game 7, too.

In that way, greats like McCovey, Marichal and the others share a history with great Red Sox stars such as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as Hall of Famers who came close, but ultimately retired without winning a championship.

Now, a roster full of rookies, castoffs and journeymen are close to doing what their predecessors couldn't. McCovey, who played 19 of 22 seasons in San Francisco, never won, but Aubrey Huff, signed last winter, just might.

Mays, denied in the Bay Area, played from 1958 through 1972 without earning a ring, but Andres Torres, in his second season, is in position to top him.

Marichal, who won 20 games or more six times in the span of seven series yet never won a World Series or a Cy Young Award, came up empty, but Jonathan Madison Bumgarner, who had started exactly one game before facing the Red Sox in June, might soon be a champion.

Fair? Not hardly. But as Ron Washington, manager of the current-day Giants' opponents, is fond of saying: "That's how baseball go.''

These Giants may lack star power -- nobody hit 30 homers, knocked in 90 runs or won 17 games during the regular season -- but this collection of mostly "misfits and castoffs,'' as manager Bruce Bochy refers to them, is halfway toward winning it all.

This anonymous, no-one-is-bigger-than-the-team approach wears well with the fan base, perhaps because it stands in such stark contrast to the Bonds-led teams of recent history. Those teams had a Bonds-or-bust mentality: if Bonds didn't hit, or, as was often the case, wasn't allowed to hit because opponents worked around him, the Giants had little chance to win.

His ego was every bit as big as his swelled head and his persona so dominated the franchise that the entire organization seemed held captive.

That's hardly the case with this edition of the Giants, which is probably why the team has been so beloved by the fan base.

(Side note: Do not make the mistake of lumping San Francisco fans in with their brethren from southern California. San Francisco fans are every bit as dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable as renowned sports cites such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia).

Team president Larry Baer, in citing the team's democratic approach, told the San Francisco Chronicle recently that the mood around the team this season "is how it is in Little League.''

The team's highest-paid player, pitcher Barry Zito, didn't make the post-season roster. But there was room for Pat Burrell, picked up after being releases by the Tampa Bay Rays, and for Cody Ross, put on waivers by the Florida Marlins.

The left side of the infield, which features warhorses Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, look too slow and immobile. Renteria is with his sixth team; Uribe is with his third, but this post-season, they've both been stars, invigorated by the post-season.

Some have said that this Giants' lineup is the most feeble since the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, but somehow, San Francisco has averaged 10 runs through the first two games of the Series, yet another manifestation of the team's selflessness and willingness to work together.

This weekend, they may have another thing in common with those Dodgers - a title.

Fair? To the likes of McCovey and Marichal, perhaps not.

But fun? Plenty, and part of what makes baseball so unapologetically unpredictable.