1982 was one of the most fun seasons ever to be a Giants fan. This says something about the team’s fortunes over the years … fans of most teams get to enjoy watching their team win the World Series, while Giants fans must settle for something less. But 1982 was indeed fun. The Giants had started poorly but slowly climbed back into the race. In August, they won ten games in a row, the last one on a walk-off 12th-inning home run by Reggie Smith, who provided a lot of those moments that season. In early September, they went on a 15-and-4 run that took them to a three-game series with the first-place Dodgers … the Giants won all three games, each by a single run, and entered the last week of the season a game out of first place. They held out until the last weekend, and on the final day of the regular season, Joe Morgan hit the homer that knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs. I was working in the factory in 1982, and I can remember how those of us working swing shift kept each other updated on the games as they were played, using signs, helpful security guards, and anything else we could muster.
That team had hitters sublime (Morgan, Jack Clark) and ridiculous (Johnnie LeMaster, Johnnie LeMaster). They had an All-Star closer (Greg Minton) and a Hall-of-Fame manager (Frank Robinson, not in the Hall because of his managing). In all honesty, though, the team wasn’t very good. They allowed more runs than they scored, and it took four years before they managed another winning season, suggesting the ‘82 Giants had more than their share of good luck. Maybe that’s part of what made them so much fun … they kept surprising you, kept overachieving.
The 2009 Giants remind me of the ‘82 edition. They aren’t particularly good … they have wonderful pitching, but their offense amounts to Pablo Sandoval and a bunch of junk. But after the sweep of the Rockies this weekend, the Giants are tied for the wild card lead with one month to go. And they are fun. I loved watching Barry Bonds for all those years, and that was fun, too, but it was a different kind of fun, more “holy shit” than “great googly moogly.” This team has its own kind of fun, embodied by Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda. He is one of the most animated players I’ve ever seen in more than 50 years of watching baseball … perhaps it’s appropriate that his nickname comes from an animated character. He chews gum in the field and blows bubbles as he picks groundballs off the infield grass. He’s a mass of tics at the plate, and when he doesn’t like how a swing felt, he’ll step out of the box and hit himself in the helmet with his bat. And, even though he plays with such joyousness, he’s even better when he’s in the dugout. No one enjoys his teammate’s success more than the Panda. He jumps, he slaps people, he shouts, he grins … no, he smiles, it’s way too big to call it a grin. The guy is just plain infectious, and it’s safe to say I am usually immune to that kind of infection. But I’ve got Panda Fever just like all of the other Giants fans.
It’s nice to have late-season games matter again, and this is going down as another highlight on the list of fun seasons. They are still unlikely to make the playoffs … the most recent odds at the Prospectus has them about 9-2 to make the postseason, with the Rockies about 3 1/2 times more likely to play on. But those 9-2 odds are a lot better than I would have expected. It’s fun.