For life long San Francisco Giants fans, this new era of success still feels more fantasy than reality. The idea that winning a championship is expected from this new wave of fans feels ridiculous. After 52 years, some of us fans still look back at 2010 as that perfect moment.
Now that all Giants fans are spoiled regardless of when they started cheering, it’s important to look back at the evolution of this franchise from an organization that never found a way to the one that seems to be doing all the right things.
October 27, 2006
Bruce Bochy signed a three-year deal to manage the Giants and it would be the 3rd coach Brian Sabean had brought in during his tenure. Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou both had success managing the Giants, but ultimately it was time to let Alou take a step back with the organization and find someone else. That someone was Bochy, who was a rival coach and player with the San Diego Padres for the better part of the last two decades. Bochy said all the right things at his introductory press conference with the Giants.
“I look forward to this challenge,” he said. “I made a commitment to myself and to my wife that if we were to make a change, it would be with an organization that would be a cultural fit for me, where I would be comfortable and where there was potential to build real chemistry between myself and the front office.
“It would be a place where I would have a chance to make an impact and a contribution. That’s why I’m sitting here today. That’s the only reason I’d leave San Diego.”
First 3 Years
The Giants struggled mightily in his first two seasons, winning 71 and 72 games respectively in 2007 and 2008. The team was old and the team lacked much talent coming through the minor league system, which was the same old story with all of the Barry Bonds led lineups that Sabean and company were putting together. Bochy, to his credit, did the best he could with what he had as he had done in San Diego.
For years, Bochy had overachieved with the Padres, winning the National League West title 4 times as well as the pennant in 1998. Had it not been for the greatest Yankees team in 60 years, Bochy may have come to San Francisco with a World Series ring. (Although who knows if the Padres would have let him go had he won it all in 1998 either.)
Now he was overachieving with the Giants, but casual fans couldn’t see it because the record didn’t show it. Bochy was finding ways to win with players who were at the end of their careers and struggling to stay healthy or productive.
In 2009, the last year on Bochy’s contract, the team won 88 games. Led by Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, the Giants were doing something Padres fans weren’t used to when Bochy coached for them. Bochy was letting the young guys lead the way. Lincecum, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and Brian Wilson were just some of the young players who were taking over the locker room that for the last 15 years had always been a veteran’s locker room. Much like in San Diego, veterans ruled because that’s where Bochy was most comfortable. If he was going to lose, he was going to lose with “his guys,” the guys who had experience and played the game the right way.
How the 2010 Season Began
As 2010 began, it was clear that the pitching staff was led by Lincecum and Cain. Lincecum was a back to back Cy Young champion and Cain had become as reliable a pitcher as there was in the game. The 1-2 punch of those two starters really set the tone for the shape the team would take that season.
Sandoval had opened eyes around the league in 2009 with 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in to go with a .330 batting average as a switch hitter. He was still learning how to play 3B at the major league level, but his potential was through the roof.
However, as Sabean and Bochy had proved in the past, they were reluctant to go with young guys all over the diamond and 2010 was no exception. Travis Ishikawa and Emmanuel Burriss had played more games at first and second base than any other player in 2009. The team needed to upgrade. The team had traded for Freddy Sanchez in 2009 and signed Aubrey Huff late in the off-season to take over those two slots.
Edgar Renteria was at shortstop, but had never been able to stay healthy as a Giant to this point. Mark DeRosa, another veteran that had been brought in by the front office was even in worst shape than Renteria and wasn’t going to be able to be the everyday LF they had hoped he could be. The Giants brought in Juan Uribe for a second Spring Training invite to camp hoping the veteran could earn his way back onto the club.
The outfield was also a mess with Randy Winn gone and Fred Lewis being sent to Toronto. The team also had an underachieving Aaron Rowand as the only OF left. So the team kept Andres Torres and Nate Schierholtz to compete for spots on the roster along with Triple-A product John Bowker.
Then there was Bengi Molina. For years, Molina had done everything asked of him and more for the franchise. Despite not being a power hitter, Molina was the Giants clean up hitter for much of his time as a Giant and in fact led the team in home runs in 2008 and was one of their most consistent hitters. However, Molina wanted to find a new home and nearly left for the New York Mets in the off-season. Sabean even famously said that Molina’s “ship has sailed” when referring to the chances Molina would come back. Yet, Molina did end up returning in 2010 despite knowing that the team’s top prospect, Buster Posey, was waiting in the wings to replace him.
The Same Old Bochy & Sabean
For many fans, these signings were just further proof that the Giants were going to win with veterans whenever they could.
As the season went on, production from Huff, Sanchez and Uribe was good enough that fans were being more patient with this particular group. Molina, Renteria and Rowand were all struggling with the issues fans had predicted in Spring. Molina was dealing with the constant questions surrounding when would Buster Posey come up and when he would take his place. Renteria was struggling to be healthy enough and Rowand was struggling with production on the field.
As the year went on, another interesting twist occurred. Pablo Sandoval was struggling. What seemed like the makings of the next big bat in Giants history suddenly was struggling and weight issues seemed to be at the center of it. On top of that, Sabean was finding more veterans to add to this bunch. Pat Burrell, who had been released by the Tampa Bay Rays, was brought in to take over left field. Despite his defensive struggles, Burrell’s bat erupted as a Giant, and suddenly with Huff, Burrell, Uribe and Posey, the Giants had some serious power threats in their lineup.
As the team got closer and closer to the trade deadline and the August 31st cutoff for playoff rosters, the team added Jose Guillen and Cody Ross to keep the lineup effective as the team got closer to a possible playoff berth. They had also shored up their bullpen with the additions of Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez, and this team that had so much youth at the start of the year was looking more like the teams that had been built for so many years by Sabean.
If Bochy and Sabean were going to lose to the Padres for the NL West title, it was going to be with their veterans.
So What Changed?
It’s funny what happens to a season. One moment you are committed to one of your most productive catchers of all-time in Bengi Molina, and the next minute you are giving the job to the Rookie of the Year in the National League. One moment you are convinced that Pablo Sandoval is the best third baseman in the organization since Matt Williams, and the next moment, you are going with a two-time Spring Training invite in Juan Uribe. Barry Zito, who had signed a 7 year, $126 million contract the year Bochy arrived was being replaced in the post-season rotation with a 20-year-old phenom, Madison Bumgarner.
This inconsistency of going with Posey over Molina, but then going with Uribe over Sandoval, while not including Zito on the playoff roster at all was crazy. Renteria and Rowand both made the playoff roster as well, but Rowand was also sent to the bench in favor of Andres Torres, who had come out of nowhere in 2010 like so many others to be the team’s everyday CF.
How could you explain Sabean and Bochy’s decisions? It came down to one simple question: Who will give us the best chance to win today? Huff and Sanchez had never participated in the post-season before, despite several years in baseball, and they weren’t going to miss this opportunity. Renteria, who had been injured most of the season, had vowed to his teammates to make up for it in the playoffs. Uribe took the 3B job from Sandoval and found ways to drive in runs any way he could. And the OF of Burrell, Torres and Ross became one of the most unlikely groupings in post-season history.
Production was trumping experience or potential. So many times, front offices had given players more chances than they had earned because they had “potential” and so many times, we had seen both Sabean and Bochy fall victim to the “experience” excuse for using veterans over unproven players. However, all of sudden, this 2010 Giants team was winning because players were playing simply based on what they had earned. And it fluctuated. All 25 members of the roster contributed to the playoff wins. Rowand was given chances to start and Sandoval was given chances to hit. Maybe the most impressive showing came in Game 4 of the World Series when Madison Bumgarner was given the ball despite having never pitched a full season before in the big leagues. His eight shutout innings vs the Texas Rangers showed how far Sabean and Bochy had come.
Fans who had ripped both in the past for loving veterans too much and relying on guys well after their production had warranted it, was going away. Fans had embraced this group of “castoffs and misfits” like no other team before it and as Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz, every fan of the Giants finally knew what it felt like to win the World Series.
Of all the moves Sabean made, and of all the on-field decisions Bochy made, no one move stood out. It was the collection of moves that showed how much both had grown working together. Sticking with Renteria or believing in Bumgarner or letting Posey catch this incredible pitching staff or sitting Sandoval for Uribe. It didn’t matter which decision was best. All of these decisions led to a championship by the Bay and a title that no fan will ever forget.