RUBINO: 20 years ago, Giants fans grateful team stayed
Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 7:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 7:08 p.m.
You know you're old when you mutter things like “Has it really been 20 years already since (fill in the blank)? Seems like only yesterday. Jeez, where does the time go?”
Well, the blank to be filled in today is remembering when ...
- The Giants were getting ready to open one of their most anticipated seasons in the franchise's history, just months after the team's move to Florida had been declared a done deal by sports media, especially sports media in two bay areas — San Francisco's and Tampa's;
- Peter Magowan, the managing general partner for a group of local investors who, with the city seemingly down to its final swing, saved the team for San Francisco, had wasted little time after acquiring the club in December of 1992 in signing San Mateo-raised Barry Bonds, baseball's prime free agent and its best all-around player, son of former Giants star Bobby Bonds and godson of Giants legend Willie Mays;
- Dusty Baker, who had starred with the Braves and Dodgers in a solid playing career that included a year with the Giants and two with the A's and had been the Giants' hitting coach under Roger Craig, was about to make his big league managing debut.
Despite the soaring emotional vibe that accompanied the start of the Giants' 1993 season, the hard reality was considerably more sobering.
After Craig led the Giants to five “humm, baby!” winning seasons, including two trips to the National League Championship Series and a World Series appearance, the team foundered in 1991 and '92, losing 87 and 90 games, respectively. Sure, the addition of Bonds figured to help, but instant turnaround seemed unlikely.
And, sure, Baker already had an unimpeachable reputation as an astute baseball man, but he was a rookie manager taking over an underachieving team that played in the swirling chill of Candlestick Park.
And there was the speculation that placing Bonds in the same clubhouse with Will Clark was a recipe for pique and dissension, not pennant contention.
After the first six games of the '93 season, all on the road, the Giants at 3-3 weren't turning any heads. Yet.
Then, at the home opener on April 12 at Candlestick, a crowd of nearly 57,000 greeted the team the Bay Area very nearly lost (and not for the first time; remember the “done deal” move to Toronto after the 1975 season?) and the team didn't disappoint.
In his first at-bat at home as a Giant, Bonds hit a laser into the right-field seats off a pitch from the Marlins' Chris Hammond in the bottom of the second inning, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the 11th, Darren Lewis singled home Mike Benjamin to give the Giants a 4-3 win.
Three days later at home against the Braves, Bonds went 3-for-5 with five RBIs, including a three-run homer off Greg Maddux in a 6-1 win, and the Giants moved into first place.
They would stay there, either alone or tied, until Sept. 11.
Even after falling four games behind the West division-leading Braves (ah, the years when the NL was geography-challenged, placing Atlanta in the West) with 16 remaining, the Giants made a push. On Sept. 28 at home against the Rockies, the Giants won their eighth consecutive game, getting homers from Clark and Steve Scarsone in the 6-4 victory. The Giants and Braves were tied for first place with five games remaining.
With one game to go, the Giants and Braves were still tied. The Giants would play their season finale against the Dodgers in Los Angeles; the Braves would play at home against the Rockies.
When the dust settled in the late afternoon of Oct. 3 (the anniversary of the Giants' winning the 1951 and 1962 NL pennants), the Braves had 104 wins. The Giants, with 103 wins, had the second-best record in the majors, but with no wild-card teams until 1995, a remarkable and in some ways historic season ended, prematurely in the eyes of the Giants and their fans.
Now, with the Giants having won two World Series championships in the past three years, it's only natural for fans to get swept up in the anticipatory exhilaration of the fast-approaching 2013 season. So, yeah, to still recall the start of the 1993 season with the usually powerful nostalgia that baseball history often supplies might be a tough sell.
Still, 1993 was a season to remember, from before it even started until it ended in the fading sunshine of Chavez Ravine.
Has it really been 20 years already since Giants fans were delirious with anticipation and gratitude for opening day because the team that seemed gone forever had stayed home?
You can reach Robert Rubino at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.
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