Wire-to-Wire: A San Francisco Giants' First

San Francisco Giants leads the division from start to finish. Some interesting notes on why this is just a start to something beautiful.

"The Giants Win the Pennant!" A sweeter phrase is not known for Giants fanatics near and far. The 2003 San Francisco Giants have just won their sixth National League Western Division title and are making their seventh playoff appearance in their 46 years here in the city by the bay. In addition, they took the fewest games to accomplish this, taking only 150 games to clinch the divisional title. The 2000 team, the previous early clincher, took 152 games.

This is the third National League Western Division title won in the seven years since Brian Sabean took over the reins as General Manager and the fourth time the Giants have been in the playoffs during his tenure. There was also the year the Giants played in an extra game to decide the Wild Card winner. This is the first time since 1936-37 that the Giants had consecutive playoff appearances.

Felipe Alou took over a team that had made the World Series but had lost four key component of the starting lineup and half of the World Series starting pitchers plus lost their closer by the time the season started. So the team had changed considerable from the National League champs from the year before. Somehow he got them to all pull together as a team and to believe in not only themselves but in each other to win Alou's first title as a manager. And not only did they win, but they won going away, leading wire-to-wire, never spending a day or a game out of first place, a fact that Alou is very proud of.

Wire-to-Wire

Not only that, but they are the first San Francisco club to do it leading wire-to-wire, from start to finish; they shared first place a few times during the year, but they never looked at any other team from behind. They are only the ninth team to have ever done this in the history of the game. Furthermore, they are the first team to have done it twice in their franchise history - the 1923 New York Giants also did this feat.

Not only that, but the 1923 New York Giants were also the first team to ever do it. The other teams to have done this feat are: the 1927 New York Yankees, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1984 Detroit Tigers, 1990 Cincinnati Reds, 1997 Baltimore Orioles, 1998 Cleveland Indians, and 2001 Seattle Mariners. Does this translate into success in getting the big prize, winning the World Series?

No Cinch to Win the World Series

Unfortunately, accomplishing this feat is no guarantee of the ultimate playoff success, a World Series win, especially in today's playoff format. Previously, before there were divisional playoffs, while the 1923 Giants lost the World Series, the 1927 Yankees and the 1955 Dodgers won. In addition, the 1984 Tigers won and the 1990 Reds won as well in the divisional playoff format. And so prior to the current Wild Card format, wire-to-wire leaders were 4-1 in winning the World Series.

Unfortunately, the record is not that good for the last three teams who share this distinction. They did not even make the World Series, let alone win or lose it. The 1997 Orioles, 1998 Indians, and 2001 Mariners were all eliminated in the American League championship series. Apparently the wild card format has made this feat, which only occurred five times in the 100+ years history of baseball up to the beginning of the wild card format, a much easier accomplishment, with already four now in the ten years that baseball has had the wild card format.

Sifting Through the Tea Leaves

Looking at the records of the teams accomplishing this feat and their nearest competitors gives a better view of why what happened, happened.

  • The 1923 Giants had a 95-58 record, barely squeaking by the 91-63 Reds.
  • The 1927 Yankees had a 110-44 record, lapping the 91-63 Philadelphia A's.
  • The 1955 Dodgers had a 98-55 record, soundly beating the 85-69 Milwaukee Braves.
  • The 1984 Tigers had a 104-58 record, coasting most of the way over the 89-73 Blue Jays. The other divisional champs, the Royals, had a meager 84-78 record.
  • The 1990 Reds had a 91-71 record, barely squeaking by the 86-76 Dodgers, but the Pirates had a better 95-67 record in winning the East, so the Reds lucked out relative to the other teams just making it to the World Series, let alone winning the World Series. Then again, Eric Davis' played in all the playoff games until he lacerated his kidney, whereas he missed 35 games during the season. He was their best player by far.
  • The 1997 Orioles had a 98-64 record, edging the 96-66 Yankees, but neither team could stand up to the 86-75 Indians, the Central champs.
  • The 1998 Indians had a 89-73 record, comfortably ahead of the 80-82 ChiSox, but that was the year of the 114-48 Yankees, who ran roughshod over the competition in winning the East, the American League, and lastly the World Series.
  • The 2001 Mariners had a 116-46 record, best among the nine wire-to-wire teams, and while they were much ahead of their second place competitor, the Oakland A's, the A's were no chopped liver themselves with a record of 102-60. However, neither team could stand up to the veteran World Series winners of four of the previous five years, the 95-65 Yankees, who brought things up a notch to dispatch both teams to win the AL Championship.

    Obviously dominance within your league or division appears to be important for going for the big prize. When there were only leagues, your team's dominance is proven by winning the league by a large margin. But in the divisional format, your team has lessened competition within your division, now down to four teams total where there once was up to eight teams in a division/league. And within the microcosm of your division, you may be the Big Fish, but compared to other divisional foes you might be Little Guppy.

    So the good news for Giants fans is that they are beating their second place competitors soundly, currently 93-57 versus 80-70 as of the clinching, a 13 game lead. However, the not so good news are that they are on an equal keel in the NL with the 95-58 Atlanta Braves, a half game behind them for the best record in the National League. And the bad news is that the Giants are only 35-28 versus the NL Central and East while the Braves were 50-21 versus the NL West and Central. The silver lining comes from head to head play, as the Giants have good records against most of the remaining playoff contenders: 4-2 against the Braves, 5-1 against the Marlins, 3-3 against the Phillies, 2-1 against the Astros, 2-4 against the Cubs, and 8-4 against the Dodgers, with 3 more games against Houston and 7 more games against LA.

    Character

    That was a term that came up separately in interviews with JT Snow and Barry Bonds that was reported on. Bonds said "The team went through a lot of sorrow, but it just shows the character of the club. The guys tried to stay strong," reported the San Jose Mercury. The Oakland Tribune provided more of the end of that quote: "It shows the character of this ballclub. Guys were professional. They came back. They did their jobs. They stayed strong for the team. Basically, we all held each other together." Snow used the word to describe the team in an interview broadcasted by KNTV on their newscast the night of the clinch.

    This word perfectly sums up what the team is all about. As I've written about the team all season long, the team just somehow gets the job done, come hell, come high water. As I wrote in "Giants Fans are Luckier Than They Think" I went through all the travails the team had gotten past in order to be on top. Little did I know that it would continue all season long, culminating in Bobby Bonds death. Clearly, Alou gets a lot of the credit for doing all this, which I covered in "What I Like About Alou". Lastly, the Giants reserves have been good enough, smart enough, and sometimes even better, than the player they were replacing for a game or three, as I covered in "Giant's Reserves: Winners or Losers? Winnahs!"

    Net-Net: What's Going to Happen?

    With all the somber stats provided above about the eight previous wire-to-wire winners, it does not appear great, or even good, for our San Francisco Giants. It would be hard to argue for a good ending, especially since the other three who have accomplished this in the wild card format had failed to even make the World Series, let alone win the whole thing. However, while I don't know about the other eight wire-to-wire teams' situations, I do know a lot about what happened to this year's Giants.

    What I do know is that despite starting off losing Nen, then - 1) watching a parade of AAA pitchers and pitching castoffs take the starting rotation for us; 2) watching a parade of players hit the DL, some more than once; 3) watching a string of personal tragedies befall a handful of Giants; and 4) watching a parade of AAA and castoff position players come up and make contributions as needed - the Giants are within a half game of having the best record in the Major Leagues. In addition, while their record against the other divisions is ordinary, in May when they first played most of them, the Giants were missing Durham, for whom the Giants could find no adequate replacement, and in August, when they played many of those teams again, Bonds led the parade of players, including again Durham, who had to leave the team for extended periods of time and games. Therefore, a healthy Giants team in the playoffs should do much better than 35-28. Remember, this is the team that was 25-10 when Durham first got injured.

    The other teams competing for this best record, the Yankees and the Braves, have not had to go through all the travails that the Giants had to. They have been coasting since mid-year. Going through something like this I would think is akin to soldiers in a platoon, fighting to win position, and striving to win it all. That builds camaraderie, that builds confidence, that builds - that word again - character. That builds the confidence and trust among all of them, trust in each other that no matter what may come their way, someone will step up when needed and do what needs to be done. That's not something you can give anyone, nothing you can teach, nothing you can buy. That can only be earned by experiencing the most trying of times and of working together, as a team, to win in spite of those trying times.

    That is the Giants team that I've had the pleasure - and sadness - of watching this year. As long as the team is relatively healthy, especially with our starting eight position players, the Giants will go deep into the playoffs and should make the World Series again. Alou will make the moves that need to be made to attain this goal. And no matter who the Giants meet in the World Series, I think a lifetime of San Francisco Giants fans' frustrations and heartaches will be erased by a post-season of countless joys. I think it's going to be beautiful.



    Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. E-mail him at GoGiants_25@yahoo.com and maybe he'll reply back.

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