It is not yet Yankee Stadium, new or old. And AT&T Park hasn’t been around long enough to have ghosts. But for the second time in three seasons, Major League Baseball’s signature event has come to the shores of McCovey Cove, back to what is becoming a favoured October haunt: the cove, with all manner of flotation devices bobbing in the water; the brick right-field wall, on top of which orange and black-clad fans stand three deep; the huge olden-days glove behind the left-field pavilion.
Hard to believe now, as the noise and girder-shaking raucousness of the park make it seem as if it closes in on opposing players, but in 1976 the San Francisco Giants took steps toward relocating to Toronto, before Bob Lurie saved the team.
In 1993, Lurie sold the team to a group of investors looking to bring a team to St. Petersburg, Fla., only to have the National League block the sale. The thought of the Giants leaving now is laughable. This is their third trip to the World Series in 10 years out of a division, the National League West, that is among the most hotly contested year in and year out. Giants general manager Brian Sabean was on solid ground Wednesday when he said “our division is a shotgun start every season.”
The 2012 World Series is a matchup of two venerable franchises, the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers, that like to think of themselves as old school.
But the two cities couldn’t be more different. This is chardonnay vs. Stroh’s. Public transit vs. automobile. The median value of an owner-occupied home in San Francisco is $785,200 (all currency U.S.), according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That compares to $80,400 in the city of Detroit.
Median household income in San Francisco is $71,304, compared to $28,357 in Detroit, and 51.2 per cent of the population of San Francisco has a college degree compared to 11.8 per cent in Detroit.
If you believe that an owner should spend money to win at all costs, the Tigers are your team. They are owned by 83-year-old Little Caesar’s pizza magnate Mike Ilitch, who woke up one day last winter with the idea that he needed to spend $214-million over nine years to sign Prince Fielder. Total payroll this season: $131,475,000.
If you believe that a team can make it to the World Series on a consistent payroll, using a slow-and-steady approach based on locking up young, cost-effective starting pitching and making shrewd acquisitions, then the Giants are your team. Their payroll ($131,355,298) isn’t much off the Tigers’, but their approach has been different. After winning the Series in 2010 on a payroll of $96,277,833, ownership has increased the payroll by $20-million and then $11-million. The increases have been calculated. According to Sabean, the Giants review payroll “every two or three months, but we aren’t married to it.”
“Ownership has been attuned to our needs, and paid the going rate to keep the club together,” said Sabean, whose 13-year tenure is the longest of any GM in the majors. “They’ve been very good at expanding when they need to expand, and understanding the climate.”
If you like the art of managing baseball, you can’t go wrong either way in this series. Just 57, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is an Army brat born in France who has won 1,454 games while his counterpart with the Tigers, Jim Leyland, is the Marlboro Man personified, a 67-year-old son of Ohio who has f-bombed his way through four franchises and 1,676 wins.
When this Series is over, one of them will become the 14th manager in the history of the game with 1,400 career wins and multiple World Series titles.
The ability to handle the bullpen is the mark of a good manager – “There’s no timeouts in our game to change things up,” Sabean said, “so pitching changes are how you control it” – and both managers have shown a deft touch. Leyland managed his way around a closer, Jose Valverde, who lost his effectiveness in the playoffs. Bochy lost his closer, Brian Wilson, to ligament-replacement surgery early in the year. Both teams were built on pitching, but Bochy’s supposed ace, Tim Lincecum, is in the bullpen.
The teams have assumed the personality of their respective cities. The Giants are all weird hair and pothead beards; when they come to the plate, they are introduced by the only female public address announcer in baseball, Renel Brooks-Moon.
The Tigers punch the clock, with two superstars (Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Fielder) who are decidedly low-key. “People sometimes said we didn’t seem to have much spirit,” Leyland said. “I mean, I guess the thing is our superstars don’t talk much. So that makes it seem that way. But the idea is to come prepared to do your job. That’s what we do.”
The Series will shift to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5, and while Comerica Park is something of an underappreciated gem, the view doesn’t match up to McCovey Cove, or the hills beyond that always seem to be cloaked in fog. This is our new postseason home, isn’t it? The Giants are all about consistency, with three members of Bochy’s staff – pitching coach Dave Righetti, bench coach Ron Wotus and bullpen coach Mark Gardner – on their third manager. They were here with Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou, also. Willie Mays hangs out in equipment manager Mike Murphy’s office, as does Willie McCovey. Orlando Cepeda shows up every now and then and joins them. Murphy has been with the team since 1958, when he was a bat boy.
It is, Sabean said, “a low-key kind of pride in the organization.” So maybe the underpinnings, the very soul, of these respective teams aren’t as different as the two cities, after all.