Just the other day, the redoubtable Pietro Benoit (who just happens to be the publisher of this fine electronic fishwrap) suggested I do an end-of-the-year column on the best sports stories of 2012. Good idea, I said. Which I have amended, slightly, to focusing on just one.
Anyway, here’s how I employed the wonderful tool of process-of-elimination to select the winner:
My thoughts drifted first to football. After all, it is our national religion. Cousin and good friend Dana Flink of suburban Houston, Texas texted to tell me to try to tender a testimonial tribute to all the NFL records that figured to finally fall this weekend. True enough, between Adrian Peterson’s possible rushing record, 3 rookie quarterbacks possibly making it to the playoffs for the first time ever, and Calvin Johnson’s many manly receiving records, there’s plenty to talk about. But I rejected the idea as too pedestrian for this august space. (Besides, Dana is a Washington Redskins fan, so I suspect he has ulterior motives. And a case of unrequited RG3 man-love, no doubt.)
Basketball? Nah. Headline….best team and best player win NBA title….yawn. Perhaps if LeBron had also come up with a cure for cancer, or better yet herpes, or announced he was apologizing and going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers to play for half the money he makes now. But he didn’t. Next.
Golf? Well, Tiger became great again in 2012 but not super-great, certainly not uber-great, and he’s still looking for that first ‘major’ in almost 5 years. Rory McIlroy is almost uber-great, he rules the game nowadays, but he’s too nice. Too vanilla. He needs to gulp some drugs, beat his girlfriend, bang a few skanks on the road, or at least crash the occasional Sexaholics Anonymous meeting with Charlie Sheen, something. Jazz things up a little. Anyway, not golf.
The Olympics didn’t dazzle me much this time, Soccer and Cycling are boring, and Tennis is going through too much top-dog flux. I even considered focusing on how our own local L.A. Kings actually won hockey’s Stanley Cup this year….until I remembered it was just hockey. (note small-case h)
And what that leaves us with is Baseball. Capital B. “The only game in the world, I think,” as Babe Ruth once famously said. And he was right.
Baseball gave us, in my opinion, the most fantastic sports story of 2012. It gave us a band of heartwarming, overachieving men, men who bonded and banded together to overcome ridiculous odds and do things together that had never been done before, and in a more generous world with a more generous god they would surely be the stuff of legend.
And so, without further ado, the top Sports story of 2012 is the tale of the toughest, the grittiest, the most ridiculously clutch sports team of all time……………..
The 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Giants indeed. My favorite team.
Understand this: If a more marquee club like the Yankees or Red-Sox or Dodgers had done in 2012 what the Giants did, Society would erect monuments to that team soaring so high they would scrape the clouds.
And I don’t mean them coming from 7 games back before the All-Star Break to eventually catch the Dodgers in the NL West pennant race. The 2012 Dodgers—as it so happily turned out—were quite the underachieving bunch of overpaid louts. Therefore, gobbling them up down the stretch—though very cool and tons of fun to watch—was not that big a deal.
No, what the 2012 Giants did which probably won’t but should live on down through the ages in baseball lore, is WIN SIX CONSECUTIVE ELIMINATION GAMES in the playoffs, even before they got to the World Series. And very quickly, what an “elimination game” is is exactly that; a game where if you lose you are eliminated from the tournament. The Cincinnati Reds had them down 2 games to 0 in a best of 5, therefore the Giants had to win three in a row. They did. The St. Louis Cardinals had them down 3 games to 1 in a best of 7, therefore the Giants had to again win three in a row. They did.
They did? They did.
So how did they do it? I really don’t know.
Some people say they were lucky. And perhaps there is a small smidgeon of truth to that assertion. The key moment against the Cardinals in Game Seven, for instance, was when Hunter Pence hit a ball, his bat broke, the bat struck the ball two more times, and the result of the thrice-struck ball suffering this weird pool-cue-like ‘English’ was that it curved six feet in mid air, which caused the shortstop to break the wrong way and drop to his knees, the ball squirted into center field, and three runners came loping home. Sure, I know, beyond belief. Never mind that the G-men out-hit, out-pitched, and out-gloved the Cards three games in a row. Some people will still point to that play and say it was all luck.
The “luck” continued into the World Series. Just as the Reds and Cards were heavily favored to dispatch the lowly Giants to the pavement, the Detroit Tigers were huge favorites over the Giants in the Fall Classic. And on the mound for Detroit in Game One was the mighty Justin Verlander; the Superman of pitchers. The key moment of the whole series came in the 3rd inning of that first game. With two out and nobody on Angel Pagan hit a harmless-looking two hopper toward the 3rd-baseman. But the ball hit the bag, squirted into left field, and Pagan had a gift double. Marco Scutaro singled, Pablo Sandoval homered, and suddenly it was 4 to 0 and the rout was on. Final score, 8-3. The Giants then destroyed the Tigers in four straight games.
Never mind that the Giants drove Verlander to the showers before the 6th inning for the first time in two years. Never mind that the beefy Sandoval hit three home runs in that game, two of them off of Verlander. And never mind that Giants pitcher Barry Zito—one of the most pathetic hitting pitchers ever to step into a batter’s box, a guy who I’m convinced my 16-year-old son could get out—lined an RBI single off of the great man. Some people will still point to the Pagan seeing-eye bag ball and say “luck”.
What the Giants did in 2012, in winning SIX consecutive elimination games in a single post-season, has no precedent. It had never happened before. It will never happen again.
Ergo, this team has not gotten nearly, nearly, nearly enough credit for doing that, for doing the impossible. It’s up to me.
Moreover, their miracle post-season run produced a genuine folk hero. The aforementioned Marco Scutaro. Marco Scutaro, a 37-year-old career nobody, who the Giants traded for in mid-season and who promptly led the league in batting over those final two months. Marco Scutaro, who singlehandedly slaughtered the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series by going an otherworldly 14 for 28 at the plate. Marco Scutaro, who fittingly drove in the winning run in the final game of the World Series. And yes, Marco Scutaro, the toughest hitter in all of baseball to strike out. The pesky, petite 2nd-baseman fanned only once every 13 times he came to the plate last year. In fact, he swung and missed at only fifteen pitched balls during the final two months of the season. Read that sentence again. Without this little bald guy in the lineup, the Giants do not win any titles in 2012. Period.
By the way, I believe Marco’s stubborn unwillingness to whiff would impress even baseball’s harshest critic, the curmudgeonly Jeff Eastland of Stafford County, Virginia, if, in this his 7th decade of life, Old Jeff still watched baseball. Which he doesn’t. He doesn’t watch baseball at all, after being devoured by it for over 50 years. Why? Well, one of the many reasons he doesn’t watch is that he could never stand, or understand, modern-day hitters striking out so much! In olden days, striking out was a thing of shame. In the 21st century, it’s merely the cost of doing business. I’m hoping Old Jeff will start watching baseball again in 2013, if for no other reason than to watch Marco Scutaro not strike out. Maybe Atlanta Braves fan Jeff will even become a San Francisco Giants fan in 2013. Stranger things have happened. (okay, maybe not)
Finally, under the heading of putting the Giants’ accomplishments into proper perspective, let me sum up. As many of you know, the very purpose of the Sports Philosopher column is to inject sports into the “big picture”, to allow us to view and interpret the world at large by gazing at it through the glad aegis of Sport. Using sports as a prism, if you will. On that note, I have an observation. My family and friends know me to be something of a happy agnostic. Not a militant one—not a Tea Party type fanatic or an NRA type fanatic or a Pro Life type fanatic or a Pro Choice type fanatic—just a typical garden variety agnostic. Theological apathy. Anti-religious to the point of boredom. Anyway, I’m happy with my belief system. It works for me.
But having said that, for me to have to suffer baseball-wise for half a century, celebrating no titles, and then get to have my favorite team win the World Series not once but twice in three years? And win it this year in a way that no team has ever become champion before? Well, there’s only one explanation.
I only wish my mother was alive to see me say what I’m about to say.
There is a god.
There. I said it.
meet….The Sports Philosopher!
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a firm believer in God as long as he doesn’t have to do anything God says. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack (and of triumph and utter despair) entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. And then order a dozen more copies to use as Christmas presents. Okay? Okay??? For all this and all your support he thanks you…..