January 4, 2011
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December 27, 2010
Watching the focused and intense visage of Yankees manager Joe Girardi during the postseason, I can't help but think he would have fit in perfectly with the Yankees of the 1950s and early 1960s. With his crew cut, outward schoolboy appearance and restrained enthusiasm for the sport, it seems like he was taken out of central casting to fit the description of a Yankee from that era. So it's easy to imagine superimposing Girardi's face onto the black and white footage of, say, a Yankees-Giants World Series game from 1951 or 1962.
And there wouldn't be a better time to renew the original subway series. And let's be clear here, the Yankees-Giants rivalry predates the more storied Yankees-Dodgers tussles. And these teams hated each other. Consider, the Yankees and Giants met in five World Series before the Dodgers and Yankees contested a World Series. The Manhattan team beat the Bronx Bombers in their first two encounters but then the Yankees claimed the last five Series between the teams.
The last time the Yankees and Giants met was in 1962, five years after the Giants moved west, with the Yanks winning a thrilling Game 7, 1-0. The highlight was Ralph Terry pitching a complete game shutout in the deciding game, just two years removed from giving up arguably the most dramatic postseason home run in baseball history - Bill Mazeroski's famous walk-off blast that gave the Pirates the title in 1960.
A Yankees-Giants matchup would offer the greatest contrast over the other three possibilities in the 2010 playoffs. Of course the Yankees would be a heavy favorite were it to happen, but that is what would make it compelling. For if the Giants were to go on and beat the Yankees, it would be a legitimate David over Goliath triumph.
Baseball desperately needs a major upset. There hasn't been an epic upset in the World Series since 1990 when Lou Piniella's Cincinnati Reds - the year after Pete Rose was banished for life from the game he so embodied - stunned the powerful Oakland A's. Actually, not just stunned but swept that overrated and over-hyped Oakland team. Those were the A's in their pre-steroid glory of their Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire (every time I see Canseco's name, my only thought is "what a pathetic waste of talent").
Sure, there have been some good World Series since then but not one that produced a truly surprising result. And while there have been competitive championships, for the most part they've been lackluster affairs. Over the last six Series, the losing team has claimed a total of six games.
Remember when it was common to hear that "the Super Bowl is always a terrible game?" That is a cliché that has been decidedly exploded and debunked. Over the last 13 years, starting with John Elway and Terrell Davis leading the Broncos to an upset win over Brett Favre and the Packers in 1997, the new norm is that Super Bowls are usually good games and sometimes brilliant. By my count only four of the last 13 games have been less than decent. But old theories and beliefs die hard.
The new reality should read, "the World Series is always boring." But it didn't used to be this way. Going back and reviewing each decade, there used to be far more World Series that went the distances: in the 1940s there were four seven-game series, in the 1950s five went the distance (including four in a row from 1955-58), six in the '60s, five in the '70s and four in the '80s ... but only four in the last 22 years have produced a seventh game.
A Yankees-Giants battle would inject some much-needed energy into the Fall Classic. San Francisco and New York are complete opposites as cities, yet their respective citizens view each other with the utmost respect. The city by the bay is routinely referred to by New Yorkers as the only other city they'd consider dwelling in. And San Francisco, like New York, is an extremely self-conscious urban landscape. And like New York - and unlike most other West Coast cities - San Francisco possesses an effective public transportation system. Both towns are cocky in their sense of self-importance but yet need reassurance that each is the best or most beautiful.
And the contrasts are so readily drawn with the two teams. The Yankees, as usual, are the remote, high-priced, robotic, short-haired champions; while the Giants are a pitching-reliant squad anchored by an eminently likable, '70s-era fashioned, long-haired hurler in Tim Lincecum. The Yankees can produce runs in an instant - save for Monday night against Cliff Lee - and the Giants seem to go weeks without scoring more than 3 runs in a game. The Yankees have the inarguable greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera. The Giants utilize the often unhinged, yet effective, Brian Wilson (he of the absurd black-dyed beard) to finish proceedings.
Yankees-Phillies? We did that last year and I doubt the outcome would be any different, even with Halladay as a new weapon. The Rangers against either National League team? Some great redemptive story lines there with manager Ron Washington, Josh Hamilton and the Rangers franchise in general, but it pales in comparison to the possibilities that a Giants-Yankees Series would gift fans.