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Book Notes

June 2, 2011

Book Notes: Misfits

Perhaps the cruelest part of the game of baseball is when fans feel their team is cursed. Red Sox, Giant, Indian, and Cub fans know this dilemma better than anyone.

When a team consistently finds a way not to win a World Series the fans believe that the baseball gods have put a hex on their side. And while the torture of losing gets more painful with each passing year, the euphoria that comes with finally overcoming the curse cannot be equaled.

Boston Red Sox fans know both sides of this equation well.

The Sox followed up a 1918 World Series title by selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees a year later. The “Curse of the Bambino” haunted the Red Sox for 86 years.

The Sox managed to win American League pennants in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986, but lost all four World Series in seven games, often in excruciating fashion.

When Boston finally broke the spell in 2004, Beantown exploded into such ecstasy that it took two years for all the excitement to calm down.

The Cleveland Indians are another old-time team that  seems down on its luck. Theylast won a World Series in 1948. They were swept four  straight by the Giants in 1954after winning a then AL record 111 games. For decades they played in a depressing old stadium built during the depression (how apt). There used to be a joke that first prize in a contest was a week in Cleveland. Second prize was two weeks.

The 1989 cult classic, Major League, was based on the futility of the Indians. For a  long time it seemed like onlya fictional event could return them to the World Series.

However, in the mid-90s the city went through a transformation with a new stadium, an upscale downtown, and the opening of the Rock-and- Roll Hall of Fame. The revitalized team started selling out every game and in 1997 its fans were rewarded with their team’s first World Series appearance in 43 years.

The only problem was in  true cursed fashion the Indiansblew a lead in the seventh game in the bottom of the ninth and lost the title in extra innings. The beat still goes on in Cleveland.

The Chicago Cubs are a story unto themselves. They are the lovable losers. It’s been 103 years since they’ve won a world championship.

They play in storied Wrigley Field, best known for its ivycovered brick walls and as the last major league stadium to install lights. It’s never seen a world championship since it opened in 1917 and hasn’t sniffed a World Series since 1945.

The Cubs and their fans have a right to feel cursed.

Who else could open up a 9½ game lead in late-August and still finish 8 games out (1969), blow a 2-game lead  in the league championshipseries when it seemed impossible for them to lose (1984), or have a fan interfere with a fielder catching a foul ball to help cost them a pennant (2004)?

The Cubs seem destined for eternal disaster. Maybe it’s the baseball gods’ retaliation for the infamous Fred Merkle incident in 1908 when a controversial “out” at second base gave the Cubs the pennant. Or perhaps it’s payback for one-time Cubs owner Al Spaulding being the chief protagonist of the “myth” that baseball was invented in Cooperstown. Whatever the reason, the Cubs still hold the record for major league futility.

That brings us to the San Francisco Giants. Until 2010 Giant fans had good reason to feel the most persecuted of all non-winners. After all, the Sox, Cubs, and Indians had at least won a World Series in their respective cities even if it was several generations ago.

The Giants had never won a world title in 52 years on the West Coast despite coming close in 1962 and 2002. To make matters worse, their arch-rival Dodgers had won five World Series since their arrival in Los Angeles in 1958.

There was no reason to think that 2010 would be any different. Other than some good young starting pitchers the team didn’t have much.

Their position players lacked offensive firepower and their general manager was best known for making some of the most bonehead trades and free agent signings in the history of baseball. The fans were not amused.

But then, like magic, something clicked. The mix of fresh-faced rookies and unheralded veterans having career years turned 2010 into a Cinderella season. Even every move the embattled general manager tried worked wonders.

The Giants clinched the division title on the last day of the season and battled their way through three post-season series to become one of the most unlikely world champions in baseball history.

The magical year is beautifully captured in a new book, “A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants,” by Andrew Baggarly. It details not only the improbable season but explains how a zany cast of characters came together to form the perfect chemistry to run the table. The book provides an understanding to not only how much the Giants mean to Northern California (1.5 million success-starved fans turned out for the victory parade) but why this team appealed to the nation as a whole.

It’s a tale worth revisiting.

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