Two days after my local baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series (in a 4-game sweep over the Detroit Tigers), I’m still sitting at my desk, asking myself: How did they do it?
I mean, we’re not talking about the 1927 New York Yankees here. As a team competing for a championship, this year’s Giants team came into the playoffs with some serious flaws, namely:
They had only three players hit over .300, and one of them was suspended 60 games for use of performance enhancing drugs
They had only one batter swat over 20 home runs (Buster Posey)
They had only player knock in 100+ RBIs (again, Posey)
Their all-star closing pitcher, Brian Wilson, was out for the season with Tommy John surgery
Three of their best pitchers (Vogelsong, Bumgarner, Lincecum) were going through horrendous slumps at the end of the season
For all the world, this looked like an over-reaching team that would go down humbly in the first round of the playoffs — and they almost did. With their back to the walls, behind 2 games to the Cincinnati Reds on the road, the Giants rallied back from the brink with three straight wins to take the series. Then, down three games to one in the NLCS to last year’s world champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants again rallied back to win the series with three straight, improbable wins. And of course, they won the World Series in a 4-game sweep, ending their playoff run with a 7-game win streak.
How did the Giants do it? Was it one or two superstars stepping up and carrying the load?
Interestingly, even the players and the coaches can’t seem to explain it in quantifiable terms.
Says role player Ryan Theriot: “I’ve never been around a team that had chemistry like this… I mean, this is special. You can go down the line on this team, one guy after another, and call him our most valuable player.”
Or Giants manager Bruce Bochy: “It’s all about the players.. I’m numb, really. I’m kind of speechless. I keep going back to how unselfish these guys are. It was somebody different every game, every series. They played as a team, and that’s the only way this gets done.”
I believe the Giants are World Champions of baseball this year because:
1) Under-performing stars stepped up when the team needed it most
2) Egos were kept in check for the good of the team
3) Bit-players rose to the occasion (on the biggest of stages)
4) Playfulness and celebration were part of the team culture
Although slumping during much of the late season, pitchers Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner suddenly re-discovered their major league mojo. A big-budget bust for most of the last few years, Barry Zito suddenly found his Cy Young form. A starter for all of his career, all-star Tim Lincecum went obligingly to the bullpen and pitched absolutely lights-out throughout the playoffs. And then there were bit players, the cast offs, shining brightly under the big lights: journeymen like Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, and Ryan Theriot. The list goes on.
In the end, though, the key ingredient for the Giants seems to have been something ephemeral: call it magic. And haven’t we all felt this at one time or another in our work lives? We find ourselves on a team that just seems to get along well. Everyone is having fun together. Everyone is selfless. Everyone knows their role and performs it perfectly, without ego. And teammates take turns shining under the spotlight.
The Giants weren’t the strongest or bst team in the league this year. They certainly weren’t the highest paid. But they won baseball’s biggest prize anyway. They did it with Chemistry. They did it with Selflessness. And they did it with Magic.