Tuesday Jan 04 2011
The numbers told the story of Giants’ historic title run
By: Pete Dufour Special to the Journal
A World Series Championship! Long-suffering Giants fans are celebrating the new year as never before. You see us around town, wearing our SF gear, high five-ing total strangers who are wearing the orange and black. I saw a lot of orange and black at the Kendall. And why not? The torture is over. Let the colors fly! Long suffering? In ‘62 it appeared that Willie McCovey’s hard line drive would win Game 7, but instead it found Bobby Richardson’s glove. There were the five consecutive years of second place finishes and the earthquake that devastated the Bay Area in the middle of the Series against Oakland. In 1993, 103 wins and no pennant! In 2002 we were just five outs away against the Angles, before it fell apart in front of our eyes. Long before Duaine Kuiper coined the phrase this year, “Giants baseball... torture!” we have felt the pain. But now it’s over. We feel the joy of being on top of the baseball world. But if you looked closely, the signs were everywhere during the postseason. The numbers lined up, a curse was lifted, and the path was clear. No, really. There are certain numbers Giants fans are keenly aware of. For starters, the number 56... that’s how long it has been since the Giants won a World Series. No. 54, that was the year they won it. I was born in New York (state) exactly two weeks after the Giants won their last World Series. You know, the Series where the iconic “No. 24” Willie Mays made “The Catch” off the bat of Vic Wertz in deep centerfield of New York’s Polo Grounds in Game 1. Giants fans know the story well, including the fact that Cleveland had won 111 games that season and were heavily favored. But the Giants swept the series despite a tremendous effort from Wertz. If not for Willie’s catch, Wertz would have gone 5-for-5 in that first game and Cleveland would have had the win. Wertz had eight hits in the four games, including a home run that even Willie could not get to. Is it possible that he felt so bad after the Series that he put a curse on the Giants? (I don’t know, but it will enhance your enjoyment of this piece if you go with the flow on this.) Now, as a sports geek, I’ve experienced the silly superstitions of athletes and sports fans. I was beginning to think the Giants would never win a World Series in my lifetime. That is, until Game 2 of the NLCS this year, when Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria raced back into center field to make a Mays-like over the shoulder catch against the Phillies. The replay showed a view from center field, and you could see Andres Torres, no. 56, right next to Renteria. I leaned forward in my chair and it just hit me; I said, “That’s it, the curse of Vic Wertz is over, and the Giants are going to win their first World Series in 56 years!” Mind you, I hadn’t ever thought about a “curse of Vic Wertz” before that moment, but play along. This is a story about numbers, and superstitious sports behavior. None of it makes sense, of course. I’m not into numerology. I’m just reporting what was there for all of us to see on network TV. Maybe if you are not a Giants fan, you should stop here, turn to the next page. The rest of us can have our fun. Seeing Renteria’s catch made me think not only of “The Catch” of 1954 in the Polo Grounds, but it also made me think of another iconic No. 16 for the 49ers — Joe Montana — and his pass to Dwight Clark that put San Francisco in it’s first Super Bowl. That play has became known in the NFL as “The Catch.” Let’s not divert too far into football, but wasn’t that Everson Walls, who wore no. 24, looking up at Clark’s end zone grab? There’s a connection there between No. 24’s catch in Polo Grounds in ‘54 and the NFL version of “The Catch” in 1982. A few minutes after Renteria’s catch, there was a break in the game and on came a commercial for a 3-G phone. (The one where the golf cart goes into the lake.) Clearly marked on the phone, in big numbers, displayed more than once, was the time: 10:54, the month and year of the last championship. And though the Giants went on to lose this game against the Phillies. I just knew, and I started telling my friends and co-workers not to worry, that this was the year. It was not bragging, I just wanted them to relax and enjoy the ride. So the Giants won that NLCS, on a home run by Juan Uribe (no. 5). Taking a called third strike to end the game was Ryan Howard... No. 6. What in the name of Willie Howard Mays would happen next? I’m seeing 54s and 56s in my sleep now. The Giants won the NCLS on October 23, my son’s birthday. I had a hunch that number meant something so I did a little research. Guess what number Wertz wore back in ‘54? You got it, 23. The curse was over. So the numbers were lining up, whatever that means. My son and I went to Game 1 of the World Series against Texas. I watched as the Giants looked so clumsy in the first few innings. Tim Lincecum had a ball glance off his shin, then mistakenly thought he had a force play at third. Later, Sanchez mistakenly thought there were two outs while running the bases and took the Giants out of the inning. I admit I was nervous, but I still had the feeling that this was going to work out. Then the G-men, in inning five, scored six. Fifty-six again. Done deal. And by the way, I have never heard a crowd that loud! But this gets even more wild. The Series headed to Arlington, Texas. During the game there was an overhead camera shot of the mini-ballfield that some Major League parks install for the little kids to play in during the game. I looked at the dimensions on the outfield wall of this mini-park, and smiled. Down the line in left and right, 54 feet. Centerfield was 56. Then Buster Posey (who is just 23 years old) homered near that spot. Wertz, you are so toast! In Game 5, after coming back from commercial, the network cameras again focused on this little park, right before Renteria hit the 3-run homer in that direction for what would prove to be the blast that would win the game, and the Series, for the Giants. The next inning, the network showed us the old film footage of the final out of that 1954 World Series, a pop-up to third base. Did you know that Giants third baseman Hank Thompson had the last put out of the ‘54 World Series? Neither did I. Nor did I know that he wore number 16. But there it was, in black and white file footage on my TV screen. Moments later Edgar Renteria — No. 16 — named World Series MVP. The only thing I can’t figure out is why the splash hits sign at AT&T Park is still at 55... I was thinking someone would have hit no. 56 during the Series. All due respect to Vic Wertz and his Indians. They were a great team in ‘54. Everybody remembers they won 111 games. On Nov. 1 (11/1) of this year, the Giants finally beat the curse. (You can’t make this stuff up.) San Francisco Giants, World Series Champions by the Bay, and by the numbers.