This October, it was baseball for the common man
SAN FRANCISCO — In the moments after the Anaheim Angels finished one of the most amazing comebacks in World Series history on Saturday night, a single fan stood by the field with a sign that said nothing of rally monkeys, halos, or singing cowboys. It read simply: "Ain't this fun?"
Yes, it was.
As World Series go, the Anaheim Angels' seven-game victory over the San Francisco Giants was no classic in the oh-what-an-exquisite-sacrifice-bunt sense. There was no tactical thrust and parry by two wily managers, no pitching masterpiece in the vein of last year's finale between New York and Arizona.
No, this was baseball for the common man. It was a barroom brawl in spikes and stirrups, a shoot-'em-up western of leathery-faced men, steely glances, and hanging curveballs the dignified Fall Classic turned into a Clint Eastwood action thriller.
For seven nights, it was Barry Bonds launching baseballs into low orbit. It was the Anaheim Angels coming at Giants' pitching like a biblical plague of locusts, wave after wave. It was helmet-headed moppets being snatched from home plate to safety.
Along the way, baseball found a legend in its midst, a team reborn, and a story line as improbable as any in its history.
Fun? There's no better way to describe it.
Baseball rarely gets this fun. Normally, this is America's most august game. Its golden age is colored in the grainy film footage of black and white. It keeps statistics for left-handed batters in day games with two strikes and runners in scoring position. Oftentimes, it seems a kind of chess for the only slightly less sedentary.
Not this series.
Out beyond the right-field wall of San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park, boats bobbed in McCovey Cove, along with the giant inflatable Taco Bell target. In the stand of Anaheim's Edison Field, rally monkey mascots were worn like jewelry.
This was backyard baseball, big-league style. In Games 2 and 3, the Angels became only the fourth World Series team to score at least 10 runs in consecutive games. In Game 5, the Giants scored 16 runs the second-highest total in series history. In fact, the teams combined to score the most runs ever in a World Series, and even in a losing cause, the Giants set a record with 14 home runs in the seven games.
And then there was Barry Bonds.
This is what it must have been like to watch Babe Ruth. Seriously. Did someone say he wasn't a good postseason player? Next year, the man deserves to have his own World Series.
In the past, it seems, his four home runs and .471 batting average along with the chaos his record 13 walks caused would have been enough to win. It should have been enough. Indeed, in the world of baseball's old order, this was supposed to be San Francisco's year.
Yes, the Angels hadn't won a World Series in their 42 years. But this was a team that had never had any success. It was enough that they had gotten this far.
"Barring some sort of titanic choke," said Orange Country Register columnist Jeff Kramer of the Angels before the series began, "this is going to be remembered as a wonderfully successful season even if we get swept."
Not so for the Giants. They had played in 14 World Series before they moved to San Francisco from New York, winning five. In the 44 years since: two appearances, no titles. The last time they were World Series champions, Willie Mays was patrolling center field at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan.
Now, San Francisco was ready for its coronation. This was the city that, before Game 3, had the audacity to pair the national anthem with Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." When the Giants won Game 4, a singer in the San Francisco Opera's "The Abduction From the Seraglio" trumpeted in the middle of a scene: "Giants: vier; Angels: drei!" (German for "Giants: 4; Angels: 3.")
San Francisco was a big-league city that deserved its first major-league championship. Anaheim? Its best player, Garret Anderson, sounded like a law firm, and its downtown was built by Disney. Sure, its time would come but later. A few more heartbreaks, a few more hard knocks, a few more operas.
But this is the season that stood baseball on its head. First, the Angels beat the Yankees. Then they overcame the momentum of a Minnesota Twins team that was free from talk of contraction. Finally, they toppled the Tao of Barry and banished the Game 5 image of Giants batboy Darren Baker the manager's son being nearly flattened at home plate amid a torrent of runs.
Next, we'll discover that they single-handedly negotiated baseball's new labor agreement.
In the end, the teams' final act Game 7 might have been their least entertaining. But no matter. Who remembers that the US beat Finland for the ice-hockey gold medal in 1980? The "Miracle on Ice" happened one game earlier, like the moment that will long be remembered after this series: Anaheim's six-run rally in Game 6, when the Giants were eight outs from the pennant.
Only in baseball's new order could a rally monkey beat Barry Bonds.