The 2010 year for the San Francisco Giants has been a year of ironies. Thinking back to an earlier era--one which I lived through as a youngster just beginning the long road of devotion to the home team (which had arrived, with much fanfare, in 1958)--I'm reminded of another string of young rookie phenoms who came along in quick annual succession during the 1950's and '60's.
Today's young stars are appearing with the same frequency, and (one hopes) with the same eventual flowering of success.
In 2007, Tim Lincecum came up to the Bigs, with the highest expectations imaginable. And he didn't disappoint, winning two Cy Youngs in succession (2008, 2009). In 2008, a chubby, effusive young Venezuelan Third Baseman named Pablo Sandoval arrived, knocking balls all over the park and endearing himself to fans, affectionately, as "The Panda," hitting .345 and .330 in his first two years. In 2009, a highly touted young catching prospect, Buster Posey made a quick visit to the Show, and this year has precociously taken over as starting catcher, prompting the departure of veteran Bengie Molina (traded to Texas on July 1st). Each of these three wasted no time displaying their talents, and all three are now front and center, budding stars for a young team on the rise.
50 years ago, almost the same phenomenon took place. In 1958, a very young (20) Orlando Cepeda arrived from Puerto Rico, winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 1959, a very tall, lanky, soft-spoken Alabama boy broke in, going 4 for 4 (including two triples) against Robin Roberts, winning the ROY award himself. Then, in 1960, a smiling, cheerful pitcher from the Dominican Republic arrived; he started more slowly, but eventually went on to have six 20-win seasons. All three of these heroes made it into the Hall of Fame.
Cepeda, McCovey and Marichal were each instrumental in bringing a Pennant to San Francisco in 1962, the year they lost the Seventh Game of the World Series when Bobby Richardson caught McCovey's screaming liner in the final inning, closing the door on the Giants last, best chance at a Series win.
It's been 55 years since the Giants won it all, and those of us old enough to remember 1962, as well as 2002, are growing impatient with the passing of years. The arrival of these talented youngsters in 2007-2008-2009 gives us hope for a brighter future.
This year both Sandoval and Lincecum have suffered setbacks. Timmy lost some velocity on his fastball, and experienced periods of wildness. He seemed hittable in August. Pablo, as passionate and emotional a player as you could imagine, has been swinging wildly at balls off the plate, over-anxious and impatient. Had either one of these two performed up to the level of their accomplishments of last year, the Giants would almost certainly be games ahead in the National League West Division by this time this year. But the quick development of Posey--who seems at moments to be almost like the reincarnation of a Johnny Bench or a Mike Piazza--has actually carried the team, almost single-handedly at times, on his young shoulders, for days at time.
History doesn't repeat itself, at least not exactly in the same way. Certain patterns may emerge which are similar, even eerily reminiscent. The arrival of Lincecum, Sandoval and Posey, the three of them, all young, all filled with promise, all raring to go from the get-go, feels just like things did in 1960, when another young Giants team (albeit with a resident super-star, Willie Mays) was going through a serious re-building stage, fueled then by the sudden influx of Central American and Caribbean talent.
We can at least pretend that the same success that followed the arrival of those earlier Hall of Famers, may visit this team again, half a century later.