Billy and Patrick , the morning show DJs on our local country music radio station ( Q97 ), were talking about the Giants-Dodgers rivalry last Friday. A listener thought that hard core Giants fan Billy Pilgrim had been hitting the rivalry a little too intensely. A transplanted Dodgers fan, this listener thought that Billy had been saying “Dodgers suck!” with a little too much gusto. I don’t know what this guy was talking about, because Billy had actually mellowed out over the previous few weeks, but I texted in a short rebuttal that was read on the air. There was more that I could have said, but not with a Tweet-sized note, so here’s what else I had to say.
When I first started following the Giants in 1990, I was aware of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry . I knew there was some history there going back to New York City. I knew about the Shot Heard Round the World. The rivalry for me at the time was a fun ‘game within the game’ that was mostly just good natured teasing. The first season I actually followed a baseball season from first pitch through the World Series, 1990, saw the Giants spoil the Dodgers chance for the play-offs on the last day of the regular season. Of course the Giants broadcasters made a big deal out of this, but it was all in fun. I thought. The Giants did the same thing to the Dodgers on the second to the last day of the 1991 season. The antagonism towards the Dodgers was still light hearted and all in fun. I thought.
That changed in 1993.
That was the last year the Atlants Braves were in the NL West before realignment sent them to the NL East. Those were the Braves’ glory years. Under Bobby Cox, and with a rotation of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, the Braves were an awesome team in the early ‘90s. The Braves had quality hitters as well in David Justice, Ron Gant, and Deion Sanders. The Braves also managed to acquire Fred McGriff from the Padres in the midseason, which made them even stronger in ‘93. They were making a regular habit of making it to the play-offs.
The Giants had a quality team in 1993, too. New ownership had managed to keep the team in San Francisco. Dusty Baker, a fan and player favorite, was the new manager, and 1993 was the year Barry Bonds came to San Francisco. Something fresh was in the wind in San Francisco, and the Giants were hot that year. Will Clark, Robbie Thompson, Matt Williams. Bill Swift and John Burkett each had over twenty wins. Rod Beck had 48 saves. They had one rookie pitcher in particular, Salomon Torres, who was called up in August and dominated hitters in his first trip around the league. However, by the end of September, Torres ran into a rough stretch. I am not sure if he was just getting tired in his first major league season or if opposing hitters were just figuring him out.
The end of the 1993 season was a genuine pennant race between the Giants and the Braves. Some baseball writers call it ‘The Last Great Pennant Race’ before a wild card was added to the post-season. There was no reward for finishing second. On the last day of the season, the Braves finished their season in an early game with 104 wins. The Giants had 103 wins and a late game left to play against the Dodgers. A win against the Dodgers would force a one game play-off against the Braves. The Giants had already won the first three games in the four game series. One more win seemed like a minor detail.
Dusty Baker started Salomon Torres. There was some controversy around this decision, considering Torres’ recent outings, but he was due up in the rotation and Baker was confident he could get the job done.
Torres gave up three runs in the first four innings. Dave Burba and Dave Righetti each gave up four runs, and Jim Deshaies gave up one run in a 12-1 rout .
But that wasn’t the worst part of the day.
The worst part was watching the Dodgers up on the rail of their dugout and on the steps taunting. They sure took a lot of glee in my personal misery…or so it seemed. Their intensity seemed to build every inning as the Dodgers piled on run after run. Their pitchers even held Bonds hitless, who went 0-3 with two strike outs. Orel Herscheiser seemed to be leading the cheer from the top of the dugout stairs. (A couple of seasons later, when Herscheiser came to play for the Giants, he denied cheerleading and insisted he was trying to get the Dodgers to tone it down. Hmmm…I’m still skeptical.) It was a miserable day.
And that was the day that I learned what the rivalry was really all about. That was the day it turned personal for me. That was the day I suddenly had two favorite baseball teams: the Giants and anybody playing the Dodgers. I’ve heard it said that if the Dodgers were playing the Iranian national team, a true Giants fan is going to root for Iran. Yeah…I’m one of those guys now. And the Dodgers made me that way!
And, yes…the Dodgers suck!