Dynasty? Not quite

The modern World Series has been around since 1903. What’s most amazing to me about what just happened is not Madison Bumgarner’s sublime performance. What’s most amazing to me is that the Giants are just the second National League team to win three World Series in any five-year period.

The Cubs won in 1907 and ’08, but lost in 1906 and ’10. The New York Giants lost in 1911, ’12, and ’13. The Giants won in 1921 and ’22, but lost in ’23 and ’24. The Cardinals won in 1926 and ’31 and ‘34, but lost in ’28 and ’30. The Giants won in ’33, but lost in ’36 and ’37. The Brooklyn Dodgers won in ’55, but lost in ’47 and ’49 and ’52 and ’53 and ’56 (all six Series vs. the Yankees, of course). The Cardinals won in 1964 and ’67, but lost a heartbreaking seven-game Series in ’68. The Reds won in ’75 and ’76, but had lost in ’72. The Los Angeles Dodgers won in 1981, but had lost in ’77 and ’78. The Braves won in 1995, but had lost in ’91 and ’92, and would lose again in ’96 and ’99.

Before these Giants won three World Series in five seasons, it had happened just once: The Cardinals beat the Yankees in 1942, the St. Louis Browns in 1944, and the Red Sox in 1946. Oddly, the Cardinals would finish second in each of the next three seasons before falling from contention in 1950 (and wouldn’t return to the World Series until 1964, thanks to the Phillies’ late-September collapse).

Of course, the Giants’ three championships in five years followed 56 seasons (!) without any championships at all. Which says something profound about … hell, I don’t know. The unpredictability of it all? The capriciousness of the gods, both BABiP and otherwise? I think it certainly says something about the power of stability, as both Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy have been in their positions longer than anyone. The Giants stuck with Sabean through six postseason-free years (2004-2009). Bochy’s first two Giants teams, in 2007 and 2008, finished fifth and fourth in a five-team division.

Are the Giants now a legitimate dynasty? Hell, I don’t know. I only co-wrote a book on the subject. But I think it’s safe to say if we were writing that book today, the Giants wouldn’t get their own chapter. Yes, I know three world championships in five years is a truly incredible achievement. But when Eddie and I conceived the book, we defined a dynasty as a team that played outstanding baseball for at least three straight seasons.

After the Giants won in 2010, they were outscored the next season.

After the Giants won in 2012, they were outscored the next season.

Do these inconvenient facts disqualify them as a dynasty? Well, of course that depends utterly on your definition of a dynasty. We both know it’s easy to construct a definition that would include the Giants, and because this is strictly a matter of taste, you’re not going to lose the argument (especially if it’s with yourself).

Our perfect dynasties consist of great seasons and championships. But of course that’s harder than ever these days, with all these postseason rounds. Would the Yankees have won five straight World Series beginning in 1949, if they’d had to win 15 series rather than five? Almost certainly not. Which makes the Yankees’ three straight championships, beginning in 1998, all the more impressive; they not only won nine straight postseason series (plus two more in 2001), but they won 33 games and lost only eight in those three years. Toss in the near-miss in 2001, and that’s what I call a dynasty.

Which I hope doesn’t suggest that I’m diminishing the Giants’ accomplishment in any fashion. Their 2014 is stunning, especially considering they spent $37 million on two pitchers who contributed approximately nothing. Between them, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain went 14-16, both with performance metrics below replacement-level.

I heard someone say the Giants “made all the right moves” this season. Well, nobody makes all the right moves. Must we really mention Dan Uggla? Yes, we must. Just in case anybody’s getting a bit full of themselves. But Sabean and Bochy made most of the right moves, as usual.

Speaking of which, these semi-dynastic Giants are perhaps the greatest object lesson in baseball history when it comes to the relative unimportance of any particular player or players. When the Giants blew all that money on Barry Zito, I was among those saying the contract would cripple the Giants for years to come. All they did was win two World Series while paying Zito. When the Giants lost Cain early this season and Lincecum seemed (and probably was) unfixable, it would have been perfectly natural to write off the Giants. But even if you know Cain and Lincecum aren’t going to be much help, you don’t know what a couple of dozen other guys will do. In this particular case, we didn’t know that all 10 of the Giants’ most-used hitters would hit at above-average clips for the season, compensating for a subpar rotation.

Remember when the Giants had great pitching but couldn’t score at all?

That was just three years ago.

We don’t know what the Giants will look like in three years. Except we might reasonably guess they’ll be competitive. It’s just what the Giants do.