By Rick Hurd
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Mike Krukow can still hear the Caveman's twang. Can still see that deserted room in the bowels of Candlestick Park where he and his comrade spent Sunday mornings during that memorable summer of 1987. Can still remember the silly, profane things that were said as they perused the comics, the crossword puzzles and countless other staples of a Sunday paper's lighter fare.
But what he remembers most is the twang, that West Virginia drawl that was most evident during the roars of laughter that occur when two grown men are in the midst of the time of their lives.
"Man," Don Robinson would say after a joke that was particularly tasteless or crude. "That's ho-RIB-el."
So horrible it was that Dave Dravecky, another brother in arms late that season, couldn't stand it. Dravecky preferred to spend his Sunday mornings sharing chapel lessons and Bible studies with teammates. This was his Sunday routine, and well, the silliness of Krukow and Robinson just didn't jibe.
"So what he did was, he asked us if we could do our weekly thing at another time," Krukow, now a Giants broadcaster, says. "He said, 'Kruk, you guys are laughing so hard it's coming through the walls. I want to be a part of that.'"
And that, in a nutshell, sums up a team so memorable in the Giants pantheon that it will be honored by the franchise during a reunion before Sunday's game against the Florida Marlins.
The 1987 Giants were about Kruk, the Caveman and Big Daddy; the Thrill, Hac-Man and the Humm Baby. They were about One Flap Down, and Trader Al.
But really, more than anything, they were about something else entirely. They were about 25 men pulling the oar in unison, and the magic on and off the field that is born from such a thing.
"We laughed hard," Krukow says, "every single day."
They won a lot, too. Eighteen victories in their first 27 games. Fifty-one more in the final 83. Ninety times total, which was good enough to procure the team's first National League West crown since 1971.
If it seemed miraculous then, the passage of 20 years has made it no less so. Only two years earlier, the Giants had lost 100 games for the only time in franchise history, and the only laughs were scornful ones.
That's why the story of the 1987 Giants can't really be told without first discussing the 1986 club -- "That's where the foundation was laid," former second baseman Robby Thompson says -- and the man who built it.
General manager Al Rosen had been hired during the final month of the '85 campaign, and so extensive was the reconstruction ahead that owner Bob Lurie washed his hands of it.
"I had free reign to do things that sometimes GMs don't have," says Rosen, now living in retirement in Palm Springs. "I knew that to get things straightened out, there had to be some housecleaning, some of it painful because some of the people involved were fine people. The club I envisioned ... was one that was going to catch the ball and pitch, which is something that the Giants hadn't done for a while."
To that end, Rosen had a great head start. Will "The Thrill" Clark and Thompson were deemed ready for the majors in 1986, and though Clark produced one of the great debuts ever with a home run off Houston's Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat, it was what he and Thompson brought with their gloves that was so important.
"Those two guys could flat catch the ball," Krukow says. "And I'll tell you, what that does for a pitching staff, to know that you can throw the ball over the plate and if you get ground balls you're gonna get outs, that's huge."
By '87, the Giants thrived on pitching and defense, bolstered by Jose Uribe at shortstop, and Chili Davis and Candy Maldonado in the outfield. A team that two years earlier had been the second-worst defensive team in the NL was suddenly better than all but two. A team that in '85 had ranked seventh in the NL in pitching ERA was No. 1.
Then there was Roger Craig, the manager hired by Rosen late in 1985. He brought a relentlessly optimistic outlook to the manager's chair. Craig instilled a unique rallying cry -- "Humm Baby" -- and sold his players the idea that even if the home conditions were miserable, the home tenants didn't have to be.
"Guys had always complained about how cold it was at Candlestick, how miserable it was," Thompson says. "But Roger turned that into an advantage for us. He'd tell us to look at the other (team). He'd tell us they weren't thinking about winning the game. It became kind of a rallying point."
Yet, it was another sort of confluence that really took hold, the kind a box score can't measure. Through foresight, smarts or just plain luck, Rosen pieced together a team that bonded in a way that few do.
"I'll be honest with you," Dravecky says. "Getting traded initially wasn't fun."
Dravecky is speaking from the Colorado offices of Outreach of Hope, a nonprofit ministry he runs with his wife, Jan, that gives aid to people battling afflictions. His left arm was amputated several years ago after a victorious battle against cancer, but in 1987 it was valued as much as any arm in baseball.
And with the Giants having fallen below .500 after their terrific start, Rosen got it. On July 4, he sent ballyhooed third baseman Chris Brown and promising relievers Mark Davis, Mark Grant and Keith Comstock to San Diego for Dravecky, third baseman Kevin Mitchell and lefty reliever Craig Lefferts.
The trade was the first of three key ones Rosen would make -- he acquired Robinson and "Big Daddy" Rick Reuschel from Pittsburgh in separate deals.
Dravecky wanted no part of the trade to San Francisco until ...
"Right after we arrived Roger Craig met with us along with Al Rosen and (pitching coach) Norm Sherry, and they proceeded to express to us how important the trade was ... to put the finishing touches to ... get us to the playoffs, and how excited the whole team was to have us," Dravecky says.
"... So that was the first thing that hit me, I was wanted. ... The second thing I remember were the teammates. The value and significance of those relationships, and the camaraderie in that clubhouse was very special. You could tell that right away. And the guys there made the new guys feel like a part of it immediately."
The new guys, meantime, did their part to add to the fun. Mitchell, who would move to left field two years later, homered twice in against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in his Giants debut, the first two of 15 he would hit. Dravecky won his first start, later won four in a row and finished 7-5.
"We just got on a roll," Mitchell says. "We started winning right away, and we never stopped. We had so much confidence by the end of that season, it was ridiculous."
Reuschel, acquired from Pittsburgh on Aug. 21 for pitcher Jeff Robinson, won five games. Don Robinson, acquired July 31 from the Pirates for catcher Mackey Sasser, saved seven and in the Sept. 28 division clincher, won in relief of Dravecky and homered.
"That night, we partied late into the night," Krukow says. "It was an all-timer. I mean, to win a division two years after losing 100 games. ... Awesome."
Unfortunately for that group of Giants, it didn't end the way fairy tales do. Instead, it ended amid the din of cowbells in St. Louis, one win shy of the World Series. The Giants got four home runs in the first four games from Jeffrey "Hac-Man" Leonard, but he enraged the Cardinals by trotting around the bases with his left arm extended straight to the ground -- the One Flap Down, his trademark home run gesture.
They got a complete game from Krukow in Game 4, a Game 2 gem from Dravecky and a Game 5 homer from Mitchell and took a 3-2 series lead back to St. Louis.
Once there, they didn't score another run. Maldonado lost a Tony Pena blooper in the lights in the second inning of Game 6, and Pena later scored the game's only run as Dravecky was outdueled by John Tudor.
Craig then gave the ball to Atlee Hammaker in Game 7, and he surrendered a three-run home run to Jose Oquendo. The Cardinals rolled 6-0.
The Giants, denied a pennant for the 25th straight year, had to endure a city-wide celebration before departing the next day.
"I still hear those cowbells and those car horns in my nightmares," Krukow says.
Still, the dark memories are rare. The Giants got their pennant two years later, a season highlighted by Dravecky's brief comeback from cancer surgery -- "Had he not had his terrible mishap (in Montreal, when he shattered his shoulder throwing a pitch), the Giants would've won more than one pennant, no doubt about it," Rosen says -- and the chemistry remained indelible in the seasons ahead.
"I came up that year, and I'm a 21-year-old kid barely out of college," current Arizona Diamondbacks TV analyst Matt Williams says. "And I've got (17-year-veteran shortstop) Chris Speier throwing me batting practice four hours before a game. I mean, you just don't see stuff like that."
In short, 1987 bought the franchise and its players a gift no amount of money can buy.
Contact Rick Hurd at firstname.lastname@example.org.