The Giants have never been deader than they were in 1985, when they lost 100 games for the first (and only) time in franchise history. They perked up in 1986 under new manager Roger Craig. In 1987, they came within one win of the World Series.
"Not only did it get the (Giants) organization back on track," said Will Clark, now as then the loudest scowl in the room, "it got the Bay Area back on baseball."
In an interesting (and unintended) bit of historical juxtaposition, the 1987 Giants are reuniting this weekend in the Bay Area that once rode a wave of their creation. Interesting because that team and the current Giants are polar opposites.
Though Clark was an emerging star, the '87 Giants were an engaging, winning outfit of brothers in arms. The current Giants, you may have heard, are a struggling cast of supporting players propped up around the iconic Bonds.
Who knows, maybe these Giants will be as happy to see each other in 20 years as the 1987 Giants were Saturday, with as many wonderful stories to share. Gotta tell you, though, the '87 group has set the bar awfully high.
"When you thought of the Giants," Craig recalled fondly, "you thought of players like Mays, McCovey, Bonds, the Alou brothers. We had a bunch of no-name guys, and we made the playoffs."
It helped that Craig always seemed to know which button to push, strategically
"I'd say, 'These guys, they're better than we are,' " he said, recalling one of his favorite pregame exhortations. " 'Look at the names in their lineup. But look at the way they jog to first base. We can outhustle them.' "
The '87 Giants were unexpectedly -- and at times, unaccountably -- good. Even the veterans played with youthful abandon. And while that youth is now framed in gray and enhanced, in some cases, by a layer or two of easy living, its essence is essentially intact.
Craig, now 77, has probably changed the least. "The only thing changing on me is my ears and nose are getting bigger," he said.
Craig has had three full knee replacements. He can still play golf, and he still looks upon his years with the Giants as some of the best of the nearly four decades he spent in the major leagues.
Clark, 43, is a special assistant for the Arizona Diamondbacks. "It's part-time," he said, "whenever they need me to come in and help a hitter who's scuffling. I can spend more time with the family, but still keep my paws in the game."
He confesses to slipping into batting cages now and again, where he claims to rediscover his sweet left-handed swing.
"I can still hit," he said. "Better than some of those idiots out there now."
Nicknamed The Natural when he first came up (and later, Thrill) Clark still carries that whiff of invincibility. A few years ago, as he was sitting in stopped traffic on the freeway, a semi came upon the scene too fast, jackknifed when it tried to stop and landed on Clark's SUV, crushing everything behind the front seat. Clark and his son emerged relatively unscathed.
Kevin Mitchell, traded to the Giants in midseason in '87, had his own brush with mortality. While relaxing at the beach one day, he said, he was struck by a 16-year-old riding a jet ski. His recovery made him more conscious of his health. He claims to be lighter than he's been in years. Which is why he can't understand why athletes would take steroids.
"What's it for?" he asked. "In the long run, they're going to be toe up. I guess they're doing it for the money."
Like Clark, he claims to still have magic in his swing. Asked if he could reach McCovey Cove, the 45-year-old Mitchell was adamant. If given a chance to take batting practice before today's game (and if presented with a $200 friendly wager from reporters), "I'll put one in there," he promised.
Don Robinson still possesses a gregarious, booming voice. Scott Garrelts remains long and lean. Robby Thompson still looks boyish. None of them are complaining that their reunion comes with Bonds breathing down history's neck.
"Best player I ever played with, hands down," Clark said.
"I didn't think it would be him (breaking Henry Aaron's record)," Mitchell said. "I thought it would be (Ken) Griffey (Jr.). I thought Barry would be leaving when I left."
"Since I'm here, I wouldn't mind seeing it," said Craig, one baseball revivalist tipping his cap to another.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.