Great Missed Opportunity – 2004 New York Yankees

New York Daily News

New York Daily News

The Great Missed Opportunity series continues with an entry that, I admit, I have a little bit of glee writing about.

I have made no bones about the fact that I am a Red Sox fan, and with the territory goes the fact that I root against the Yankees. So perhaps it is best for everyone I get this out of the way now.

Now we all know the Yankees have a remarkable history and their run under Joe Torre in the late 1990’s and 2000’s was the best in the Wild Card era.

They had many remarkable victories, titles and iconic moments.

They’ve also had their share of faceplants as well. I suppose being in the post season almost every year will pile up painful as well as marvelous results for Yankee fans.

Now, as per the rules of the series, the Great Missed Opportunity had to take place during the Wild Card era, so that eliminates 1926, 1955, 1960, 1964, 1981 and 1985. All of those years were soaked in “What if?” possibilities.

And the other rule is it can not be a World Series failure. So the shocking collapse in 2001 against the Diamondbacks and the stunning loss to the Marlins in 2003 are off the table.

That leaves plenty of other choices.

The 1995 Division Series lost in the bottom of the 11th when Edgar Martinez doubled home two runs to win the series for the Mariners? Crushing, especially since it was the end of Don Mattingly’s career. But it also set up the Joe Torre years.

How about Sandy Alomar’s homer off of Mariano Rivera that turned around the 1997 playoffs, which the Yankees lost in 5? Please. They had won the year before and they won the next three.

The Angels had a pair of Division Series upsets in 2002 and 2005. But the Yankees got their revenge in 2009 en route to their latest title.

The Indians, Tigers and Rangers all have sent the Yankees packing in recent years. But who are we kidding? If there was a great missed opportunity, it was the grand daddy of all ALCS match ups.

The 2004 New York Yankees did more than lose a playoff series. They did more that fold in a way that had no precedent in the history of baseball.

They altered the state of reality and forever changed the baseball universe. Nothing in baseball is the same now.

It will be difficult for future generations of baseball fans to understand how insane the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry was getting in the mid 2000’s. But it seemed to come to a head in the 2003 ALCS. The two teams were insanely evenly matched that year. Each team was star studded (and evidently juiced up the ying yang.)

Despite not coming in first place, the Red Sox looked like they might actually have the superior team and the series went the distance. Finally the Red Sox were going to win and put the Yankees in THEIR place. They had a 5-2 lead in the 8th with Pedro Martinez pitching.

ny_g_boone1x_576Then the universe snapped back into place. OF COURSE the Yankees would rally. OF COURSE there would be iconic imagery to display the fact that the Yankees always beat the Red Sox.

Grady Little leaves Pedro in too long. Jorge Posada’s two strike hit falls in the exact spot where no fielder could get it. Aaron Boone homers in the 11th. The Curse lived on. Yankee fans rejoiced that they can continue to torment the Red Sox and their fans with the “19-18” chant.

Red Sox fans (including yours truly) stared off into space wondering if we will ever see our team win it all before we decompose into mulch.

The off season between 2003 and 2004, the Red Sox and Yankees acted like two monsters from a Japanese movie and the rest of MLB was poor Tokyo about to be squashed.

The Red Sox needed an ace to pitch alongside Pedro and a closer to anchor the pen. In came Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.

The Yankees needed a new slugger in the outfield and imported Gary Sheffield.

The Red Sox said good bye to Grady Little and hello to Terry Francona. Then they tried to move Nomar Garciaparra and his pending contract dispute and Manny Ramirez and his attitude for Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. The Player’s Association wouldn’t allow the deal and before the dust settled, A-Rod was a Yankee.

0223_largeWhat did it matter that he had to change positions? They main thing that happened was that the Yankees one upped the Red Sox once again.

As this Sports Illustrated cover eerily foreshadows, the Yankees losing Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to the Astros was not as big news but would haunt the Yankees before the season was over.

Kevin Brown arrived from Los Angeles, still with the reputation of a big game pitcher. Javier Vazquez was the great young budding ace rescued from Montreal.

Both teams were stacked and ready to do battle in 2004.

As with most seasons, the Red Sox jumped ahead early. They swept the Yankees in the Bronx in an April series.

The Yankees responded by winning their next 8 games and the race was on.

By June 1 they were in first place and the year was going according to script. Brown began the season 9-1 and looked like he was handling New York well. Javy Vazquez made the All Star team. El Duque Hernandez rejoined the team and kept winning. Mike Mussina and Jon Leiber gave the club pitching depth. Mariano Rivera was having one of his best seasons and former Red Sox star Tom Gordon gave him an able set up man. Jose Contreras was bombing badly but they could carry him until he was dealt for Esteban Loaiza.

Their lineup was staggering. Six batters clubbed 20 homers. Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter gave pitchers little room to breathe. But Jason Giambi showed up looking thin and sick and his production took a startling nosedive. Whatever was wrong with him seemed to change daily. Ruben Sierra returned to the Yankees, now on good terms with his former nemesis Joe Torre, and picked up Giambi’s slack along with John Olerud and Tony Clark.

When the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a dramatic three game set in the Bronx (highlighted by Jeter’s face first dive into the stands in the finale), New York took an 8 1/2 game lead in July. Later, the Yankees again beat Boston in a heartstopping game in Fenway and the lead swelled to 9 1/2. In the wake of the A-Rod/Varitek brawl the next day, they were a Mariano Rivera save away from going up 10 1/2 games.

The rivalry was men versus boys. It was a lawnmower against the grass.

Bill Mueller homered off of Rivera to win the game and the Red Sox got life. They pulled to within 2 1/2 games in September and won the season series, 11-8. An ALCS match up was inevitable.

It almost didn’t happen. The Minnesota Twins won the first game of the Division Series and had a lead in the 12th inning of Game 2. They were a save away from taking a 2-0 lead to the Metrodome. But Alex Rodriguez doubled home the tying run and the Yankees would win the game. The Yankees won another extra inning game in Minnesota to get to the ALCS. If the Twins won those two games, the Red Sox would have faced Minnesota. Instead it was the sports equivalent of Ali-Frazier 2.

The storylines seemed so clear going into the ALCS. The Yankees were efficient, business like and had all the history behind them. The Red Sox were sloppy, a mess and trying to give a middle finger to expectations.

Curt Schilling, brought in to be a Yankee killer like he was in the 2001 World Series, flopped and got rocked in Game 1. The Red Sox tried to come back but fell short, a fitting metaphor.

Pedro Martinez, who had famously called the Yankees his “daddy” after a September loss, lost as well. The series went to Boston and a slugfest broke out. By the time the dust had settled, the Yankees won 19-8. They had a 3-0 series lead, Schilling was hurt, Nomar was traded, Pedro was emasculated and the series was a total anticlimax.

At least the Twins put up a fight.

Alex Rodriguez was outstanding in the Division Series and the first three games of the ALCS. Hideki Matsui was the front runner of ALCS MVP, but A-Rod was showing the world he was up to the task in New York and was a game away from taking his show to the World Series.

A-Rod homered in Game 4 and the Yankees took a lead to the bottom of the 9th with Mariano Rivera on the mound.

a_rodriguez_ilWe all know what happened after that. The Millar Walk, the Roberts steal, the Ortiz homer, the rally off of Gordon in Game 5, not stealing off of Tim Wakefield, Ortiz’s second walk off hit, the bloody sock, the slapped glove, Foulke striking out Clark, Damon’s two homers, Red Sox celebrate in the Bronx.

Seriously, if you have read this far, you already know what happened in the 2004 ALCS. No team had ever blown a 3-0 lead before in a baseball post season series before the Yankees fell to the Red Sox.

Stop and think about the moment in time when Rivera was facing Kevin Millar in Game 4. Imagine if Rivera got the Red Sox out and the Yankees went on to the World Series.

So many things would have carried on as they were. The Yankees beat the Red Sox at every turn. The history of the two teams would have continued unblemished.

Alex Rodriguez would have delivered in his first season and may have become a beloved Yankee. The image of that first season would be his playoff home runs, not slapping Bronson Arroyo’s glove. How much would that good will have been banked in the hearts of Yankee fans.

There would be no image of a Game 7 in the Bronx where Torre had to turn to an overmatched Kevin Brown, who had broken his own hand down the stretch, an Javier Vazquez, who bombed badly after a good first half. Brown and Vazquez’s horrific outing highlighted the loss of Pettitte and Clemens the previous winter. The team would spend big bucks to bring them back.

Red Sox fans would not have turned Yankee Stadium into Fenway South on a cold night in October. Curt Schilling? He was a flop. Pedro Martinez? His last game as a Red Sox was losing in the Bronx. Chances are Manny Ramirez would be dumped. Johnny Damon’s eventual defection to the Yankees would be even more cruel.

Even if the Red Sox went on to win the 2007 and 2013 World Series, there would be an asterisk hanging over them. Sure they won, but they did not have to go through the Yankees those years. That dragon would still be unslain.

The Yankees lost game 6 with Tony Clark at the plate and game 7 with Ruben Sierra batting. In both cases, the absence of Jason Giambi was felt. Tom Gordon pitched terribly in the Game 5 and 7 losses as the Red Sox bullpen was superior for once.

The words “choke” and Yankees went together in a Red Sox series. The Red Sox were World Champs and for once not everything broke the Yankees way.

The world was turned upside down.

In a way, it was the climax and resolution of the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry. Despite ESPN and Fox’s best efforts, it is simply not the same.  Much like when the Lakers finally bested the Celtics in 1985, the storyline was forever altered.

Future generations of Yankee fans may witness individual seasons of superiority over the Red Sox. But they will never have that spiritual birthright. Generation after generation saw the Yankees beat the Red Sox and Boston had no response.

Now they do. And the Yankees were three outs away from extending it for another generation. The Greatest Missed Opportunity indeed.

Great Missed Opportunity: 2000 Chicago White Sox

White Sox

White Sox

Let’s take The Great Missed Opportunities series to the South Side of Chicago. The Chicago White Sox are an organization that had many lost chances over the generations.

Of course as all White Sox fans can tell you, THEY are the only Chicago baseball team to win a World Series in the last hundred years. The 2005 White Sox lost one single post season game en route to a rampage to the World Series title. Many from that squad returned for the 2008 Division Title as well. So much of the misery has been redeemed.

They could be the only team who we know for sure can blame themselves for one of their post season short comings: The 1919 squad famously threw the World Series against the Reds.

It was a terrible moment for baseball, but it DID yield two of the best movies about baseball, Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams.

In the decades following 1919, they had terrific teams that could not finish in first place. Between 1954 and 1965, the South Siders won 90 or more games six times, finishing in first place just once during that stretch.

The 1983 team lost a heartbreaking ALCS to the Orioles. 1993 saw the Sox fall just short in the ALCS against Toronto and a wonderful club had their pennant hopes crushed in 1994 by the strike.

According to my own ground rules for the Great Missed Opportunity Series, the honored team has to have played in the Wild Card era, which eliminates all of those teams (except perhaps 1994, but let’s let that slide.)

I almost picked the 2008 squad. If that team won it all after taking a one game playoff to win the Division, they would have championship team featuring Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. Who wouldn’t have wanted to see that pair finally win a ring?

Also remember 2008 was the year that the Cubs had the best record in the National League and the 97 win squad had thoughts of breaking their own curse after seeing the Red Sox and White Sox exorcise long term demons. Winning a second title the year that Cubs fans were suffering the 100th anniversary of their last would have been a sweet if nasty victory on the South Side.

But the 2008 squad were not better than the Angels, Red Sox nor the eventual pennant champion Rays and were a long shot at best.

The team from 2000, however, was a solid squad featuring some of the all time greats in White Sox history. If they won it all that year, the White Sox would have had their most loved team ever.

The 1999 White Sox hovered around .500 until a series of midseason slumps pushed them into a losing record. They finished in second place behind Cleveland, but trailed by 21 1/2 games and were not contenders for manager Jerry Manuel.

Expectations for 2000 were not exactly sky high and the biggest off season move involved acquiring Jose Valentin and Cal Eldred from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Sporting News

Sporting News

But the team could hit, with Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee and Ray Durham at the heart of their lineup. They also had a young prospect who got kicked around between the Dodgers and Reds organization before breaking through with a solid 1999 in Chicago. Little did anyone know that Paul Konerko would become an institution in the South Side.

The main questions were “could they pitch?” and  “could they beat Cleveland?”

Mike Sirotka, James Baldwin and Jim Parque all were clobbered in the starting rotation in 1999. Bob Howry was adequate as a closer, but set up man Keith Foulke put up better numbers.

The White Sox started 2000 with two straight losses, then a 4 game winning streak. Then they won 10 out of 11 games in mid April.

One of the games, played on April 22nd against the Tigers, featured 5 hit batters and a few bloodletting brawls.

16, count them, 16 players, coaches and managers were suspended and nine more were fined. It was not pretty but the White Sox were showing some fight, literally.

 

The White Sox pitching was holding its own. James Baldwin earned an All Star spot by starting the year 10-1 with a decent ERA. Jim Parque and Mike Sirotka were hardly Cy Young contenders but kept the White Sox in enough games to win. And Keith Foulke was developing into an elite closer.

Meanwhile the bats were explosive. Valentin was having one of his most productive seasons while Thomas, Ordonez, Kornerko and Lee gave the White Sox one of the most terrifying middle of the orders in baseball.

They had won 10 out of 12 games in early June and took a 2 game lead over the Indians when they went into Jacobs Field on June 12th for an early Divisional Showdown. In the first game, Frank Thomas launched a home run and the White Sox took an 8-3 lead over the five time defending Division Champs. The Tribe crept back and made it a one run game in the 9th. With the bases loaded and only one out, Cleveland was a single from victory and pulling to within a game. Instead Foulke got Sandy Alomar Jr. to hit into a game ending double play.

The White Sox would go on to sweep the Indians. They went to New York to play the back to back World Champion Yankees. They swept all four games, scoring in double digits in 3 of the 4 contests. Chicago was for real.

By the middle of the season, no opponent seemed to intimidate the overachieving club. They took 2 of 3 at home from the Yankees and swept the Red Sox. A rough six game road trip in August against the contending Mariners and A’s yielded 4 wins.

Fleer

Fleer

And at the end of July, an old friend returned to the South Side. 41 year old Harold Baines was acquired along with Charles Johnson from Baltimore to give the team a boost down the stretch. Baines was playing in his 13th season on his third tour for the White Sox. One of the most loved players in franchise history and a key member of the 1983 Division Champion, Baines might have arrived in time to cash in a World Series title.

On September 25th, the Indians lost a game to the Royals and the White Sox clinched the Division Title, their first since 1993 and the 1994 strike season.

Their 95 wins was the highest total in the American League, who had homefield advantage in the World Series. The two time defending champion Yankees finished the season with a horrific slump and the pennant was up for grabs.

The Indians and their 90 wins were on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The A’s and Mariners each had 91 wins. But the White Sox felt like the pennant and possibly the title was theirs for the taking.

In the first Division Series game against Alex Rodriguez and the Wild Card Mariners, the White Sox fell behind quickly at home 3-0 after two innings. But the White Sox fought back. Ray Durham’s homer and a Magglio Ordonez RBI triple gave Chicago a 4-3 lead in the third. Jim Parque held the lead through 6.

In the top of the 7th with 2 outs and the bases loaded, Mike Cameron singled to right. The tying run scored but Ordonez threw out the go ahead run at the plate to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Charles Johnson hit a lead off single and the White Sox were an RBI from taking a 1-0 series lead. They got two runners on but Ordonez flew out to end the inning.

Edgar Martinez and John Olerud clobbered back to back homers off of Foulke in the 10th and the Mariners won by that margin.

The White Sox began Game 2 with back to back doubles and an early 1-0 lead, seemingly shaking the extra inning loss off of their shoulders. But again, the game became a back and forth affair.

Mike Sirotka coughed up the lead in the second inning only to see the White Sox tie it in the third. Jay Buhner of the Mariners answered with a go ahead homer in the 4th. Seattle starter Paul Abbott settled down and the Mariner bullpen shut down White Sox rallies in the 6th and 7th. Seattle won 5-2 and took a 2-0 lead to the Pacific Northwest.

Facing a shockingly fast elimination, the White Sox trusted the season on James Baldwin, who slumped badly after an All Star worthy start.

He was up for the challenge, letting up just 3 hits and 1 run over 6 innings. One of those hits was a 2 out RBI infield groundout by Stan Javier that tied the game 1-1.

Mariners starter Aaron Sele pitched into the 8th and kept the score 1-1.

In the bottom of the 9th, John Olerud singled off of Kelly Wunsch and took second on an error. No one less than Rickey Henderson was used as a pinch runner. Chicago manager Jerry Manuel used Foulke to try and get out of the potential season ending jam. With Henderson on third and one out, Carlos Guillen dragged a bunt that scored the series winning run, ending all White Sox dreams of a title in 2000.

With all the new post season blood in 2000, it was the slumping Yankees who would emerge victorious in the end. They beat the upstart A’s and the youthful Mariners to force a Subway Series against the Mets.

The 2000 White Sox fell into post season obscurity. Durham, Ordonez, Foulke and Baldwin would all soon be playing elsewhere. Baines would retire after the 2001 season. Manuel would give way to Ozzie Guillen.

Eventually the White Sox would win the World Series in 2005 and Konerko, Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland from the 2000 team got their rings.

Frank Thomas would get a ring as well, but injuries kept him to fewer than 20 games that year and he was sidelined for the post season.

Baines would get a ring as the team’s first base coach.

But the 2000 team would have been a wonderful combination of old heroes and future icons. The team could have taken the first crown of the 2000’s with their greatest slugger (Thomas) and beloved star (Baines) contributing on the field.

And they would have done so for a city that saw the Bulls dismantled and the Bears, Blackhawks and Cubs all under performing. The White Sox had a chance to be THE team of the city and Frank Thomas would have had his crowning achievement.

With a hit here or there in Games 1 and 3, the White Sox would have been in a position to move on. Instead, every bounce seemed to go the Mariners way and the White Sox walked off the field in Seattle dejected.

White Sox fans would have to wait another 5 seasons, which in the grand scheme of Chicago sports, isn’t that much time.

But the chance to start a new century with the greatest slugger in the team’s history hoisting the World Series trophy was a great missed opportunity.

Great Missed Opportunity: 1997 San Francisco Giants

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The march of Great Missed Opportunities continues with the San Francisco Giants. Until recently, they were one of the most tortured teams in baseball, a distinction I made clear with this video starring myself and my son before the 2010 World Series.

However, in this new decade, the Giants have erased a lot of past misery, winning it all in 2010 and 2012. These recent successes haven’t wiped away all of the “what could have been” pondering.

My two ground rules for the Missed Opportunities series eliminates the two most obvious years for the Giants. The team had to play in the Wild Card Era, leaving the 103 win 1993 squad a year short.

And the team can not be a pennant winner. So we won’t be covering the 2002 Giants who blew a 5-0 lead in a potential clinching World Series game.

The 2003 Giants led wire to wire but lost heart breaking Division Series games to the eventual World Champion Florida Marlins, the final game ending on a play at the plate. That team seemed like the obvious choice for the series, but I am not picking them for reasons I will explain later.

Instead I am going to honor the 1997 Giants, a team that, had they won, would have changed the face of the team forever and possibly the destiny of one of its greatest stars.

After falling juuuuust short of the 1993 post season, the Giants and manager Dusty Baker fell on hard times. The splitting of the Divisions looked like they would be perennial contenders with Barry Bonds and Matt Williams leading the way. Instead they posted sub .500 records in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and the Dodgers looked like the top team in the Division.

The 1997 squad looked like they were going into full rebuilding mode when Williams, on the verge of free agency, was shipped off to Cleveland for a package of players that included underachieving second baseman Jeff Kent.

Giants.com

Giants.com

The team lost the opening game to the Pirates but then shot off to a 13-3 start that caught everyone off guard. Shawn Estes was pitching like an All Star, closer Rod Beck was unstoppable and Jeff Kent was finally overachieving.

On the strength of a Bonds 10th inning home run on May 14, the Giants were 10 games above .500. By early July, they were up 6 games on the Dodgers and had the second best record in the National League.

At the end of July, they wound up picking up three valuable pitchers from the White Sox. Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny Darwin gave the pitching staff instant depth and cost no significant players on the major league roster (although Keith Foulke would eventually develop into a star.)

The trade was much maligned at the time because Chicago was still in contention for the Central. But Giants fans did not mind.

While the trade was a good one, it did not put the Division out of reach for the Dodgers who crawled back into it, led by MVP candidate Mike Piazza. By August 1, the two rivals were tied on top of the division. By the end of August, Los Angeles took the lead and looked to cruise into their third straight post season.

By mid September, the two teams were either tied or exchanging the lead. An ill timed 4 game losing streak by the Giants gave L.A. a 2 game lead when they arrived at Candlestick for two games starting on September 17th.

Bonds launched a 2 run homer in the first inning of game 1 off of Chan Ho Park. It would be all the offense the Giants would get and all they would need. Kirk Reuter and Roberto Hernandez held the Dodgers to one run and cut the division lead to 1.

In the second game, Bonds once again homered, giving them a 5-1 lead. But the Dodgers battled back and Mike Piazza’s 2 run 2 out single in the 7th tied the game. The classic game went into the 12th inning when former Stanford star Brian Johnson hit a lead off walk off homer into the Candlestick bleachers. The Giants had tied the Dodgers with 9 games to go.

On September 27th, Wilson Alvarez threw 7 shutout innings against San Diego and Rod Beck struck out Greg Vaughn, sending Candlestick into delirium.  The Giants were Western Division Champs. The clinching ceremony that had eluded the 1993 squad could finally take place.

628x471

AP – Eric Risberg

The normally taciturn Bonds stood on the dugout, celebrating with the fans and the overachieving Giants had high hopes for the post season.

They would face the Florida Marlins, a Wild Card Team, and avoid the dreaded Braves until the NLCS. However a quirk in playoff scheduling in 1997 would haunt the Giants.

As the Division Champ, the Giants would have the 5th and deciding Division Series game played in their home park. However, the format of the series was 2-3. In other words, the first two games would be played in Miami.

This nonsensical system would be fixed for the 1998 post season, but like for the 1993 Giants, the change came a year too late.

The Marlins had many veterans on their squad, but they still felt like a young expansion team and few gave them much a chance in the post season.

Kirk Reuter and Florida’s Kevin Brown locked horns in a game 1 pitchers duel that was scoreless until Bill Meuller homered to make it 1-0 Giants in the 7th. Charles Johnson’s homer in the 7th knotted it up and Edgar Renteria (who would later lead the Giants to a 2010 title) knocked a 2 out walk off hit in the 9th to win the game for the Marlins.

In Game 2, the Giants faced more late inning frustrations. In a back and forth game, Bonds began hitting after flopping in his previous post season appearances. He got 2 hits and drove in a pair helping knock Al Leiter out of the game.

But his old Pirates teammate Bobby Bonilla drove in three runs of his own and the Marlins took a one run lead into the 9th. San Francisco tied the game thanks to some sloppy Marlins fielding. But the Marlins would put two on with nobody out in the 9th. Moises Alou singled to center and Dante Powell’s throw home hit the mound, allowing Gary Sheffield to score the winning run. The Wild Card team opened the series with two walk off wins.

Back to San Francisco, Wilson Alvarez tried his best to keep the season alive. Jeff Kent’s homer game the Giants an early 1-0 edge. But with two outs and nobody on in the 6th, the Marlins rallied and Devon White hit a go ahead grand slam.

In the bottom of the 6th, Bill Mueller got on base with a lead off single in front of Bonds and Kent. However he tried to steal second and was caught. When Kent homered two batters later, it loomed large.

The Marlins would add insurance runs to the board and win 6-2, sweeping the 1997 Giants into obscurity. Florida would beat the Braves and crush the hearts of the Indians winning a most unlikely World Series title.

The Giants began a wonderful run where they finished either first or second every year between 1997 and 2004. They would win the 2002 pennant and Division Titles in 2000 and 2003.

But looking back, the team in 1997 was the one that could have been the most special. They were a resilient team, finishing the year with a negative run differential but won 90 games. They won heart stoppers.

They were 23-17 in one run games and an eye popping 11-3 in extra inning match ups.

They had the late Rod Beck, who was a fan favorite from the 1993 squad. They introduced Kent and Reuter and J. T. Snow and Rich Aurillia to Giant fans.

It was a team that played in Candlestick (or 3Com as nobody called it then). While the park known as AT&T Park now is the crown jewel of baseball stadiums and the ‘Stick was rightfully maligned, it would have been special for the loyal fans to see at least one title in the old ballpark.

Getty Images

Getty Images

But most importantly, it was the lone division title in San Francisco won by Barry Bonds before he changed. He was still trim Barry. He still was the all around brilliant player.

He batted .291 with an unbelievable yet not impossible 1.031 OPS. He finished with 40 homers and 145 walks. He also stole 37 bases, falling just short of a 40-40 year. It was his fifth and final 30-30 season.

He would finish fifth in the MVP vote, trailing Larry Walker, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. As he put on a brilliant display of all around ability, the baseball world was transfixed by the Mark McGwire-Ken Griffey Jr. home run race that fell just short of Maris. The next season, McGwire and Sosa would top Maris and two years later, Bonds would physically transform.

Think of him on the dugout celebrating with the San Francisco fans who embraced him. The lean all around talent might have been the greatest player to wear the uniform since his godfather, Willie Mays.

Imagine if THAT Barry Bonds had won a World Series for the Giants in Candlestick. No offense to the 2010 nor the 2012 squad, but the 1997 team would be the most loved of all had that happened.

Had the Giants won the one run losses in Miami or held on to extend the series in San Francisco, perhaps it could have happened.

Instead the Bonds narrative did not end as anyone would have hoped and his entry to Cooperstown was delayed again. The franchise has moved on to a better park and multiple titles.

The great missed opportunity of 1997 is best remembered by die hard fans for the Brian Johnson homer and little else. How history, and the legacy of Bonds, could have been different.

AP Photo/Julie Stupsker

AP Photo/Julie Stupsker