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Cool San Francisco Warm to Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sure we're different. The great Rudyard Kipling, he of the road to Mandalay, he who declared "a woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke," stopped by the city in the 19th Century and said all San Franciscans were mad.

And that was before the creation of the Exotic Erotic Ball on Halloween.

Mad. Crazy. Always and ever. There was Joshua Abraham Norton who hung around just after the Gold Rush and declared himself "Emperor of these United States.'' Had a goatee and long hair. These days he might have been mistaken for a relief pitcher on the San Francisco Giants.

The place, of which Mark Twain really never said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.'' Still a great quote. And an accurate one.

Now it's autumn - no great comments about October - and colder yet. Who cares? The Giants are in the World Series.

And the different, mad, chilly town has gone crazy.

For baseball, the former national pastime. For the game Joe and Dom DiMaggio grew up playing, in San Francisco. For the game which always seems to belong to the East Coast.

Until this season.

We're supposed to be cool in the Bay Area, and the reference is not to the weather, although that's plenty cool, even in July. Especially in July.

To get excited about items other than perhaps a new cabernet from up the road in Napa, or the same-sex marriage issue being fought out in the courts, normally is very un-San Franciscan.

Still the public has embraced for the Giants, a team which one national journalist described as huggable. Sorry. Teddy bears are huggable. The Giants are merely fascinating, a group of players without egos under the direction of Bruce Bochy, a manager without pretension.

Players who weren't supposed to win the National League West. But did. Players who weren't supposed to beat the Braves in the Division Series. But did. Players who weren't supposed to beat the Phillies in the League Championship Series. But did.

Surely that is much of the reason for their appeal. People love surprises. People love underdogs. People love oddballs - particularly people in San Francisco, a town where quakes hit and fog rolls and as Tony Bennett sang with lyrics that brings tears to many a romantic's eye, little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.

Now it's the Giants who've made the climb. Reached the top of Nob Hill, in effect, against another team not expected to be playing when baseball came to its last stand of 2010, the Texas Rangers.

This is a World Series which has the TV types grinding their teeth like Giants partisans did the last months of the season, the Home Nine turning every game into suspense that would rival an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Hitchcock had this thing with San Francisco, with northern California, as you know from "Vertigo'' - Was that Jimmy Stewart hanging over the ledge or the Giants' chances? - and "The Birds.''

"Sweet Torture,'' two of the team announcers, Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, called the agony as the Giants staggered through one close game after another.

Five times the Giants lost 1-0 games; twice they lost when their own pitchers allowed only one hit.

Everything happened but seagulls attacking a phone booth, although after games at AT&T the gulls take over the park in a manner in which Hitchcock would have delighted.

If the coming World Series telecasts are ignored by provincial folk in New York and Boston and Chicago, there will be nothing sweet to the Fox Network torture. But do you think anybody in San Francisco cares? Hah!

Who are these Giants? "Miscasts and outcasts,'' according to Bochy. Is it ironic or just plain bewildering the one big-ticket individual, Barry Zito, the pitcher San Francisco signed for $126 million, isn't even on the post-season roster?

Is it ironic or just plain demoralizing that since the Giants left New York and moved to San Francisco in 1958 they've won exactly no World Series?

They've only been in three, 1962, against the Yankees, when play was delayed by rain for three days; 1989, against the A's, when play was delayed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake for 10 days; 2002, against the Angels, when after six innings of Game 6 the Giants could only wished play would have been halted and the game called, a 5-0 lead disappearing in a blink.

San Francisco? "This is the damnedest city,'' Frank Coniff, a national newspaper columnist, said about a perplexing situation back in 1960s. "They boo Willie Mays and cheer (the Soviet leader) Khrushchev.''

Now they cheer everyone on the Giants. They may be mad and crazy, but they're not stupid. They have a baseball team that is perfect for an imperfect town. How can anyone get that lucky?

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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