There will be plenty of days and weeks ahead to debrief this disappointing Giants season, dissect the firing of manager Gabe Kapler, speculate about who the new manager might be, and think about ways the team could improve.
But first we need to say goodbye to the best shortstop the San Francisco Giants have ever had, the only remaining member of the championship era, Brandon Crawford.
We don’t know yet if he’s planning to retire from baseball to concentrate on his (still!) growing family. But it seems pretty clear that tomorrow will be his last game as a San Francisco Giant. So let’s put everything else aside for a minute and say thanks.
We all know the story of how Crawford was a local kid who grew up rooting for the Giants, whose family has a commemorative brick at Oracle Park, and whose 1992 photo at age 5 pleading with then-NL President Bill White not to let the Giants leave San Francisco for Tampa Bay, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, became famous when years later he was playing for his hometown team. He was drafted out of UCLA in the fourth round in 2008, the same draft class headed by one Gerald Dempsey “Buster” Posey. And his major league debut in 2011 happened right after Posey’s season-ending ankle injury. His first major league hit, in his very first game, was a grand slam in Milwaukee.
Crawford spent 2011, his rookie season, bouncing back and forth between the minors and San Francisco, but we saw enough to know that his glove was special. As the story goes, after the season, the Giants’ elite rotation (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito) went to then-GM Brian Sabean and demanded that Crawford play behind them, even if he never hit a lick. Crawford was the Opening Day shortstop in 2012 and has never missed an Opening Day start since. Crawford helped the Giants win the World Series in 2012 and again in 2014. Individually, he won four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award, was a three-time All-Star, and received MVP votes in 2016 and 2021, finishing fourth in that magical 107-win season.
There’s a lot more we could say about him–his charitable work, his devotion to his adorable family, his DJ alter-ego, his Cheesesteak Shop commercials–but the beat writers will cover all of that. I thought I’d just share a few of my favorite Crawford game memories and invite you to contribute your favorites in the discussion. Here are my top five, in reverse order, all from the two championship seasons. I’ve added video links where I could find them for your viewing pleasure.
5. His triple in Game 5 of the NLDS in Cincinnati in 2012, which broke a tense, scoreless tie between Cain and Mat Latos, and was the first RBI in a six-run inning that propelled the Giants to the next round.
4. His sacrifice bunt off a tough lefty reliever in Game 4 of the 2012 World Series, which moved Ryan Theriot into scoring position, from which he was driven in with the winning run by Marco Scutaro.
3. His leaping catch in Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS with two on and two out, which at the time preserved a 1-0 Giants lead.
2. His partnership with Joe Panik in the seventh game of the 2014 World Series to turn a spectacular double play in one of the most critical moments you can imagine.
1. The grand slam in the 2014 Wild Card game that broke another scoreless tie and silenced a hostile, raucous crowd in Pittsburgh.
With the exception of #3 on the list, all of those key moments were on the road, and every single one of them was essential to the Giants winning the World Series those two years.
Crawford, who looked close to done in 2019 with a dismal 74 OPS+, bounced back a bit in 2020 and then had the best year of his career in 2021 (141 OPS+ and his fourth Gold Glove at age 34), earning him a two-year contract extension. Sadly, those two years haven’t gone well, as he’s battled injuries and underperformed on both sides of the ball. 2023 has been the worst year of his career at the plate (64 OPS+), and it’s been the only year that he’s had negative WAR, including on defense. It’s time to say goodbye. But what a great run he’s had, and how fun he’s been to watch all these years. We will all miss him. Thanks for everything, BCraw.
Here are some tributes from past and present teammates. Have some tissues handy when you watch this video, posted this morning on Youtube by his mom, Lynn Crawford.
The Willie Mac Award
I have a number of issues with the timing of the Gabe Kapler firing, but the biggest one is that it put a bit of a damper on last night’s Willie Mac Award ceremony, which is always a highlight of the final weekend of the regular season. As we all know by now, the very deserving winner was 2B Thairo Estrada, who may have been the Giants’ best all-around position player this year (with a nod to previous WMA winners LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores). Though his wRC+ was just a league-average 102, he led the Giants (by a lot) with 23 stolen bases, and by several defensive metrics (dWAR, Outs Above Average) was the best second baseman in baseball. He also, notably, rallied his sluggish teammates with a pregame speech in Atlanta in August, which helped for a few days.
We all love Thairo and were happy to see him win, I’m sure, but he didn’t win the TWG vote. According to totalfan62, who collected the votes, the tally went thus:
Logan Webb: 14
Wilmer Flores: 4.5
Alex Cobb: 4
Thairo Estrada: 2
Brandon Crawford: 2
Patrick Bailey: .5
I’m not sure what was up with the half-votes, and I won’t indulge in any conspiracy theories about why Webb didn’t win the award this year. Here a few selected comments that accompanied the votes.
My vote is Webb. There are a lot of class acts on this team. But he has had to endure more than most and keep fighting. Thank you TF62, for reminding me that even in a year of disappointment there was some very good performances by players on this team. (Noce)
My vote this year goes to Alex Cobb. A strong, steady and humble veteran (and first-time All-Star this year) who has held the #2 starting spot all year, despite struggling with insufficient offensive support and a sometimes shaky bullpen. His old-school demeanor and dogged determination have been a constant asset through this season, never more evident than in his near no-hitter on August 29 vs. Cincinnati. I know he won’t win it, but he’s MyWMAGuy for 2023. (totalfan62)
I love Logan the Tough Hombre, but I can never vote against Wilmer, My Wilmer! (Andres The Forever Giant)
Put me down for Logan Webb because he’s a horse and has got the biggest sack of you know what on this club. (Frank Novak)
Thanks to everyone who participated! It’s nice to focus on something positive at the end of an awful second half of the season for the Giants and their fans.
Tonight (Saturday): Dodgers at Giants, 6:05 p.m.; Clayton Kershaw vs. Tristan Beck
Tomorrow (Sunday): Dodgers at Giants, 12:05 p.m., B. Miller vs. Kyle Harrison
Although the Giants have nothing left to play for, not even a winning record or third place in the NL West, we still might want to tune in because (1) tonight could possibly be the last time Kershaw ever pitches against the Giants and (2) we should watch Crawford’s goodbye game tomorrow (plus hopefully a good outing by Harrison and some hope for the future). Let’s get Marco Luciano his first big league homer, OK?–Off Kershaw would be a nice memory for him.
And so ends the last Out of Left Field of the 2023 season (the Giants’ season, anyway)! Lefty out.