Sunday, June 5, 2011


Despite the loss of Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants are staying afloat (though the Pythagorean Winning Percentage suggests that they are doing it with mirrors). What they are trying to avoid, of course, is that infamous "June swoon" that the team always seems to have.

(So far, they are 3-1 this June. UPDATE: make that 4-1, as the amazing resurgence of Ryan Vogelsong continues.)

But just how often do the Giants actually have this "June swoon"? The way it is written about, in both mainstream and "alternative" press (and we include "blogolalia" in that "littery world" of baseball ecriture just to keep our streak of oblique references to Mark Twain intact...), you'd think the Giants do it every year like clockwork.

Maybe it's the cheap rhyme that does it. The actual history of the Giants and their record in June reveals that the "swoon in June" seems to date from the dawn of the team's transfer from New York to San Francisco. That would be 1958, when "swoons in June" were in the pocket for the gliberati who couldn't get enough of a certain set of song lyrics from My Fair Lady.

Make no mistake--the 1958 downturn in June was definitely a "swoon." The Giants came out with their hitting shoes not only on, but polished to a high sheen (a term that seems downright oxymoronic when uttered in current times). After the contests on May 31, 1958, the Giants had hit 64 HR in 44 games (a pace that would have set a new record for team HRs in a season).

Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda had 13 HRs; Mays was hitting .402.

(41-year old Hank Sauer hit 7 HR in 12 games during April.)

They were hitting .295 as a team; Daryl Spencer (of all people) was hitting .348 with 9 HRs.

They'd scored 5.7 runs per game.

They were 27-17 and in first place.

So they were ready for what we now call a "readjustment."

They went 10-17 in June (four pitchers--Ruben Gomez, Ramon Monzant, Stu Miller, Marv Grissom--combined to go 0-12). They were 3-11 in one-run games.

The Giants regrouped in July and got back in the pennant race, even reclaiming first place on July 29th. But they lost ten out of their next eleven games as the Braves (trying to defend their '57 World Series win) took command. They would finish the season 80-74, 12 games back.

Loaded with talent during this time frame, the Giants would post an aggregate .558 WPCT over their first ten years in SF. They didn't have another June as bad as the one in 1958, but they did struggle as compared with other months: over those ten years, they were 150-142 (.514).

The real mythologizing of the Giants and the "swoon in June" would occur in the following ten-year span (1968-77) as they attempted to transition from the Mays-McCovey-Marichal era. The '71 squad was the last hurrah of the team that was built around this core, and they raced off to a great start (37-14 at the end of May).

They then proceeded to lose eight of their first nine games in June. It was the second year in a row in which they'd struggled in the early days of the month, and it cemented the "June Swoon" into something roughly akin to a "collective sub-consciousness."

In fact, the Giants did struggle a bit more in the first ten days of June. Over their first fourteen years in San Francisco (1958-71), they were 58-72 (.446) over those days. Of course, prior to their 3-13 record over 1970-71 they'd been just four games under .500--and if you removed their 2-8 mark in 1963 they were actually over .500 for all the other seasons--but that didn't matter. Like the damn rain in Spain, the Giants swoon in June.

Ed Goodson--not nearly good enough...
Any hope that this might fade from sight was crushed in 1974, when the Giants went 7-20 in June to usher in a long era of futility. It seemed as though the team had weathered its transition by developing some new players whose names began with "M"--Gary Matthews and Garry Maddox. There were other promising young hitters--Ed Goodson, Steve Ontiveros, Gary Thomasson.

Despite the ongoing decline of Juan Marichal, the Giants seemed to be developing a pretty good corps of young pitchers who could take over for him (Ron Bryant, Tom Bradley, Jim Barr, with flamethrowers John D'Acquisto and John Montefusco just over the horizon).

June 1974 put the lie to all of this optimism. None of these guys became big stars. As the Giants settled into mediocrity, their "swoon theory" stayed intact even though they played the same way in most of the other months as well.

From 1988-91, the Giants had four straight good-to-great Junes (aggregate won-loss record: 68-39). In 1992, the "swoon" was back when they went 7-19. They've had some poor Junes (who hasn't?) in the ensuing years: 1996, 2005, 2007. Those keep the myth alive, even though the Giants are only .007 below their overall WPCT from 1998-2010 in June during that time frame.

The "Swoon" is dead. Long live the "Swoon."