Giants flew under the radar to their title
Take a good look at these San Francisco Giants. This is what a champion is supposed to look like. This is how a champion is supposed to walk and talk. This is how a champion rides the dramatic highs and extreme lows of a long, exhausting season.
Champions are at their best when the stakes are the highest, and the Giants were. Champions show poise and resilience in tough times. That, too, is these Giants. When the Reds and Cardinals had them on the brink of elimination in this postseason, the Giants refused to give in or give up.
When they needed a clutch hit and a critical pitching performance, someone always stepped up. Hunter Pence rallied them with his words, Pablo Sandoval with his bat, Barry Zito with his left arm.
And that's just a sampler. San Francisco got contributions from virtually every corner of its clubhouse.
All the while, manager Bruce Bochy led them with his unflappable personality and deft touch with people. That final out of the 2012 World Series on Sunday night represented more than a second championship in three years. It also punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Never mind that they flew under the radar for most of the summer. Even now with two championships in three years, they may not be getting the credit they deserve for a job extraordinarily well done.
That's our problem, not theirs.
Besides, if the Giants are an underrated champion, they're probably OK with that. They're a franchise that shuns drama.
General manager Brian Sabean demands that his players put the team first, and this is the club he always envisioned for the post-Barry Bonds years.
That is, he wanted depth in the pitching staff, athleticism in the outfield and plenty of late-inning options in the bullpen.
The Giants hit only 31 home runs at home this season, but they do all the fundamentals well.
San Francisco wouldn't have won without its stars -- Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain and Buster Posey, for starters.
But the Giants wouldn't have won without Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro and Sergio Romo and plenty of others.
Sabean's mantra is simple. He hires good people and gives them the freedom and resources to do their jobs.
This philosophy does not lend itself to a circus. When Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance, the Giants showed him the door and didn't allow him back in.
Meanwhile, Bochy asks three simple things of his players:
Respect the game.
Be a good teammate.
Everything the Giants are flows from there. Again, though, the Giants are so efficient and so good at their job that they're easy to overlook.
Maybe it's that whole Pacific Time Zone thing. To fully appreciate the Giants, you have to stay up late.
Otherwise, they might not capture your imagination. Also, this baseball season had so many great story lines that it was impossible to get our minds around them all.
We were so focused on the renaissance of the Orioles and A's, Dodgers and White Sox. We admired Tampa Bay's resilience and smarts. The Rangers captivated us from Day 1. The Red Sox and Yankees were, as always, fascinating teams, for different reasons.
With all that going on, it was perhaps impossible to devote enough attention to a franchise that simply plays the game smartly and efficiently.
So it was easy to not fully appreciate the Giants. While a dozen teams were fighting for a few postseason berths, San Francisco had all but wrapped up the National League West by the second week of September.
It's probably an overstatement to say they're a perfect team, but let's do it anyway. They've got a deep rotation and a deep bullpen. They've got catalysts at the top of the lineup in Pagan and Scutaro and run producers in the middle in Sandoval, Posey, etc.
Their clubhouse has an interesting mix. Sandoval and Romo are playful and outgoing. Posey and Cain are serious and low-key.
They're cut from different cloth, but they respect one another and play hard for another.
Best of all, the core of this team is homegrown, which is a tribute to dozens of scouts and instructors. When players arrive in the big leagues, they already understand what it means to wear the Giants uniform.
In short, the Giants are a model franchise. They play in arguably baseball's prettiest ballpark and draw three million fans virtually every year.
These fans are into the Giants, too. They're loud and energetic, and the players feed off them.
San Francisco has players who are easy to root for. Tim Lincecum has become something of a cult figure in the Bay Area, and so has Sandoval.
In ways large and small, the Giants are a blueprint for every other organization. Maybe they'll never get the credit they deserve because they do so many things so well and are so efficient at it.
On the other hand, if the Giants keep taking World Series trophies home, they're going to have a tough time remaining one of baseball's best-kept secrets.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.