I received "Giants Past and Present" in the mail yesterday from MVP Books. In all honesty, I plowed through the book in one night. In many ways, it is not a very dense book. It runs 144 pages long and for the most part, it is very picture-heavy.
That being said, don't let that deter you from taking a gander at freelance journalist and author Dan Fost's (love the Afro compressed by the Giants hat by the way!) book on the Giants: it actually has a lot more to offer than you think.
For starters, as a Giants fan, it is nice to see a coffee-table book that chronicles a bit of the Giants history from New York and the Polo Ground to San Francisco and AT&T Park. You don't really see these kinds of books about the Giants. You see books like these about the New York Yankees, or the Boston Red Sox, or the St. Louis Cardinals, or the Chicago Cubs, or (god forbid I say it) Los Angeles Dodgers.
As for the Giants? Either they don't exist or they aren't really in stock at your local Borders or Barnes and Noble. (But Boston Red Sox books by Stephen King? Oh...there are AT LEAST six to seven copies of "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.")
It's sad really. The Giants are one of the most tortured franchises and fan bases in sports, and not only are they not talked about by mainstream fans and media (more "Curse of the Billy Goat or Steve Bartman Talk" everyone!), but the black and orange can't even get books about their history and franchise either.
Thankfully, Fost breaks that mold with "Giants Past and Present." He offers Giants fans something Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodger fans take for granted, and you know what? He does a pretty good job.
In "Giants Past and Present," Fost covers all the bases of the Giants history. You want to know about John McGraw's managing days? Fost covers it. You want to know about the Polo Grounds in New York and the huge smoking Chesterfield cigarette sign that's "H" lit up when a player got a hit and "E" lit up when a player made an error? Fost covers it. Want to know a little bit about each owner, manager and general manager in the history of the Giants baseball organization? Fost covers it.
In many ways, Fost leaves no corner of the Giants franchise un-examined in this book, and not only does he capture this franchise's arduous history nicely and succinctly through his writing (he mentions the Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski trade, which boosted the book's "Only a Giants geek would write about that" factor by thirty or forty points), but "Giants Past and Present" also tells the great story of the Giants' history through photographs and pictures.
And these aren't run-of-the-mill pictures either. "Giants Past and Present" is chock-full of photos that baseball fans in general aren't used to seeing. There's a picture of Willie Mays rounding third after a home run...in the minor leagues. There's a picture of former owner Bob Lurie and the former mayor of San Jose, Susan Hammer, at the podium in front of a sign that says "San Jose Giants" back in 1991, when the Giants were thinking about moving to San Jose. There's a picture of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey b'sing in the locker rooms of Candlestick Park in 1960.
The pictures help make this book, like any great coffee table book. They engage you, interest you and make you look at them over and over again, usually in disbelief. (One picture of Peter Magowan at a press conference in 1992 makes you wonder "How the heck could a CEO get away with hair like that?")
"Giants Past and Present" is exactly the kind of book you can have lying around when you have company over for a party, or when you're bored and looking something to gauge your interest between innings of Giants games when the same two-minute Roni Deutch ad plays for the 100th time. Fost's book is that versatile.
Is "Giants Past and Present" perfect? No, of course not. For starters, you wish it is longer. Because of its picture-heavy composition, you can plow through the book awful quickly (not necessarily a good thing). Furthermore, the book shows a lot of love to the 2009 squad...almost too much love to be perfectly frank. Yes, the 2009 squad was a nice, fun squad to watch and reminisce about. That being said, if I have this book lying around ten years later and flip through it again, I don't know if Bengie Molina (who has a lot of pictures in this book for some reason...maybe Fost is a Molina fan) is going to invoke the same kind of awe or memories that Mays, McCovey, Will Clark, or Matt Williams would.
But in many ways, I guess that is what makes this book so interesting. It's a ninety percent tribute to the Giants history, and a ten percent tribute to the 2009 squad, a team that really surpassed a lot of Giants fans expectations. Fost writes about a lot of Giants players and management from the 2009 team optimistically (he writes generously about everyone, from Brian Wilson to Bruce Bochy to even...gulp...Brian Sabean), and that makes me want to hold onto this book for a long time. It makes me wonder if Fost's optimism was for better (such as in the Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain "Wow they turned out great!" mold) or worse (the Todd Linden-Jesse Foppert "Wow, they didn't come close to expectations!" mold).
"Giants Past and Present" isn't exactly cheap (it is priced at $25 dollars retail, $18 dollars on Amazon.com), but in many ways, it's worth the price. It is the perfect book to introduce somebody to the Giants (such as a girlfriend, non-baseball fan, mail order bride, etc.), but it is also the perfect book to help Giants fans reminisce about the "good-old" (or in the case of the 1970's, "bad-old") days, not to mention learn facts or trivia concerning the franchise that they never knew before. (Did you know the Giants' first owner back in the 1800's tried to play baseball, but sucked it up so badly that he was forced to "build" his own team instead? Yeah...I didn't either until I read Fost's book.)
It may not be able to be made into it's own coffee-table like Cosmo Kramer's, but this coffee-table book is essential for Giants fans.