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The Top 10 Bay Area sports stories of 2017


10. Giants address third base situation

The story: It’s two stories packaged into one, but the Giants added a pair of big names at third base over the 2017 calendar year. In July, a sudden departure from the Boston Red Sox left Pablo Sandoval searching for a job, and the three-time World Series champion inked a Minor League deal with the Giants before returning to the Major League club in early August. Following a less-than-amicable departure from San Francisco after the 2014 World Series, the Sandoval reunion required a few bridges that burned down to be rebuilt. Though Sandoval hit a walkoff home run in the final game of the regular season, the Giants needed to address a team need at third base this offseason and traded for Tampa Bay’s franchise cornerstone, Evan Longoria. The move is one of the biggest offseason transactions in baseball to date, and a clear step forward for a Giants team that must take several leaps if it hopes to return to relevancy.

Why it’s No. 10: The Giants’ decision to bring Sandoval back was a stunning development considering how rapidly he fell out of favor after parting with the club, while the team’s trade for Longoria was a blockbuster move that will have ramifications for years to come. While Sandoval didn’t patch up the Giants’ hole at third base this year, Longoria is tasked with making an immediate impact in the heart of the order and ensuring his contract, which runs through 2022, doesn’t become dead weight.

9. Madison Bumgarner crashes dirt bike

The story: It’s possible the most pivotal moment of the Giants’ nightmare season occurred back in April, when Bumgarner crashed a dirt bike on an off day in Colorado. After an underwhelming start to the year, San Francisco was forced to finish the first half of the season without its ace, who separated his pitching shoulder in an off-the-field incident that never should have taken place. Bumgarner returned to the club in mid-July, but the Giants were already out of the playoff race and stumbling to the finish line.

Why it’s No. 9: The Giants’ 2014 postseason hero is a face of the franchise and as rugged as they come, so Bumgarner’s fall from grace was as shocking as it was damaging. Had Bumgarner’s crash taken place in a contract year or in the midst of a playoff run, it might have registered higher on our list. Instead, it was just another dreadful moment that served as a microcosm of the Giants’ season.

8. 49ers hire John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan

The story: The 49ers packed up from Candlestick Park and watched as their franchise suffered through a stretch driven by poor management, poor leadership and in turn, poor on-field performances. After Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly failed in their attempts to turn the team around in the wake of Jim Harbaugh’s departure, San Francisco cleaned house and fired Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke. It took a full month for Jed York to finally settle on new personnel, and the 49ers ultimately decided on a rookie general manager in Lynch and a rookie head coach in Shanahan, who have turned an abysmal first half into the start of something special after acquiring and playing Jimmy Garoppolo.

Why it’s No. 8: Hiring a new general manager or a new head coach in 2017 might not have been enough to crack our Top 10 list in a year loaded with intriguing stories, but the fact York tabbed a brand new executive who had never spent a day an NFL front office and paired him with a 37-year-old (now 38) first-time head coach showed both ingenuity and a willingness to take a risk. Though San Francisco’s desperate situation took some high-profile candidates off the table, the 49ers landed a GM and a coach with ambition and direction, which played a major part in landing a franchise quarterback.

7. Matt Cain retires

The story: Following a 13-year run in a Giants’ uniform, one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history and one of the key players from the club’s ascension to the peak of the baseball universe turned in his badge. Cain was the first homegrown hero the Giants produced in the 2000s and became the poster boy for the Giants’ pitching and defense mantra. A hard-luck hurler whose fastball gave out on him late in his career, Cain will go down as one of the Giants’ most adored players because of his postseason heroics and his competitiveness. On his final day in a Giants’ uniform, Cain turned in five unforgettable shutout innings against the Padres and later earned a no-decision, a fitting finish for a pitcher who never received the run support he deserved.

Why it’s No. 7: It’s almost impossible to imagine a Giants team without Matt Cain, who made his Major League debut in the fall of 2005 and was a mainstay with the club for more than a decade. Cain owns the only perfect game in franchise history and still has a lower postseason ERA than Bumgarner, making his legacy one of the Giants’ most memorable.

6. Giants finish in last place, lose 98 games

The story: After blowing a late lead in Game 4 of the NLDS in 2016, the Giants had visions of competing for a National League West crown and making another playoff run in 2017. But the season quickly spiraled out of control, and ended in disastrous fashion as San Francisco lost 98 games, marking the second-most defeats in franchise history. Every starter from the team’s Opening Day lineup landed on the disabled list, and the team lost five of six series against the lowly San Diego Padres, a club that opened the year expecting to have a stranglehold on last place in the division. The 2017 season turned into one of the most embarrassing campaigns in Giants history, and it will prove difficult for San Francisco to recover.

Why it’s No. 6: If the Giants hit the century mark in the loss column, they probably would have landed at No. 4 on the list. But alas, they didn’t match the futility of their 1985 squad, and avoided a dubious spot in the team’s record books. Still, the 2017 season was more than an aberration as it officially marked the end of the greatest era in Giants baseball. The momentum San Francisco carried from three World Series crowns earlier this decade is officially dead, as the Giants are desperate to find a way to re-energize their fan base.

5. Oakland Raiders announce they’re leaving for Las Vegas

The story: On March 27, 2017, the NFL voted to approve the Raiders’ departure from Oakland for Las Vegas, leaving the franchise’s local fans abandoned. Though the Raiders have always been a nomadic bunch, moving from Oakland down to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland, the latest move has the potential to strip younger fans’ allegiances. The worst part? The Raiders are a lame duck team, as they won’t move to Sin City until at least 2019 and will have to play in front of a fan base with building resentment for a few more years.

Why it’s No. 5: On the surface, a franchise leaving the Bay Area is a bigger story than a team acquiring a great quarterback (Hint at No. 4). However, the Raiders have long played second fiddle to the 49ers, and that’s not exactly a well-kept secret. Garoppolo has the potential to reignite the 49ers’ #QuestForSix, while the Raiders are often an area afterthought, even in their best seasons. In these rankings, the Garoppolo trade edges out the Vegas Raiders as the bigger “move,” even if the 49ers aren’t physically picking up and settling elsewhere.

4. 49ers trade for Jimmy Garoppolo

The story: After San Francisco struggled to its first 0-8 record in franchise history, general manager John Lynch swung a franchise-altering trade for New England Patriots’ backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Though head coach Kyle Shanahan insisted the 49ers didn’t have to give Garoppolo an opportunity to start this season, the Eastern Illinois product took over for rookie C.J. Beathard during the first week of December and San Francisco hasn’t looked back. The 49ers’ new signal-caller has started his tenure with four straight wins and appears poised to lead San Francisco to a promising future.

Why it’s No. 4: The 49ers’ franchise was blessed with Hall of Fame quarterback play from Joe Montana and Steve Young throughout its golden era, but San Francisco has lacked a dynamic signal-caller since Jeff Garcia departed in the early 2000s. Garoppolo’s 4-0 start is another shining example of how quarterback play dictates an NFL franchise’s opportunity to succeed, and the Lynch-Shanahan era now has the foundational piece it needs to build through. If Garoppolo’s first month in the NFL is any indication, the 49ers will be a force for years to come.

3. Colin Kaepernick

The story: Kaepernick’s every move falls under a national spotlight, and while he’s no longer employed by the San Francisco 49ers, his decision to opt out of his contract in March set the stage for one of the most talked-about stories of 2017. After throwing 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions last year, Kaepernick seemingly had the skill set to hook on with a new team this year, but his protests during the national anthem and outspoken views about a variety of social issues led franchises to pass on him. While Kaepernick continues to donate money to charity, his collusion lawsuit against the NFL will keep him in the news cycle in 2018.

Why it’s No. 3: Whether you love his actions or hate his causes, Kaepernick’s protests sparked a national dialogue and became a talking point for politicians, league executives, owners and players alike. Though Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the anthem first came back in 2016, the impact of his rejection from the NFL this season could be felt for years to come. In an era in which more athletes and coaches are willing to use their voices outside of sports, Kaepernick is the defining figure.

2. President Donald Trump “withdraws” Warriors’ White House invitation

The story: As the Warriors pondered whether they would accept an invitation to visit a president they view as divisive and combative, Donald Trump tweeted that he had “withdrawn,” Golden State’s invitation after star Steph Curry was “hesitating,” about visiting. It’s unlikely the NBA champs would have opted to honor the tradition of visiting the White House, but Trump stepped in before the team had the chance to have a planned dialogue about the opportunity.

Why it’s No. 2: The clash between politics and sports took center stage in late September, as the feud between Trump and the Warriors became a national story line. Golden State’s “withdrawn” invitation is historic outside the world of basketball, and further highlighted the division felt by many Americans on a daily basis. Kerr and several Warriors players are outspoken about Trump’s policies and leadership style, and the stances they took encouraged other athletes to speak up in 2017.

1. Golden State Warriors win 2017 NBA Championship

The story: The Finals trilogy ended the way the NBA expected it to, but the Warriors’ five-game series win over the Cavaliers perfectly summed up Golden State’s desire to acquire Kevin Durant. After losing a 3-1 lead to Cleveland in 2016, the Warriors signed Durant who wound up earning Finals MVP honors after averaging 35 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.4 points per game to lead Golden State to its second title in three seasons.

Why it’s No. 1: Titles live forever, and in 50 years, the 2017 NBA Finals win could be perceived as the most memorable championship of the Warriors’ golden era. Golden State added Durant to a lineup that won 73 games the previous season and then watched as a starting unit that included four All-Stars and two MVPs exacted revenge against a Cavaliers team led by the top player of his generation, LeBron James. It wasn’t the Warriors’ first title under Steve Kerr and it might not be the last, but it was the most memorable story of 2017 and provided fans with stories they’ll tell to their grandchildren.

 

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