Darryl Strawberry He was a Giant? By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Darryl Strawberry photo circa 1994 from Tony the Tiger Hayes

Darryl Strawberry – OF -1994 – # 17

He was a Giant?

By Tony Hayes

A star-crossed media magnet of colossal athletic talent and dubious lifestyle choices – the notorious Strawberry was a celebrity Big Apple slugger, inveterate booze and cocaine abuser, three-time World Series champion, Dodgers flameout, indicted tax cheat, cancer survivor, and, yes, briefly a Giant.

In mid-1994, San Francisco picked up the infamous former New York Mets superstar off the scrap heap after a disastrous four-year run with his hometown Dodgers during which Darryl seemed to spend more time in the Betty Ford Clinic than Tommy Lasorda’s lineup.

Despite all the Broadway-worthy, neon red warning signs – for awhile it appeared the Strawberry/Giants collaboration just might work as the Giants won nine consecutive games and 18 of 21 after Strawberry was added to the lineup in the summer of ‘94.

Straw’s final Giants numbers – .239, 4, 17 in 29 games – weren’t earth shattering, but the 1983 NL Rookie of the Year showed enough menace at the plate to prove he could still instill the fear of God in opposing dugouts.

More impressive was Strawberry’s disposition in his short stay in the Bay. For for the first time in his big league career, Darryl appeared comfortable in his own skin and entirely focused on baseball. There was no brooding or 911 calls to or from his residence or instances of AWOL.

But then the players strike came along in August and all the progress Strawberry had made quickly unraveled. Soon Darryl was headed back down the same dark path from which he’d just traveled.

Why Was He a Giant?

The bittersweet 1993 Giants club was just the eighth team in MLB history – and likely the last – to win at least 100 regular season games, yet not feel the celebratory eye sting of a post-season bound champagne blast to the face.

But despite not making it out of September the previous season, the Giants had plenty of buzz entering 1994. Unfortunately a good portion of the noise was focused on the front office’s immense blunder of allowing team icon and clutch hitting wunderkind 1B Will Clark to depart via free agency. The club would regret the under-valuing of the legendary “Will the Thrill” for years to come. Then, three months into the season the Giants suffered another devastating blow when stalwart 2B Robby Thompson was shelved with a season ending shoulder injury.

On the 4th of July – Robby’s last day in the lineup – the listless Giants were sinking quickly in the standings. Yes, sluggers Barry Bonds and Matt Williams were having phenomenal personal seasons, but the third place (35-48) G-Men were not winning games. Worse yet, the casual fan was losing interest. Terrible news for an new and ambitious ownership group that was still desperately drumming up support for a new downtown ball park.

The Giants needed Superman to swoop in and save the day and they settled for the next best affordable thing – a former super hero with clay feet.

Days after the Dodgers formally ate the final $5.2 million remaining on Strawberry’s contract, the Giants signed the Mets all-time home run leader to a low-money, no-frills deal for the remainder of the ‘94 season.

Though neither the player or franchise would be out much cash in the transaction, the move cost both sides plenty of face.

Strawberry and the Giants were each served a huge portions of humble pie.

The Giants in essence were forced to admit they blew it by not re-signing the Boy Scout channeling Clark – a player who not only relentlessly produced on the field but had a sterling reputation in his personal life. Not surprisingly, the inking of the shady Strawberry was met with an audible raspberry from a good deal of Giants fans.

“I’ll admit that most of the mail we’ve gotten on this subject had been against signing (Strawberry),” Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan told the press. “But it’s a small risk. I feel truly good about what could happen in San Francisco.”

Meanwhile, the once cocksure Strawberry was also forced to swallow a large amount to pride. Two iron clad aspects of Strawberry’s Giants deal included a stipulation for regular drug testing and submitting to an around-the-clock guardian. The Giants were essentially saying they didn’t trust the former five-time All-Star.

But Strawberry had little choice if he wanted to get back on the field and revive his once vibrant career.

“I had decided on retiring after everything I’ve been through,” a literally sobered up Strawberry revealed upon joining the Giants. “But today ranks for me a new beginning, a new birth.”

Both sides put their pride on the back burner and put the focus on the ball field. At the time of the Strawberry deal the Giants were dead last in the big leagues in runs scored.

“One of the major differences with our ball club from last year is a run a game,” said Giants manager Dusty Baker, anxious for the Giants to get untracked. “Darryl’s the kind of impact player that can possibly make that up.”

Before & After

Before drugs, drink and drama cratered his baseball career and came to define his public persona, Strawberry was a force to behold. In his first nine seasons of big league ball, the charismatic Darryl was among baseball’s most formidable power hitters – swatting 280 long balls with a majestic left-handed upper cut swing. He was the No. 1 factor in catapulting the motley crew Mets past the cross-town rival Yankees in popularity and splashy back-page tabloid headlines.

Drafted No. 1 overall by the Mets out of Los Angeles’ Crenshaw High – Strawberry was lauded as New York’s biggest home grown slugger since Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Not surprisingly, as the unfiltered praise was heaped upon the young star, his head swelled to the circumstance of the ruby, outsized paper mache apple that rose beyond the Shea Stadium outfield fence every time Darryl crushed a home run.

Early in his Mets tenure Strawberry fell under the influence of a party of bad actors – some of them teammates- who were more than willing to ply the young star with an never ending support of cocaine and amphetamines. Strawberry’s shameful tale has been well documented in both numerous books and documentaries regarding the mid-1980s bacchanal Mets.

Strawberry’s erratic behavior was legendary. He’d show up late for games, loafed in the field and generally acted like an entitled jerk every chance he got.

Strawberry even had the audacity to gripe and grouse after the Mets’ most iconic victory ever – Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Bill Buckner game) – because he was simply yanked late in the contest for a defensive replacement.

By 1991, both the Mets and Strawberry had seen enough of each other. Strawberry went home to Los Angeles, signing a five-year $21 million pact with the Dodgers. The Mets were happy to let the 1988 NL home run champ slip away with little more than a wave of the hand.

At first it was all lovey-dovey between Darryl and the Lasorda led Dodgers.

“I’ve managed a lot of great players over the years. But I’ve never had one the caliber of Darryl Strawberry,” said the hyperbolic Dodgers manager. “This guy is such a threat every time he comes to the plate. I know how I always dreaded facing him when he was with the Mets. And now he’s with the Dodgers. It’s just too good to be true.”

A few years later, Lasorda flip-flopped and vociferously chirped a decidedly different tune.

In his early days as a Dodger, Strawberry yucked it up with Tinsel Town stars before games and then crushed towering long balls into the warm Southern California nights. The Dodgers were leading the race for the ‘91 NL West title before falling apart like the script of a horrible Hollywood sequel in the final days of the season.

The coup de grace was delivered by the Giants who eliminated L.A. and muted Strawberry’s bat in back-to-back wins in the final weekend of the season at Candlestick Park. The upstart Atlanta Braves took the division flag.

Despite Straw’s turtle-like performance in the waning days of the ‘91 season, the Dodgers marquee attraction refused to shoulder any of the blame for the collapse, blasting his teammates for lacking heart instead.

The following offseason Strawberry published a self-aggrandizing autobiography in which he accused the Mets of unsubstantiated racism and outed friend Dwight Gooden of being hopped up on coke during the Mets ‘86 postseason run.

Strawberry later admitted that he hadn’t actually read his own biography and implied that some of the opinions stated in the book were actually those of his co-author.

Strawberry would rarely play for Los Angeles again. A back injury and corresponding surgery were the prime culprits. But a handful of trips to drug rehab, domestic tumult – which included accusations of gun violence – and a handful of AWOL incidents kept Strawberry out of the cleanup spot in the Dodgers lineup.

Strawberry was in the midst of a month-long drug rehab stint, when the Dodgers announced in May of ‘94 they had washed their hands of the beleaguered native Angelino.

The blood was so bad between the two sides that Team Blue did not even bother to issue a “we wish Darryl well” boiler plate statement.

Lasorda was a guest on a talk show when an adamant caller labeled Strawberry a “dog.”

“You’re wrong. Darryl Strawberry is not a dog,” the garrulous Dodgers skipper corrected the caller. “A dog is loyal and runs after balls.”

But the Giants were willing to give Darryl a shot at redemption. The fact he had extra incentive to skewer the Dodgers didn’t hurt.

“We got a chance to talk to the true Darryl Strawberry, with his head right and his heart right,” said Giants batting coach Bobby Bonds, acknowledging his own past battles with the bottle. “I had a problem and it got fixed. Mickey Mantle had a problem and it got fixed. We saw the true person and he’s a hell of a human being, eager and ready to play.”

He Never Had a (Giants) Bobblehead Day. But…

Moments after walking into the field for the first time as a Giant, Strawberry showcased the power stick the club was praying for when he hammered two balls into the Candlestick Park upper deck during morning batting practice.

In his expertly tailored Giants uniform, with the sleeves cut short and pants tapered to perfection, the 6-foot-6 Strawberry appeared incredibly fit with sinewy arms and a slender waist that appeared to be no larger than 28 inches.

Then Darryl nearly knocked one over the fence in his Giants debut, jackhammering a long 6th inning drive off Phillies starter Shawn Boskie that appeared destined to be a round-tripper before being snagged in by a soaring Milt Thompson. In his next at-bat, the defending NL champs wanted no part of Straw and issued an intentional walk. Fueled by home runs by Darren Lewis and Williams, the Giants won 5-4 (7/7/94).

Though Strawberry had a quiet first series as a Giant – just one hit – his presence in the lineup was felt. The Giants took four straight from Philadelphia.

After the All-Star Game break, the Giants picked up the season in Montreal. The Felipe Alou led Expos were stacked that season and were sporting the best ledger in baseball (54-33).

But with Strawberry added to the mix, Giants looked like the far superior team, as they backed up their home sweep of Philly, with a four-game dismantling of Montreal. The Giants collected 44 hits and out scored the Expos 24-8 in the club’s first series sweep north of the border since 1975.

During this particular French-Canadian sojourn, the combination of Barry Bonds & Strawberry resembled a ‘90s remix of Mays & McCovey’s Greatest Hits.

Bonds battered Expos pitching to the tune of a .526 average (10-for-19) with four home runs and nine RBI. Straw backed Bonds attack with a .529 series (9-for-17), with two long balls and seven RBIs.

Strawberry had a Top 10 career game in the series opener (7/14/94), an 8-3 bulldozing of the Expos before a packed Olympic Stadium.

In his first at-bat, the new Giant racked an RBI single. Strawberry stepped up to the plate in the 5th with two outs and the bases full to face a laboring Pedro Martinez.

Strawberry connected with a fastball and crashed a scud to right field.

“… that’s hit well. And it’s gone! A grand slam for Darryl Strawberry!”, proclaimed Ted Robinson on the Giants TV feed. “He’s officially a Giant!”

Color man Mike Krukow added: “He just punched 40,000 people right in the stomach.”

A reaction shot of Baker sitting cap-less in the Giants dugout, showed the popular field general’s jaw literally drop when Darryl’s rocket blasted off. The always animated Dusty then rose to his feet before jutting two fists forward.

Strawberry would later knock in another run with a double off reliever Tim Scott, to finish the day 3-for-5, with 5 RBIs. The following day Strawberry smoked a solo tater off Montreal’s Butch Henry in a 7-3 San Francisco curb stomping, which featured a two home run performance by Bonds. In the final game of the series (7/17/94), it was Williams turn to go deep, when he plastered his league leading 34th homer off Jeff Fassero in a 6-4 triumph.

For the first time in his career Strawberry didn’t have all eyes focused on him when the chips were down.

“One of the reasons I signed with the Giants is I know I don’t have to be the one to carry the team every day,” said Strawberry relishing being part of an ensemble cast. “With Barry and Matt and me, we’ve got three guys who can do it.”

Giant Footprint

Strawberry and the Giants remained hot. After taking two of three from the first place Dodgers in late July, San Francisco pulled within a half game of their Southland adversaries.

Unfortunately, what was brewing as an intriguing pennant race between baseball’s oldest rivalry came to an abrupt halt on 8/12/94 when the MLB players union called an inconceivable strike over primarily salary cap issues.

When games were stopped indefinitely, the second place Giants had a 55-60 record and trailed the Dodgers by 3.5 games.

Disappointingly, play never resumed. What was shaping up as a career years for both Bonds (37 home runs) and Williams (who led the NL with 42 round trippers) was frozen in suspended animation with a potential 47 games scrubbed forever.

Strawberry managed to stay out of the news for the next several months until December when he was indicted on tax evasion charges stemming from gobs of unreported cash earned at card shows.

Then on 2/6/95 MLB announced it had suspended Strawberry for 60 games effective at the start of the 1995 season. Urine samples provided by Strawberry on two consecutive days in January returned positive results for cocaine use.

The Giants moved swiftly, immediately cutting ties with the player.

“Right now I’m trying to get over this feeling I have in my stomach. I’ve been walking around kind of in a daze,” said a noticeably upset Baker. “I still care for him as a person. He was good for our team. We did our due diligence.”

After serving his baseball imposed penance, Strawberry resurfaced back in New York, this time in the Bronx. Strawberry played off and on for the Yankees through 1999 – winning world championships 1996 and 1999.

In 1998, Darryl was diagnosed with colon cancer and immediately had a tumor and 24 inches of his colon removed. In 2000, a tumor near his left kidney was diagnosed and removed. Thankfully, he’s been cancer free since.

Unfortunately Strawberry’s drug issues continued for years after leaving San Francisco. He was suspended twice more by baseball and later spent a short time in prison for drug related malfeasances.

Since turning 50 however, Strawberry has kicked his bad habits seemingly for good and turned his life over to Jesus. He is now an ordained minister.

Bob Taylor He Was A Giant? By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giant Bob Taylor in 1970 (photo from Tony the Tiger Hayes)

Bob Taylor – OF – 1970 – # 31

He Was A Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

The anonymously named Bob Taylor is the Giants version of the tree that fell in the woods with no one around.

Though Taylor played one full season with San Francisco in 1970, it’s debatable whether anyone remembers him making a sound.

Highlights are illusive, photos are rare and memories are faded. Despite his full campaign with the G-Men, Topps didn’t even bother to issue a baseball card for Taylor.

Maybe the bubble gum card company read the tea leafs.

After hitting .190 in 63 games for the ‘70 club, Taylor would never appear in another MLB game.

Despite winning a pair of minor league hitting titles, Taylor is refreshingly not bitter about not getting a full shot at a big league career.

“How could I complain, when I got to have my locker next to Willie McCovey? When I got to play with and against a bunch of Hall of Famers. Hey, a whole lot of people never had the chance to do what I did,” Taylor told Garry Brown of Springfield (MA) Republican in a 2018 interview “Play in the big leagues, play the game I loved. Live the dreams I had when I was a 6-year-old kid in Dade City, Florida. Playing with my heroes like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Ray Hart, Juan Marichal. You can’t beat that. Majors or minors, I was playing ball. Long bus rides? No problem.”

Why Was He a Giant?

With 40 -year -old Willie Mays looking weary after a subpar 1969 season – the Giants were scrambling for a contingency plan and plucked the 26 -year -old Taylor out the minors as an insurance policy.

Taylor had a great season in 1969, hitting .331 for Triple-A Phoenix. That performance earned him an invitation to the major league training camp in the spring of 1970.

Then he battered Cactus League pitching – earning a spot on the Orange & Black’s opening day roster.

“I’m proud of the fact that I made the opening day roster. I had a real good spring, hit .400. At the time, there were 600 jobs available on major league 25-man rosters, and I had one of them,” Taylor told the Republican.

But after his down ‘69 season, Mays kicked Father Time in the shins and played the ‘70 season with a burst of rejuvenation, producing his best hitting numbers in years.

Bobby Bonds and Ken Henderson rounded out a solid San Francisco outfield, leaving Taylor and fellow reserve Frank Johnson settling for scraps.

Before & After

The diminutive 5-foot-9, 170 pound left-handed batter signed with the Giants organization in 1962. Though he was a high percentage batter in the minors- he won the 1964 California League and 1968 Texas League batting crowns – Taylor apparently did not hit with enough pop to become a serious threat to crack the big league club’s power-laden lineup.

But the contact hitter saw his opportunity in the spring of ‘70 and pounced on it.

“I’ve had to wait eight years to get a chance with the Giants and I just hope I can make it,” Taylor told the San Francisco Examiner that spring. “You know the Giants have a lot of talent and are a tough outfit to break into.”

With outfielders such as Ollie Brown, Jesus Alou, and Dave Marshall having moved on from the Giants – there was a clear need for a backup role player/pinch hitter.

While the Mississippi native could not claim the same awe-inspiring five-tool talents that blossoming star RF Bonds possessed, Taylor publicized his one curious hidden attribute.

His hands, he claimed, were tailor made for Candlestick Park’s chilly climates.

“You know when I was playing in Northwest I always hit really well,” Taylor told the San Francisco Examiner in the spring of ‘70. “My hands sweat a lot in warm weather, but in cold climate I seem to get a better grip on the bat and hit the ball harder.”

Taylor would bat just .220 in limited action at the ‘Stick, but he did sock his only two big league home runs in the park known for stiff winds.

After his lone season in San Francisco, Taylor returned to Triple-A with the Giants before heading to Japan for three campaigns. He closed out his pro career back in the Giants organization in 1977-78.

He Never Had A Bobblehead Day. But…

Taylor made the Giants starting lineup just 14 times in 1970, so most of his impact would have to come off the bench.

In his best game, Taylor led the Giants to a 11-3 Candlestick Park stomping of the Dodgers (5/27/70). Taylor whacked his first MLB HR, a two-run shot to left-center field off Jose Pena, and added two more hits in the victory.

For his first big league long ball, Taylor borrowed a bat belonging to Mays.

Taylor’s only other long ball also came against the hated rivals from the Southland when he ripped a thrilling three-run, pinch hit blast off future Hall of Famer Don Sutton in a mid- summer home contest – giving the Giants the lead in the sixth inning. Unfortunately, the Dodgers would come back to win 8-6. (7/3/70).

Giant Footprint

Though he had no prior professional catching experience, Taylor mysteriously appeared behind the plate as a late inning defensive replacement in a early season game at Atlanta.

Apparently, regular backup Russ Gibson was not available, so Taylor was called on to catch the bottom of the 8th in place of starter Dick Dietz. Pitcher Ron Bryant retired the side in order without any noticeable miscues by Taylor in the 9-3 loss (4/13/70).

After Bryant retired the Braves Sonny Jackson on a pop out and fanned Felix Milan, Taylor peered up from his catcher’s crouch and saw the great Hank Aaron taking a few warm up swings.

The great slugger soon grounded out routinely to third.

“They told me not to call for a fastball against Hank,” said Taylor in ‘19. “But I did anyway, and it worked out.”

He was a Giant? Rob Wilfong by Tony the Tiger Hayes

A rare photo of former San Francisco Giant Rob Wilfong in a Giants uniform circa 1987 he only played two games for the Giants at the end of his career (photo provided by Tony the Tiger Hayes)

Rob Wilfong – 2B – 1987 – # 9

He Was A Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Imagine its your debut game with a new team and phenomenally you clobber a shocking home run in your first at-bat.

But after circling the bases and accepting high fives and slaps on the butt from your gobsmacked new teammates, you bypass the dugout bench and clubhouse shower and keep on jogging to your car. You drive straight home – never to return.

Wilfong’s brief stay with San Francisco didn’t exactly play out like that – but it wasn’t far off.

A former slick-fielding 2B for the Minnesota Twins and California Angels, Wilfong appeared in just two games for the 1987 Giants and then mysteriously vanished without a trace.

Why Was He a Giant?

Wilfong, 33, failed to make California’s 1987 opening day roster despite a gritty – nearly series saving – performance vs. Boston in the previous fall’s American League Playoffs.

But Wilfong found himself in a numbers pickle the following spring when league-wide team rosters were reduced to 24 players from 25. Wilfong didn’t do himself any favors by batting a measly .095 (3-for-21) in spring exhibitions for the the Angels.

So despite being just a handful of games short of qualifying for 10 full seasons of MLB service time – and a completely vested MLB pension- the five-year Halo was bluntly cut on the final day of spring training.

Wilfong was sitting at home in his native Southern California when the Giants infield situation smoldered into a full -blown Kentucky tire fire in late April.

Within a matter of days the G-Men lost three-fourths of their starting infield.

A dangerous pitch from the Cardinals Danny Cox came in high and tight and broke 3B Chris Brown’s jaw. Shortstop Jose Uribe also pulled up lame with a pulled hamstring.

Then, one morning 2B Robby Thompson woke up and discovered he couldn’t bend over to tie his shoes.

An old back injury alternately described as a “lingering stress fracture” and “congenital back defect” flared up sending the Giants sophomore sensation to the training table for an undetermined period.

With season ending-surgery a possibility for the popular Robby, the Giants were left scrambling for a contingency plan.

Utility-men Chris Speier, Randy Kutcher, Mike Woodard and Mark Wasinger all gave it a go at 2B. But each were better suited for utility roles.

San Francisco was so anxious about securing a battle-tested 2B they took the unusual step of flying Wilfong to a road trip stop in St. Louis for a pregame audition.

Wilfong looked so shipshape that Giants President Al Rosen had a contract waiting for the steady veteran the moment he stepped off the field.

“Al Rosen asked, ‘You wanna play?’ “ said Wilfong. “I said, ‘You kidding’? “

It was a perfect fit… for about three games. Then suddenly it wasn’t.

Before & After

A Pasadena native, Wilfong broke into pro ball in 1971 as a 17 -year-old 13th round draft pick by Minnesota out of Northview High School in Covina after batting .367 as a senior.

After slogging through six seasons of minor league ball, Wilfong made his big league debut with the Twins in 1977.

A deft fielder and skilled bunter, the fundamentally sound Wilfong quickly became a favorite of Minnesota manager Gene Mauch. Wilfong would go on to play the lions share of his MLB career under the command of the Lil’ General with both the Twins and Angels

In 1979, Wilfong enjoyed a career season for the Twins, batting .313 in 140 games and leading the American League with 25 sacrifices. In 1980, Wilfong led all AL second basemen in fielding percentage.

In mid-1982, the Mauch-helmed Angels shipped young slugging prospect Tom Brunansky to Minnesota to bring Wilfong and RHP reliever Doug Corbett back to Anaheim.

The defensive-minded Wilfong would share 2B over the next several seasons with the veteran slugger Bobby Grich.

For his career Wilfong batted just a shade below .250, but in high leverage situations he ramped up production. With runners on base, Wilfong batted .269. With runners in scoring position Rob’s average rose to .279 and in bases loaded situations the wiry infielder’s success rate leapt all the way up to .295.

Wilfong was a member of two division winning Angels clubs in 1982 and 1986.

Due to Boston’s thrilling comeback in the ‘86 playoffs – Wilfong’s resolute performance in Game 5 of that series is now largely forgotten.

The Angels were just one strike away from their first ever World Series berth when RHP Donnie Moore infamously coughed up Dave Henderson’s go ahead two-run 9th inning homer to put the Red Sox up 6-5 in a sunny Southern California meltdown.

While most people today only remember Henderson – who coincidentally also had a cameo appearance on the ‘87 Giants – and his dramatic dinger, the outcome of Game 5 and the series was far from decided at that point.

To open the home half of the 9th, C Bob Boone singled off Boston’s RHP Bob Stanley. Ruppert Jones pinch-ran and was advanced to second on a sacrifice. That brought up Wilfong as Boston turned to LHP reliever Joe Sambito.

Though the left-handed swinging Wilfong was a far superior career batter vs. right-handers (.258 compared to .176) Mauch ignored the splits knowing Wilfong’s history with runners on base.

Wilfong did not disappoint, ripping the veteran southpaw’s initial pitch into right field. The swift Jones beat the throw home to tie the game 6-6.

Boston would however take the lead for good in the 11th, on a Henderson sacrifice fly, winning 7-6.

Wilfong recorded two hits in Game 6, but got little help as Boston glided to a 10-4 win. Boston also easily won Game 7 to send the glum Angels back to Disneyland.

He Never Had A Bobblehead Day. But…

Wilfong’s first game with the Giants was also the career American Leaguer’s first ever at notoriously blustery Candlestick Park.

Even for Candlestick standards the weather at the mid-spring night game vs. the Cubs (5/7/87) was especially windy and raw.

Swirling gusts blew grit in the faces of ticket buyers and before the game was over, five players would have to chase down wind blown caps.

John McSherry’s navy blue umpire hat flew so far off his head in the 5th inning that it appeared to have wings. After retrieving it from the left field corner, instead of putting it back on, the veteran arbiter emphatically stuffed it in a coat pocket.

After grounding out in his first at-bat, Wilfong came up again in the third with starting RHP Mike LaCoss on second and no outs.

Wilfong stepped up to face Cubs starter RHP Ed Lynch who moments earlier had his own cap whisked away to the center field fence.

Wilfong struck what he initially believed to be a sharp base hit off Lynch. But the drive got lift and kept soaring. The whack didn’t stop until it kissed off the right field seats for a two-run homer.

“I hit the ball good, but I got it up in the wind and that’s what did it,” said Wilfong. “I was just trying to hit the ball on the ground to the right side.

“This is the first time I’ve played here and the stories about the wind are all true,” Wilfong continued. “When I went around the bases I was just trying to stay on my feet.”

The next day, newspapers throughout the country ran an animated wire service photo of Cubs players in the visitors dugout covering their faces with blue satin jackets and white towels in a desperate attempt to keep dirt and other airborne stadium debris out of their eyes.

“Aw, the wind wasn’t all that bad,” deadpanned the Giants rookie Matt Williams, who contributed two hits and three RBI in the 11-1 blow out San Francisco win. “You just couldn’t see.”

After five years of playing home games in Anaheim’s benign Angel Stadium, it was clear Wilfong wasn’t quite ready for Candlestick’s unique San Francisco treats.

“Some guys were saying this was a nice day,” a doubtful Wilfong sighed. “If that’s true I don’t want to see a bad one.”

It was easy to imagine that after a game with highlights would have played well to Weather Channel viewers, Wilfong was having seconds thoughts about his move north.

One wouldn’t have to imagine for long.

Giant Footprint

The next night, Wilfong was again the Giants leadoff hitter vs. Pittsburgh. He failed to bat safety, but walked, stole a base and scored on Jeffery Leonard’s two-run bomb in a Giants 4-2 win.

Wilfong sat the next day as 37-year-old Speier played 2B and led the Orange & Black to a 9-4 victory with a jaw-dropping grand slam. With the victory, San Francisco moved into sole possession of first place in the NL West.

With a right-hander throwing for Pittsburgh on Sunday, Wilfong would have been the logical choice to play 2B. But not only was Wilfong conspicuously absent from the Giants lineup, he wasn’t in uniform at all.

Wilfong blew out the clubhouse door prior to first pitch after informing team management he was seriously considering retiring from baseball.

“The desire’s not there,” said Giants manager Roger Craig, stating the player wanted to discuss the matter with his wife before coming to a final decision.

“I know what my wife would say to me. ‘Get you butt back (to the team),” Craig joked. “I admire the guy for admitting it rather than being dishonest.”

Rosen added: “Wilfong just said he didn’t know if he still had the fire in his belly. We told him to go home and think about it and we’d leave the options open to him.”

Two days later and still short of qualifying for a full pension, Wilfong was granted his unconditional release.

“Rob Wilfong has advised us he no longer wishes to play baseball,” said a tempered Rosen. “He has convinced us he is serious about this desire.”

Soon Thompson and Uribe would make a triumphant returns. The snake-bit Brown would heal, but then got traded in a package of players that netted slugging 3B/OF Kevin Mitchell and two others.

In the final days of the ‘87 regular season, the Giants would auspiciously capture their first division title in 17 years.

There was no mention of Wilfong again until it came time for the players to divide postseason bonus shares.

“We were joking about how much Rob Wilfong would get,” said Giants C Bob Brenly. “He was only here for three days… But he had one game-winning hit for us.”

He Was A Giant? Steve “Lefty” Carlton by Tony the Tiger Hayes

San Francisco Giants left hander Steve Carlton pitched for the Giants in the 1986 season (photo from Tony the Tiger Hayes)

Steve Carlton – LHP – 1986 – # 32

He was a Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

While assembling his ironclad Hall of Fame credentials with the Philadelphia Phillies, the mysterious Steve Carlton was an elite ace, winning multiple Cy Young Awards, but winning few friends along the way with a stiff upper lip and aloof disposition, which made the most austere Buckingham Palace guards resemble effusive, glad-handing used-car salesmen in comparison.

But upon joining San Francisco as a free agent mid-way through the 1986 season, the antisocial all-star flipped the script. While baseball’s Greta Garbo didn’t exactly go from “Silent Steve” to “Loquacious Lefty,” Carlton did warm to the point where he spoke at a press conference for the first time in nearly a decade.

The notorious lone wolf took only questions about his future pitching plans. Carlton would not entertain inquiries regarding the past or his personal life.

“It’s been 10 years since I’ve done this,” a surprisingly sheepish Carlton said as he approached a gaggle of microphones at Candlestick Park. “Pardon me, if I make any mistakes.”

At the urging of Giants president Al Rosen, Carlton agreed to the gabfest.

“You can’t make a move like this and not talk to the media,” said the superstar who had racked up 318 career wins at that point. “I can’t say if this will continue in the future.”

It didn’t.

Two days later, Carlton would pitch in his first game for the Orange & Black, beginning a brief – but not all together uneventful – tour with the Giants.

Why Was He A Giant?

By 1986, the 41-year-old Carlton was clearly near the end of a legendary run. In fact the Phillies – Carlton’s ball club since 1972 – believed Lefty’s pitching days were over after he missed most of 1985 to injury and then began 1986 a frightfully cruddy 4-9, 6.18. Phillies management urged Carlton to retire. But when the headstrong mound master scoffed at that suggestion, Philadelphia simply released the six-time, 20-game winner in spite of the fact he sat just 18 career strikeouts shy of 4,000.

(Carlton’s pursuit of that landmark strikeout figure would be the focus of his Northern California sojourn.)

After Carlton’s Philadelphia decampment, the Yankees, Reds, Angels and Braves all expressed interest in signing the legendary hurler – but Carlton had his sights set on San Francisco. He joined the Giants just as the traditional blanket of 4th of July fog was rolling into San Francisco Bay.

The combination of a young team on the rise – the upstart Giants were leading the NL West at the time – and pitching in The ‘Stick’s unique summer setting uncommonly appealed to Carlton.

“I like the climate here and love to pitch in cold weather,” Carlton stated.

The Giants admitted they weren’t exactly sure what they were getting in a pitcher who had not seen much mound success since 1984.

“Maybe a Steve Carlton on our ball club, which has so many young players on it, will be a stabilizing force,” said Giants President Al Rosen, secretively hoping Carlton had also arrived with a personality transplant. “He loves the Bay Area. He’s a wine connoisseur who intends to get into the wine business someday. And with the Napa Valley right up the road, what better place to get started.”

By the time Carlton left San Francisco a month later, it was Rosen who most likely uncorked a wine bottle, relived to have shed Carlton’s diva act.

At first though there was love in the air.

One of Carlton’s new Giants teammates was RHP Mike Krukow who pitched alongside Carlton in Philadelphia in 1982.

Krukow, not surprisingly, was fired up about the addition of Carlton.

“The way (Carlton) works on the field, his habits, he’s a champion and I think he’s going to bring that demeanor into the clubhouse. Even if he didn’t throw a pitch he could help us through osmosis,” the ever ebullient Krukow crowed.

Carlton however wasn’t ready to give up his alpha dog status, saying bluntly, “I didn’t come here to coach.”

The perennial All-Star claimed he was physically equipped to pitch until his 50th birthday.

“I would’ve walked away from the game if I thought I’d maximized all my efforts in Philadelphia. I can still pitch and win,” Carlton proclaimed.

Carlton didn’t have to wait long to show what he still had left in his arsenal. Unfortunately it looked similar to what he had in his final days in Philly.

Carlton was tabbed to face the visiting Cardinals on a sunny Sunday afternoon (7/6/86), as 40,473 packed into Candlestick Park to honor Willie McCovey on the retired Giants slugger’s upcoming induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, the popular Mac was the only one to bring his Cooperstown certifications. Carlton struck out only two Redbirds and lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up eight hits and three earned runs – leaving with a 3-0 deficit. The Giants however rebounded with a torrid six -run 8th inning and beat St. Louis 8-3.

“I could tell he was rusty,” said Giants skipper Craig, noting Carlton had not pitched in a game in two weeks. “There’s no question he needs two or three more starts before he’s 100 percent.”

Going forward, Craig expressed interest in teaching Carlton his pet pitch – the split-finger fastball.

After the game, Carlton again spoke, albeit briefly. “They did a helluva job,” he said of his new Giants teammates. “It was a great comeback.”

With that, Lefty scooted out a back door. Carlton would not have much to say the rest of his time in the City by the Bay.

Before & After

As far back as his teen years, Carlton presented himself as a different type of cat. While he flashed outrageous athletic talent – he could hurl a football 75 yards – in his free time, a youthful Carlton practiced meditation.

When stereotypical meathead jocks of his era were sneaking peeks at “Playboy” – Carlton was cracking open the philosophical works of Freidreich Nietzsche and Paramahansa Yogananda.

Carlton’s interests in mind-bending theory would underline his remarkable career. During his heyday with Philadelphia, Carlton studied Taoism and Buddhism and engrossed himself in the martial arts. He famously strengthened his pitching arm by rotating it in a barrel of uncooked rice.

With the Phillies, Carlton helped create a behavior modification chamber deep within the bowels of Veterans Stadium. The cubby hole was filled with tactile, audio and visual stimuli and served as the cerebral competitor’s inner sanctum away from the towel-snapping, rumpus room atmosphere of a big league clubhouse.

Before making his name in the “City of Brotherly Love,”Carlton spent the first seven seasons of his big league career with the Cardinals. He was on the verge of stardom with St. Louis, posting his first 20-game winning season in 1971, but a salary dispute led to a shocking trade to the lowly Phillies.

The circumspect Carlton found a surprising home in the disparate, hard-scrabble Philly. In 1972, the last place Phillies won just 59 games – but Carlton, startlingly, was credited with nearly half their triumphs (46%) with an extravagant 27 victories.

It was in ‘72 that Carlton perfected his trademark filthy slider – a dominating bat baffler that Lefty would use as his ace card the rest of his career.

Within a couple of seasons, the Carlton and slugger Mike Schmidt-led Phillies would dramatically see an upturn in their fortunes – winning multiple National League Eastern Division titles and the franchise’s first ever World Series championship in 1980.

The introverted Carlton began a semi-boycott of the sporting press in 1973 after a Philly based sports columnist questioned his dedication to training.

By 1978, Carlton had had it with the notepad toting crowd for good and cut off all communication with reporters. It would remain that way until he joined the Giants. The velocity virtuoso did not even speak publicly after winning his landmark 300th career game in 1983.

Carlton’s oddball personality quirks are often the thing that comes up first when discussing his baseball career, but the semi-annual All-Star’s pitching preeminence should never take a back seat to his status as one of baseball’s all-time brooders.

Carlton was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards – including his first in ‘72 when he achieved baseball’s rare Triple Crown of pitching: leading the NL in wins, strikeouts and ERA.

‘sAt various times between 1982-84, Carlton was baseball’s all-time strikeout leader – routinely trading the top spot with RHP contemporary Nolan Ryan.

Currently, Carlton has the second most strikeouts by a LHP (fourth overall with 4,136) he is the last NL pitcher to win 25 games or more and the last pitcher to hurl 300 or more innings in a season. His 329 lifetime wins rank 11th. He was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1994 with nearly 96 percent of the vote.

After his brief stint with San Francisco – just six games – Carlton hooked on with the White Sox to finish out the ‘86 season. He was a member of the Twins’ World Series championship club in 1987, but did not pitch in the post season. He wrapped up his big league career with Minnesota in April of 1988 at age 43. He allowed eight earned runs in his final start.

Carlton has not had much involvement in baseball since his retirement, but he has made news occasionally… ironically for opening his mouth.

In a rare interview, Carlton expressed belief in numerous loony conspiracy theories, including that the world is controlled by Russian and U.S. governments which “fill the air with low frequency sound waves” and that the AIDS virus was created in a secret Maryland laboratory.

He Never Had a Giants Bobblehead Day. But…

Overall, Carlton went an uninspiring 1-3, 5.10 in six starts with San Francisco. In his first three Giants outings, Carlton allowed a dozen runs over 14 innings.

But on a Saturday night start at Pittsburgh (7/26/86), Carlton briefly sparkled like the pitcher who previously had been named to 10 All-Star teams.

Carlton pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits, in a 9-0 Giants shellacking of the Pirates. He struck out five Buccos, leaving him just eight career K’s shy of 4,000.

Carlton pitched out of a bases loaded situation in the fifth inning, as well as when two base runners were in scoring position in the fourth.

Pirates OF R.J. Reynolds gave Carlton his full endorsement. He witnessed a rejuvenated Lefty that night. In a previous game that season, Reynolds had whacked a two-run RBI double off Carlton in a 13-5 Pirates win over the Phillies.

“When he struck me out tonight, he threw me a nasty slider. The problem he had with his slider earlier this season was it broke too early and the batter could pick it up. I tip my cap to Carlton. He still has something left,” Reynolds told the Sacramento Bee’s Bob Padecky.

By this point, Carlton had reinstated his speaking restrictions and was sequestered in the training room when reporters entered the clubhouse after the game.

But Giants catcher Bob Melvin was more than glad to pipe up for Carlton.

“He seemed to be happy,” Melvin said. “He had control of every pitch.”

Melvin indicated Carlton’s side work with pitching whisperer Craig was seeing positive results.

“Carlton had a great curveball and got a few outs with his split-finger. He needed an off-speed pitch,” the young receiver said.

It was beginning to look as if the Giants’ search for pitching gold was about to pan out, when Carlton pitched well in his next outing, striking out five and allowing just a single run over 5.1 frames, receiving a no-decision in a 3-2 home win vs. Atlanta (7/31/86).

But in his next start – in which Carlton finally recorded his 4,000 career strikeout – he was blasted for seven runs in one of sloppiest games in Giants history. The end was near.

Giant Footprint

Though it certainly was not all his fault – in the month Carlton spent with the Giants – the young club regressed significantly. On the day Carlton came aboard, the Orange & Black were eight games over .500 and led the NL West by 1.5 games over Houston. After Carlton’s final game with the Giants – an embarrassing 11-6 home loss to the Reds (8/5/86) – the Giants had just three more victories than defeats and trailed the Astros by 5 games.

Like a car with a bad clutch at the top of Hyde street, the Giants were rolling backwards.

The Giants would move on from Carlton after that loss, but not before Carlton became just the second pitcher in history to record 4,000 strikeouts. That momentous event came in the third inning and it was punctuated with a standing ovation from the 17,303 paid attendance at Candlestick Park. But getting to that juncture and what followed that chilly night was not pretty.

Carlton allowed three Reds runs in the first inning, the pitcher aided Cincinnati’s efforts, by balking in one of the runs.

If this particular three-hour and 18 minutes nightmare had a soundtrack, it would have been the “The Benny Hill Show” theme song.

Combined the clubs allowed:

  • Five wild pitches. * Two run scoring balks. * Thirteen walks. * And one team batted out of order.

The one saving grace – besides a mammoth Will Clark upper deck homer – was Carlton making history in the third inning, when he nullified the Reds Eric Davis on a swinging third strike on a 1-2 pitch for career 4,000 career K’s.

The Giants rudimentary, but oddly satisfying, score board lit up with the words: “Congratulations STEVE CARLTON 4,000 Major League Strikeouts! “

Carlton stepped from the mound and gave the standing audience a gentlemanly tip of his cap.

Then on his very next offering, Carlton heaved a wild pitch to the backstop allowing a run. A two-run RBI triple by Dave Parker knocked Carlton from the game in the fourth inning.

After the game, Carlton -his ERA ballooned to 5.89 – was nowhere to be found. A day later, the Giants made his non-occupancy permanent.

The move was initially announced as a “retirement” on Carlton’s part to help the Giants clear roster space for Krukow’s return from the disabled list.

“I called (Carlton) this morning to discuss the problems we are having with the roster,” Rosen said. “Out of that conversation we made the decision that he would retire. I did not ask him to retire.”

Carlton secretly played along.

“Upon reflection, I realize I’ve reached a career milestone never accomplished before by a pitcher spending his whole career in one league,” Carlton said, referencing his 4,000 strikeout. “With Mike Krukow ready to come off the disabled list, I’ve decided it is in the best interest of everyone involved to announce my retirement at this time.”

But it was all a ruse. At the time Carlton was making his “retirement” speech, his agent was already firming up a deal with the White Sox.

Carlton just couldn’t let go of the ball.

He was on the mound for Chicago a week later, surrendering six runs in three innings in a 7-3 loss at Detroit.

He Was a Giant? Jeff Stember was a right handed pitcher for the SF

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeff Stember pitched only one game August 5, 1980 at the Houston Astrodome and is the feature of He Was a Giant? by Tony the Tiger Hayes (1980 Topps Baseball Card photo)

Jeff Stember – RHP – 1980 – # 50

He was a Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Stember’s big league pitching career could not have gotten off to worse start.


On the first pitch Stember ever threw in the majors (8/5/80), Houston’s Terry Puhl squared it up, sending a screaming liner into the rainbow hued left field seats of the Astrodome.

So much for good first impressions.

“As soon as Puhl hit the home run I went out to the mound and told (Stember), ‘Welcome to the National League,” said San Francisco catcher Mike Sadek.

The nervous righty would commit a balk later in the first inning, but actually retired six of the seven Astros following Puhl’s blast. Unfortunately, Houston struck again in the third inning plating two unearned tallies on a Jose Cruz triple.

After Stember retired perennial All-Star Cesar Cedeno on an infield pop-out to end the third, the 6-foot-5, 220 pound New Jersey native’s big league debut – and as it turned out – his MLB career, was over.

With Houston leading 3-1, Max Venable was sent to pinch hit for Stember in the fourth.

The Giants managed to battle back and beat the Astros 9-3. The victory was fueled by a pair of run scoring singles by Sadek. LHP Gary Lavelle recorded the victory with four innings of shutout relief.

Despite the comeback, Giants manager was still chapped about Stember’s outing.

“If he throws the ‘A’ fastball he’ll be alright,” Bristol explained. “It’s that ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ that I don’t like. And I told him that.”

Stember’s first big league game was also his last big league game.

Why was he a Giant?

In the 1970s, Giants scouts found amateur gold on the pitching mounds of New Jersey, signing two pitchers (Ed Halicki and John Montefusco) who would each throw no-hitters for San Francisco in 1975 and 1976 respectively.

San Francisco was looking to repeat that formula when they selected Stember with a 26th round pick in the 1976 draft out of Westfield High School in Westfield, N.J.

While Stember’s big league career ended in a blink of an eye, he was actually the Giants best pick up of the ‘76 amateur draft. Of all the players San Francisco drafted and signed that year – including first round pick, high school IF Mark Kuecker – Stember was the only one to play in the big leagues.

Future stars they passed on included the eventual Hall of Famers: IF Alan Trammell (second round); IF Wade Boggs (seventh) and local OF Rickey Henderson who was selected by his hometown A’s in the fourth round.

Before & After

Stember’s minor league numbers didn’t blow anyone away as he toiled alongside future Giants such as Chili Davis, Bob Brenly and Fred Breining. In six minor league campaigns – all with the Giants organization – he was 38-49 with a 4.98 ERA .

He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…

Though he was roughed up by a good portion of the Houston lineup in his only big league appearance, Stember did manage to muzzle the bat of Joe Morgan, the future Giant and Hall of Fame 2B.

In the first, Stember got Lil’ Joe on a ground out and then a pop out in the third.

Giant Footprint

Stember is recognized by the Jewish Baseball Museum as one of the dozens of Jews to have played big league baseball. Others with ties to the Giants include former team president Al Rosen and manager Gabe Kapler and the all-time best Giants play-by-play man Hank Greenwald.

They were Giants? By Tony the Tiger Hayes; Darren Ford and Horace Speed

Former San Francisco Giants Darren Ford in his Somerset Patriots uniform played for the Giants for the 2010 and 2011 seasons Ford didn’t get a bobblehead but he got a ring with the 2010 World Series Championship Giants

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet


By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

Darren Ford – PR/OF – 2010-11 – # 34

Horace Speed – PR/OF – 1975 – # 38

They Were Giants?

Not since Herb Washington – a former college track star without a baseball background – was issued an unforgettable 1975 Topps card with “pinch runner” as his position, has substitute base running been in vogue.

Like Washington’s sans-a-belt Swingin’ A’s baseball pants and flapless batting helmets, the pinch-runner has been sadly all but been laughed out of baseball. Why waste a player? Excitement be damned. Wait for a home run the analytics say. Over the years, San Francisco has had at least two short-lived players whose direct track into a game has included the slapping of lead-footed teammates on the butt as they took their spot on the base path.

The aptly named Speed and Ford (think Mustang) – combined to play in 50 games with the Giants – with 31 of those appearances coming as pinch-runners.

“I know what my role is to go out there and steal a base and get in scoring position. I trust my instincts,” said Ford in his his first day in the majors with the Giants in 2010. “You can’t teach speed and I’m blessed.”

Why Were They Giants?

The Los Angeles raised Speed, who was signed to his first pro contract by San Francisco in 1969, made the club’s opening day roster in 1975 as a backup to Gary Matthews, Von Joshua, Garry Maddox and Bobby Murcer.

“Deep down I always wanted to be a Giant. I will hit .300, drive in 100 runs and hit 20 home runs. Home runs are the hardest because I hit a lot of line drives,” a confident Speed proclaimed. “But I know you just don’t walk into a starting position, especially on this club.”

He was right. Speed made just three starts for the Giants and was back in the minors by mid-May.

While Speed was considered a more rounded prospect and a clubhouse comic – he supposedly did a great Ed Sullivan impersonation – Ford was promoted to San Francisco in Sept. 2010 strictly for his base path acumen. He may have been the only player ever promoted to the Orange & Black after hitting just .250 at Double-AA.

Before & After

The grandson of former big leaguer Ted Ford, Darren came up through the Brewers farm system before a 2008 trade for 2B Ray Durham brought him to San Francisco.

He would make it into seven games in the fall of ‘10, but never came up to hit.

Ford made it back to the bigs with SF again in 2011 – this time getting a few hits off the bench.

After leaving the Giants organization in 2012, Ford spent a seasons each in the Seattle and Pittsburgh organizations before returning to the Giants fold in 2014-16 – however he did not receive a big league call-up the second time around.

Speed would appear in just 17 games with the Giants in ‘75, batting .133 (2-for-15) before returning to the minors for the next three seasons. He resurfaced with the Cleveland Indians in 1979-80 batting .217 in 96 contests.

They Never Had Bobblehead Days. But…

Ford may not have swung a bat for the 2010 World Champions, but he made an unforgettable first impression on Giants fans – using his speed to lead the Orange & Black to victory in his big league debut in a home game vs. Colorado (9/1/10). Running at first base for Mike Fontenot in the bottom of the 8th with the score tied 1-1, Ford advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tim Lincecum.

With one out and a 0-2 count on Andres Torres, Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez bounced a pitch in the dirt that bound a short distance from Rox back stop Miguel Olivo.

Ford daringly took the initiative to sprint to third and then he kept on running home with what would be the winning run of a 2-1 outcome when a hurried Olivo airmailed his throw into left field.

“I knew it would be bang-bang. I’ll say this: the kid didn’t hesitate. He can fly,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “He showed no fear there.”

Speed appeared in eight big league games before making his first plate appearance for San Francisco. He reached base in his first start, stroking a double off Don Gullet in a 5-4 win at Candlestick over the eventual world champion Reds (4/29/75).

Giant Footprint

In his first big league multi-hit game (he only had four of them) Speed batted 2-for-4 with 2 RBI to lead Cleveland to a 3-0 win at Toronto (6/30/78). Also collecting two knocks for the Indians that day: Tribe starting 2B Duane Kuiper.

Thirty-two years later, Kuip was behind the mic on the Giants telecast when Ford debuted with his mad dash from second base:

“Ford’s gonna go! “ Kuiper bellowed. “(The throw is) into left field and the Giants take the lead! Unbelievable!”

He Was A Giant? … Brad Gulden 35 Years Ago Humm-Baby Was Born By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

Former San Francisco Giant third string catcher Brad Gulden and the answer to the Giants trivia question where did former Giant manager Roger Craig come up with Humm Baby ( circa 1986 courtesy of Mothers Cookies)

He Was A Giant? … Brad Gulden

35 Years Ago Humm-Baby Was Born

By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

Brad Gulden – C – 1986 – # 10

He was a Giant?

Brad Gulden’s baseball reference page shows he batted a paltry .091 in 17 games for the 1986 Orange & Black.

What it doesn’t show is the largely forgotten role the third -string catcher played in forging the rebirth of a long-dormant winning culture in San Francisco and his uncredited contribution to one of the best marketing campaigns in club history.

From 1983-85 Bay Area baseball fans labored through three consecutive seasons of moribund Giants baseball. The Candlestick nine bottomed out in 1985 when the club lost a west coast worst 100 games.

Late in the ‘85 season Giants owner Bob Lurie took a bold step and cleared the decks. Out were long-time company men Tom Haller and Jim Davenport as general manager and field manager respectively and in was outsider Al Rosen in a newly created role of club president. Rosen’s first move was to hire former big league pitcher Roger Craig as manager.

Personality-wise, the urbane, buttoned-down Rosen and the homespun, horse riding Craig we’re complete opposites. But each man held the same laser focused opinions on how the team should be run.

They could not guarantee victories, but a few things were certain.

The team would play fundamentally sound baseball. The Orange & Black would hustle. And possibly most importantly, under no circumstances would anyone associated with the Giants ever bitch about, rip or denigrate Candlestick Park – no matter how complaint worthy the miserable dump was.

In 1986, new faces (and a few familiar ones) dotted the Giants spring training fields. The list included the heralded first round draft pick 1B Will Clark and the greatest Giant of them all, Willie Mays, who was officially brought back to San Francisco for the first time since 1972 in an advisory and camp instructor role.

Among the throng of new players was Gulden, a journeyman back-up catcher who came to camp on a minor league pact.

Talent wise, the burly backstop did not grade out well. He was a lifetime .220 hitter, a slow runner, and his throwing arm was about what you would expect from a well traveled 30-year -old receiver.

But what Gulden lacked in All-Star physical talent he compensated with intangibles. He blocked the plate like a 49er, Gulden communicated well with pitchers and he constantly hustled and never groused.

He wasn’t flashy, but Gulden was as reliable as the old pickup truck Craig drove around his California ranch in the off season. And after one particularly inspiring spring training afternoon of breathlessly chugging after foul pops and two-timing it to first on routine grounders – Craig declared for the first time what would become his trademark buzzword to describe a Giants player.

“He’s a “Humm-Baby,” said Craig when quizzed about Gulden. “He’s the kind of kid who will bust it for 10 innings and give you 150 percent.”

Craig explained that “Humm-Baby” was an old sandlot expression – a combination of “Hum it in there” and “Come on Baby.”

“Humm-Baby means aggressive, hard-nosed baseball,” Craig related. “It can mean a great double play, a well executed hit-and-run or a beautiful girl.”


Though nobody could ever recall hearing the phrase before, the motto quickly became de rigueur for Giants fans.

Why Was He A Giant?

The Giants opened 1986 spring training with just one hold over at the catcher position – starter Bob Brenly.

Rookie backup Matt Nokes was dealt in a trade to Detroit that returned another unproven young catcher, Cal product Bob Melvin, and RHP swingman Juan Berenguer.

Next veteran receiver Alex Treviño, was swapped to the Dodgers for future starting OF Candy Maldonado. That trade was notable not only for its lopsided result in the Giants favor – but also because it noted the first trade between the two rivals in some two decades.

Another 20 years would pass before the adversaries completed another deal.

A minor league free agent, Gulden was added to the 1986 spring roster for catching depth after spending all of 1985 with the Triple-AAA affiliates of the Reds and Astros.

Gulden was far from a lock to make the Giants major league opening day roster in 1986. His chances were reduced even more due to a cut back in roster spots that season from 25 to 24 players.

But the Giants choose to open the year with three catchers – including the hard scrabble Gulden.

“He shook hands with me about six times and even kissed Al!” said Craig after telling the beefy backstop the good news. “Gulden worked hard. He exemplifies the type of player we want.”

Before & After

Gulden entered pro ball as the Dodgers’ 17th round draft selection in 1975. He signed immediately and reported to Class-A Bellingham at age 18.

After hitting an unstoppable.398 as a senior at Minnesota’s Chaska High School that spring, Gulden’s average plummeted to .163 during his first summer of minor league ball.

But Gulden kept at it, climbing steadily through the Dodgers farm system.

In 1978, Gulden catapulted Triple-AAA Albuquerque into the Pacific Coast League championship series after his 10th inning, game winning hit completed a three-game sweep of Salt Lake City in the Eastern Division playoff series.

Not surprisingly the rugged receiver pounded the two-RBI knock while nursing a broken finger. He was rewarded with a call-up to Los Angeles and finished the ‘78 season with the parent club.

Tragedy led to Gulden receiving his first extended big league look in 1979. Traded to Yankees during spring training, Gulden was unexpectedly thrust into New York’s lineup in mid-season after the shocking death of Thurman Munson. In a 40 game trial for New York, Gulden batted just .163.

Gulden logged time with the Mariners and Expos after that, but it would take another four seasons before Gulden received his next extended look-see. In 1984, Gulden appeared in a career high 107 contests for Cincinnati, batting .226, 4, 33.

He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…

Gulden’s signature on-field moment as a Giant came during a chaotic 4-hour, 18-minute, 12-inning affair at Los Angeles in the fourth game of the ‘86 regular season.

Five batters were hit by pitches, there were three wild pitches and five errors (four by the Dodgers). And just for fun, two Giants catchers (Brenly and Melvin) filled in at third base.

Fueled by a three-run Jeffery Leonard long ball, San Francisco took a commanding 8-1 advantage into the bottom of the 7th. Then the Dodgers bats came alive, scoring four runs in the 7th and adding three more in the 9th to tie the game.

Gulden, who entered the game in the 9th as a defensive replacement, had a prime opportunity to drive home the go-ahead run in the 10th.

With Maldonado on second with one out, Los Angeles ace reliever Tom Niedenfuer intentionally walked Clark to face Gulden. The move paid off for Tommy Lasorda’s minions as the intimidating Niedenfuer blitzed Gulden with three straight blazing fastballs.

The score was still knotted at 8-8, when almost the exact same scenario repeated itself in the 12th.

With one out, Maldonado ripped a double to left. Dan Gladden followed with a line drive single to center, but ex-Giant Enos Cabell – who remarkably was playing center field for the first and last time in his 15-year career – hurled a perfect peg to Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia to nail Maldonado for the second out. Gladden took second base on the throw.

With first base open, Niedenfuer again walked Clark purposely to bring up Gulden again.

This time Gulden turned the tables on the intimidating Dodger, whacking a pitch into center field to drive in Gladden. An aggressive Clark would be thrown out at third on the play, but the Giants took an 9-8 lead to the bottom of the 12th.

Jeff Robinson peacefully set the Dodgers down in order in bottom of the 12th to secure the victory.

After failing his team in the 10th, Gulden vowed not to allow a de je vu situation in the 12th.

“The first time up (Craig) told me, ‘You’re going to win the game.’ And I struck out,” Gulden said afterwards. “The second time, I said ‘Brad, relax, relax.”

But even if Gulden had whiffed again in that spot, there was little chance of seeing a white flag raised in the Orange & Black’s dugout.

“We were fired up,” said Gulden. “We could have played all night.”

Giant Footprint

After the euphoric victory sparked by Gulden , San Francisco went on to win seven of their next 10 games. The upstart Giants would finish April with a 13-8 record – posting their first month of winning baseball since September of 1983.

The Giants unforeseen success would continue. At the ‘86 All-Star Game break, the club shockingly sat atop the NL West with a 48-40 record.

Gulden’s season however peaked with his game winning hit off Niedenfuer. After going hitless in his next 18 at-bats, Gulden was optioned to Triple-AAA Phoenix in favor of OF/1B Mike Aldrete. The catcher remained in the desert until September when he was recalled to the parent club to finish out the season.

There was little fanfare when the Giants released Gulden two weeks after the conclusion of the ‘86 season in which the club finished third, recording their first winning record since 1982 (83-79).

The Giants were officially done with Gulden at that point. But the “Humm-Baby” rally was just getting warmed up.

At a flashy news conference prior to the start of 1987 season, the Giants introduced their promotional campaign for the highly anticipated upcoming season. The catchphrase for the television, radio and print advertising was… “Humm-Baby, It’s Gonna Be Fun.”

The Giants were no strangers to creative ad campaigns – hello, “Croix De Candlestick” and “Crazy Crab” – but this campaign was different because it was supporting what was expected to be a winning team – not a tongue-in-cheek gag for a club with no legitimate shot.

The “Humm-Baby” catch-phrase would be ubiquitous during a Giants remarkable 1987 season that saw the club make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1971.

The “Humm-Baby” phrase appeared everywhere from t-shirts and freeway billboards to bumper stickers. Craig’s credo was even stenciled on to Orange & Black boxer shorts pedaled at Candlestick souvenir stands.

For the first time in years it was cool for Johnny and Jenny Public to rock Giants gear.

The Giants would ride the wave of good times throughout the ‘87 season without nary a mention of Gulden – the very player who inspired the “Humm-Baby” lifestyle.

When the Giants popped corks on their 1987 NL West crown that September, not only was Gulden not present – he was absent from pro ball for good – having gone home to Minnesota to start a new career as a firefighter.

He was a Giant? Featuring former Giant Keith Comstock By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giant pitcher Keith Comstock circa 1987 photo is the focus of Tony the Tiger’s feature “He was a Giant?” (photo from wikipedia)


Keith Comstock – LHP – 1987 – # 36

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Long before he became a professional ball player, San Francisco native Keith Comstock saw Candlestick Park like other kids viewed Disneyland.

Think riding the Matterhorn roller coaster in actual Swiss Alps temperatures with Jimmy Davenport behind the controls.

Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal were Comstock’s favorite characters. When Mike McCormick became the Giants’ first Cy Young Award winner in 1967 – fellow left-header Comstock was on the edge of his seat taking studious notes.

But when the Giants finances took a stunning turn for the worse beginning in 1972, and the club began shedding it’s aging stars en masse, Comstock and countless other Orange & Blackers began turning their attention elsewhere.

For several seasons the ‘Stick resembled a toxic waste site with only a few brave soles – drawn in part by the cheap beer – willing to endure the concrete bowl’s artic wind chill and suspect baseball.

“I had grown up as a Giants fan but I had a bad taste about the team. When I was a kid they traded away all the people I loved,” Comstock told reporters in 1987. “They got rid of their whole starting lineup.”

Years later, that sour Orange & Black taste remained with Comstock – especially when the Giants ignored him in the 1976 draft, despite a standout career at nearby San Carlos High School and Redwood City’s Canada College.

So when the well-traveled Comstock found himself between affiliated teams in late 1986, it didn’t even dawn on the southpaw to contact the Giants regarding employment.

Comstock had arranged a showcase game with a local semi-pro team to be played in Golden Gate Park. He invited scouts from the Royals, Cubs, Expos, A’s and even the Dodgers to come check him out. But not the Giants.

It wasn’t until Comstock received a teeth cleaning and a fresh hair cut – not at the same time, mind you – that the Peninsula resident decided to reach out to the Giants.

Fast forward six months later and Comstock would become the sixth City native to cross the DMZ zone that separated Candlestick’s general admission squats and outfield cyclone fencing and play for the Giants.

Though a Giant only briefly, Comstock still played a role in the Giants 1987 Western Division title – even though his contributions had as much to do with his departure as it did his pitching.

Why Was He a Giant?

After debuting in the bigs with the Twins in 1984, Comstock took his talents to Japan, pitching for the Yomiuri Giants. But when he was cut after the 1986 season, the 31-year-old journeyman found himself back home on the Peninsula contemplating his pitching future.

Though the Giants were the team closest to his home, he only sent his resume to San Francisco after a trip to the dentist and a visit with “Jerry” – his trusted barber.

Each urged him to call the Giants.

“They both had me in a chair with sharp metal objects, so I figured I better take them up,” Comstock quipped.

Comstock took the mound for the Palo Alto Oaks at GGP’s Big Rec ball field bordering Lincoln Way on a sunny mid-fall afternoon in November of ‘86. Mixed in with half-interested ancillary scouts was the Giants Big Cheese – club president Al Rosen. Rosen rode his 10-speed bike to the park.

Comstock pitched lights-out that day. Afterward, a trim, tanned and track suited Rosen approached the sweaty and disheveled Comstock and offered him a Triple-AAA contract with an invite to the Giants 1987 big league spring training.

Comstock pitched well that following spring, but he was the final player cut.

As the team prepared to begin the ‘87 min regular season at Candlestick Park, a downcast Comstock – considered giving up baseball.

But he soon realized that he wasn’t ready to quit on his dream. Plus, the only other job Comstock could get immediately was also at the ‘Stick – as a beer vendor.

He changed his mind and reported to Triple-AAA Phoenix.

“It was like looking at a painting on a wall. I needed to step back a little to see it more clearly,” he said.

Comstock bared down and pitch well in the desert outpost. He was recalled to the big team in late May.

In his first game with the Giants, Comstock struck out the first batter he faced – slugger Andres Galarraga – on a called third strike. He allowed one unearned run in 0.2 innings of work in a 10-4 home loss to Montreal (5/29/87).

Before & After

A quotable free spirit, Comstock’s career is notable for the sheer number of stops he made in his career. In 15 professional seasons Comstock drifted through nearly two dozen clubs. Each departure from a club seemingly attached to a whacky sub-plot.

When he was traded by Oakland to Detroit in 1982, the A’s reportedly asked for a measly $100 and a bag of baseballs in return.

Comstock claims to be the only baseball player released from teams from five different countries: the United States, Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan.

“My careers has been like a connect the dots picture,” he once said.

But Comstock was able to survive in part because of his healthy form of self-effacing humor.

Plus, the fact that left-handed pitching is always in demand.

Comstock’s stint with the Giants lasted about a month. In his final Orange & Black outing, the southpaw pitched 1.1 frames of shutout ball in a 4th of July 5-3 loss at Chicago. After that defeat, the Giants were in third place, 5.5 games behind the Reds.

The next day Rosen swung the biggest trade of his general managing career – sending Comstock, 1986 All-Star 3B Chris Brown, LHP Mark Davis, and RHP Mark Grant to the last place Padres in exchange for 3B Kevin Mitchell and LHPs Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts. The trade paid immediate and long term dividends for San Francisco.

Mitchell developed into one of the game’s most ferocious hitters, winning 1989 MVP honors. Lefferts was a uber reliable reliever. Dravecky was an astonishingly good starter the rest of 1987 and later became an global inspiration when he overcame a cancerous tumor in his pitching arm to win again for the Giants.

Comstock was watching from the Padres bullpen later that ‘87 season when the Giants clinched their first division title in 17 seasons.

Comstock enjoyed his most success with Seattle in 1989-90. In ‘90 he was the Mariners top left-handed reliever – going an impressive 7-4, 2.89 record in a career-high 60 games. But a rough training camp the following spring sent Comstock back to the minors for good.

When his pitching days ended, Comstock rejoined the Giants as a minor league coach, manager and pitching coordinator. He continues to work with minor league pitchers to this day for the Texas Rangers.

He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…

Comstock notched the first two of his 10 big league wins with the Orange & Black.

Comstock entered a game at Houston in the 10th inning with the score knotted 3-3 (6/6/87). Comstock would pitch three shutout innings to earn a 4-3 victory. He struck out Denny Walling and Jose Cruz in succession to close out the Astrodome triumph for his first MLB win.

Comstock could hardly control his emotions upon fanning Cruz to secure the win.

“(Giants catcher Bob Melvin) said I had Ray Guy hang time when I almost jumped out of my uniform,” Comstock crowed.

At the time, Giants manager Roger Craig called the inspirational victory: “The biggest win of the year.”

Four days later Comstock earned win No. 2, this time at Cincinnati in a 4-3 victory (6/10/87).

In all, Comstock made 15 relief outings for his home town club, posting a 2-0, 3.05 ledger.

Giant Footprint

For all his comings and goings, accomplishments and stumbles, Comstock’s most lasting impression in the game may very well come via a minor league baseball card.

Issued in 1989, the card is now a verified collectible. And a pricey one at that too.

Mind you, this is no ordinary bubblegum card

Comstock, then a member of the Las Vegas Stars, is photographed surrendering a hit… surrendering a hit to his groin.

Bored with typical baseball card poses, Comstock somehow convinced the card photographer to try something different.

Comstock’s version of “different” was to super glue a baseball to his uniform pants in a place where you never want to get hit with a hardball.

The pose was augmented with Comstock squinting and pretending to be withering in excruciating pain.

Comstock is still extremely proud of the card issued by ProCards more than 30 years ago.

“You could have told me that I was a Cy Young Award winner and I don’t think I would have felt as much pride as I did with that baseball card,” Comstock, tongue firmly in cheek, told an interviewer. “There have been a lot of Cy Young Award winners. But there’s only one card like that.”

Understandably, card collectors adore Comstock’s artistic contribution to the cardboard hobby.

A recent check of EBay shows the limited printed card priced at more than $50.

He was a Giant? Warren Spahn joined the 1965 Giants for the NL pennant chase

San Francisco Giants pitcher Warren Spahn (left) and centerfielder Willie Mays (right) talk over hitting in 1965 circa photo (photo from San Francisco Giants archives)

He Was A Giant?

Warren Spahn – LHP – 1965 – #21

By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO–Apparently 360 lifetime victories wasn’t enough to sate the pitching appetite of baseball’s all-time winningest lefty. So after getting his walking papers from two clubs in less than a year, Spahn caught on with San Francisco in mid-1965 and chipped in three more victories before calling it a career.

What inspired the graybeard southpaw to remain chucking baseballs off a mound instead off tipping back lemonade on a country porch was open to much speculation that summer.

Critics claimed it was Spahn’s overly ambitious – some said delusional – goal of reaching 400 lifetime wins.

Others speculated it was the high-kicking ace’s burning desire to revenge the perceived shoddy treatment he received from his longtime club, the Milwaukee Braves, the previous season.

But according to Spahn, the decision to keep pitching was simple.

The Buffalo native wanted to win another World Series and the Willie Mays led Orange & Black offered the best path to the Fall Classic.

“Had I went to a club in the second division it would have looked like Warren Spahn was trying to milk baseball, like I was trying to hang on as long as I could,” said Spahn, speaking in the third person like a true superstar. “If I win a game here it means something. It’s a contribution towards a pennant instead of just another win for my record.”

Why Was He A Giant?

“I feel fine. I’m in shape. I can pitch.” Spahn proclaimed as he slipped into his familiar No. 21 in Giants colors at Candlestick Park on 7/20/65.

Why would a 17-time All-Star and author of two no-hitters have to recite the sports world equivalent of name, rank and serial number?

Well frankly, Spahn – who was aged 44 and looked closer to 64 – had been going through a rough patch and not just on his increasingly balding pate.

Before signing with the Giants, Spahn had began 1965 in the New York Mets rotation and it didn’t go well. After winning his first two decisions for the Amazins’ he lost his next eight.

With his ledger standing at 4-12, Mets manager Casey Stengel had seen enough and wanted to move Spahn – who was also serving as the Mets de facto pitching coach – into a swing role. But the 1957 Cy Young Award winner disapproved.

Spahn asked for, and was granted his release without much squabble. Spahn – who was beginning to get a reputation as sort of a grumpy old man – then passed unclaimed through waivers before signing with San Francisco.

“We know what the guy has done,” said Giants manager Herman Franks. “Let’s see what he can do.”

Making the move more appetizing to the Giants was Spahn’s sudden flexible regarding relief duty. Prior to refusing to pitch in relief for the Mets, Spahn vociferously rebuffed the Braves efforts to pitch him out of the bullpen.

“I feel I can help the Giants win the pennant,” the wizened hurler said.“I’ll work anyway the Giants want me to work, starting or relieving or both.”

Those statements came as a shock to Spahn’s former Milwaukee manager Bobby Bragen. The excitable skipper – who also had his club in contention in ‘65 – practically choked on his Red Man responding.

The spunky field general opined that Spahn’s stance on relief duty changed only after he passed through waivers without so much as a sniff.

“That shock some humility into him,” Bragen crowed. “When nobody wants you for a buck (the waiver price), I guess you’ll go anywhere.”

Before & After

After breaking into the majors in 1942, Spahn was forced to put his baseball career on hold to fight in World War II. By the time he recorded his first big league win in 1946, Spahn was already 25. He would spend the next two decades making up for lost time.

Though he was slight of stature and far from a flame thrower, Spahn would became the most victorious LHP in history.

What he lacked in zip, he amply made up by painting the corners of the strike zone with a good fastball and darting array of off speed offerings.

His pallet had no one dominant pitch. Spahn’s focus was control. Of his pitching approach, Spahn said, “If hitting is timing, than pitching is upsetting timing.”

Spahn won 20 games or more 13 times. He led the NL in victories eight times and topped the loop in complete games nine times, including seven consecutive seasons from 1957-63.

At the time of his last appearance with San Francisco, Spahn held the record for career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

Spahn’s last great season came in 1963 when he went 23-7, 2.60 at age 42 for the Braves.

The following season however he struggled and openly feuded with Bragen.

Based on Spahn’s age and drop off in sharpness, Bragen did not view a move to the bullpen so radical.

“He could become another Satchel Paige,” predicted Bragen. “His stuff could be there occasionally, but not on a consistent basis.”

Ultimately however, Bragen said Spahn was was only thinking about himself.

“I came to look upon him as a movie star who is great when you see him on the screen, but isn’t what you expect up close,” a revved up Bragen complained.

And he wasn’t done bloviating, adding:

“Spahn’s personal goals have always obliterated everything else. He had only a mild interest in the team. He is propelled by ego. Ego is in fact what made him a great pitcher. But I never felt that our team effort was as important to him as his personal desires.”


He Didn’t Get His Own (Giants) Bobblehead Doll. But …

Just as advertised, Spahn spent his time as a Giant divided between the bullpen and as a spot starter.

Impressively he completed three of his 11 Giants starts and in the process and helped keep the SF in contention until the final days of the ‘65 season. Spahn’s Giants ledger read 3-4, 3.39 in 16 games. He made 11 starts.

The day Spahn joined the the Giants in July, the club was in fourth place, 5.5 games off the pace of the Dodgers. But by the second week of September, the Giants had leapfrogged everyone.

On 9/12/65, before more than 40,000 at Candlestick Park, Spahn tossed a complete game 9-2 win over the Cubs in nightcap of a Sunday double header sweep. With the wins, the Giants increased their first place lead over the Dodgers by two games.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this Giants club. Age doesn’t mean a thing,” said Spahn. “It’s what you can do.”

It was beginning to look as if Spahn’s goal of making it back to the World Series was taking shape.

The white hot Giants ripped off a 14-game win streak in September and after Juan Marichal whitewashed the Reds 4-0 on the road (9/20/65), the Giants were winners in 17 of 18 games. The surging Orange & Black led the league by 4 games.

The Giants were brimming with confidence and not afraid to show it.

Franks and Mays – who would win MVP honors that season with a monster campaign – each predicted the Giants were five wins away from securing the pennant.

Spahn went them one further, proclaiming: “They’ll never catch us now. We’ve got the momentum.”

But the Giants would drop their next two in Cincinnati and lost that precious momentum. The Dodgers would steam past SF to win the flag by two games and eventually defeat Minnesota in the World Series.

Spahn – who would announce his retirement after the ‘65 season – made his final major league appearance vs. the visiting Reds (10/1/65). Spahn was the sixth pitcher in a conga line of eight SF hurlers in a 17-2 blowout by Cincinnati, allowing one run in a third of an inning.

Giant Footprint

A career long National Leaguer, Spahn pitched 119 career games vs. the Giants, posting a 56-43 record, including six shutouts and his second of two career no-hitters (1961). Spahn also slugged eight career HR vs. the Orange & Black- his most against any one opponent.

One constant foe in his battles with the Giants was another future Hall of Famer whose bronze likeness currently sits prominently at Third and King streets in SF.

In the late spring of 1951, Spahn took the mound as a Boston Brave at the Polo Grounds (5/28/51) to face the Giants and a much hyped rookie who had yet to deliver on his promise.

After starting his big league career 0-for-12, the fresh faced player was beginning to lose confidence in his abilities as he cautiously stepped into the box to face Spahn in the bottom of the first with two outs and the bases clear.

The young Giant took one pitch for a strike and then took a mighty cut sending a soaring drive over the left field roof of the old horse shoe shaped ball yard for his first major league hit and home run.

That rookie was none other than a 19-year-old Mays. It would be the start of a long rivalry between the two.

Mays would go on to have 222 more official at bats against Spahn. He batted .305 and bashed 17 additional career long balls off the famed twirller.

Besides the initial round tripper, Mays’ most noteworthy homer off Spahn would come 12 years later on a cold and windy mid-summer Tuesday night at Candlestick Park (7/2/63).

That was the night that the 41-year-old Spahn and 25-year-old Marichal locked horns in the ultimate pitching duel. It played out more like a death march as both legends took shutouts deep into the night.

From all accounts the game should have ended in the Giants favor in the ninth after Willie McCovey smoked a laser down the right field line and over the fence that umpire Chris Pelekoudas incorrectly ruled foul. The teams soldiered on with no score.

After Marichal retired Norm Larker on a come backer to end the top of 16th frame, the score board featured a long line of zeros. Just as astonishing there was no stirring in either bullpen. The pitchers would throw in excess of 200 pitches each that night.

After Spahn retired Harvey Kuenn on a fly ball to start the Giants half of the 16th, Mays stepped up to meet his old foe.

Though both the Braves and Giants had relocated to new cities since their initial meeting, Spahn and Mays were each wearing virtually the same uniforms they had on in ‘51.

Unfortunately for Spahn, the result on the field was the same as 1951.

After going 0-for-5, with a walk all night, Willie decided it was time to go home, and on the first pitch he powerfully connected with Spahn’s first offering and powered a bolt through the Candlestick bluster and over the left field fence for a game winning solo homer and a 1-0 Giants victory.







He Was A Giant? The Duke of Flatbush a Giant? Pure blasphemy!

Former San Francisco Giant Duke Snider who played for San Francisco for just one season 1964 (San Francisco Giants archives file photo)


Duke Snider – OF – 1964 – #28

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

The Duke of Flatbush a Giant? Pure blasphemy

To old school New Yorkers, the thought of a legendary Brooklyn Dodger – decked out in Orange & Black is about as incongruous as putting ketchup on a hot dog or passing up an opportunity to jay-walk.

But it happened in 1964, when Duke Snider, the iconic 1950s Dodger, turned up in Giants colors in the curtain closing campaign of a spectacular Hall of Fame career.

As a Giant, the 38-year-old Snider had clearly slowed as he ambled about the dugout resembling a wizened coach. He had an fluctuating waistline and steel gray sideburns that contrasted vividly against the midnight black of a Giants cap.

Frankly, Snider’s on-field performance did not belie his appearance. With his CF days behind him, Snider made just 34 starts for SF – his position divided between LF and RF. In 91 games, Snider batted . 210, 4 home runs, 17 RBIs – all career lows.

But there was no denying the prestige Snider added to a Giants club already teeming with all-time greats.

That ‘64 San Francisco club featured no less than six future Hall of Fame players: Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and the Duke.

Throw in World Series Perfect Game pitcher Don Larsen, former Rookies of the Year Harvey Kuenn and Jack Sanford, two out of three Alou brothers (Matty and Jesus) and the first Japanese-born big leaguer : Masanori Murakami, and the Giants were box office gold.

In a tightly packed National League, the ‘64 Giants would finish in fourth place with a fantastic 90-72 record, three games behind the World Champion St.Louis Cardinals.

Though his final numbers we’re pedestrian, Duke, née Edwin Donald, had his most notable moment as a Giant early in the season against the Dodgers.

Why Was He A Giant?

In 1963, after 16 seasons a Dodger, Snider was dealt to the woeful expansion New York Mets.

Snider had seen his playing time dwindle with Los Angeles, and he had openly questioned manager Walter Alston’s strategy in the Dodgers 1962 playoff series loss to the Giants.

On one hand Snider wanted to see how much he had left in the tank. But Duke’s feelings were still hurt by the trade.

Despite helping the Dodgers to their first west coast World Series title in 1959, Snider was not the same ball player in Los Angels as he had been in Brooklyn. His knees were achy and the Dodgers had young talent brimming in the minor leagues. As his time in Los Angeles winded down, Snider found himself losing playing time to the likes of Tommy Davis, Willie Davis and Ron Fairly – all bonafide big league talents.

So the the Big Apple beckoned and the slugger – who once belted 40 or more HRs in five consecutive seasons with Brooklyn- was returning to a city that truly adorned him.

Though the transaction was essentially a public relations move, Snider was still a decent hitter. He would give the Mets a much needed established star after the club went a dreadful 40-120 in their first year of existence.

But Snider’s return to New York was bittersweet.

Though appreciative of the overwhelming fan support, the Mets inadequacies gnawned at the prideful athlete who had never played on a losing ball club with Brooklyn.

Duke was the Mets All-Star Game representative in 1963, but the infamously bumbling club was only marginally better than their maiden season – losing an embarrassing 111 games.

Snider was determined not to end his storied career as a member of the slap-stick comedy routine called the “Amazins.”

“This can drive you out of your mind,” said Snider the following spring when he still found himself on the Mets roster. “You go crazy on a team like this.”

For the sake of his own sanity, Snider practically begged to be traded. He got his wish when his contract was sold to San Francisco.

“Just the opportunity to play for a contender makes me feel younger. I can play two or three more years. It means a lot more when you go up to the plate for something more than individual achievement,” he said.

Before & After

The Golden Age of New York baseball in the 1950s, the game was dictated from center field.

The best player from each NY club during that glamorous era roamed CF. Yankee Stadium had Mickey Mantle, the Polo Grounds’ vast emerald acreage was the playground of Willie Mays and Ebbets Field’s lawn was the domain of Snider’s.

Career-wise; Snider clearly ranks third of the trio. But during a four -year stretch from 1953-56, they were practically equals. Over that period, Snider averaged .320, 42 HR and 124 RBI.

The Duke led Dodgers won the pennant five times and one World Series once during his five borough tenure from (1948-57). During that time frame the Giants captured the pennant twice – winning the World Championship in 1954 – and each season, the Dodgers came in second.

The blood rivals had countless battles in which Snider cemented his legendary pedigree.

When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Snider was going home, having been born and raised in Southern California.

Snider became the first batter to reach base in the first big league game ever played in California, when he walked in the first inning vs. the Giants at SF’s Seals Stadium (4/15/58).

Though he was one of several Brooklyn stars to make the journey west, Snider was 34 and his numbers declined in California.

In his final at bat in the majors, Snider singled as a Giants pinch hitter off the Cubs Lindy McDaniel in a 10-7 home loss (10/3/64).

He was released after the season and soon announced his retirement.

Snider would finish his career with a lifetime average of .295 with 407 HR and 1333 RBI. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1980.

He Didn’t Get His Own (Giants) Bobblehead. But…

Snider introduced himself to SF by going a deflating 0-for-13. Then SF visited LA. In the Saturday night tilt of a three game series (5/2/64), Snider found his groove.

In his first at bat, Snider cracked a single to right and then came home on a Jim Ray Hart triple. Dodgers starter Joe Moeller carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but he walked McCovey on four straight pitches to to start the frame. On the next pitch, Duke hit a searing drive over the head of Frank Howard and into the Dodger Stadium right field pavilion to knot the score. SF would win 5-4 on a 12th inning knock by Chuck Hiller.

Giant Footprint

During the prolonged bitter baseball strike of 1981, obscure songwriter Terry Cashman released a nostalgic day novelty record titled “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke).”

A surprise hit, the track, dripping with Americana, was a paean to a simpler baseball stars could cure a nation’s ills with a swing of the bat.

The song covers on the sports most romanticized era of the 1950s through the early 1980s – with the lyrical refrain returning to the kicker “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”

Of the more than two dozen baseball figures name-checked in the lyrics – 10 of them have ties to the Giants, which is more than any other team, including of course “Willie and the Duke.”