Former San Francisco Giant first baseman Willie Montanez who played first for the Giants at Candlestick Park during 1975-76 is the subject of Tony the Tiger’s He was a Giant feature (file photo from Under The Radar Sports)
He Was A Giant (Hot Dog)?
Willie Montanez – 1B – 1975-76 – # 22
He Was A Giant?
Philadelphia sports columnist Bill Conlin once wrote the following about a rangy former San Francisco center fielder:
“Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the other one-third by Garry Maddox.”
Meanwhile, another sage baseball mind once had this to say about the animated first baseman the Giants acquired from Phillies in exchange for Maddox in 1975:
“There isn’t enough mustard in the ball park to cover Willie Montanez.”
While Maddox was a defensive leading man, Montanez was a storied showboat.
Whenever a ballpark vendor cried out “ hey hot dog!”, the Puerto Rican infielder, who played the game with a lot of relish, would turn and ask “que paso?
Though the term has not had much play in recent years, “hot dog” was the old school appellation used to describe players who liked to show over the top flair.
While some of today’s ball players show pizazz with the occasional bat flip or fist pump, few show boastful exuberance on a daily basis like former colorful players such as Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Luis Tiant, Jimmy Piersall, Pasqual Perez or former Giants fan favorite Tito Fuentes.
But Montanez, was baseball’s most colorful and consistent frankfurter in spikes.
On defense, Willie swiped at pop flies as if he were literally trying to swat flys.
As he approached the plate to hit he twirled his Louisville Slugger as if he were fronting a marching band at the Rose Parade.
After striking out he would distally flick his bat away as if it were defective.
Montanez’s sideways ambling home run jog approximated a crab casually strolling the beach.
For fans, Montanez was a hoot to watch. But he was hardly exclusively adored.
Not everyone – including a few of his teammates –
“Hot dog” was one of the tamer phrases used to describe Montanez. But he didn’t seem to mind one bit.
“I don’t care what they call me,” Montanez once said. “That’s my style and I can’t change, even if I wanted to. Sure, I hear a lot of stuff yelled at me, but it don’t bother me.”
Montanez played for San Francisco during arguably the most trying time in Orange & Black franchise history.
During Montanez’s mid-1970s tenure by the Bay, the club flailed aimlessly in post-Mays era fog.
As Montanez performed a matador impression with his bat and caught balls between his legs without a care as if he was on loan from Ringling Bros., the Orange & Black was going bankrupt and nearly ended up moving to Toronto.
And while he was outwardly showing zeal for the game, inside Montanez was hating life as a Giant.
The astroturf was too hard, Candlestick was too cold and the City was too far his home base of Puerto Rico.
Not surprisingly his uniform number was “Too-Too”, make that “22.”
So Willie’s life as a Giant did not last long – 195 games – but fans got an eyeful while it lasted.
Why Was He a Giant?
Montanez was acquired by San Francisco in exchange for center fielder Maddox in a straight up deal with Philadelphia on May 4, 1975.
History would soon reveal the swap to be one of the best in Fightins’ history. The stylish Maddox became a perennial All-Star and a lineup stabilizer who would win eight consecutive gold glove awards in Liberty Town.
But the early returns had the advantage in the Giants court. At the time of the trade, the popular and peppy Montanez was batting .331 with Philly, while the introverted Maddox was hitting sub-.200 for the Orange & Black.
Maddox was once the mod-looking signal caller of the most agile outfield trios in baseball (flanked by Gary Matthews and Bobby Bonds in left and right respectively).
Though the Vietnam War veteran had fine season in 1974 (.284, 8, 50), it was a significant regression from his breakout 1973 campaign. The financially flailing Giants responded with a slash to Garry’s pay. Not surprisingly Maddox asked for a trade.
When the a dour faced Garry stumbled out of the gate in ‘75, the Giants decided it was time to cut ties with the adroit athlete who grew up idolizing Willie Mays.
With Oakland born product Von Joshua waiting in the wings to step into center field, the Giants – also, desperately looking for a gate attraction – sprung the deal for the spirited Montanez.
The proficient Montanez would give the Giants there first legitimate starting first baseman since they traded Willie McCovey two years previously.
“Montanez gives us hitting, a good glove, speed and durability,” explained Giants manager Wes Westrum. “The significance of this deal is quite simple. “We wanted Willie for his bat and he will hit fifth between Gary Matthews and Chris Speier.”
Despite Maddox’s soon to be evident dividends, shipping the popular Montanez out of dodge after five very good seasons with Philly was a very difficult choice for Phillies general manager Bill Giles.
The veteran front office man got chocked announcing the Montanez swap.
“I was in tears; he wasn’t… Oh, Willie cried a little bit at first, but then he was very calm and cool and collected. I love the guy,” an emotional Giles told Philly scribes the day of the trade.
Giles was seemingly ashamed to be sending his loyal bat twirler to a destination as abhorrent as Candlestick Park.
“I thought he’d get very emotional, especially when he found out he was going to San Francisco. Nobody wants to play there,” the GM somberly modulated.
Before & After
Montanez is one of the more well-traveled players in baseball history. In 14 big league seasons Montanez played for nine big league clubs, including twice for Philadelphia. He also played a significant amount of time in the Cardinals farm system.
Montanez had yet to formally graduate from high school when he was signed by the Cardinals in 1965. He was just 17.
Surprisingly he found himself in the big leagues the following spring when he was plucked out of the Redbirds nest by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft. But an obviously overmatched Montanez did not remain long in California and was returned to the St. Louis system after failing to bat safely in eight Halos contests.
Montanez eventually resurfaced in the bigs again in 1970 with Philadelphia. He began 1971 as a starting outfielder for the Phillies and belted a career high 30 home runs with 99 RBI for the last place club. Montanez was runner up to Altlanta’s Earl Williams for NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1971.
It was in ‘71 that reports of Willie’s hot dog attitude became a regular addendum to his bio.
His bat flips and demonstrative display of dissatisfaction after strike outs rubbed opponents and umpires alike in a very wrong way.
“I know it’s around the league, Montanez is a big hot dog,” said Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi that season. “But my answer to that is I’ll take 25 hot dogs (if they play like him.)”
After five straight seasons of finishing last or next to last in the NL East, the Phillies began to come together in 1974 – with young talent such as Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa blossoming around superstar starting pitcher Steve Carlton. The team moved up to third place that season.
Despite putting up good numbers with the Giants, Montanez was never really satisfied with being on the west coast. He groused publicly about Candlestick Park and being separated from his family. Prior to the 1976 season Willie refused to sign a contract extension and requested a trade.
He was dealt later that season to Atlanta in a six-player swap that netted the Giants future long-time starting corner infielder Darrel Evans.
Montanez enjoyed a nice two-year run with the Braves where he became an All -Star in 1977. Montanez saw significant playing time in the Mid-Summer Classic played at Yankees Stadium. As a mid-game replacement for starting first baseman Steve Garvey, Montanez batted 0-for-2.
Montanez also made career stops with the Mets, Rangers, Padres, Expos and Pirates before wrapping up his career back with Philadelphia in 1982.
For his career Montanez was a career .275 hitter, with 139 homers and 802 RBI.
Those are very good career home runs, but all any body seemed to remember was Willie’s on-field flavor and off-field blabber.
He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…
Philadelphia’s love affair with Montanez was on full display when the Giants visited Veterans Stadium shortly after his trade to San Francisco.
In an 8-6 loss to the Phils, (5/28/75) Willie batted 2-for-3. He was welcomed with several standing ovations and on two visits from the stands by fans showing true Brotherly Love.
Montanez appreciated the love fest.
“It was a great compliment,” said Willie of the fans who were whisked presumably to Veterans Stadium notorious in house bastille.
Through he would later claim to be dissatisfied with life as a Giant – joining fellow imported ingrate Bobby Murcer – Montanez played some of his best ball with San Francisco, batting .306, 10, 105 in 195 games.
It was near the end of his brief Giants engagement that Montanez enjoyed two near perfect consecutive games at the plate.
In back-to-back home wins over the visiting Astros (5/25-26/76) Montanez batted a composite 8-for-10, with four RBI and two runs scored.
In the first game, played on a Tuesday night before just 2,903 fans, Montanez collected two singles, a double and a game winning, 8th inning homer off Ken Forsch as Giants outlasted Houston 7-6.
The following afternoon, Montanez came back and skidded three more singles off the school yard hard ‘Stick turf and hammered a double while collecting two more RBI behind the pitching of Jim Barr and Randy Moffitt in a 11-4 bulldozing of Houston.
This time there were 3,115 paid to see Montanez batting exhibition.
The win capped a four game winning streak for the last place Giants.
But despite hitting the cover off the ball, hustling as if his life depended on running out ground balls and of course putting on a sideshow with his Frisco Frank schtick, Montanez wasn’t having any of the ‘Stick’s creature feature comforts.
“My family is still far away in Puerto Rico and the wind is going to be cold here when we get back,” said Montanez after the second game as the club prepared to depart for an eight game road trip.
He continued to fill up reporter’s notebooks as if he were a tele-type service. “I don’t want to be traded just to be traded. I want to go to a club that’s in the race, and to a place where it’s warmer and nearer my family,” he blathered.
You are probably now realizing why Montanez moved around so frequently in his career.
He wasn’t exactly easy to please.
Three weeks later, Montanez got his wish and was shipped about as close to Puerto Rico and still be in the big leagues at the time… Atlanta.
No word if his family were pleased however.
The Giants didn’t have many positive national headline grabbing events in the mid-1970s, but Montanez played a role in a couple of them.
The Giants recorded their first no-hitter in eight seasons in 1975, when Ed Halicki dominated the feckless Mets 6-0 in the second game of a double header (8/24/75) at Candlestick Park.
Montanez batted 2-for-4 with two RBI in the historic victory, but more importantly he finished played outstanding defense, making nine putouts on the day.
A year later Montanez found himself on the other end of a Giants no-hitter when John Montefusco capped a brilliant sophomore campaign with dazzled the Braves on the road with a brilliant 9-0 no hit, no run game (9/29/76).
Montanez, the Braves starting first baseman that night, batted 0-for-3.