He Was A Giant? Orel Hershiser By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Orel Hershiser is the subject of Tony the Tiger in “He was a Giant?” article feature (San Francisco Chronicle file photo)

Orel Hershiser – RHP – 1998 – # 53

He Was A Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

In 1998, the Orange & Black shocked their fans when they acquired a player who was about as popular at Candlestick Park as attending mid-summer night games in shorts and flip flops.

When it comes to Despised Dodgers, Orel Leonard Hershiser, IV is an all-time great.

We have the former Los Angeles goody two-shoes ranked as a Top 5 all-time Dodgers heel, trailing only Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey (you had to be there) and preceding Mike Piazza and Yasiel Puig.

Hershiser, who pitched for the Dodgers from 1983-94 and again in 2000, was a turn off to the Giants and their supporters on multiple fronts.

Not only did Hershiser pitch his best ball against San Francisco, he also epitomized the holier than thou attitude that permeated Los Angeles baseball during the nauseating “Big Dodger in the Sky” Lasorda era.

Hershiser came across as a baseball version of the sycophantic Eddie Haskell character from “Leave it to Beaver. ”

Like the fictional clean-cut teenager, Hershiser presented himself to the world with a gee whiz benevolence. But when no one was watching, all his supposed moral virtue flew out the window as he morphed into a mischievous wiseacre.

One night Hershiser could appear on the Tonight Show singing gospel hymns. The next, he was defiantly drilling Giants hitters and blaming his misfires on a poorly raked pitching mound.

Hershiser had the unique ability to get under the Giants skin like very few players.

Giants closer Rod Beck labeled the Buffalo, N.Y. native a “punk” after Hershiser spent the final game of the 1993 season verbally denigrating the Giants after L.A. took an insurmountable early lead in the crucial contest (10/3/93).

A Giants win that day would have forced a one game playoff with Atlanta, but the Dodgers 12-1 spanking sent the G-Men directly into the off-season, despite 103 regular season wins.

“Hershiser ragged on me the whole game from the top step of the dugout,” said a steamed Giants third baseman Matt Williams, implying the bench jockeying took on a personal tone. “If I face him again there will be line drives right back up the middle. You can bet on that.”

Hershiser was so loathed at Candlestick Park that he regularly required a full-blown San Francisco police escort when he entered and exited the field.

Yes, San Francisco fans cursed Hershiser’s very existence and the feeling was mutual.

“I don’t ever play relaxed in this ballpark,” Hershiser once said of the ‘Stick. “I don’t think they ‘re Giants fans as much as Dodgers haters.”

This was the player the Giants risked on promoting as the stabilizing component of their 1998 pitching staff.

The results could have been disastrous.

Why Was He A Giant?

In 1997, the Giants won their first division title in eight seasons. But they did so with a starting rotation that was middle-of-road at best. Left-hander Shawn Estes was a breakout 19-game winner. Fellow southpaw Kirk Rueter was steady and jouneyman right-hander Mark Gardner was adequate. But after that, there was a precipitous drop off.

To repeat their success in ‘98, Giants pitching would need an injection of professionalism and poise. A veteran arm, preferably one with postseason experience was at the top of San Francisco’s wish list. Shortly before Christmas, the perfect gift fell into the Giants lap.

The free-agent pick-up more than capably checked all the boxes. He was a record setting former Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP with a truck load of big stage experience.

“He fits in our rotation near the top or right in the middle,” said Ned Colletti, the Giants assistant general manager. “He’ll be a great guy to have around Estes and Rueter and great for a few young guys who might be a year or two away.”

If Colletti was hesitant to mention Hershiser by name, it was with good reason. The club’s prospective new ace was roundly abhorred by Giants fans.

But after spending the previous three seasons in far flung Cleveland, Hershiser and the Giants brass were hopeful that the Orange & Black fanbase’s molten lava hot contempt for their new player had cooled sufficiently.

Hershiser allowed: “If Giants fans compiled a hate list, Tom Lasorda would be at the top… and I’d be next.”

But the long time blue blood announced he was willing to let bygones be bygones and hoped the feeling was mutual.

Orel then let everyone in on a little secret. Despite his long running animus with the Giants, he held a special kinship with Tony Bennett.

Yes, Orel Hershiser announced he had left his heart in San Francisco.

“San Francisco is my favorite part of the country,” he unabashedly pronounced, laying it thicker than the frosting on Lasorda’s birthday cake. “I’m a big fan of sweater weather. My family and I come here every year for vacation. We love the wine country and The City and everything it has to offer.”

Before & After

With a wholesome Donny & Marie veneer, Hershiser was one of the last guys you’re expect to be cast as a villain.

But early on, Giants fans had Orel pegged as part of the Dodgers weasel act.

In one of his first big league appearances, Hershiser pitched in relief against the Giants at Chavez Ravine on the night the Dodgers clinched the 1983 NL west (9/30/83).

The division title was finalized in mid-game when second place Atlanta lost at San Diego. As the Giants Darrell Evans stepped to the plate to face Fernando Valenzuela to lead off the 6th, the scoreboard announced the final from San Diego.

The game with the Giants was paused as a boisterous hullabaloo erupted in the Dodgers dugout.

With the outcome of the game vs. the Giants moot, Lasorda swiftly began swapping out key Dodgers from the lineup.

By the 7th inning Tommy had even removed himself from the game, hightailing it to the Dodgers clubhouse for a bulky wedge of sausage pizza and a full-blown celebratory shindig.

Rookie Hershiser who had been subbed in for Valenzuela, pitched the final two innings, earning a save in the 4-3 L.A. victory.

After the game, Giants manager Frank Robinson termed Lasorda, “the fat man” and ripped his opposite number’s contemptuous mid – game disappearing act.

“You see things and remember them,” said Robinson. “I don’t appreciate it. And I won’t forget it either.”

While Hershiser’s personal participation in that bit of arrogant theater was rather benign, he had officially been introduced into the long simmering rivalry. Without even knowing it, Orel was off and running as a long-term insufferable Dodgers bore.

Despite throwing a no-hitter in college and being named Pitcher of the Year in the Mid-American Conference, Hershiser was just a 17th round draft pick out of Ohio’s Bowling Green University by the Dodgers in 1979.

Though other clubs soon regretted not drafting him sooner, Hershiser was far from a finished project upon reaching L.A.

Lasorda fretted that Hershiser lacked a killer instinct and together with organizational pitching coach Dave Wallace worked diligently on his mound makeup. Lasorda in particular urged Hershiser to shelve his Mr. Rogers persona during games.

For emphasis, Lasorda rebranded the milquetoast right-hander, the “Bulldog.”

Hershiser received his first ever SFPD protective detail in 1985 after he drilled the Giants Mike Krukow (hand) and Dan Gladden (back) on successive pitches.

“They were great,” Hershiser drolly said of his armed guides on the the long hike from the visitors dugout to the Candlestick showers (8/18/85). “We’re walking out there and the (cop) says ‘watch out for the bottles.’”

For the next decade Orel would be a thorn in the Giants side, and not just for just for his unbearable personality.

Hershiser consistently pitched his best against San Francisco.

The two time All-Star recorded more career wins (22) and strikeouts (194) vs. the Giants than he did against any other single club.

In 1988, Hershiser fired-up baseball’s hottest pitching streak ever when he threw 59.1 consecutive scoreless innings – setting a new record.

Hershiser was everything and a Dodger Dog in ‘88. He led the NL in wins (23), complete games (15), and shutouts (8), to go with a 2.26 ERA. He was the obvious choice for the NL Cy Young Award. He also bagged MLB Major League Player of the Year and NL Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. For good measure he also took home a Gold Glove for the trophy case and was selected as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.

His spellbinding shutout streak was Hershiser’s career tour de force, but it was not without controversy.

Naturally, the dissension occurred in a contest vs. San Francisco.

Hershiser took the mound on a Friday night at Candlestick Park (9/24/88) with 40 consecutive shutout innings in his rear view mirror and 18.1 innings shy of fellow Dodger Don Drysdale’s all-time record.

After the Giants went down routinely in the first two innings, S.F. got something brewing in the 3rd. With one out, Jose Uribe stood on third and Brett Butler at first. Ernest Riles shot a grounder to second baseman Steve Sax who shoveled to shortstop Alfredo Griffin to force Butler. Griffin pivoted awkwardly however, and his relay sailed out of the reach of first baseman Tracy Woodson. Uribe scored on the play. The scoreless streak was snapped.

Or was it?

Second base umpire Paul Runge said, ‘not so fast.’ He ruled Butler veered from the base path, forcing Griffin’s wayward toss. The ump declared Riles out at first. Inning over. Scoreless streak still intact.

Hershiser pitched near perfect ball the rest of the game, allowing no runner past second and winning 3-0. It was Orel’s fifth straight shutout.

Afterwards, Hershiser conceded the umpire let him off the hook.

“The governor visited me in the third,” Hershiser quipped. “I got off the electric chair. I ran off that mound. I wanted to get off that field as soon as possible before they changed their minds.”

Giants manager Roger Craig meanwhile groused: “I wonder if Runge would have called it like that if Hershiser didn’t have the record going.”

In his next start, Hershiser would bypass Drysdale with an astonishing 10 innings of shutout ball. He still holds the all-time record with 59.1 blank frames.

The Dodgers would go on to win the ‘88 NL NLCS (New York Mets) and World Series (Oakland). A phenomenally dominant Hershiser was named MVP of both series, combining to post a 3-0 record and 1.06 ERA in five overall postseason games.

Hershiser’s pitching preeminence began to wane at the dawn of the 1990s, but he was still usually on his game when facing the the Orange & Black.

In the Giants 103-win ‘93 season, Hershiser handed S.F. its worst defeat of the campaign and the club’s most lopsided loss since 1975, as “Bulldog” led the Dodgers to a 15-1 mashing at Candlestick, with a complete game, five hitter (7/27/93).

After a middling performance in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Hershiser would leave the Dodgers and put his rivalry with the Giants on the back burner to sign with Cleveland of all teams.

It was a genius move. For the next three seasons, Hershiser rebuilt his game and helped turn the historically dismal “Mistake by the Lake” Indians into a winning outfit. The Tribe would capture the AL Central in each of Orel’s three seasons in Cleveland, reaching the World Series twice in 1995 and 1997, before bowing to Atlanta and Florida respectively.

After going a very impressive 45-21, 4.21 in his three-year C-Town residency, Hershiser, now 39, expressed a desire to return to the NL West and specifically to a California based club.

Hershiser rejected San Diego’s advances and cut-short talks of a Dodgers reboot. Just like the mysterious fog that would shroud his new apartment building for the upcoming baseball season, Hershiser curiously choose the “City by the Bay.”

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

Though he heard some jeers and boos during his home opening day start (bold move by manager Dusty Baker), Hershiser’s early decision to proclaim his love for San Francisco seemed to do wonders for his reception in the City.

Orel and his family choose to live within the boundaries of San Francisco, setting up household on Nob Hill. Toe-headed 10-year-old Jordan Hershiser, even got into the act, regularly joining his pops as Giants batboy at the ‘Stick.

“Gosh, the response by the Giants fans has been so wonderful. The controversy seems more hype than reality” Orel insisted. “When I sign autographs or meet people on the street, it’s like ‘so glad to have you. This is great.’”

Pitching-wise, Hershiser took a little time to get rolling as he dropped his first three S.F. decisions.

Hershiser finally hit paydirt in his ninth Giants starting assignment when he tossed two-hit ball over eight shut-out innings at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

“I’m done pledging,” a relieved Hershiser said after securing his first Giants “W” in the 3-0 victory. “It was time for me to become a Giant. Losing was eating at me.”

A confident Hershiser had his sea legs (one Orange, one Black) and reeled off six consecutive wins. The pitcher’s move to the rival Giants became a national feel-good story when Hershiser was named May’s NL pitcher of the month after going 5-0, with a 0.86 ERA.

But the day everyone was waiting for had yet to come. It finally arrived on Friday night, July 3. Before a Candlestick Park crowd of nearly 60,000, Hershiser found himself facing the Dodgers for the first time ever.

It also marked the first time that Hershiser would pitch in a game at the ‘Stick that involved the Dodgers in which he was not the subject ridicule and derision.

Talk about flipping the script.

On that night, for the first and the last time ever, a guy named Orel was the most popular Giant in the house.

Hershiser spread four hits over seven innings as the Giants squeezed past Los Angeles 6-3.

After the game Hershiser initially down played any emotional entanglement that came with facing his former team.

“Victories are fun period, it doesn’t matter who it’s against,” he claimed in a jubilant Giants dressing room. “The fact it was the Dodgers made it nicer, but not to the point of rubbing it in.”

But Stan Javier who had three hits in the win, let out a guffaw upon catching wind of Hershiser’s humbleness.

“He’s lying,” said the Giants outfielder, himself a former Dodger, told the Sacramento Bee. “(Orel) was crying after the game.”

Hershiser finally copped.

“It was emotionally interesting to go through,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t look into their dugout. I didn’t want to get into an emotional journey. The crowd was awesome, they helped me get through it.

“I’ve been away from L.A. for three years now. There have been so many changes, it’s not the same team anymore. I’m a Giant now and I’d like to be for a long time.”

Giant Footprint

Hershiser’s would face the Dodgers twice more as a Giant, both times at Dodger Stadium. He split two decisions.

Overall as a Giant, Hershiser performed as advertised, going 11-10, 4.41 in a team high 34 starts. After 162 games the Giants and Cubs were tied for the NL’s lone wild card slot. But, the Giants dropped a special one game tie breaker at the Windy City.

Both Hershiser and the Giants expressed a desire for the now 40-year-old pitcher to return in 1999, but they could not agree on a deal in the limited window of time they were allowed to negotiate.

Hershiser went on to play for the Mets in 1999 before closing the curtain on his celebrated career, back with the Dodgers in 2000. The plan was for Hershiser to go out triumphantly as a Dodger at age 41.

How would Giants fans respond to Hershiser this time around in Dodger Blue?

While he had proven his loyalty to the Orange & Black in his one season in San Francisco, Hershiser once again was transplanted into Dodgers colors.

But on the other hand, Candlestick Park was now humanely shuttered for baseball.

With Giants games now being played at beautiful new Pac Bell Park. Would a more genteel Giants clientele go easier on Orel?

Alas, we never found out.

Hershiser did not match up with the Giants in an abbreviated Dodgers reunion. The plug was pulled early on his ‘00 homecoming after Hershiser went 1-5, with a ghastly 13.14 ERA.

He was a Giant? Bill Faul by Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Bill Faul who pitched for three different clubs including the Giants from 1962-1970 is the subject of Tony the Hayes feature, He was a Giant? (photo from 1971 Topps baseball)

Bill Faul – RHP – 1970 – # 38

He Was a Giant?

Bill Faul was not an All-Star pitcher. All-Star eccentric? Well, now you’re in the ballpark.

Baseball adores an intriguing character and for a short time Faul was among the sport’s most savory. The Cincinnati native was a professional pitcher for more than a decade, but his fastball, slider or change up were rarely discussed.

The chatter surrounding Faul almost always had to do with his multitude of personal quirks.

Chief among Faul’s idiosyncrasies – but far from limited to – was the right-handler’s infatuation with self-hypnosis. Faul claimed he regularly induced himself into hypnotic trances before ball games to increase his confidence and focus.

“Most people think I’m crazy. But they don’t understand, that’s all. Sure I hypnotize myself what’s wrong with that?” asked Faul who claimed a degree in hypnosis from something called the Scientific Suggestion Center of California. “I lie down, put myself in a trance and keep telling myself to keep the ball low, throw hard and don’t get tired. “

Faul was a Giant for only a spell, but there is little evidence to suggest that he ever played for the Orange & Black while under a spell.

Or at least one that worked very well.

As a member of the Giants, Faul didn’t exactly hyptonize opposing batters. In his brief seven game trip with San Francisco, hitter’s swatted a laser-focused .357 off the 30-year-old veteran. After seven games, Faul was sent back to Triple-A Phoenix – his ERA frozen in suspended animation at 7.45.

Faul would never again appear in another major league game.

Why Was He a Giant?

A one-time starting pitcher for the Cubs and Tigers, Faul – who pitched with an old fashioned wind-mill windup – had been languishing in the minors for four seasons before the Giants brought him back to the Show in May of 1970.

A space was vacated on San Francisco’s roster when right -handed relief specialist Don McMahon was forced to “sit out” a few games due to hemorrhoid surgery.

Seriously. They put that in the paper. The team couldn’t even come up with a phantom injury for the ignominious McMahon.

Before & After

At one point in his career, Faul was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. A University of Cincinnati legend, Faul was featured on the cover of the official annual collegiate baseball guide in 1962. In one game, Faul struck out 24 batters, a Cincinnati school record. He holds other Bearcat records, including career strikeouts (296), and single season ERA (0.80).

After posting a 18-5, 1.43 record in three college seasons, Faul was signed by Detroit to a bonus contract in ‘62.

Talk of Faul’s mind-control tactics began early on in his professional career. Initially, the Detroit brass was enthusiastically on board with Faul’s far-out beliefs.

“If Faul keeps up with his self-hypnosis. I’ll let him give the whole staff a few pointers,” a giddy Tigers manager Bob Sheffing said after his young charge dominated Washington and Boston in his first two big league starts in 1963.

But by 1964, when Faul’s pitching production dipped and the kinks in his unorthodox persona increased – Tigers management became alarmed.

They wondered aloud if their nonconformist pitching prospect had gone off the deep end.

During that time frame, Faul also became a enthusiastic practitioner of karate and started studies to become a minister in the Universal Christian Church.

More weirder was Faul’s habit of swallowing live frogs. Yep. He claimed it game him more “hop” on his fastball.

Weirder yet, Faul also reportedly had a fetish of biting the heads off live parakeets. No performance benefits were reported for that stunt however .

“You know that kid is something of a kook. ,” said a bewildered Chuck Dressen, the Tigers 1964 skipper. “He certainly has a major league arm. But whether or not he thinks or acts like a major leaguer is a different story.”

After Faul was bombed for six runs in the Tigers final game of the 1964 campaign, he was dealt to the Cubs.

Despite the blowback he received in Motown, Faul double downed on his advocacy of mind-control when he blew into the Windy City.

“Hypnosis cannot bring out talent in a player that has no talent. People just don’t understand it. They think it’s some kind of witchcraft,” Faul explained when he arrived at the Friendly Confines. “There’s nothing bewildering about it. When you’re under Hypnosis you’re really vividly alive. “

Faul thrived for awhile in the less uptight environment of Chicago. Wearing uniform number “13,” Faul hurled three shutouts for the Cubs in 1965 and remarkably, the team’s defense turned three triple plays when Faul was pitching.

A north side favorite, Faul brought color and publicity to the dismally horrible 90-loss 1965 Cubs.

The uninhibited hurler was a dream come true to the sporting press. The copy hungry scribes often portrayed the avuncular Faul as a cross between a baseball beatnik and a member of the Addams Family.

“Faul comes on like Bela Lugosi in a vampire role. Dark-eyed intense and about as animated as a sesame seed,” syndicated reporter Tom Tiede wrote in a profile. “He doesn’t look at you but through you. Any minute you expect him to bite your neck.”

Faul was primed for a breakout season in 1966, but then the Cubs hired the taciturn manager Leo Durocher. Durocher, who’s battle cry was “Nice Guys Finish Last” apparently felt the same about free-spirits. The pair were like oil and water. “The Lip” unceremoniously deep-sixed Faul to the minors in mid-1966 after the pitcher questioned the Hall of Fame manager’s decision making.

Faul would remain beating the bushes until the Giants called 45 months later.

He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…

Not surprisingly, Faul took part in a couple of truly uncommon games in his brief stay with the Giants.

In his initial Candlestick Park appearance (5/23/70), Faul allowed three of a combined 44 hits in a chaotic Saturday afternoon matchup with the expansion Padres. When the dust had settled, San Diego limped away from the five hour and 30 minutes long slug fest with a 15-inning, 17-16 win and the Giants announced they were changing managers.

Three days later with Clyde King now departed from the manager’s chair, the Giants met the Dodgers for the first time with Charlie Fox at the helm – it did not go well.

Los Angeles ransacked San Francisco 19-3. The 19 plate scrapers were the most ever surrendered by the Orange & Black during their west coast era.

Faul entered the game to start the sixth inning with the Dodgers up 9-1 and did not survive the frame – allowing four runs (three earned). Faul was greeted into the game by opposing pitcher Claude Osteen, who promptly ripped a double. Osteen by the way went the distance for Los Angeles and batted 4-for-5 (home run, double and two singles) with four RBI in the embarrassing poll axing (5/26/70).

Giant Footprint

In modern baseball, creative approaches to the sport are not only acceptable, but in some cases celebrated. Hunter Pence and Barry Zito scored two of the most lucrative contracts in Giants history while eating kale and viewing the game and life through kaleidoscope eyes.

The Giants currently have a staff psychologist and a “mental-skills” coach.

But during Faul’s era, the nail that stuck out in baseball was promptly hammered down.

Even though he would have been in step with the Bay Area’s counter-culture movement at the time, by the time Faul got to San Francisco in 1970 he was no longer publicly discussing “auto hypnotic twilights” or stopping at the pet store for pre-game snacks.

After spending the previous three and a half seasons pitching in minor league limbo, Faul believed – and probably rightfully so – that his free-form chitchat sessions and alternative behavior traits had led to being blackballed from the major leagues.

“Nobody wanted the bad publicity I kept getting. They kept saying I was a bad reflection on their club. I hurt their image,” said Faul in 1971, during the waning days of his pro career. “The Giants said that if they saw anything more in the papers about the Hypnosis stuff I’d be in bad trouble.”

He Was A Giant? Mike Vail by Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former San Francisco Giant Mike Vail who played for the club in 1983 is the feature on today’s He was a Giant? By Tony the Tiger Hayes at http://www.sportsradioservice.com (photo ebay auction)

Mike Vail – OF – 1983 – # 32

He Was a Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO–From “Dirty” Al Gallagher (1970-73) to “Sweaty” Tyler Walker (2005-08), nine native San Franciscans have played for the Bay-based version of the Giants.

But we nominate Vail – a right-handed hitting journeyman OF – for being the most obscure.

Vail did not last long as a Giant and besides being born in SF, he didn’t leave much of a foot print in The City.

Vail was actually more of a product of the South Bay – having graduated from San Jose’s Archbishop Mitty High School before matriculating to Cupertino’s De Anza College.

Vail would appear in just 18 games for the 1983 Giants and was long gone before the summer fog enveloped Candlestick Park.

Vail never got his bat going with the Giants – collecting just four hits for a less than robust .154 average before moving on to the Montreal Expos in a swap for the equally stark IF Wallace Johnson.

Why Was He A Giant?

Coming off a thrilling 1982 season, the Giants were forecast as a potential contender in 1983 and they did not sit pat.

SF shed veteran stalwarts 2B Joe Morgan, LHP Al Holland and 1B Reggie Smith while taking on RHP Mike Krukow, RHP Mark Davis and IF/OF Joel Youngblood.

The .279 career hitting Vail was acquired to be the right-handed counterpart to left-handed pinch-hitter Champ Summers. Vail came over from the the Reds in exchange for swingman RHP Rich Gale.

Vail was coming off a nice ‘82 season for Cincinnati, batting .276 (8-for-29) with 9 RBI as a pinch batter – the thing was he wanted to be in the starting lineup.

At first he was gung-ho about joining the Orange & Black: “It’s great to be coming home,” Vail told the local papers. “In Little League and high school, Mays and McCovey were my guys. The big thrill will be when I get out on the field at Candlestick.”

When he realized the Giants weren’t about to bench Jeffery Leonard, Chilli Davis or Jack Clark for him, Vail’s enthusiasm waned and he came off as an ingrate.

“I could write a book, and maybe I will about not getting a chance to play,” Vail proclaimed shortly before becoming an ex-Giant.

Before & After

Originally signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, Vail made his big league debut with the New York Mets in 1975 – and what a debut it was.

Vail slashed a pinch-hit single in his first at-bat – (off no less than Houston Astros powerhouse RHP J.R. Richard.)

Then , Vail enjoyed his first multi-hit MLB game at Candlestick Park – singling twice in a 6-5 Mets win vs. the Giants (8/22/75).

Later that weekend, Vail was one of only two New York batters to reach base – he walked – as the Giants’ RHP Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets 6-0 in the nightcap of a double header (8/24/75).

The following day, Vail would bat 4-for-4 in a Mets win at San Diego.

Going forward, Vail batted safely in his next 22 games games to tie a then modern day rookie hitting streak- batting .364 over the span.

While Vail never did reach the stardom forecast after his great start, he was a reliable big leaguer – carving out a 10 – year big league career as a platoon OF.

He was a career .299 hitter vs. lefties and a credible pinch-hitter.

He Never Got His Own Bobblehead. But…

In one of the more bizarre games of 1983, Vail gave the Giants a 3-2, 7th inning lead when he knocked in two runs with a pinch-hit single off future Giant RHP Dave LaPoint at St. Louis (4/29/83).

The Cards retied the contest and it remained that way until the 13th when the Busch stadium lights suddenly cut out, throwing everyone into darkness.

Umpires were forced to suspend action until the following day. The clubs played three innings until St. Louis won in the bottom of the 16th inning by a score of 6-5, when C Milt May fumbled a throw to the plate on a force play.

Giant Footprint

Vail certainly wasn’t the only obscure native San Franciscan to play for the Giants.

RHP Keith Comstock made just 15 relief outings for the 1987 Giants – but he was notable for being included in the trade that brought Giants legend OF Kevin Mitchell to town.

OF Jalal Leach collected just one hit in eight games for the 2001 Giants – but he was well publicized at the time because he was a long time minor leaguer who had never played in the majors before.

And John Boccabella, a back-up C for the 1974 Giants hit only .138 in 29 games – but he was forever immortalized in pop culture by being mentioned in a script of an episode of “The Streets of San Francisco.”

Tony the Tiger Hayes does He was a Giant? features at every San Francisco Giants Tuesday night home game. Sure as the Giants orange and white creamsicle uniforms they wear on Tuesday night home games The Tiger delivers at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

He Was a Giant? Reggie Smith By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former Giants Jack Clark (22) and Reggie Smith (14) celebrate a big hit during their Candlestick Park days in San Francisco during the 1982 season (photo provided by Tony the Tiger Hayes)

He Was a Giant? Reggie Smith

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

When big league teams explore signing prospective free agents, one attribute you rarely see in scouting reports is: “plus ability to leap into stands and sock paying customer in the jaw.”

Yet that was all anybody was talking about when the Giants shockingly signed long-time Dodgers slugger (the term had dual meaning in this case) Reggie Smith, to a one-year $300,000 contract just prior to the start of spring training in 1982.

After missing a good portion of the previous two seasons with a shoulder injury, the seven time All-Star’s most recent headline grabbing event had come six months earlier when the eternally gruff Smith – sporting a satin, Dodgers blue warm-up jacket, a billowing Afro and a snarl – climbed into the stands during a game (9/24/81) at Candlestick Park to throttle an abusive heckler.

A 38-year-old fan sitting adjacent to the visitors dugout had spent most of the game verbally deriding the Dodgers from his perch.

Nothing unusual about that. But when the guy upped the hectoring to a new level by whipping a plastic souvenir batting helmet in Smith’s direction, the muscular Dodger lost it.

In the wink of an eye Smith was up in the stands and working over the besotted punter with an impressive one-two combo. For several moments the boiling-mad Dodger mixed it up with the offending belligerent blowhard and a bunch of his boozed-up buddies before city cops broke up the brouhaha.

Smith, who was ejected from the game and later fined $5,000, left the field enveloped within a battalion of San Francisco Police officers. At least two beer bottles were thrown in Smith’s direction as he made his way down the right field line to the Los Angeles clubhouse.

This would be the player the Giants would soon introduce as their new starting first baseman.

Why Was He a Giant?

After coming up short three previous times in World Series action – Boston (1967) and Los Angeles (1977-78) – Smith was finally a member of a World Championship club in 1981 when the Dodgers up ended the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

But the ‘81 world’s title season had left a bitter taste for Reggie. Unlike his previous World Series experiences in which he was knee deep in the action, Smith rode the pine in the ‘81 Fall Classic, generating just a pair of measly pinch-hit at-bats.

The World Series was a frustrating extension of Smith’s ‘81 regular season. Due to a slow to heal shoulder injury, Reggie had been a forgotten man and hardly saw the field during the Dodgers strike abbreviated ‘81 campaign.

Permanently replaced in the Dodgers lineup by young slugger Pedro Guerrero, the fiercely-proud Smith spent the season on the bench counting down the days to his impending free-agency.

Smith’s relationship with the Dodgers had been deteriorating since 1979 when he said he was “lied to” by the Dodgers, claiming the club had reneged on a contract promise. Dodgers executive Al Campanis shot back, calling Smith a “disruptive influence.”

After the ‘81 season, Smith, who never exactly fit the Dodgers Hollywood rah-rah image, was free to choose his own path. But not many teams were were beating down the doors to invest in a soon to be 37-year-old outfielder, who hadn’t actually played the outfield in close to two years.

The Yankees were interested in signing Smith as a full-time designated hitter. But the macho ball player had long felt that DH-ing was emasculating. Also, given his previous torturous experience of playing in Boston, Smith wanted nothing to do with the East Coast.

So, despite his recent run-ins with the Creatures of Candlestick, San Francisco was at the top of his destination list.

He brushed off any lingering resentment from the fight in the stands.

“That incident occurred because I was doing well against the Giants,” Smith lectured the press. “So if I do well for the Giants there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Smith couldn’t help himself from tacking on: “But, I don’t play for the fans, anyway.”

Smith rattled off some of the reasons he longed to sport the Orange & Black:

The Bay Area’s close proximity to his L.A. home. A chance to play for the like-minded, hard-nosed manager Frank Robinson. And his belief that the Giants were a franchise on the come.

But everyone knew the unspoken driving force behind Smith’s Golden Gate longings was the fact that the Giants offered the best opportunity to aggrieve the shabby treatment he believed he received in his waning days as a Dodger.

As it turned out in his one-year as a Giant, Smith rarely passed on a opportunity to skewer his former club. With San Francisco Smith batted an even .300 vs. L.A. (15-for-50) and played in more games against his former club (16) than he did against any other team.

Overall, Smith enjoyed a fantastic season with San Francisco. In 106 games, Smith batted .284 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI. He was a finalist for ‘82 NL Comeback Player of the Year, but lost out to Giants teammate Joe Morgan.

Smith also crushed career home run No. 300 as a Giant, taking Cardinals right-hander Dave LaPoint deep in a 8-3 loss at Candlestick Park (5/25/82).

With San Francisco, Smith was far from a “disruptive influence” in fact he and fellow veteran star Joe Morgan often acted as on-field coaches for a resurgent Giants club that burned rubber down the tail end of the ‘82 season, falling just just two games short of a division title.

Of course Smith may have been the happiest guy in the Giants clubhouse when Morgan hit his walk off homer off the Terry Forster to spoil the Dodgers post-season dreams on the last day of the season.

Before & After

Despite is prowess as a ferocious power hitter and run producer – Smith typically took a backseat to more colorful and media friendly players in baseball during his career.

Though his career numbers are comparable to some Hall of Fame inductees, Smith – his 314 career long ball are third most by a switch hitter – he’s never been a serious candidate for Cooperstown induction.

A good portion of Smith’s career drama stemmed from his perceived image as a surly loner. And to be fair, Smith never went out of the way to portray a warm and fuzzy image.

But, on the other hand, who could blame Smith if at times he felt like a one-man band.

During his seven years with Boston, Smith established himself as a productive switch-hitter with power – cracking 149 long balls for the Red Sox. But despite his consistent production at the plate, Smith was never comfortable in New England.

As the Bosox’s first full-time black star, the fiercely independent Smith was often in the bullseye of unrelenting criticism. Disturbingly the constant panning was often tinged with racial overtones.

Critiques of his style of play came from all directions: fans, the press, team management and on one occasion, even teammate Carlton Fisk who dinged Smith for his attitude.

Smith’s stoic demeanor was interpreted as aloofness by many. Smith was accused of not running hard on routine plays and of being unwilling to play though injuries.

The Boston vitriol became so intense that the center fielder began wearing a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from projectiles (batteries, bottles, coins) hurled his way.

In 1973, Smith went AWOL from Fenway Park after leaving during the second inning of one game in which he was jeered for failing to run out a double play grounder and letting a routine fly ball drop. Smith said his cranky knees prevented him from doing his best.

Smith was fined and suspended by the team.

After Smith was traded to St. Louis after a miserable 1973 Red Sox season. The Cardinals provided Smith a respite from the Boston drama and he played very well in the shadows of the Gateway Arch.

Smith loved the more aggressive style of National League ball and established himself as one of the league’s performers, batting .300 in back-back seasons in 1974-75. He was named to the All-Star team each season, slugging a home run in the ‘74 All-Star Game.

But after a listless start to the 1976 season, Smith was on the move again – this time he was homeward bound to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers would be the perfect fit for Smith. With the slugger dropped into the heart of L.A.’s already made to win lineup, the Dodgers overtook Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, and won the NL Pennant in 1977-78.

In ‘77, Smith was one of four Dodgers to clobber at least 30 home runs on the year.

Smith went off in the 1977 World Series bopping three home runs. Alas he was over-shadowed by another Reggie – Mr. October – Reggie Jackson, who crushed five long balls, including three in his iconic series Game 6 performance.

At age 35, Smith’s right shoulder gave out when he torn the capsule in the joint in August of 1980 and would not play the rest of that season. In 1981 Smith did not start a single game, appearing in just two games in the field.

After his one year sojourn with the Giants, Smith went overseas to play for the Yominuri Giants of Japan. Though Smith feasted on Japanese pitching, he faced some of the same prejudices that he experienced in Boston.

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

After a season of inactivity, more than a few pundits wondered if Smith could still sting big league pitching when he joined the Giants in 1982.

But in his first official game as a Giant – played coincidentally at Dodger Stadium – Smith quickly shutdown any talk that he had lost any bat speed when he batted 2-for-3 and scored a run in an opening night 4-3 loss. (4/6/82).

“You don’t forget how to hit,” Smith commented. “I could hit in a snowbank.”

That season Smith would play his home games in a ball park that was about a cozy as a snowbank.

But Smith did fantastic at Candlestick, batting .279 and swatting 10 of his 18 home runs in the meat locker-like environments of the old concrete bowl.

In one of his more memorable games as a Giant, Smith swatted a walk-off pinch home run to lead San Francisco to a 5-4 come from behind victory over the Mets at the ‘Stick (4/31/82)

After swinging and missing two pitches from Neil Allen, Smith clocked a screaming liner in the Candlestick Park right field seats for a dramatic three-run homer to give the Giants a 5-4 victory 4/31/82).

“I’m up there to take three swings – whatever happens, happens,” Reggie said afterwards. “I’ve been there before.”

In another thriller, Smith, had four hits and a walk, leading the Giants to a comeback 7-6 win over visiting Houston (8/6/82).

Smith and Jack Clark who each homered earlier in the contest, led off the ninth with back-to-back round trippers off reliever Dave Smith. Darrell Evans then drove home the winning run with a pinch single.

After his ninth inning blast the crowd kept chanting “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” until Smith popped out of the dugout for a rousing curtain call.

It was a slap-on -the -back compliment unlike any other Smith had received in his career.

Giant Footprint

The intense Giants and Dodgers rivalry has produced some of the most notorious fights in baseball history. But those brawls have typically taken place on the field – naturally between the players.

But beginning in the late 1970s, a good portion of the brawling during Giants/Dodgers games was being staged in the grand stands.

Where once Juan Marichal was tearing after John Roseboro with a Louisville Slugger, Gene the Giants Groupie was going dukes up with Donnie the Dodger Devotee.

The increase in fan fisticuffs dates back to the Dodgers hiring of Tommy Lasorda as manager in 1977 and an influx of transplanted Dodgers fans in the Bay Area.

By the mid-1970s, kids who grew in Southern California as first generation L.A. Dodgers fans had began migrating north for work and school.

Things did not go well when they visited Candlestick Park and rubbed the Dodgers success and abundance of riches in the faces of fans of the then threadbare Giants.

The heat was really turned up on the rivalry after the vociferous Tommy Lasorda took over as L.A. skipper, replacing the staid Walter Alston.

The rotund head Dodgers cheerleader was more than willingly to fan the flames of the rivalry by talking up his nonsense about the “Big Blue Dodger” and entering the field of play at the ‘Stick by blowing kisses to agitated Giants fans as if he were a professional wrestling heel.

With stadium beer flowing like a bathtub spigot it didn’t take much to get tensions sparked up in the ‘Stick stands.

But Smith’s 1981 rumble was something never seen before: a fight between player and fan.

Tensions had been tightener than usual that night after Giants starter Tom Griffin hit a Dodgers batter earlier in the game.

According to Smith, who was not in the lineup and spent the game standing to the right of the dugout, he and a few Giants fans had been verbally jousting in jest most of the game.

But things began turning ugly in the late innings as the alcohol consumption and the Dodgers lead increased.

The ribbing began taking more of a personal nature.

Smith explained after the game:

“The guy tells me, ‘if I come down on the field my company will lose a $40,000 employee. And if I break your arm the Dodgers might lose the pennant race.’

“I told him I kind of doubted it. Then he threatened to throw his helmet at me and I said, ‘Now that could get me in there.’ Then he whisked it at me, and I went in.”

Giants manager Frank Robinson said the whole ugly affair could have been avoided. He blamed the Dodgers manager.

“It was all Lasorda’s fault. If he gets his players back in the dugout where they belong no one is out there for the fans to yell at,” Robinson lectured. “Lasorda’s too damn interested in the TV cameras and the press box to do his job right.”

The San Francisco Police ended up filling up a paddy wagon with about a half dozen fans and carted them off to the city lock-up.

Smith did not join them at the gray bar hotel, despite apparently landing the most punches.

“I got in my licks,” Smith said post-game. “It was very dangerous because he had friends. But I took my chances. He threw the first punch and missed. I didn’t. One of his friends got me. He paid for it, too. Another guy with glasses took a shot at me too. He’s not wearing glasses anymore.”

Tony the Tiger does He was a Giant? features after Tuesday home games at http://www.sportsradioservice.com

Rodon Not the First Giants All-Star Game Snub – Willie Mac Denied a Spot 45 Years Ago

Legendary San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey did not get selected for the 1977 All Star Game in Yankee Stadium but had no hard feelings saying that other first basemen in the National League did as well or better than him. (photo from the MLB Hall of Fame)

By Tony The Tiger Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO–This week, Ashley Rodon did her best Tammy Wynette impression when the wife of Giants ace Carlos Rodon expressed shock and disbelief that her left-handed hubby was left off the National League All-Star team.

Mrs. Rodon’s “Stand by your Man” moment came on Twitter when she expressed her repudiation by thumbing the following golden nugget after the final All-Star rosters were released.

“Are you actually kidding…. 😂 Man leads the NL in WAR. Wtf,” Ashley Rodon wrote on Twitter.

Rodon has since been added to the NL roster as an injury replacement for Milwaukee’s Josh Hader.

An analytical dreamboat, Rodon – was on the AL All-Star team in 2021 as a member of the Chicago White Sox member – has been one of baseball’s most dominating pitching talents in 2022.

Besides WAR, Carlos Rodon’s 31 percent strikeout rate is second-best among NL starters and fifth-best in all of baseball. His 2.13 FIP is the lowest among National League starters, and his .202 opponents’ batting average is the fifth-lowest in the NL.

For you old schoolers, Rodon also had an 8-5 record and 2.70 ERA.

Though the most blatantly over looked pitcher this year, Rodon was not the only star hurler denied an All -Star nod.

Other tough-luck pitchers this season include White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease (2.45 ERA, 131 strikeouts), Seattle’s Logan Gilbert (10-3, 2.80 ERA) and Toronto’s ex-Giant Kevin Gausman (2.86 ERA).

On the offensive side, slugging Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley (.282, 23, 56), the Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman (.303, 11, 54), and Cincinnati third baseman Brandon Drury (.277, 18, 50) will also be sitting out the Mid-Summer Classic to be held at Dodger Stadium next week.

Of course this story is one that repeats it self like bell pepper every summer about this time.

Every season seemingly shoo-in candidates are left off All-Star rosters for varied reasons, including lack of roster space and the fact that every team must be represented.

Historically, the Giants have had their share of overlooked potential All-Stars.

One of the most notorious slighted players was Pablo Sandoval in 2009. The Kung-Fu Panda, in his first full season in the majors, was batting .333, with 14 homers and 35 RBI at the All-Star break that season but was passed over for a spot on the squad.

But arguably the most egregious All-Star Game omission in San Francisco history came in 1977 when a revitalized Willie McCovey was not chosen to represent the Giants in the All-Star Game played at the remodeled Yankee Stadium.

After playing the previous three seasons with San Diego and Oakland, the Hall of Fame slugger made a triumphant return to the the Orange & Black.

Mac had batted a combined . 204, 7, 36 for the Padres and A’s in 1976, and was no lock to make the Giants roster when he came to the San Francisco spring training camp in 1977.

But not only did the 38-year-old McCovey make the club, the long time Golden Gate treasure was the Giants top player.

McCovey scalded the ball the first half of the season and was batting a .284, with 14 homers and 36 RBI.

Among his exploits during the first half of the ‘77 season were a two home run performance (including a grand slam) in the same inning of a 14-9 win at Cincinnati (6/27/77).

McCovey also helped revive a long dormant Giants fan base, bringing back into the Orange & Black fold young adults who grew up rooting for the charismatic 1969 NL MVP and a new crew of young Giants fans.

It would have done wonders for the Giants had Mac received some national love on the All-Star broadcast.

After breaking in with an unforgettable 4-for-4 debut vs. Hall of Fame hurler Robin Roberts 1959 debut vs. Philadelphia at Seals Stadium McCovey quickly became a Giants fan favorite.

Mac helped lead the Giants to their first west coast NL pennant in 1962 and nearly knocked in the winning run of Game 7 of the World Series. Alas, McCovey’s fierce line drive was snared by New York’s Bobby Richardson, with two out in the ninth inning to end the series.

McCovey led the Senior Circuit in home runs in 1963 and 1968-69.

McCovey was also an All-Star Game mainstay during the prime of his 21-year career. Mac was the NL starting first baseman in 1966 and 1968-69. He also appeared in the 1963, and 1970-71 All-Star Games.

McCovey was voted unanimous MVP of the 1969 Mid -Summer Classic when he walloped a pair of home runs and collected three RBIs in the NL’s 9-3 win at Washington.

Because of his late addition to the Giants roster, McCovey’s wasn’t even listed on the ‘77 Gillette All-Star Game ballot. Though loyal Giants fans made a great effort to vote Mac in as a write in candidate, the Dodgers Steve Garvey ran away with the first base vote.

National League manager Sparky Anderson had an opportunity to bring McCovey’s inspirational comeback to a national audience, but he choose not to add McCovey to the NL all-star squad as a first base back-up, going with Atlanta’s first baseman Willie Montanez as the Braves only representative.

Had MLB reserved a spot on the All-Star roster for a popular aging veteran, like they began doing this season, McCovey most likely would have appeared in the ‘77 game.

San Francisco’s only All-Star representative in ‘77 was left-handed reliever Gary Lavelle. While Lavelle was certainly deserving of the honor – 6-4, 1.41, 11 saves – McCovey was also more than worthy.

Not only for his stellar performance that season but also as an honor for his career accomplishments.

Naturally McCovey, arguably the most humble and approachable superstar athletes in Bay Area history took the snub in stride.

“I’m leaving an open mind to it. I don’t care if you’re going for the first time or the seventh, it’s a big honor to make the team. I would have been tickled to go,” the 18-year big leaguer said at the time.

But McCovey knew there was only so much space on each team and didn’t want any special privileges handed to him based on popularity.

“There are also some other first baseman with better stats than me that didn’t make it,” McCovey said. “So why should I.”

He Was a Giant? Joe Pignatano C 1962 by Tony the Tiger Hayes

San Francisco Giants catcher Tony Pigatano trying to coral a live chicken with the help of stadium security later Giants pitcher Stu Miller threw his warm up jacket over the fowl and took him away (file photo from newspapers.com)

Joe Pignatano – C – 1962 – # 2

He was a Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Dozens of players from Giants all-time great Juan Marichal to current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts have experienced life on both sides of the legendary San Francisco vs. Los Angeles baseball rivalry.

But catcher Joe Pignatano, who recently passed away at age 92, was the first to do it.

“Piggy” was also the first of only four players to play on pennant winning clubs with both original west coast major league franchises.

A member of the Dodgers’ 1959 World Series winning club, Pignatano also played for the 1962 Giants who took the Yankees to seven games of the World Series before bowing out.

No one could have blamed Pignatano if he felt a bit like Judas, the first time he buttoned up Giants flannels in 1962.

After all, he was born and raised in Brooklyn, had his heart ripped out by Bobby Thomson in 1951 and spent more than a decade on the Dodgers payroll.

But there was the career reserve receiver in 1962 warming up Giants pitchers and playing in seven games for the sworn enemy.

Despite seeing a thimble full of action before his departure from the club in July, Pignatano predicted a bright future for the ‘62 club early that season.

“Sure it’s early,” said Pignatano after San Francisco jumped off to a 33-14 start. “But I think we’re gonna win it.”

The native New Yorker was on the active roster when the Giants made their much ballyhooed initial visit back to the Polo Grounds to face the expansion Mets in June of ‘62.

An overflow crowd of 43,742 was on hand for the festival Friday night opener. The convulsive crowd was especially hyped to welcome home prodigal son Willie Mays.

“Hey, mayor,” Pignatano shouted out to Willie across the clubhouse after Mays clouted a solo home run and batted 2-for-5 in the 9-6 Giants victory (6/1/62). “You’re the mayor of this town alright. Did you hear all that cheering for you?”

The Giants swept New York in the historic four game series, but alas, Pignatano watched it all from the bullpen. He did not make it into a game.

Warming up pitchers comprised most of Joe’s duties in his time with the Giants. Despite being present on the roster through mid-July, he appeared in just seven contests, starting one solitary game.

With power hitting backstops Tom Haller and Ed Bailey sharing the catching load, there wasn’t much left over for the 32-year-old Pignatano.

In fact, the most attention the career backup received during his days in Orange & Black involved chasing a fowl.

Not a foul ball, mind you, but a real live rooster.

During a July game vs. the visiting Dodgers, a rowdy cock suddenly appeared on the field at Candlestick Park near the Giants bullpen and stomped angrily about the warning track.

The following day newspapers across the country ran wire service photos of an animated Piggy unsuccessfully attempting to shoo the annoyed red and black rooster off the diamond.

The game was momentarily suspended as a flock of Giants batboys and stadium security guards tried to coral the aggressive bantam.

Giants relief pitcher Stu Miller finally ensnarled the pissed off poultry by tossing a bullpen parka over the bird.

Why was he a Giant?

Pignatano was acquired from Kansas City prior to the 1962 season. Pignatano had seen his most extensive big league action for the Athletics, hitting .243 in a career high 93 games.

The Brooklyn born native credited K.C. skipper Joe Gordon with improving his batting stroke.

“Gordon stayed right with me and kept reminding me to do certain things,” Pignatano said.

San Francisco was sold. The Giants surrendered young outfielder Jose Tartabull who would enjoy a lengthy major league career in the transaction.

Why, exactly? Well it wasn’t because the Giants lacked backstops. Ahead of Pignatano on the San Francisco catching depth chart were Tom Haller and Ed Bailey and prospect John Orsino was on the come.

And it apparently wasn’t because Giants management respected the ex-Dodger from afar. “(Giants manager) Alvin Dark never cared for me,” Pignatano told his biographer a few years back.

Never the less, Pignatano found his way onto the Giants opening day roster.

Before and After

Pignatano signed with the hometown Dodgers at age 19 in 1948 and would the spend the better part of the next decade dutifully climbing the minor league ranks before making his big league debut in 1957.

But it was bittersweet breakthrough for the catcher. Just as he was arriving, the Dodgers were already cementing plans to decamp his blue collar hometown for sunny Southern California.

Coincidentally, Pignatano appeared the Dodgers’ final home game in Brooklyn, catching the final four innings after subbing in for Roy Campanella and receiving the for the rest of Danny Mc Devitt’s 2-0 Ebbets Field shutout.

In 1959 Pignatano enjoyed a career highlight in the second game of a tiebreaker playoff series in vs. Milwaukee. Pignatano singled to fuel a rally that led to a Dodger win. That victory catapulted the Dodgers to their first west coast World Series berth where they defeated the Chicago “Go-Go” White Sox.

After batting 1-for-5 in his abbreviated Giants stint, the Orange & Black transferred his contract to his hometown Mets on 7/13/62.

“Piggy” would finish his big league playing career with the Mets that season. In his final big league at bat Joe dramatically grounded into a triple play.

He Never Had a Giants Bobblehead Day. But…

In his only start for San Francisco, Pignatano also delivered his only hit, smashing a single to center field off Ray Sadecki in a 5-2 home loss to the Cardinals (6/15/62).

Giant Footprint

In 1965, Pignatano began 20-year consecutive run as a major league bullpen coach with the Senators, Mets and Braves.

During his long tenure with the Mets which included the shocking 1969 World Series Championship club Pignatano started planting vegetables in the New York bullpen. A lavish garden of tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, radishes and lettuce some how survived the steady stream of tobacco juice from Mets relievers.

Joe was on the Mets staff when New York acquired Mays from the Giants in 1972.

Obviously he was overjoyed with the reunion.

“You were my hero when I was younger,” Pignatano crowed despite being two years older than Willie. “My father used to take me to see you play!”

He Was A Giant (Hot Dog)? Willie Montanez 1975-76 by Tony the Tiger Hayes

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.

Giant Footprint

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.

He was a Giant? Tim Layana feature by Tony the Tiger Hayes

Tim Layana who on pitched just one game for the San Francisco Giants in 1993 is the featured subject on He was a Giant? (baseball card of Layana from Fleer Pro Cards)

One Game Was Enough

Tim Layana – RHP – 1993 – # 36

He was a Giant?

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO–It’s not often you see a pitcher with a four figure ERA and it’s even more unusual to see a club dump a player after just one game – but that was the tale of Layana’s Giants career which lasted all of a single summer day at Candlestick Park.

Two innings, five earned runs (22.45 ERA) and it was, uh, Tim can we have the uniform back?

The Giants got blown out by the visiting Dodgers, 15-1 that day, with Layana and fellow short-term hurler Gino Minutelli taking a beating out of the pen.

“Tim and Gino took one for the team and didn’t complain about it,” said Giants manager Dusty Baker.

But all good vibes aside it wasn’t enough to keep Layana around. The next day he was sent back to the minors where he remained the rest of his professional career which continued through 1997.

Before & After

A big, hard-thrower out of the Los Angeles area, Layana was a star at Loyola Marymount College where he established 14 school pitching records -including both season and career wins – and led the school to the 1986 College World Series.

Layana was also a lesser known, if not steady, member of the Reds 1990 World Championship team bullpen.

Big and burly and a bit of a hot head, Layana fit in perfectly in the Reds “Nasty Boys” bullpen along with the loathsome Randy Myers, quick-tempered Norm Charlton and obnoxious Rob Dibble.

Originally inked by the Yankees, Layana got into a tiff with Bucky Dent, his Triple-A manager, and was left exposed in the 1989 Rule 5 draft where he was quickly scooped up by the Reds.

Layana did not apparently grasp the romanticism of wearing the Yankee Pinstripes.

“I’m not Joe DiMaggio. I wasn’t born to be a Yankee,” Layana said in 1990. “I grew up in LA and Yankees tradition didn’t mean much to me. I was a Dodgers fan.”

As a rookie Layana went 5-3, 3.49 in 55 game out of the Reds bullpen and was part of the Reds 1990 world championship club that shockingly swept the heavily favored Oakland A’s in four.

In 1991 however he struggled and spent all of 1992 in the minors.

Layana was added to the Giants spring bullpen mix in 1993, but with a relief staff already stacked with the likes of Rod Beck, Mike Jackson, Dave Righetti and Kevin Rogers – Layana began the season a Tripe-A Phoenix.

He got his shot in San Francisco after a strong performance out of the Phoenix bullpen where he saved eight games in 42 appearances.

He wasn’t Dave Righetti. But…

The Giants enjoyed one of their best regular seasons ever in 1993, winning 103 games. They began July 26 with an eight game lead over the Braves that day but, with the Dodgers visiting Candlestick Park that Monday night the Orange & Black dropped a rotten egg.

San Francisco starter Bryan Hickerson was roasted for six earned runs and didn’t survive the third inning.

Layana came on and was roasted for five earned runs on seven hits – including a two-run homer by Henry Rodriguez – in two innings of relief in a 15-1 home beat down by the Dodgers.

Layana made Giants fans temporarily happy by retiring future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza on a ground out that day.

Giant Footprint

Layana was tragically killed in 1998 when the SUV he was driving was broadsided by another automobile in Bakersfield. Layana who was not wearing a seat beat was thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. He was 35, had a family, and had just embarked on a high school coaching career in Southern California.

He Was A Giant? John Fitzgerald pitched for San Francisco for a lone season in 1958

San Francisco Giants pitcher John Fitzgerald pitched for the Giants for just one season the first year of the team since moving from New York (file photo from pinterest)

He Was A Giant?

John Fitzgerald – LHP – 1958 – # 35

By Tony The Tiger Hayes

In 1958, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was preparing to launch his historic presidential campaign. That year the freshly minted San Francisco Giants briefly had their own John Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-3, left-handed pitcher out of Brooklyn, New York.

How briefly? Fitzgerald’s big league inauguration, full-term, lame duck status and exit from the majors occurred all in a single game.

Why was he a Giant?

It’s kind of a mystery. Prior to making his major league debut with San Francisco, Fitzgerald had not pitched in a professional game since 1956, when he was drafted into military service.

When John Francis Fitzgerald made his major league debut and swan song on the final game of the 1958 season he was 25 years old.

It’s possible Fitzgerald mustered out of the service in the City at the Presidio making it convenient to have him swing by Seals Stadium to appear in the last game of the season.

The facts of him joining the big league club are as murky as the lone photo ever seen of southpaw in a Giants uniform.

Before & After

Signed by the Giants in 1953, Fitzgerald enjoyed significant success in the minors. As a 19 year old minor league rookie in 1953, Fitzgerald went 8-8, 4.64 for the St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League.

The Giants prospect really opened eyes in 1955 when he topped the Carolina League in strikeouts (233) while a member of the Class-D Danville Leafs. He finished with a stellar 14-7, 2.87 ledger and was named to the loop’s All-Star club.

But then, Fitzgerald’s pitching career was put into suspended animation for two seasons as he fulfilled his military obligations at about the same time Elvis Presley was also cleaning and carrying a rifle.

Then suddenly in September of 1958, as the Giants were winding down their inaugural season of fog ball, Fitzgerald was added to the big league roster.

Fitzgerald developed elbow issues the following spring and struggled the remainder of his professional career, spent entirely in the Giants organization.

He pitched two more seasons in the minor leagues (1959-60) before leaving organized baseball at the age of 27 after a winless season at Class-A Springfield in 1960.

He Never Had a Bobblehead Day. But…

Considering he had been on the shelf for two years, Fitzgerald had a stellar big league debut.

With the Giants in third place, 13 games back of Milwaukee, Giants manager Bill Rigney selected Fitzgerald to start the 79-74 Giants 1958 finale vs. the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

Fitzgerald retired the lead off batter, left fielder Ellis Burton, on a ground out to shortstop Andre Rodgers, before walking shortstop Lee Tate. Fitzgerald faced the toughest batter of his life next, the illustrious Stan Musial. As expected, “Stan the Man” stung the San Francisco rookie’s first pitch, but the liner was snagged by second baseman Danny O’Connell, who then doubled Tate off first base.

With confidence surging through his left arm, Fitzgerald went to work in the second. “Fitz” struck out All-Star third baseman Ken Boyer and then fanned in succession catcher Gene Green and center fielder Bobby Smith.

Fitzgerald took a 3-0 lead into the third inning, but that changed quickly when St.Louis right fielder Joe Cunningham blasted a lead off homer over Seals Stadium’s right field fence. The long ball marked Cunningham’s career high 12th homer of the season.

Fitzgerald quickly regained his composure however and retired second baseman Eddie Kasko on a fly out to Willie Mays in center field. He nabbed pitcher Sam Jones – who would join the Giants in 1959 – on a ground out to Rodgers and notched Burton again on a ground out to third baseman Jim Davenport.

And with that, Fitzgerald exited the contest in favor of fellow rookie Dom Zanni. The fellow New York City native would go the next four frames, allowing one run, and was credited with the victory. Al Worthington recorded his 16th save in the 7-2 Giants win before 19,435 fans.

Fitzgerald would never appear in another major league contest.

Giant Footprint.

Fitzgerald was in the running for a roster spot in 1959, but his chances took a fatal blow when he broke down in an exhibition vs. the Cubs.

Fitzgerald suffered what trainer Doc Bowman described as a “shock to the ulnar nerve” of his left elbow, describing the pain as similar to “hitting your funny bone.”

Only Fitzgerald wasn’t laughing. Today, Fitzgerald would have probably been prescribed “Tommy John” surgery. But of course that baseball career altering ligament replacement surgery was still more than a decade away from being developed in 1959.

Fitzgerald tried pitching through the pain, but he was not effective.

After he left baseball, the trail runs as cold as a Candlestick Park hot dog on Fitzgerald.

Of all the living players from the 1958 club, Fitzgerald was the only one author Steve Bitker could not locate for his 1998 book “The Original San Francisco Giants.” Some recent reports have him residing in suburban New Jersey.

Fitzgerald would be 89 years old making him one of the oldest living former Giants.

George Foster He was a Giant? By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

Former San Francisco Giants George Foster circa 1971 around the time of his rookie season played for the Giants until May 1971 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds (ebay file photo)

George Foster -OF – 1971- # 14

He Was a Giant?

By Tony “The Tiger” Hayes

The San Francisco Giants never considered George Foster to be anything more than an understudy to his athletic idol – Willie Mays.

So it was ironic that six years after the Orange & Black dealt Foster to the Cincinnati Reds in late May of 1971, in exchange for a package that turned out to be an empty box, that the late blooming All-Star became the first hitter to punch 50 home runs in a big league season since… you know who.

Foster would finish his border line Hall of Fame career with 347 home runs and 1,235 RBI. He was 1977 National League Most Valuable Player; started six All-Star Games (MVP in 1976 Mid-Summer Classic); and was a member of two World Series Championship teams.

The trade of Foster has come to be known as one of the most embarrassingly lopsided deals in west coast Giants history – and rightfully so – but in the late spring of 1971, the ill-fated swap hardly caused a ripple throughout the Major Leagues.

Foster’s major league sample size was so inconsequential and the naturally shy backup’s demeanor so deferential, that Foster was a virtual unknown 100 yards beyond Candlestick Park’s boundaries.

Cincinnati skipper Sparky Anderson wasn’t even sure what he was getting back in Foster.

“I haven’t seen much of him,” Anderson admitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The only way to find out about him is to stick him out there and see what he does.”

But those who knew the introverted Foster best – his teammates – took the unusual step of ripping the transaction the day it went down.

They recognized the trade as a stinker from jump street.

“I can’t understand this,” said Giants breakout outfield talent Bobby Bonds. “George is a very promising player and I don’t know why he was traded.”

The typically soft-spoken Giants superstar first baseman Willie McCovey added: “There is no telling what can happen in baseball. It is awfully hard to figure out.”

At the time of the trade – in which the Giants received rookie shortstop Frank Duffy and journeyman right-handed reliever Vern Geishert – the club was without starting left fielder Ken Henderson who was sidelined with a groin strain – making the deal all that more curious.

“Who’s going to play the outfield?” an anonymous Giant asked the San Francisco Examiner’s Bucky Walter. “The trade deadline is June 15, couldn’t they wait until Henderson is ready to play?”

“We need outfielders not another shortstop,” complained another unnamed Giant.

The diffident Foster also stated his angst, voicing a public opinion for the first time in his career about… well, anything.

George was especially unnerved that it was Lon Simmons, of all people, who informed him of the trade. Now, Foster had no quarrel with the Giants’ baritone play-by-play man. The thing was, the 22-year-old just didn’t expect to receive orders to clear out his locker stall from someone who had just concluded a read for Lowenbrau beer.

“I learned of the trade via the radio… during the 6th inning without any notification from the front office,” a choked-up Foster told local scribes after the Giants crumpled the visiting Expos 8-3 on a bright Saturday afternoon (5/29/71).

Sans Foster, the Giants would go on to play winning ball the rest of the 1971 season, trading daily punches with the Dodgers before winning the National League flag by one game in the legendary Mays’ final full season in Giants mufti.

There would be no more hand-wringing in Giants-land regarding Foster’s departure the rest of the ‘71 season – nor frankly for the next few seasons.

It would take until 1975 before Foster fully matured as a power hitter and began wrecking havoc on opposing pitchers in a fashion that brought to mind the one and only “Say Hey, Kid.”

Why Was He A Giant?

After two short stints with the big club in 1969-70, Foster broke camp with the Giants in 1971. At the time of the trade to Cincinnati, Foster was doing about as well as expected, batting .267, 3, 8 in 36 contests as Mays’ caddy on a surging Giants club that led the National League West by nearly 10 games.

In his most memorable game with San Francisco, Foster batted 4-for-4, with a double and solo home run and three RBIs in a 5-3 road clocking of the Braves (4/28/71).

The ‘71 club featured a mixture of established Giants stars (Mays, McCovey and storied right-handed starting pitchers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry), plus a new breed of San Francisco charges – including the speedy, power-hitting Bonds, flashy second second baseman Tito Fuentes and a fresh-faced left side of the infield comprised of a pair of Bay-born rookies: third baseman “Dirty” Al Gallagher – the first native San Franciscan to play for the west coast Giants – and baby-faced shortstop Chris Speier of Alameda.

So why upset the apple cart and trade Foster in exchange for Duffy, an untested rookie, and ham and egger Geishert.

The answer may have arisen from the pitching side of the Giants clubhouse society. Decades after his final MLB game, Foster spoke of an old school Giants clubhouse where battle scarred athletes ruled the roost.

“The veteran players did not speak to the rookies. For awhile, a couple of guys didn’t speak to me, unfortunately, they were pitchers,” Foster recalled in an interview with “The Road to the Show” (YouTube) “So if you made a mistake in the outfield, they wanted to get you out of the lineup. They’d tell the manager ‘don’t play that kid when I’m pitching.’”

Gaylord Perry was a Giants pitcher who was notoriously hard on young teammates who bungled plays behind him. The taciturn Perry was known to display his pique with dismissive body language or by directly chewing out shoddy defenders right on the spot.

In one Perry start in ‘71, Foster butchered a couple of batted balls which lead directly to 4-1 Giants loss at Houston (5/21/71).

It’s quite possible that Perry privately grumbled to Giants manager Charlie Fox – a former catcher with pitching and defense-first mentality – about Foster’s defensive shortcomings.

Now, we’re not saying Gaylord forced the trade of Foster to Cincinnati, but the fact is, soon after his kick-the-can performance at the Astrodome, George was sent packing.

For San Francisco fans sake, let’s just hope the Giants didn’t foolhardily leave 344 potential home runs on the table and deal a future All-Star just because of a random bad day in the field that left Perry with a knot in his jock strap.

Before & After

Born in Alabama, Foster’s family joined the great southern migration to bustling northern and western U.S. cities in the mid-1950s, settling in the Los Angeles region. Though a young George grew up in the heart of Dodgers country, he was a devoted Willie Mays acolyte and simulated the celebrated Giant’s every move.

So imagine Foster’s delight when the Orange & Black scouted and signed him out of Torrance’s El Camino junior college. Within two years, Foster was lockering about 20 feet from Mays.

While some of the more experienced Giants kept rookies at an arm’s length, that was never the case with the warm-hearted Willie.

Just as he had taken fledging Giants from a previous era under his wing (McCovey, Willie Kirkland, Leon Wagner) Mays did the same with the following generations of young Giants.

In the case of Foster, Mays made sure he had plenty to eat.

“Bobby Bonds and I were were roommates and during spring training we would always go by Willie’s room at dinner time and pretend we we’re testing his food – like poison control- taste it make sure everything was fine,” Foster said with a wink in that same YouTube video. “We saved meal money by going to eat his steaks. We’d say ‘everything’s fine.’ And Willie would order more food for himself.”

Foster also discovered after his trade to Cincinnati, that Mays had called ahead to the Reds’ Pete Rose with a request from one All-Star to another.

“He told Pete, ‘take care of this kid,” Foster revealed years later. “It was heartwarming that Willie was still watching over me by making sure people were taking care of me.”

Foster actually walked into a pretty good situation with the Reds. With Bobby Tolan lost for the season with a Achilles injury, George took over in center field immediately in ‘71. Though he received plenty of big league experience that season, the trial run proved Foster still had lots of work to do on his journey to becoming an all-time great.

Over the next three seasons, Foster rotated between the Reds lineup, the bench and even Triple-A for extended stretches.

It wasn’t until ‘75, when Rose shifted from the outfield to third base, that Foster became a permanent member of the Big Red Machine’s celebrated every day lineup.

Cincinnati won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76 featuring a roll call of superstar hitters, including: Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench – but Foster was the Reds’ cleanup hitter.

Foster would not only lead the heavy-hitting Reds in RBI – but topped the entire NL in the key stat for three straight seasons from 1976-78.

In 1976, Foster was in contention for the Triple Crown for a good portion of the season – finishing at an sterling .306, 29, 121.

At age 30, the introverted slugger was also slowly breaking out of his shell.

After the ‘76 campaign, Foster raised eyebrows when he self-appointed himself league Most Valuable Player. Sheepishly, Foster was compelled to walk back those comments when he realized his teammate Joe Morgan was voted the honor.

Foster brushed off the fopaux and returned with an even better campaign in 1977. He upped his average to .320 and again was numero uno in the RBI column (149). This time around Foster went extra bananas with the home runs – bopping 52 long balls. No batter had reached the half century mark in taters since Mays also walloped 52 in his 1965 MVP campaign.

In ‘77, Foster was the clear and obvious pick for MVP.

Foster further solidified his superstar status in 1978, leading the NL in HR (40) and RBI (121). His numbers tailed off slightly in 1979-81, but he was still among the best power hitters in baseball.

In 1982, the Reds went in a different direction and traded Foster to the lowly Mets for pitching. After a decade in homespun Cincinnati, the relocation to cynical New York proved to be a difficult move for the sensitive Foster.

With the fabled Reds, Foster was part of a star-studded ensemble cast in a cash-box certified extravaganza. With the bungling Mets – Foster’s name was the only one atop the marquee of a panned revival in a rundown off-Broadway theatre with threadbare seats. In 1982-83, Foster labored though his first losing seasons since 1971.

By 1986, the reborn Mets had made great strides however and were on the crest of their first world championship since 1969. But they would do it without a slumping Foster who was benched in favor of future Giants star Kevin Mitchell.

Foster hinted that the Mets demoted him because he was black. An odd statement considering Mitchell was also African-American.

Foster later clarified that he meant to say baseball preferred to promote it’s white players over blacks as role models to young fans.

But the damage was done and a personally affronted New York manager Davey Johnson arranged for the purging of Foster from the Big Apple – denying George a shot at a third World Series title.

Foster wrapped up his big league career that season – appearing in a handful of games with the White Sox.

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

If the Giants weren’t clear in what they had in Foster when they traded him, it surely must have come sharper into focus when Foster returned to Candlestick Park with the Reds in mid-September of ‘71 for a mid-week two game set.

After back-to-back home losses to the Dodgers, the Giants’ once healthy NL West margin had dwindled to a solitary one-game lead. A year after winning the NL pennant, the Reds meanwhile had slumped in ‘71, settling into a very disappointing fifth place in the division. But Cincinnati was clearly up to playing the role of spoilers.

After taking the first game 4-2 (9/15/71), Cincinnati laid a worse beating on the Orange & Black the next day, winning 8-1 on a scorching Indian Summer afternoon.

The Reds took a slim 2-1 lead into the 8th before breaking open the contest with a five run outburst – the key strike coming on a booming, two-out Foster grand slam off Giants reliever Don McMahon.

After the game, Foster admitted he still had Orange & Black running through his veins -to a point.

“I really regretted leaving my friends and except when I’m batting I’m pulling for the Giants. I don’t want to see them blow it now,” said George after doing his best to make sure the Giants did indeed “blow it.”

The Giants would soon right the ship and clinched the West on the final day of the season with a 5-1 win at San Diego (9/30/71).

Giant Footprint

In hindsight the Giants trade of Foster was, without a doubt, a massive screw-up. But if you go back and dissect the swap from the Giants end, you can kind of see where they were coming from.

For starters, Foster was still a very raw talent when the Giants traded him. Foster had difficulty hitting the breaking pitch and struck out at a high rate (fanning in about 25 percent of his Giants at-bats).

Now, you have give the Reds credit for sticking with Foster through his painfully elongated growth period. But they could have also easily moved on from Foster at some point as well before he blossomed.

As far as the players the Giants received from Cincinnati, Geishert did not report to Triple-A Phoenix and never threw a pitch for the Giants organization, nor in the big leagues again.

But Duffy, the primary player coming back to San Francisco for Foster, was no random pick-up.

The Giants had long been enamored of the slick fielding infielder with Bay Area roots. An Oakland native, Duffy grew up in Turlock, before an impressive turn at Stanford University.

The Reds selected Duffy with their first-round draft pick of the secondary phase of the 1967 draft – apparently just as the Giants were closing in on the Pac-8 standout.

Duffy was slated to be the Reds shortstop of the future, but he was bypassed by the precocious Dave Conception, a future perennial Gold Glove Award winner and All-Star.

The Giants meanwhile we’re going with the fantastic looking rookie Speier at shortstop. Though he was knocking the cover off the ball and flashing impressive defensive skills, Speier was just 20 years old and had previously played just one season of minor league ball.

So trading for Duffy made some me sense as an insurance policy.

“After (Duffy) played at Stanford, we wanted to draft him No. 1 in 1967, but the Reds picked him off just one turn before we had our chance,” said manager Fox. “Duffy has great lateral movement which is a requisite at Candlestick on the AstroTurf. We feel he can help us at third and second base as well as shortstop.”

As it turned out, Speier never stopped playing at a high level and would be the Giants starting shortstop through the 1976 season. He returned in the late-1980s as a key utility-player.

Duffy never got much of a chance with San Francisco in ‘71, batting .179 (5-for-28) in 21 games. After the season he departed the Bay Area for Cleveland, along with Perry, in another disappointing trade for washed-up right-handed pitcher Sam McDowell.