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.
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.