People absolutely loved Jim Ray Hart
Monday, May 23
I have relatively few recollections of Jim Ray Hart, whose death was announced last Friday, but the most vivid one is timeless as well as priceless.
I attended a twi-night doubleheader on June 18, 1971 against the Padres at Candlestick (thank you, baseball-reference.com) in which Hart made a pinch-hit appearance during the nightcap. By then, the skills of the Giants greats of the 1960s were beginning to decline. Yet the players’ popularity remained intact. And on this night, I fully realized how much the fans loved Jim Ray Hart.
Hart had just been promoted from Triple-A, where he was attempting to revive his game. Noticing No. 16 materialize in the on-deck circle, the crowd immediately began cheering, expressing tribute as much as anticipation. The noise grew as more spectators realized that Hart would bat. By the time the dulcet-toned public-address announcer Jeff Carter introduced Hart, the audience was delivering a full-fledged standing ovation.
Hart swung violently, almost wildly. He did so until he struck out. The fans briefly murmured in disappointment before showering another ovation upon Hart as he returned to the dugout.
Hart avoided the many Giants alumni functions that the club conducted. Yet everybody remembered him. When Bill Neukom was named as the franchise’s managing general partner in 2008, he remained reserved during most of an interview I had with him — understandable, since we didn’t know each other at all. But when I asked Neukom to cite his most enduring memories about growing up on the Peninsula as a Giants fan, he grinned and, with gusto, recalled the joy of watching Hart hit.
One ex-Giant I tried to interview for the obituary/appreciation I wrote on Hart was too aggrieved to talk. I approached this gentleman in person, and I quickly noticed that the creases in his face were brimming with tears. Best to leave this man alone with his emotions.
The two former Giants I managed to speak with, Ken Henderson and Jack Hiatt, were eloquent in their own way. Referring to Jim Davenport’s recent death, Hiatt said, “Two of our third basemen are together now.” Henderson’s immediate reaction upon learning of Hart’s passing was one of fondness. “What a good old soul Jim was,” he said.
For many, the memory of Jim Ray Hart will never go down swinging.
— Chris Haft