Results tagged ‘ Orlando Cepeda ’

Giants’ No. 2 hitters once gave opponents the Willies

Friday, March 14

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The presence of a No. 2 hitter who doesn’t fit that profile tends to generate concern among Giants fans. If you’re among these folks, I’m not here to belittle you; I’ll try to convince you not to worry when somebody like Brandon Belt or Michael Morse occupies the second position in the batting order.

Granted, the Giants hitter who best suits that role, Marco Scutaro, could be sidelined with back pain when the regular season begins. But manager Bruce Bochy most likely would fill the second spot with Brandon Crawford or whoever replaces Scutaro at second base.

And what if Bochy decides to hit Belt second? It’s not such an awful choice, due to Belt’s ability to make contact and spray hits to all fields. But conventional wisdom dictates that Belt probably will settle somewhere in the middle of the order.

Whatever happens, don’t feel as if the world has spun off its axis. Back, back, back when ballplayers wore flannel uniforms and road trips routinely lasted two weeks or more, two of history’s most formidable hitters occasionally batted second for the Giants.

That’s right. Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

Mays hit second in the lineup 120 times in his career, including 102 games as a San Francisco Giant. McCovey occupied the No. 2 spot in 74 starts.

But what relevance do the batting orders of (for example) the 1964 Giants, who used Mays and McCovey in the second spot 14 and nine times, respectively, have for the 2014 Giants? Well, consider this: If this year’s lineup proves to be as deep as the Giants hope, elevating a big bat into the second slot might make sense if Belt, Morse, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are all hitting proficiently (Bochy pointedly said the other day that Morse will NOT bat second).

That’s apparently why Mays and McCovey hit second as often as they did. The managers of the Giants in that era, Bill Rigney and Alvin Dark, faced the enviable task of trying to figure out daily how best to deploy Mays, McCovey and Orlando Cepeda — who, by the way, never hit second in any of the 2,028 games he started.

Rigney liked hitting Mays second so much that he dropped The Peerless One into that spot 45 times in 1959. Dark saw fit to write Mays’ name second in the lineup on quite a few occasions during the Hall of Famer’s third- and fourth-most-prolific home run seasons: 17 times in 1962 (49 homers) and 14 times in the aforementioned ’64 campaign (47 homers). McCovey hit second 15 times in 1963, when he and Hank Aaron shared the National League lead in homers with 44 apiece. In 1966, his second of six consecutive seasons with more than 30 homers, McCovey started in the No. 2 spot 16 times.

Productivity wasn’t an issue for either man. In 559 career plate appearances as the second hitter, Mays batted .300 with 34 homers and 85 RBIs. Kind of like an average season for him during his Say Hey-day. McCovey batted just .259 in 343 plate appearances in the second slot but mashed 23 homers.<p/>

Certainly it’s essential for Bochy to arrange his hitters in a sequence that enables them to complement each other best. But history suggests that if Willie Mays or Willie McCovey proved suitable here and there for the second spot, Bochy has room for creativity.

Chris Haft

How Sandoval, Mays stack up

Tuesday, April 24

Pablo Sandoval tied Willie Mays but didn’t necessarily equal him.

Sandoval matched Mays’ San Francisco-era franchise record by lengthening his season-opening hitting streak to 16 games in Monday’s doubleheader sweep at New York. Given the way Sandoval’s swinging, he could erase Mays’ mark Tuesday night when the Giants open a three-game series against Cincinnati at the hitters’ paradise known as Great American Ball Park.

Yet Mays generated numbers during his streak that Sandoval and every other Major League hitter would envy.

Mays hit a ridiculous .452 (28-for-62) before he went hitless in any 1960 game, compared with Sandoval’s current .333 (22-for-66). During their respective 16-game streaks, Sandoval has Mays beat in home runs (3-1) and RBIs (13-9). But while Sandoval has recorded excellent on-base (.389) and slugging percentages (.545) for an OPS of .934, Mays eclipsed that. His corresponding numbers befit the great player he was (.528, .613 and 1.141).

Sandoval deserves his due, however. He has carried the Giants’ offense at times, assuming a heavier burden than Mays did. The 2012 Giants have scored 71 runs; Mays’ Giants amassed 88 during his streak, including 10 and 18 on back-to-back days at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Can you imagine these Giants doing that? Moreover, Mays frequently was followed in the batting order by future Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and often preceded by Jim Davenport, who hit .333 in San Francisco’s first 16 games that year. Sandoval is sandwiched by Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey, who are more than respectable. But it’s fair to say that Mays had a more potent offensive complement.

It’s intriguing to note that Mays homered only once during his streak. He and the Giants played their first seven games of the season at brand-new Candlestick Park, where the initial outfield dimensions frustrated power hitters. The center field fence stood 420 feet from home plate and the power alleys were 397 feet deep. Sensibly, the barriers were soon moved in. Mays somehow finished that year with 29 homers. He also collected 190 hits, the lone year he topped the National League in that category.

The Giants would be ecstatic if Sandoval finishes this season with similar statistics. There’s no reason he can’t.

Chris Haft

Sandoval awakens echoes of Mays’ greatness

Tuesday, July 5

SAN FRANCISCO — I come not to bury Pablo Sandoval, but to praise Willie Mays.

Sandoval had at least one extra-base hit in nine consecutive games until Tuesday, when San Francisco lost 5-3 to San Diego. It equaled the longest streak of that sort by a Giant since Mays also had a nine-game binge from July 28-Aug. 6., 1963.

Anybody who knows me personally or follows my writing (bless you) realizes that I am an incurable Mays-o-phile. So when it was announced that Sandoval had matched a Mays achievement, I curious to learn what the Say Hey Kid did during his streak. After all, I witnessed Sandoval’s.

Sandoval contributed heavily to one victory and shaped what should have been another win on back-to-back days. Last Thursday at Chicago, he homered in the 13th inning to put the Giants ahead 2-1. Geovany Soto’s pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the inning for the Cubs offset that. The next night in the Interleague series opener at Detroit, Sandoval hit a pair of RBI doubles in a 4-3 victory.

Nice work by Sandoval. But Mays starred in six games during his extra-base streak:

July 28 — Mays’ two-run, sixth-inning homer erases a 1-0 deficit as the Giants proceed to a 3-1 triumph over Pittsburgh.

July 29 — With Pittsburgh leading, 3-2, Mays belts a three-run homer off Vernon Law in the fifth inning. Giants win, 5-4.

July 30 — Mays contributes heavily to a 5-0 victory over Philadelphia by doubling and scoring twice.

Aug. 4 — Mays’ 10th-inning homer at Wrigley Field snaps a 1-1 tie as the Giants hold on to edge Chicago, 2-1.

Aug. 5 — Giants lose 6-5 at Houston, but it’s not Mays’ fault. His two-out homer in the ninth inning put them ahead, 5-4.

Aug. 6 — Mays triples in the fourth inning and scores the go-ahead run on Orlando Cepeda’s sacrifice fly. Final: Giants 3, Houston 1.

Mays batted .439 (18-for-41) during his streak with three doubles, two triples and six home runs. Moreover, this hard evidence supported what has been known for years: Mays ceaselessly played to win. He was at his best when it counted most.

Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot of the man’s career. He did this stuff repeatedly. Sandoval’s streak remains admirable, even if it falls short of Mays’. So what? Only a handful of ballplayers could be compared to Mays, after all.

*****

San Diego Padres broadcaster Mark Grant revealed a little-known fact the other day: He was the first Giant to wear No. 55, which Tim Lincecum has made famous.

Grant, who broke into the Majors with the Giants as a promising right-hander in 1984, is extremely trustworthy. But facts must be checked. As Grant mentioned, he wore several other numbers with the Giants, including 34, 47, 46 and 52. Grant’s Giants career ended in 1987, the year he received No. 55, when he was sent to the Padres in a seven-player trade that brought Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Kevin Mitchell to San Francisco.

But left-hander Keith Comstock also wore 55 in 1987, according to baseball-almanac.com. Moreover, he was traded to San Diego along with Grant. Try as I might, I couldn’t determine whether Grant or Comstock got 55 first. Mark, I still believe you!

The Giants’ 1984 media guide listed infielder Fran Mullins as being issued No. 55 that year in Spring Training. But according to baseball-reference.com, he wore No. 16 during his 57-game stint with the Giants.

Numbers such as 50 and higher weren’t considered fashionable before the 1980s. They had a negative connotation, since they typically were given in Spring Training to rookies and players not expected to make the team. Right-hander Dave Heaverlo, who wore No. 60 for the Giants from 1975-77, was a rare exception.

*****

Great handwritten sign seen last Sunday on the dry-erase board mounted on the door of the players’ lounge in the visitors’ clubhouse at Detroit’s Comerica Park. Instead of listing a detailed menu, the sign read simply, “BIG LEAGUE BREAKFAST.”

Chris Haft

One step closer to the goal

Sept. 23

CHICAGO — With a few more days like Thursday, the Giants will indeed reach the postseason.

They gained ground on all of their rivals. The San Diego Padres lost, so the Giants leapfrogged them to reclaim first place in the National League West. The Colorado Rockies also fell, leaving them 3 1/2 games behind the Giants. San Francisco can all but officially end Colorado’s hopes for a division title by winning two of three games this weekend at Coors Field, which would put the Rockies 4 1/2 games back with a week remaining in the season.

NL Wild Card leader Atlanta was idle. But the Giants and Braves now have the same record (86-67). This bolsters the Giants’ hopes of qualifying for the postseason even if they don’t win the division.

Coolstandings.com lists San Francisco’s chances of reaching the postseason at 70 percent. That’s encouraging for the Giants, but I wouldn’t start computing their Magic Number yet.

*****

Bruce Bochy almost surely won’t win the NL Manager of the Year award. But my Baseball Writers’ Association of America brethren who possess ballots for that honor ought to pay at least cursory attention him.

A good manager must provide direction. Bochy has accomplished this twice in emphatic fashion.

After the Giants’ 11-3 loss to Arizona on Aug. 28, he and general manager Brian Sabean met with members of the starting rotation and essentially told them they had better shape up.

Tim Lincecum described the message Bochy and Sabean conveyed as “pretty much a sense of urgency. We need to come ready to play. No more worrying about where the ball’s going to go, what my mechanics are going to be. Just go out there. You’re here for a reason. Now play the game. Pretty clear-cut and simple.”

Since then, the starters have a 1.94 ERA.

And, of course, Bochy met with the hitters before Thursday’s 13-0 whipping of Chicago. “We came out with the right approach today,” Buster Posey said. “There was a little bit more fire in everybody. Hopefully that’s something we can continue for the next nine games. If we give this [pitching] staff some run support, we’re going to be pretty tough.”

*****

“Pretty tough” describes the challenge the Giants will face this weekend as they try to lengthen their 17-game streak of allowing opponents three runs or fewer — a stretch that hasn’t been matched since the Chicago White Sox reached 20 in 1917.

The Rockies are a formidable offensive club anywhere, but especially at Coors Field. Their home/road breakdown borders on unreal.

At home, the Rockies are a wrecking crew. They’re hitting .304 at Coors with 452 runs, 102 homers and an .880 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 75 games.

On the road, the Rockies are merely a wreck. Their numbers dip to .230 with 64 homers, 289 runs and a .663 OBP in 77 games.

*****

The Giants have existed since 1883. Yet none of their players had been hit by pitches twice in one inning until Thursday, when Jose Guillen was nicked by a pair of Ryan Dempster deliveries in the second inning. Juan Uribe homered following each plunking.

“Hey! Record book already,” Guillen said when told of his achievement.

*****

Had the Cubs won this week’s series from San Francisco, it wouldn’t have been their first time to ruin the Giants’ season.

You already know this if you’re either pushing 60 years old (at least) or an avid student of baseball history.

The 1959 Giants trailed the Dodgers by one game with five to play. That was after Los Angeles swept a three-game series at Seals Stadium to wrest first place from San Francisco.

Anyway, the Giants were still in the race. But consecutive one-run losses, 5-4 and 9-8 in 10 innings, pretty much finished their pennant bid. History didn’t repeat itself this time, however.

Instead, the Giants’ 13-0 rout Thursday represented their largest margin of victory over the Cubs since Sept. 3, 1963 (Juan Marichal won his 20th game that day as Orlando Cepeda, Tom Haller and Felipe Alou homered).

– Chris Haft

Posey approaches legends with hitting streak

Wednesday, July 21

LOS ANGELES — Next up for Buster Posey: The Hall of Famers.

Posey extended his hitting streak to 15 games Wednesday night with a sixth-inning single as the Giants fell 2-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He tied Chili Davis (1982), Tom O’Malley (1982) and Dan Gladden (1984) for the third-longest hitting streak by a rookie since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958.

The only longer hitting streaks by Giants rookies belong to Orlando Cepeda (1958), who had a 17-gamer, and Willie McCovey (1959), who sustained a 22-game Stretch (pun fully intended).

Predictably, Posey said that he’s not trying to think too much about his streak, but admitted that the notion of catching or passing McCovey intrigued him.

“It’d be cool,” Posey said. He rapped on a wooden portion of his locker stall as he added to a reporter, “Hopefully you didn’t just jinx me, right?”

– Chris Haft

Blast from the past: Defending Ken Henderson

Monday, May 17

SAN DIEGO — By and large, Giants fans are a good bunch. But a nameless, faceless segment of them have tremendously disappointed me.

Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ranked the top 50 “busts” of all time in professional sports, based on more than 600 responses to an original list of 10. As a locally produced endeavor, the newspaper’s roster has a distinct Bay Area flavor.

Stuff like this is supposed to be lighthearted fun, but I was dismayed to see former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson listed as Bust No. 46. This is absolutely unjust, unconscionable, un-fricking-everything.

Before I bluster further, in no way am I criticizing Vittorio Tafur, the writer of this piece. All Mr. Tafur did was compile the readers’ comments. But those who called Henderson a bust possess either a lousy memory, lousy judgment or both.

Henderson was listed because he was expected to “fill Willie Mays’ shoes,” as Tafur wrote. A .257 lifetime hitter with 122 home runs and 576 RBIs spanning all or part of 16 seasons, Henderson certainly fell short of the standards set by the great Mays.

But by the time I began following the Giants in 1969 (fine, I’m revealing my age), it was generally accepted that Henderson would not be the next Mays — and, to the best of my recollection, this prompted no undue scorn from fans or the media. Heck, as good as Bobby Bonds was, he didn’t turn out to be the next Mays either, though he, too, was mentioned as a successor. Never mind that billing anybody as the “next” (fill in superstar’s name here) is patently ridiculous, regardless of the sport.

Henderson was not a remarkable player, but he was competent. Stationed mostly in left field, he had a nice season in 1970, when he became a regular (.294, 17 homers, 88 RBIs, .394 on-base percentage), and a fair one in 1971 (.264, 15 homers, 65 RBIs, .370 on-base percentage), when the Giants won the National League West title.

The switch-hitting Henderson batted only .257 in 1972. But he made his final season with the Giants memorable by sustaining one of the most torrid monthlong performances in franchise history. That August he hit .409 (45-for-110) with 11 homers, 28 RBIs, 28 runs, a .445 on-base percentage and an .800 slugging percentage.

That helped him get traded to the Chicago White Sox in November, 1972 with right-hander Steve Stone for Tom Bradley, who was a disappointment as a Giant (23-26, 4.56 from 1973-75). That deal never gets considered among the Giants’ worst in their San Francisco history. But it didn’t help them much. Trading Henderson created room for Gary Matthews, who won the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1973. But Stone proceeded to win a Cy Young Award with Baltimore in 1980, while Bradley never pitched in the Majors after his Giants tenure ended.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to select a Giants “bust,” far more extreme examples than Henderson exist. One of them appeared on the list — the Orlando Cepeda-for-Ray Sadecki trade at No. 30. The Gaylord Perry-for-Sam McDowell and George Foster-for-Frank Duffy-and-Vern Geishert deals were equally dreadful. Or you can rummage through the grab bag of failed prospects (Andre Rodgers, Rich Murray, J.R. Phillips, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden, etc.). At least Henderson had a few solid seasons with the Giants and a long big-league career.

If it sounds like I’m biased, I’ll admit that I most definitely am. Ken Henderson was one of the nicest guys ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform. He signed autographs before virtually every game I attended at Candlestick Park before he was traded, and it seemed like the smile never left his face as he scribbled away. I had the privilege of meeting Henderson at one of the Giants’ 50th Anniversary functions in 2008, and after interviewing him briefly for a project of mine, I asked him about his tireless autograph-signing. “My dad,” he explained, “told me to make sure I gave something back to the game.”

I understand that on-field performance was all that mattered in the Chronicle survey. But a person like Ken Henderson, whose diligence on the field was matched or exceeded by his earnestness off it, doesn’t deserve to be cited as a “bust.”

– Chris Haft

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