Results tagged ‘ Willie Mays ’
Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013
LOS ANGELES — You can call it creative visualization or positive reinforcement. Hunter Pence called it a “dig-me session.”
Regardless of the term, Pence’s method of studying videos of successful at-bats — particularly those that resulted in home runs — likely helped him and Brandon Belt deliver their titanic performances Saturday in the Giants’ 19-3 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Pence said that he reviewed footage of himself hitting home runs before he crushed his 476-foot drive at Colorado on Aug. 27. Before that date, he had homered exactly once since July 14. Obviously, Pence was unhappy about the drought. So he reminded himself, visually, how he looked as a power hitter. The power of the mind apparently unleashed the power of the body.
Since then, Pence has hit at a torrid pace. His September numbers include a .407 batting average (22-for-54), four doubles, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 14 games. Saturday, he went 3-for-5 with a career-high seven RBIs.
Noticing that Brandon Belt had gone nearly a month without homering (his last one came on Aug. 15 at Washington), Pence urged his teammate to try the treatment that worked for him. Result: Belt collected five hits and six RBIs against the Dodgers on Saturday, both career highs. Among his hits was his 16th homer, aa two-run poke in the seventh inning.
Said Belt, “I think Hunter always likes to challenge people, make sure they have a positive mindset.”
That’s exactly how Pence saw it. “I just challenged him to keep pushing,” said Pence, who recalled telling Belt, “I want you to have a ‘dig-me’ session.”
As Pence explained, “Sometimes it makes you feel good to see what you’ve done and what you’re capable of.”
The greatest Giant of them all would agree.
“I would go home at night and create what I was going to do the next day,” Willie Mays said in an interview with MLB.com several years ago. “It sounds kind of childish. But if I feel that we’re going to have a good crowd or something, and I want to do something the next day to make sure the crowd enjoyed what I did, well, then I’d look at a couple of films by myself and figure out something that I can do to make them holler. And I would do it.”
It’s staggering, really, that these Giants scored the highest number of runs in a single game at Dodger Stadium.
Consider all the impressive ballclubs and lineups that have performed at Chavez Ravine since the ballpark opened in 1962. The Cubs of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo. The Big Red Machine. The Giants of Mays-Willie McCovey-Orlando Cepeda, or of Will Clark-Kevin Mitchell-Matt Williams. Any Braves lineup with Hank Aaron in it. Heck, even those Davey Lopes-Steve Garvey-Ron-Cey-Dusty Baker Dodgers clubs. And that’s mentioning just a few.
Pence admitted that a little luck was involved. “We hit a lot of bloops, a lot of jam shots that just fell in,” he said.
Some leftover facts and figures from the Giants’ historic night:
– The Giants’ run total was their highest against Los Angeles since a 19-8 win on April 16, 1962 at Candlestick Park.
– The Dodgers hadn’t allowed this many runs since losing to the Cubs, 20-1, on May 5, 2001 at Wrigley Field.
– This was the Dodgers’ worst home loss since falling 19-2 to the Giants on July 3, 1947 at Ebbets Field.
– Chris Haft
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
Monday, Sept. 20
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Some people will do anything to squeeze a workout into their schedule.
Baseball’s best player apparently is one of these healthy fanatics.
Monday night at a local health club, a trainer shifted my focus from the free weights to a weighty presence performing
cardiovascular exercise in the corner of the room. “That’s Albert Pujols,” the trainer said.
Maybe the Angels, who train in neighboring Tempe, don’t have the fitness machines Pujols likes at their facility. Maybe he simply felt compelled to hit the gym. Regardless, the man obviously is dedicated.
Seeing Pujols work out among common folks reminded me of something I was told by one of his predecessors as baseball’s best.
A few years ago I asked Willie Mays, “How did you stay in such great shape?” Mays straightened up in his chair, puffed
out his chest ever so slightly and proudly replied, “I never got out of shape.” It was a sphinx-like answer. And it made perfect sense.
Brian Wilson was all business as he spoke with reporters. No dry humor. No clever one-liners. Simply straight talk
about his arm, elbow and pitching.
“I’m just going to put the analogies in the back pocket for today,” Wilson said.
The Arizona sky late Monday morning was dotted with clouds and relatively windless — luckily for the Giants catchers.
Bullpen catcher Bill Hayes, who drills the catchers in big league camp on various skills necessary to master their
position, conducted pop-up practice. It’s an ever-entertaining sight. Hayes feeds balls into a pitching machine aimed
skyward; Buster Posey and his counterparts track the towering pop-ups. What’s remarkable is how rarely these guys drop or misjudge a ball.
The task was mildly simplified by the clouds, eliminating the “high sky” that can blind players at any position to
pop-ups; the still air, which straightened each fly’s path; and the decision to stage the drill in the outfield on one
of the auxiliary diamonds, rather than at Scottsdale Stadium. There, Hayes explained, players might risk tripping down
the dugout stairs. Exposing any player to this danger, particularly Posey, would have been unwise.
The best part of this drill is the grand finale, when Hayes produces a second pop-up while a player is in the middle of settling under the first. Again, you’d marvel at how often the catchers make both grabs.
– Chris Haft
Tuesday, July 19
SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about Madison Bumgarner and start wondering just how good he is.
Bumgarner’s excellence was somewhat obscured by Brandon Belt’s offensive fireworks Tuesday in the Giants’ 5-3 victory over the Dodgers. In case you missed it, Bumgarner pitched superbly.
He walked none, extending his streak of games in which he walked one or fewer to nine in a row.
He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced.
He worked eight innings, ridiculing the skeptics who believed that his huge increase in innings pitched last year would ultimately sap his strength or even endanger his health this season.
More than two months of the regular season must be played. That’s plenty of time for doom and gloom to befall Bumgarner. Right now, though, he looks ready to cruise into October and win another two or three postseason games.
The evening might not have gone so well for the Giants without shortstop Brandon Crawford’s alert defense in the third inning.
The Dodgers had three runs in and appeared destined to score more as Juan Rivera followed Rafael Furcal’s two-run single with another single. As Furcal scooted to third base, Crawford cut off Nate Schierholtz’s strong throw from right field and noticed that Rivera had strayed a little too far from first base on his turn. Crawford threw quickly and accurately to first, retiring Rivera and dampening Los Angeles’ rally.
“That was a big-time play,” an appreciative Bumgarner said.
All anybody heard about Dodgers starter Rubby De La Rosa before Tuesday was that he threw the heck out of the ball. Indeed, De La Rosa reached 100 mph on the AT&T Park velocity readings.
But if a pitcher’s stuff is predictable or lacks movement, he’s going to get hit. Crawford, for example, whacked a 95 mph heater from De La Rosa for a second-inning single, immediately after Brandon Belt stroked a. 91-mph delivery onto the right-field arcade for his homer. One inning later, Schierholtz singled by catching up with a 97-mph fastball.
I was curious about what happened the last time the Giants built a six-game winning streak against the Dodgers — July 19-Sept. 26, 1969. As usual, baseball-reference.com had all the answers.
The Giants’ future Hall of Famers played key roles in those six games. No surprise there. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry each won twice. Willie McCovey, in the midst of his Most Valuable Player season, homered twice. Willie Mays batted .389 (7-for-18).
Win No. 5 in that streak might have been the nuttiest game of the bunch. It was sealed in the 10th inning when McCovey drew an intentional walk with two outs and nobody on base. Reliever Pete Mikkelsen proceeded to walk Bobby Bonds and Ken Henderson unintentionally, loading thie bases. Jim Davenport then hit a ground ball that scooted between Maury Wills’ legs, giving San Francisco the winning run.
– Chris Haft
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
Saturday, June 26
SAN FRANCISCO — What’s most impressive about Madison Bumgarner isn’t his fastball or his offspeed pitches or even his polished swing (that’s right, you should see him hit). It’s his poise.
Let it sink in: Bumgarner’s 20. He won’t turn 21 until Aug. 1. Yet he handled his 2010 Giants debut like a complete professional after those two rough early innings against the Boston Red Sox. He could have imploded after surrendering two quick homers and four instant runs, but instead he shut out the Major Leagues’ highest-scoring team for his final five innings.
Throw Bumgarner into the same category as Buster Posey. They’re not returning to Triple-A this year. Well, it’s possible, but it’s highly doubtful.
Tim Lincecum remains extremely intriguing to watch. His outing Sunday against Boston will be no exception.
By winning his last three starts, Lincecum has indeed rebounded from his May slump (1-2, 4.95 in three appearances).
There’s just one mild sign of concern: Lincecum has allowed 28 hits in 29 innings spanning four outings in June. Allow me to emphasize the word “mild.” The bottom line is, Lincecum’s winning, and he looks much better than he did in May. But even he expressed some dissatisfaction over his yield of hits: “I kind of want it to be a little more simple and give up less hits,” he said last Tuesday after surrendering seven hits and an unearned run in eight innings at Houston.
Most pitchers probably would love to have this kind of worry. But Lincecum will be facing the Majors’ most potent offense — albeit without injured Dustin Pedroia and benched DH David Ortiz — so this will be a good test.
Any of us lucky enough to live to age 91 should wish to be half as sharp as Monte Irvin is at that age. The former New York Giants outfielder, whose jersey number 20 was officially retired Saturday, remains witty and articulate, as the stories on the website demonstrate.
Saturday’s AT&T Park crowd was appreciative of all the Hall of Famers present, but the applause for Willie Mays seemed especially loud and long. I wouldn’t be surprised if James Hirsch’s remarkable biography, “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend,” has led readers/fans to rediscover the greatest Giant of them all.
– Chris Haft
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
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It wasn’t a regular-season Giants-Dodgers game, but rookie right fielder Roger Kieschnick sensed that he probably made a lot of fans happy on Monday.
With the score tied 2-2 in the 10th inning, Kieschnick cleanly fielded Angel Berroa’s single and made a strong, one-hop throw home that retired Ronnie Belliard, who was trying to score from second base. In the bottom of the inning, Kieschnick drilled a leadoff single and was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Peguero, who scored on Ryan Rohlinger’s long single to right field to give the Giants a 3-2 victory.
Kieschnick, who excelled for San Francisco’s Class A San Jose affiliate last year, caught a whiff of hostility when the younger Giants would confront the Dodgers’ California League representatives, the Inland Empire 66ers. “They hated us just as much as anything,” Kieschnick said. “You definitely got a sense of the rivalry.”
Kieschnick, who’ll probably begin the season at Double-A Richmond, said that he was fully prepared mentally to handle Berroa’s single and Belliard’s fruitless dash home. “That play goes over and over in your mind before it happens,” he said.
The Giants went hitless in their first five at-bats with runners on third base and less than two out, which didn’t please manager Bruce Bochy. “Our execution wasn’t very good today,” he said.
Example: Eugenio Velez grounded out to first base on the first pitch with runners on second and third and one out in the second inning. “He was too aggressive,” Bochy said. Noting that Velez hacked at a breaking ball from Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, Bochy added, “We have to do a little better job of pitch selection there.”
Velez atoned in the fourth inning by dumping a two-out RBI single to center field following John Bowker’s triple off Clayton Kershaw.
Many “you-had-to-be-there” moments are often not worth retelling. But since this involved two Giants legends, I’ll give it a try.
Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction, arrived on the scene Monday for his annual Spring Training visit. McCovey was beginning to leave the training complex, walking slowly on his crutches. Then he suddenly made a U-turn and headed for the Giants’ clubhouse, where Willie Mays — who also needs no introduction — was seated at his usual perch.
McCovey entered the clubhouse and headed directly for Mays. “Hey, Buck!” McCovey called, addressing Mays by the nickname he went by in his playing days. “Where’s my book?” Mays, whose recently released biography is soaring on the best-seller lists, laughed as 1,181 home runs shook hands.
The Giants’ shortage of first basemen worsened as Aubrey Huff remained home with an illness. Kevin Frandsen, who played 17 games at first base last season for Triple-A Fresno, started and played six innings capably. Buster Posey appeared in his second game in a row at first base, though he later switched to catcher.
Travis Ishikawa, recovering from torn ligaments in his left foot, took batting practice on the field for the first time. But Bochy wasn’t certain when Ishikawa, who had been expected to back up Huff, will be ready to play. Meanwhile, Frandsen, Posey, Matt Downs and Brett Pill will play first whenever Huff rests or is unavailable.
Mark DeRosa, who tested his surgically repaired left wrist by swinging off Minor League pitchers Sunday, felt fine and should play his first exhibition game Tuesday or Wednesday.
– Chris Haft
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Willie Mays’ presence is just as powerful as it was when he stood in the batter’s box.
Baseball’s greatest living player made his first appearance of the spring at San Francisco’s camp Monday and immediately commanded awe upon entering the clubhouse. You simply have to appreciate being in the same room with a genuine legend — particularly one as lively as Mays, who loudly greeted visitors.
Veterans such as Todd Wellemeyer, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, who had never seen Mays in the flesh, simply stared at the man. Players who previously had met Mays, such as Aaron Rowand and Kevin Frandsen, gleefully shook hands with him. Now the spring can begin, right?
Two rookies were especially intrepid. Outfielders Darren Ford and Thomas Neal, who hope to achieve a fraction of what Mays did as a Giant from 1951-72, sat for more than an hour with the Hall of Famer, absorbing advice — as well as some good-natured abuse.
Ford is 24 years old and has never played above Class A. Mays unabashedly recited some of the accomplishments he had piled up at the Major League level by the time he reached that age. Ford, perhaps the fastest player in the Giants organization, mentioned that he had won a stolen-base title; Mays reminded everyone within earshot that he led the National League in thefts four years in a row from 1956-59. “Then I quit,” Mays said, meaning that he ceased concentrating on stolen bases and focused more on slugging.
This was a you-had-to-be-there scene. Any comparison between Mays and Ford is certainly unfair. But Mays made all of this sound playful, not mean and condescending. The smile never left Ford’s face. Toward the conclusion of his visit, Neal and Ford had their fielding gloves on, listening to Mays — a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner — share secrets of his defensive excellence.
Roger Angell, one of the finest baseball writers ever, once wrote of Mays, perhaps the best all-around player ever, “The leader is still leading.” That was in a 1971 article. Some 39 years later, it’s still true.
– Chris Haft
Randy Winn wouldn’t care if he ever spoke to the media. That doesn’t mean he dislikes reporters. It’s just that he doesn’t crave attention.
But when anybody with a camera, microphone or notebook approached Winn during his four-and-a-half seasons with the Giants, he was cordial at the very least, thoughtful and engaging at his best and always — ALWAYS — accommodating. The phrase “no comment” didn’t exist in his vocabulary.
That’s part of the beauty of Randy Winn. While he surely appreciates the glory of being a Major Leaguer, he doesn’t coat himself in it. Beating his chest and declaring, “Look at me!” isn’t part of the job description for him. Rather, beating the other team is what it’s all about.
Unlike Bengie Molina, Winn wasn’t bound for a surprise return to San Francisco. Winn’s two home runs in 597 plate appearances during 2009 doomed him with the Giants, who were bent on upgrading their offense. His departure essentially became official Wednesday with the all-but-finalized news of his agreement on a one-year contract with the New York Yankees.
Yet Winn merits a final salute as he leaves San Francisco. The man was, and is, a complete professional. Winn delivered a consistent effort whether he was thriving or slumping, healthy or in pain. By driving himself to excel in all facets of the game — he’s an excellent baserunner and a polished, underrated outfielder — Winn separated himself from the sorry plethora of ballplayers who almost seem to refuse to improve themselves.
Body language says a lot about an athlete. That’s by definition, since they make their living with their bodies. Winn always carried himself like a U.S. Marine — focused, proud, intent on his impending tasks. It follows that a Marine veteran who’s one of my regular e-mail pen pals named Winn as his favorite all-time Giant. The earnest diligence Winn exuded impressed this man to no end.
Winn maintained that attitude behind closed doors. Some guys slouch or shuffle through the clubhouse; Winn held his head high, leveled his gaze, maintained an even stride and almost never limped, despite sustaining painful leg ailments (which was the only subject he refused to discuss). One exception occurred when Winn noticed a group of reporters and began hobbling, trying to trick us into seizing upon fake news.
Indeed, Winn had a healthy sense of humor. It showed in his feigned disdain for the “Good Guy Award,” given annually by reporters covering the team to the player whose cooperation is especially valued. This two-, three-year running gag between us and Winn ended last September when we voted him Good Guy for 2009. He clearly deserved it, and he seemed genuinely pleased.
Remember the familiar yet too-seldom-heard saying, “As good a ballplayer as he is, he’s an even better person”? Winn could be president of that club — along with Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts, two other veterans who recently became ex-Giants. How fitting that they became known among the Giants as the “Rat Pack,” a nod to the famed entertainment troika of Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Sammy Davis Jr. How sobering, though San Francisco’s clubhouse remains filled with truly decent men, that they’re all gone.
One of Winn’s classiest acts occurred early this offseason. During a November conditioning camp held for Minor Leaguers at AT&T Park, the Giants supplemented the physical regimen by bringing in speakers to motivate and educate the prospects. Guests included J.T. Snow, general manager Brian Sabean and even Willie Mays.
Another speaker was Winn, who was about to plunge into free agency and thus wasn’t technically a Giant. Yet he felt compelled to share some of the wisdom he had accumulated through 12 big league seasons. His message focused on the importance of being a good teammate.
That’s the essence of Randy Winn.
The Yankees will quickly learn how lucky they are to have Winn in their midst. His professionalism will enhance the Yankees’ aura as reigning World Champions. They’ll cherish his ability to play all three outfield positions and his other diverse skills. On that club, any offense he provides will be a bonus.
Winn will be free to go about his business while the ravenous New York media descends on Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and other Yankees stars.
But when reporters need to speak to Winn, he’ll answer any question they have.