Results tagged ‘ Willie Mays ’

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

Hailing Mays, anticipating Bonds

Saturday, Feb. 22

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At about 12:35 p.m. local time Saturday, the pulse of the Giants began beating a little louder and faster.

That’s when Willie Mays returned for his annual Spring Training visit.

Mays, the greatest Giant of them all, needs no introduction. Certainly not here, definitely not among Giants fans and especially not in the San Francisco clubhouse, where seemingly everybody — from rookies to veterans, from reporters to team employees — suddenly wore a smile just because an 82-year-old walked into the room.

An exultant Mike Murphy, the venerable equipment and clubhouse manager, reveled in Mays’ presence. Crowed
Murphy, “Spring Training’s complete now! Willie’s here!”

Drawn to Mays as if the Hall of Famer were magnetized, Angel Pagan was the first player to greet the legend. Pagan, the current heir to Mays’ center-field throne, sat with the master for several minutes as they conducted an earnest conversation.

More Giants will approach Mays in the coming weeks. Or at least they ought to. Widely renowned as the
quintessential five-tool player, Mays possesses wisdom that would help any ballplayer. Even pitchers can benefit from talking to Mays. He, as much as anybody, knows how a formidable hitter should be set up, having been one himself.

This is a man with more to offer than a handshake or an autograph.

*****

Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, surely will command attention when he serves his first guest-instructor stint with the Giants next month.

Say what you want about Bonds and whether he used performance-enhancing substances. The man prompts
widespread respect among contemporary ballplayers. He’ll find numerous would-be pupils eager to hear his hitting philosophies. And as for the steroid stuff, Mark McGwire broke the ice by becoming a full-time batting instructor. Bonds, baseball’s all-time home-run leader, is a potential asset.

As is the case with Mays, Bonds’ singular skill makes him valuable. As many of you can recall, he frequently received only one pitch to hit in any given game. He often drove that single pitch over the outfield wall. Bonds knew, and presumably still knows, exactly what kind of swing to put on a pitch to hit it effectively.

The Giants should hope that Bonds brings his attitude with him. A former hitting coach for a National League team (not the Giants) recently told me that his role was “to make sure that each hitter feels tough when he finishes batting practice.” The coach actually used a much more colorful term than “tough.” But you get the idea. Bonds almost always played and hit with a swagger that insisted, “I’m better than you.” Conveying that mindset to the Giants’ hitters will help them considerably.

Chris Haft

Giants fans bound to dwell on Candlestick finale

Sunday, Dec. 22

SAN FRANCISCO — For a lot of people, the fact that a National Football League game will be played Monday night at Candlestick Park is merely incidental.

The featured performer, as many fans believe, is Candlestick itself, that object of derision which has prompted tidal waves of nostalgia with the approach the 49ers-Falcons game — most likely the last major sporting event held at the 53-year-old park.

The tender feelings fans have expressed toward Candlestick on websites, in newspaper forums and on radio talk shows shouldn’t be misinterpreted as wishes for a revival. Everyone knows the 49ers need a new stadium, which awaits them in Santa Clara, and everybody has long embraced AT&T Park as the Giants’ home since they left Candlestick following the 1999 season.

Why have Candlestick’s final days stirred such emotion? Simple: For Bay Area sports fans, the stadium has become something of a patriarch: Aged, gray, incapable of performing tasks its younger counterparts can, yet somehow imposing due to its history and undeniable strength (example: its resolute response to the Loma Prieta earthquake before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series). His time has come and gone, but the old man shall forever remain a member of the family.

Giants fans are especially prone to these feelings. Because the Giants endured so many abysmal seasons at
Candlestick, and because it was such a trying place for baseball spectators (that’s putting it mildly), those who visited the park regularly — whether to watch Gaylord Perry or Allen Ripley, J.T. Snow or J.R. Phillips — mostly were genuine fans who truly loved the sport, the Giants or both.

To these zealots, Candlestick became oddly special. No wonder that this second and final goodbye to Candlestick has been especially intense for many Giants fans. Essentially, nothing in their lives has changed or will change when Candlestick is demolished. But the patriarch — visible from a safe, happy distance on drives along Highway 101 — will disappear, making that inevitable transition from reality to memory.

Revel in those memories, Giants fans. Celebrate what you saw, what you experienced, what Russ or Lon or Hank or Ron or Jon or Kruk & Kuip told you.

Maybe you’ll attend Monday’s game and revisit a particular spot at the stadium that remains significant. Maybe, like me, you’ll stare at the top row of the upper reserved seats in Section 5, remember sitting there for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and continue to wonder how Dad got tickets.

And you’ll devour a Polish sausage for old times’ sake.

And though it’s a football crowd, you’ll long to hear that passionate, unbridled roar of the fans, real fans, rise from the stands over and over.

Again, I sense that football will be only incidental for a small but meaningful percentage of people watching Monday’s game, whether they do so at Candlestick or on television.

These will be the folks who’ll behold Candlestick one last time and recall rushing to the players’ parking lot to gaze at Willie Mays’ pink Cadillac, or who got golf-ball-sized goosebumps just watching Mays saunter into the on-deck circle, his uniform as elegant as a tuxedo.

Monday’s game is for them.

It’s also for anybody who thinks the city’s finest spans are the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and Willie McCovey stretching at first base for a throw.

It’s for anyone who refused to leave his or her seat whenever Clark — that’s Jack or Will — was due to bat.

It’s for anybody spellbound by the talents of the Bondses, pere et fil.

It’s for anybody who marveled at Juan Marichal kicking his left leg toward those impossibly high light towers in the middle of his marvelous motion.

It’s for anybody who played Little League, high school baseball or anything in between against one of Jim Davenport’s sons.

It’s for anybody who still can summon Jeff Carter’s voice in one’s internal public-address system.

It’s for anybody who paid 90 cents — NINETY CENTS — to sit in the bleachers.

It’s for people who emptied mothballs from their warmest clothes to attend a game in July or August.

It’s for fans who supported John Montefusco with the same ardor they now reserve for Tim Lincecum.

It’s for folks who loved to debate who was the better closer (Rod Beck or Robb Nen) or double-play combination (Chris Speier/Tito Fuentes or Jose Uribe/Robby Thompson).

It’s for people who, however briefly, ignored Candlestick’s flaws and appreciated the game in front of them.

It’s for everybody who’s focused on what’s important — the present — yet will always treasure the gifts of the past.

Chris Haft

Video helps Pence, Belt — can you dig it?

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

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

Pujols like Mays; Wilson simplifies; fly-catchers excel

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

Bumgarner remains in control

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

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

Giants might have a winner with Bumgarner

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

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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