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100 Things Giants Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Bill Chastain
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2015 Bill Chastain
All rights reserved.
To the media and baseball fans alike, he was "the Say Hey Kid." Close friends knew him as "Buck." No matter what nickname Willie Mays went by, most remember him as the best all-around player to ever play the game of baseball.
Mays hailed from Westfield, Alabama, and learned how to play the game as a youngster by watching his father play in Industrial League games. By the time Mays was in high school in 1947, he had already begun to play professionally, first with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos then the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. The New York Giants signed him to a contract in 1950, and on May 25, 1951, he played in his first major league game, thereby beginning a memorable Hall of Fame career.
Mays' first major league hit was a home run off Boston Braves left- hander Warren Spahn. The hit came after Mays had failed to register a hit in his first 12 major league at-bats, prompting Spahn to joke about that encounter on many occasions during the years that followed: "I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out." Mays finished the 1951 season with a .274 batting average, 68 RBIs, and 20 home runs, which, coupled with his athleticism, were enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors.
That first season would be a teaser for Giants fans since Mays got drafted by the Army in 1952 and missed most of that season before missing the entire 1953 campaign. That lost time in the major leagues cost him almost 270 games. Ironically, while in the service Mays did little else beside play baseball for the U.S. Army.
He rejoined the Giants in 1954, establishing himself as one of the best players in the game. Not only did Mays lead the National League with a .345 batting average, he also hit 41 home runs to win his first Most Valuable Player award while also leading the Giants to the World Series, where they swept the Indians. During the Series, Mays made "the Catch," the name given to the over-the-shoulder grab he made on a drive hit by Cleveland's Vic Wertz in Game 1 (see No. 9, "The Catch").
In 1956 Mays became only the second player in major league history to hit more than 30 home runs and steal more than 30 bases in a season, with 36 home runs and 40 stolen bases. The Gold Glove award came into being in 1957, and Mays made the award his to keep, winning the award for the first 12 years after its inception.
Mays guided the Giants to the National League pennant in 1962 by leading the team in eight offensive categories, while also leading the majors in home runs (49) and total bases (382). A Mays home run broke up one of the more memorable pitching duels in major league history on July 2, 1963. Juan Marichal was pitching for the Giants and Spahn for the Braves, when Mays homered in the bottom of the 16 off Spahn for a 1–0 Giants win. That home run helped Mays earn the distinction as being the only player in major league history to hit a home run in every inning from the first through 16.
After hitting 52 home runs in 1965, Mays won a second MVP award. He appeared in 24 All-Star Games during his career. Baseball immortal Ted Williams once said, "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays." Mays finished his career with 660 home runs, which ranked third in major league history when he retired after the 1973 season, having spent his final two years in the major leagues with the New York Mets.
Mays went into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. During the induction ceremony, he was asked whom he considered the best player he saw during his career, to which he answered, "I don't mean to be bashful, but I was."
The Say Hey Kid was just being honest.CHAPTER 2
Talk about a lopsided trade, even Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas doesn't hold a candle to this one: the Giants traded right-hander Amos Rusie to the Cincinnati Reds for, gulp, Christy Mathewson. No doubt that trade, which took place on December 15, 1900, ranks as the best trade in Giants history and perhaps one of the top five trades in major league history. Though he would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Rusie got injured in 1901 and pitched in just three games for the Reds in what would be his final season (the beginning of an unfortunate pattern for the Reds). Mathewson, meanwhile, went on to win 373 games in 17 seasons, with 372 of those wins coming while wearing a Giants uniform.
Mathewson hailed from Factoryville, Pennsylvania, where he played sports as a youngster before attending Bucknell University. In addition to playing on the school's football and baseball teams, Mathewson served as class president. During his college years, he also played minor league baseball for some of the surrounding towns and earned All-America honors in football as a drop-kicker.
Mathewson elected to leave college in 1899 to pitch for Taunton of the New England League before moving to Norfolk of the Virginia–North Carolina League in 1900. He pitched so well for Norfolk that the Giants took notice and signed him. But after he went 0–3, the Giants sent him back to Norfolk and even asked for a return of the $1,500 they had spent to purchase him. Once Mathewson returned to Norfolk, the Reds picked him up, which set up the trade back to the Giants that took place later that year.
In 1901, Mathewson's first full season in the major leagues, he posted a 20–17 record with a 2.41 ERA. Two years later, he came into his own with the first of four 30-win seasons. He complemented his 30–13 mark with a 2.26 ERA, and from 1903 to 1905 Mathewson won 94 games.
Mathewson anchored a Giants' pitching staff that played the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1905 World Series, pitching three complete-game shutouts in six days as the Giants won the Series four games to one. With Mathewson serving as the team's ace, the Giants won three additional National League pennants, but 1905 proved to be his only World Series victory. Mathewson's best season came in 1908 when he went 37–11 with a 1.43 ERA. He also had 34 complete games.
In July 1916 Mathewson was traded back to the Reds, who once again got a raw deal, as Christy pitched just one game before retiring as a player, though he did stay on to manage the team through the 1918 season. In Mathewson's 17 seasons as a pitcher, he started 552 games and threw 435 complete games. Complementing his 373 career victories were 2,507 strikeouts, a career ERA of 2.13, and an incredible 0.97 ERA in four World Series appearances (11 games).
Mathewson did his patriotic duty in 1918 by enlisting in the Army to fight in World War I. Earning the rank of captain, Mathewson served in the chemical service, which led to his being gassed accidently. That accident festered and later turned into tuberculosis. Once he returned from the war, he joined the Giants as a coach from 1919 to 1920, but his physical condition prevented him from being totally devoted to the team. He missed prolonged periods away from the team dealing with his illness.
Mathewson died in Saranac Lake, New York, on October 7, 1925, which coincided with the first day of that year's World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Senators. Both teams wore black armbands throughout the Series. In 1936 Mathewson was elected into the inaugural class of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was the only one of the five inductees to be inducted posthumously.
Future Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch had his beginning with the New York Giants in 1919 when the "Fordham Flash" left Fordham University to sign with the team. He went straight to the Polo Grounds without ever playing in the minor leagues.
In Frisch's rookie season of 1919, he played in 54 games, hitting .226 with two home runs and 24 RBIs. In his first full season in 1920, Frisch showed marked improvement when he hit .280 with four home runs and 77 RBIs. In addition, he stole 34 bases. Frisch dazzled Giants manager John McGraw to the point where the hard-to-please manager made him the team captain while playing him at second and third base.
Frisch actually was McGraw's perfect player since he could handle the bat, understood how to play small ball, was a good fielder, an accomplished base runner, and had a high baseball IQ. While Frisch played for the Giants, they won National League pennants for four straight seasons and converted two of those pennants into world championships by capturing two straight World Series in 1921 and 1922.
Though a favorite of McGraw, Frisch had a falling out with the Giants manager late in the 1926 season when he missed a sign. In the aftermath of that blowup, Frisch left the team and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for enigmatic star Rogers Hornsby. Hornsby had some success for the Giants, but letting Frisch get away would be one of the worst trades in Giants history.
With the Cardinals, Frisch played in four more World Series, serving as one of the main cogs in the Cardinals' "Gashouse Gang" teams. He would play 11 seasons in St. Louis and capture the Most Valuable Player award in 1931 after hitting .311 with 4 home runs and 82 RBIs. Frisch played 19 seasons in all, with a lifetime average of .316, 105 home runs, and 1,244 RBIs. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947.CHAPTER 3
John McGraw brought what had made him a good major league player to his job as manager, and the results were predictable: he became one of the best managers in major league history.
As a player, McGraw clawed and scratched and did anything within his power to win a baseball game. Some of his tactics as a player might have been considered cheating. For example, if a ball was hit in the air, he might take advantage of the umpiring situation that prevailed in his era, in which just one umpire watched the game. While the umpire watched to see if the ball was caught, McGraw might trip a runner or stand in his way. On the base paths, he might cut the corner rounding third, taking a route several feet in front of the bag to score more easily from second base.
While some considered said acts cheating, others insisted McGraw was simply employing gamesmanship. And nobody questioned the results, which generally saw McGraw on the winning side of the ledger. McGraw played 16 seasons in what was known as the major leagues prior to the 20 century. During that stretch of years that spanned from 1891 to 1906, McGraw hit .334, drew more than 100 walks in three different seasons, and had a .466 career on-base percentage, which ranks third all-time, behind Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.
The native of Truxton, New York, was a master of "little ball," or employing the little things into his team's day-to-day game plan, such as bunting, hitting behind the runner, and stealing bases. Home runs were simply not a part of baseball during the era in which he played, but they came into fashion during his later years as a manager.
McGraw's first year as a manager came in 1899 as a player/manager for the Baltimore Orioles, then of the National League, and he led the team to a fourth-place finish at 86–62. McGraw also managed the Orioles in 1901 and 1902, after the Orioles moved to the American League.
At the age of 29, he moved to the New York Giants in the second half of the 1902 season. He continued to be a player/manager through 1906, but played little once he took over the Giants. McGraw would remain the Giants manager until 1932, when he retired at age 59. In 31 seasons with the Giants, McGraw's teams went 2,583–1,790. Overall, he compiled 2,763 managerial wins, and his 2,669 National League wins still rank first, though his overall wins are second behind Connie Mack. From 1921 to 1924, McGraw led the Giants to four first-place finishes, making him the only National League manager to claim four straight pennants. With McGraw at the helm, the Giants won 10 National League pennants, three World Series, and finished second 11 times.
McGraw became a part owner of the Giants in 1919, which allowed him to add the titles of vice president and general manager to his managerial duties, resulting in his having total control over baseball operations. Prior to his final season as manager in 1932, McGraw opted to retire his uniform and managed his last games wearing a suit and tie, before retiring completely midway through the season. In 1937 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Building on their 1921 World Series win over the New York Yankees, the Giants showed they were the class of the National League in 1922 when they cruised to the pennant by a seven-game margin. As in the '21 Series, the Yankees were once again the Giants' opponent, and the Polo Grounds would host all of the World Series games, since the Yankees also called the Polo Grounds home in 1922.
Joe Bush took the mound for the Yankees in Game 1 and kept the Giants off the scoreboard through seven innings. Trailing 2–0 heading into the eighth inning, Irish Meusel had a two-run single, and Ross Youngs added a sacrifice fly to lead a 3–2 Giants win.
Meusel accounted for all of the Giants' runs in Game 2 when he smashed a three-run homer off of Bob Shawkey in the first inning. The Yankees managed to tie the game at 3, sending the contest into extra innings. Both teams were stunned when umpire George Hildebrand ended up calling the game due to darkness after 10 innings, even though approximately half an hour of daylight remained.
Jack Scott, who had made an impact for the Giants' fortunes in 1922 when he posted an 8–2 mark in 17 games, continued his excellence by tossing a four-hitter in Game 3 as the Giants moved to a 2–0 lead in the World Series. With John McGraw at the helm, the Giants looked comfortable playing close games, which they reaffirmed in Games 4 and 5 when they took wins of 4–3 and 5–3 to earn the distinction of sweeping the best-of-seven World Series in five games — don't forget the tie.
Critical to the Giants' success was their pitching staff's handling of Babe Ruth, who had no hits in nine trips to the plate in the final three games. While the Giants appeared to be in the midst of their heyday, the 1922 world championship turned out to be McGraw's last.CHAPTER 4
Talk about a quality free agent signing. Take a look at what Barry Bonds did for the Giants after joining the team through free agency prior to the 1993 season. In 15 seasons wearing a Giants uniform, Bonds hit .312 with 586 home runs and 1,440 RBIs. He would become a seven-time National League Most Valuable Player, winning the award five times with the Giants — including four consecutive years from 2001 through 2004 — and become baseball's single-season home run king as well as the all-time home run leader.
From the time Bonds was a young man growing up the son of former Giants star outfielder Bobby Bonds, he was earmarked for greatness, becoming a high school All-American baseball player at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, where he also played football and basketball. Upon graduating from high school, Bonds became the Giants' second-round selection in the 1982 June Amateur Draft, but Bonds and the Giants could not agree on a contract, so he opted to attend Arizona State on a baseball scholarship.
He continued to thrive while playing for the Sun Devils, where he hit .347 with 45 home runs and 175 RBIs during his stay in Tempe, Arizona. College baseball only enhanced his value to the professional ranks, prompting the Pittsburgh Pirates to make him the sixth overall pick of the 1985 draft. This time he signed.
By 1986 Bonds arrived in the major leagues, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 48 during his rookie campaign. In Bonds' first full season in the major leagues in 1987, he hit 25 home runs while also showing his versatility with 32 steals. He helped turn around the fortunes of a dismal Pirates franchise, leading the team to the postseason in 1990 while winning his first Most Valuable Player award after hitting .301 with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs.
Excerpted from 100 Things Giants Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Bill Chastain. Copyright © 2015 Bill Chastain. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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