The New York Gothams were founded by John B. Day, and they joined the National League in 1883. It’s said that their name was changed to Giants a few seasons later after a particularly exhilarating win led manager Jim Mutrie to rush into the clubhouse and shout, “My big fellows! My giants!” The New York Giants enjoyed almost immediate success, winning the National League pennant in 1888 & 1889. They also won a type of “World Series” those years, though postseason games were considered exhibition games until 1903. After the World Series was official, they continued to succeed, winning their first title in 1905. Then, from 1911-1924, they won 8 National League pennants (including 4 in a row from ’21-’24), and 2 more World Series titles. Since that time, the franchise had off and on success while in New York – 3 World Series appearances and 1 title from ’33-’37, then two more NL pennants in ’51 and ’54, winning the championship in ’54.
But, just three years after their World Series win, the Giants were struggling to win, and headed toward a 2nd consecutive 6th place finish. With the Polo Grounds in disrepair, they desperately needed a new stadium. Initially, they considered a move to Minnesota, where their top farm team was located. But, then Giants owners were approached by the mayor of San Francisco. It just so happened that the Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner, Walter O’Malley, had begun considering a move to Los Angeles. But, he was told that his team wouldn’t be allowed to move to California unless another team also moved to the west coast. So, O’Malley began urging Giants’ majority owner, Horace Stoneham, to go through with his move to San Francisco. And, during the summer of ’57, both the Giants and Dodgers announced their plans to relocate – ending what many consider the golden age of baseball in New York City.
In their first 52 seasons in San Francisco, the Giants had limited success: just 8 playoff appearances, 3 World Series appearances, and 0 championships. Then, in 2010, they won their first World Series title since the move, ending a 56-year drought, which they quickly followed up with another title in 2012. The Giants have 22 National League pennants and 19 World Series appearances – both records in the NL. They also have 7 World Series championships, which is second only to St. Louis in the NL. More Hall of Fame members spent the majority of their career with the Giants franchise than any other baseball franchise. They’ve retired 9 players’ jerseys, fielded 11 Rookie of the Year winners (including 5 straight from ’72-’76), had 9 different players win 15 MVP’s, and 2 pitchers have won 3 Cy Young awards. Needless to say, there is a lot of history to consider when choosing the best of the best from this franchise. So, here goes…
5. Carl Hubbell (’28-’43) – Hubbell was the first NL player to have his jersey number retired (1944). And, deservedly so. Hubbell won 2 MVP awards (’33 & ’36), and appeared in 9 All-Star games in his 16-year career. His most memorable moment came in the 1934 All-Star game, when he struck out 5 consecutive batters (still the record for an individual pitcher), all of whom were future Hall of Famers (Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin). He also holds the major league record for consecutive wins (24), which he set during the ’36 & ’37 seasons. He led the league in wins 3 times, win pct. twice, ERA 3 times, strikeouts once, WHIP 6 times, and K/BB ratio 5 times. He possesses a 2.98 career ERA, ranks 2nd all-time on the Giants’ wins list (253), 9th in career WHIP among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP (1.17), 4th in career K’s (1677), and 3rd in ERA+ (130). I give Hubbell just the slightest of edge over Juan Marichal because he had more league-leading stats, and Marichal pitched in a more pitcher-dominant era.
4. Barry Bonds (’93-’07) – one day (probably not real soon), all the steroid talk is going to die down, and people will be ready to recognize Bonds for the talented player he was, rather than punish him for the incomparable batter he appeared to be. I’m going to try to do that here. I’m not going to go into all of the numbers that I think he could have achieved even without PED’s. What I’m going to suggest to you is that if his career had continued the downward slope that it appeared to be on at the end of the ’99 season (granted, it wasn’t a very drastic slope), he would have still finished his career as one of the best to ever play for the Giants. He still would have had an MVP as a Giant. He still would have appeared in at least 7 All-Star games, and won 5 Gold Gloves. He still likely would have ranked in the top 2 or 3 on the Giants’ all-time lists in OBP, SLG, OPS, walks and OPS+. And, he would have most likely finished in the top 5 in HR and RBI for the franchise. He might very well have finished as a greater all-around player than the likes of Ott (see below). But, he slides back a spot because of his lack of respect for the game and its history.
3. Mel Ott (’26-’47) – Mel Ott is my new hero. 5’9″ tall, 170 lbs., and he was the first NL player to reach 500 HR’s. Makes me think even I could do it … if my 170 lbs. was more muscle, and less gut. But, I digress. Ott was the youngest player to ever hit for the cycle, which he accomplished on May 16, 1929 at the age of 20. He led the league in HR 6 times. But, what’s even more impressive is the fact that he led his Giants teams in HR 18 consecutive years (’28-’45)! No other player in baseball history has led his team in any of the Triple Crown categories for as many consecutive years. Ott had 8 consecutive 100-RBI seasons (and if he hadn’t come up 5 short in ’37, it would have been 10 consecutive), becoming the first NL player to do so. And, in the 78 years since he did it, only 4 other NL players have been able to accomplish this impressive feat (Mays, Sosa, Chipper Jones, and Pujols). Ott also led the league in OBP 4 times, which was aided by the fact that he led the league in walks 6 times, and never had as many as 70 K’s in any single season. And, if his career hadn’t taken such a drastic turn the last 5 seasons (averaged just 83 games & 13 HR after his age 33 season), he likely would have joined the 3,000 hit club, in addition to the 500 HR club – an elite group with just 3 legitimate members in baseball history (Palmeiro doesn’t count). As for his rankings on the Giants’ all-time lists, Ott is 2nd in OBP (.414), 7th in SLG (.533), 3rd in OPS (.947), 2nd in runs (1859), 2nd in hits (2876), 2nd in doubles (488), 3rd in HR (511), 1st in RBI (1860 – 12th all-time in MLB history), and 4th in OPS+ (155).
2. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916) – Mathewson is often considered one of the top 5 or 6 pitchers of all time. His 373 career wins ranks 3rd all-time. And, if you take out his first season (in which he only pitched in 6 games at the age of 19), and his last season (in which he only started 7 games), his average season was a record of 25-12 with a 2.10 ERA and 1.05 WHIP! His 2.13 career ERA ranks 8th all time. His 1.058 career WHIP ranks 6th all time. Had the Cy Young award existed, there’s no question Mathewson would have won at least twice, and quite possibly 4 times. As it was, he finished in the top 4 in MVP voting twice. In 1936, when the first Hall of Fame class was introduced, Mathewson received more votes than any other pitcher – including Walter Johnson and Cy Young. He ranks 1st on the Giants’ all-time ERA list (2.12), 1st in wins (372), 4th in win pct. among pitchers with at least 1000 IP (.664), 1st in WHIP (1.057), 1st in K’s (2504), 1st in shutouts (79), 2nd in K/BB ratio (2.96), and 2nd in ERA+ (136).
1. Willie Mays (’51-’73) – so, who could possibly rank higher in an organization than one of the top 5 pitchers of all time? Well, it would have to be the guy who is arguably the greatest all-around player of all time. I respect Babe Ruth’s talent – but, he wasn’t facing the kind of pitching that existed in Mays’ era. Ted Williams, in my opinion, is the best pure hitter in baseball history. But, he didn’t have the speed or glove Mays did. As previously mentioned, there are only three legitimate members of the 500 HR/3,000 Hit club: Mays, Aaron and Eddie Murray. Of those three, Mays is the only one with more than 300 stolen bases, and he has twice as many Gold Gloves as the other two combined. There are 8 members of the 300/300 club (HR & SB): Bonds (who actually joined the club at the age of 30!), Mays, Andre Dawson, Bobby Bonds, Reggie Sanders, Steve Finley, A-Rod and Carlos Beltran. Of that club, only Barry has more HR than Mays (and we know the story there), and only the two Bonds’ have more SB than Mays (and Bobby has over 300 fewer HR than Mays). Mays is tied for the 6th most Gold Gloves ever awarded to one player, with 12. But, what you might not know is that the Gold Glove wasn’t awarded until 1957 – 3 years after Mays had already won his first MVP, and had made “The Catch” in Game 1 of the ’54 World Series. As it is, no one ahead of him on the Gold Glove list (Greg Maddux, Jim Kaat, Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez and Ozzie Smith) comes anywhere close to having his offensive prowess. So, all of this is why I think he belongs at the top of this, and many other lists.