(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)
The San Francisco Giants have retired nine numbers, all for Hall of Famers. When it comes to Retired Number Bandits, they are kind of an all-or-nothing team — four players have no Bandits, and four have a ton. But the one with one Bandit was the best of them all.[table “” not found /]
Bill Terry, 3
Terry played 14 seasons in the big leagues, all with the New York Giants. He had a historic year in 1930, leading the majors with a .401 batting average and 254 hits. He is the last National League player to bat .400, and his 254 hits are tied with Lefty O’Doul in 1929 for the National League single-season record.
In 1932, Terry replaced the legendary John McGraw as manager of the Giants, acting in a player-manager role until his retirement at age 37 in 1936. He remained as manager through 1941, and was the team’s general manager from 1937-42.
For his career as a player, Terry batted .341/.393/.506 with 2,193 hits in just 14 seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1954, and the Giants retired his number 3 in 1984. In the interim, it was worn by Wally Berger, Mel Ott, Hank Leiber, Jimmy Ripple, Jo-Jo Moore, Frank Demaree, Harry Danning, Johnny Rucker, Joe Medwick, Charlie Mead, Jim Mallory, Johnny Mize, Herman Franks, Ozzie Virgil, Mike Sadek, Jeff Ransom, and John Rabb.
Mel Ott, 4
Ott played his entire 22-year career with the Giants too, coming up as a 17-year-old in 1926 and playing his first full season at age 19. He led the National League in home runs six times, finishing his career with 511 homers, 1,859 runs scored, and 1,860 RBIs. He also walked 1,708 times and had only 8.96 strikeouts.
Ott was a player-manager for the Giants from 1942-47, then managed half of the 1948 season after retiring as a player. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1951, and the Giants retired his number 4 in 1949.
Carl Hubbell, 11
Hubbell spent 16 years on the mound for the Giants, the last 11 of them with the number 11 on his back. (He wore number 10 in 1932, the first year the Giants wore uniform numbers.) He won two Most Valuable Player Awards (this was before the Cy Young Award existed) and finished in the top ten three other times. For his career, he had a 253-154 record with at 2.98 ERA (130 ERA+).
Hubbell retired in 1943 at the age of 40, and the Giants retired his number 11 in 1944. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1947 and died in 1988 at the age of 85.
Monte Irvin, 20
Irvin began playing for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League as a 19-year-old in 1938. Like many great young baseball players of the era, he missed two full seasons and most of two others while serving in the military during World War II. Not long after he returned from WWII, Irvin was approached by Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey about coming to the major leagues, but Irvin felt like he was too rusty from his time off to be ready for that. Eagles business manager Effa Manley also refused to let Irvin leave without compensation, so Rickey moved on with his plans for Jackie Robinson, whom he had already signed away from the Negro Leagues with no compensation.
Irvin did not get his chance in the majors until 1949, when he was already 30 years old. He had his best season in 1951, batting .312/.415/.514 with 24 home runs and 121 RBIs and finishing third in the NL MVP voting. He suffered a broken leg that limited him to 46 games in 1952, then had another very good season in 1953. He was decent in 1954, spent much of the season in the minors in 1955, and played one last season with the Chicago Cubs in 1956. He suffered a back injury during spring training in 1957 and was forced to retire.
Irvin was a much different type of player than Robinson, but he was one of the pioneers of the game all the same. He was born 25 days after Jackie, and both men played their final season in 1956. Irvin outlived Robinson by more than 43 years, though; Robinson died in 1972, while Irvin lived until a month before his 97th birthday before dying in January 2016.
Irvin did not qualify for the Hall of Fame as a major leaguer, having played only eight seasons, but he was elected by the Negro League Committee in 1973. The Giants retired his number 20 in 2010. Before it was retired, it was worn by Daryl Spencer, Dale Long, Bob Nieman, Billy Hoeft, Dick Groat, Frank Johnson, Bernie Williams, Glenn Redmon, Bobby Murcer, Vic Harris, Joe Strain, Jeffrey Leonard, Eddie Milner, Phil Garner, Tony Torcato, Michael Tucker, Todd Greene, Fred Lewis, Pat Misch, Steve Holm, and John Bowker.
Willie Mays, 24
Mays is, by some estimations, the best player in major league history. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS standards, he is the best center fielder in history, just a bit better than Ty Cobb and quite a bit better than everyone else. Mays played 21 of his 22 seasons with the Giants, spending a year and a half with the New York Mets at the end of his career. He missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 due to military service.
Mays won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1951, then won the NL Most Valuable Player Award his first year back from the military in 1954. He won the award again in 1965, and from 1954-66, he finished in the top six in the MVP voting every year except 1956, when he finished 17th despite a 7.6 WAR that tied Duke Snider for the best in the league.
For his career, Mays hit .302/.384/.557 with 660 home runs, 1,903 RBIs, 2,062 runs scored, 3,283 hits, and 338 stolen bases. Throw in the Gold Glove defense (he won 12 of them), and there just wasn’t anything Mays did not do well. The Giants traded Mays to the Mets on May 11, 1972, and the next day they retired his number. He retired after the 1973 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.
Juan Marichal, 27
Marichal was an outstanding pitcher, nicknamed the “Dominican Dandy” as one of the first big stars from the Dominican Republic. He pitched 14 of his 16 seasons with the Giants, finishing up with one season with the Boston Red Sox and one season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marichal as a Dodger was an odd sight, not just because of the rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers, but because he was at the center of the ugliest on-field incident in the history of the rivalry, and unfortunately his name still today conjures up memories of that 1965 game. We won’t recount the story here — Wikipedia has a perfectly fine recap — other than to say that later in their lives, Roseboro forgave Marichal and campaigned for his election to the Hall of Fame and Marichal served as an honorary pallbearer at Roseboro’s funeral.
For his career, Marichal went 243-142 with a 2.89 ERA. He had his last great season at age 31 and retired in 1975 at age 37, but he was truly great from 1963-69. The Giants retired his number in 1975. He was not elected to the Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility, but after Roseboro openly appealed for him, he was elected in 1983.
Orlando Cepeda, 30
Cepeda played 17 years in the big leagues, nine of them with the Giants. He won the 1967 National League MVP Award and had two other very good seasons. Besides that he had a lot of seasons that ranged from decent to good, and a lot of seasons that were just bad. He finished his career with a .350 .499 .849 batting line (133 OPS+) with 379 home runs and 1,365 RBIs.
JAWS lists Cepeda as the 31st-best first baseman in history, which makes him one of the worst first basemen in the Hall of Fame. He retired in 1974 and spent 15 years on the ballot without election, but the Veteran’s Committee elected him in 1999. The Giants retired his number 30 that same year, but it had previously been issued to Billy Hoeft, Jim Johnson, Don Carrithers, John Boccabella, Derrel Thomas, John Tamargo, Bob Kearney, Chili Davis, Rusty Tillman, Donell Nixon, Mark Thurmond, Chris James, Jim McNamara, Jim Deshaies, Jamie Brewington, Dan Peltier, Marcus Jensen, Jacob Cruz, and Dante Powell.
Gaylord Perry, 36
Perry pitched more for the Giants than for any other team, but he spent less than half his career in San Francisco. He went 134-109 in ten seasons with the Giants, who traded him after the 1971 season to the Cleveland Indians. In Perry’s first season with the Indians, he went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA and won the American League Cy Young Award. Eight years later he would win another Cy Young in his first season with a new team, this time going 21-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the San Diego Padres to win the National League award.
Perry pitched 22 seasons in the big leagues, throwing his final pitch six days after his 45th birthday. He played with eight franchises — the Giants, Indians, Texas Rangers, Padres, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and Kansas City Royals. He went 314-265 with a 3.11 ERA and 3,534 strikeouts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his third year on the ballot in 1991, and the Giants retired his number 36 in 2005. After Perry wore the number, it was worn by Sam McDowell, Gary Matthews, Tim Foli, Skip James, Jim Dwyer, Bill North, Dan Schatzeder, Brad Wellman, Keith Comstock, Dennis Cook, Randy McCament, Rafael Novoa, Gil Heredia, Steve Reed, Tim Layana, Erik Johnson, Gino Minutelli, Tony Menendez, Kenny Greer, Shawn Estes, Jay Canizaro, Wilson Delgado, Joe Nathan, and A.J. Pierzynski.
Perry and his brother Jim Perry were teammates on the Indians for the 1974 season and the beginning of the 1975 season, until Cleveland traded Jim to the Oakland A’s for Blue Moon Odom on May 20. Twenty-four days later, the Indians also traded Gaylord, sending him to the Rangers.
Perry was a noted spitballer, titling his 1974 autobiography Me and the Spitter. He also liked to pretend he was doctoring the ball, just to get into the hitters minds. His ball-doctoring proclivities were parodied in this ESPN SportsCenter commercial:
Willie McCovey, 44
McCovey played his first full major league season in 1963, four years after winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1959. He played 19 of his 22 seasons with the Giants, with a three-year interruption from 1974-76 when he played for the Padres and the A’s. He led the National League in home runs three times, winning the 1969 NL MVP Award with a league-leading 45 homers and 126 RBIs.
For his career, McCovey hit .270/.374/.515 (147 OPS+) with 521 home runs, 1,555 RBIs, and 1,229 runs scored. He retired in 1980, and the Giants retired his number 44 at the end of that season. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot in 1986.
Honored: Christy Mathewson and John McGraw
In 1988, the Giants hung banners honoring both Mathewson and McGraw, who spent their Giants careers in the time before uniform numbers.
Mathewson spent all but one game of his 17-year career with the Giants, going 373-188 with a 2.13 ERA (135 ERA+). He won at least 20 games 13 times and 30 games four times. Mathewson retired in 1916 at the age of 35 after his one game as player-manager with the Reds, but he remained with the team as their manager for two more seasons.
Mathewson was one of the original five players elected in the first Hall of Fame voting in 1936, along with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and Honus Wagner. Unfortunately, Matty did not live to see it — he contracted tuberculosis while serving overseas in World War I and died in 1925 at the age of 45.
McGraw spent five years as a player-manager for the Giants and then 26 more years as manager after that. In his career as Giants manager, he led the team to a 2,583-1,790 record, ten National League pennants, and three World Series championships. In 1924, ’25, and ’27, health problems forced McGraw to miss time; Hughie Jennings managed the team for 76 games in 1924-25, and Rogers Hornsby managed 32 games in 1927.
McGraw retired as manager midway through the 1932 season, although he returned to manage the National League in the first All-Star game in 1933. He died of uremic poisoning in 1934 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.
Unofficial: Barry Bonds, 25
Bonds spent the final 15 seasons of his career with the Giants after seven years and two National League MVP Awards with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The son of former Giants star Bobby Bonds and the godson of Giants legend Willie Mays, Bonds came home to San Francisco after the 1992 season and proceeded to hit 586 home runs in orange and black. From 2001-04, Bonds had a ridiculous .349/.559/.809 batting line, good for a 256 OPS+ (meaning he was much more than twice as good as the average hitter during the steroid era!).
Oops, did I just mention steroids? I guess the elephant in the room has introduced himself. Bonds’ intentional use of performance-enhancing drugs has never been definitively proven, but it has been documented very well, most notably in the excellent book Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
It is that PED use that has kept perhaps the greatest hitter in baseball history out of the Hall of Fame and kept his number 25 off the wall at AT&T Park. But the Giants have not issued the number since Bonds last wore it in 2007, and it seems unlikely that they ever will. He will eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame and his number will eventually be officially retired, but “eventually” can be a very long time and he will have to settle for unofficial status until then.
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