If the San Francisco Giants do not win the pennant this year, a lot of people may jump off that bridge. The 1958 team, San Francisco's first, was a delightful surprise, finishing third. Last year's was even better, until the final 10 days. Then, with the pennant almost won and Series tickets on sale, the team died and finished third again. O.K., so those things happen sometimes. San Francisco is as big-hearted as any town. But not this year. The Giants must win this time.
This is an article from the April 11, 1960 issue
•THERE'S ALWAYS WILLIE
Certainly they have the team to win. There was a time when the only light in the Giant lineup shone from centerfield, the parade grounds of Willie Mays. Now there are others, like lefty Billy O'Dell (left), but Willie is still the team's blue-ribbon special. This year fans may see even more of the catches that made him famous, for Candlestick Park, the team's new home, has a more spacious outfield than did Seals Stadium. Mays, on the green side of 30, can still move quickly on the base paths, giving rival pitchers fits. And at the plate he is all a manager could want, a consistently powerful hitter.
•ORLANDO THE MAGNIFICENT
Flanking Mays in the outfield are two other powerful hitters, Orlando Cepeda in left, Willie Kirkland in right. Cepeda has shown remarkable consistency in his two major league seasons. His batting average, home runs, runs batted in and number of hits have been almost identical, and equally impressive. The only statistic that displeases the Giants is Cepeda's strikeout total, 100 last year. He will swing at anything that looks like a baseball, whether it's over the plate or not. Cepeda was originally a first baseman, but was moved to left last summer when fabulous Willie McCovey arrived. He is still getting used to the new position, but because of Mays's presence beside him, the defense is not hurt too much.
Kirkland is a competent right fielder with a good arm, not as good as Mays, better than Cepeda. Last year he hit .272, with 22 home runs, and this spring in Phoenix he looked as if he would improve on those figures. Kirkland, unlike Mays and Cepeda, is a left-handed hitter, and the word is that the air currents in Candlestick are kind to lefties.
•THE NEW WILLIE
Willie McCovey is also a lefty and also a power hitter. He came up from the minors last July just after the Giants had lost four straight. McCovey got four hits off Robin Roberts in his first game, and the Giants went on to win 10 out of 12. Mc-Covey's final average was .354, good enough to make him the league's best rookie. Willie is a big man, 6 foot 4 and over 200 pounds, and since he is only 22 he may get even bigger. He may also get fat. This spring he reported overweight and was not swinging as smoothly as he did last summer. McCovey is a poor-fielding first baseman, but if he hits again as he did last season, the Giants will grin and bear his misplays.
The rest of the Giant infield is as good as any other in the league defensively. Don Blasingame, a first-class second baseman, came from St. Louis during the winter and, with Ed Bressoud at shortstop, gives the Giants a combination at second and short that can really make the double play. Blasingame, a left-handed singles hitter with good speed, is an expert lead-off man. Bressoud does not hit as often, but he can hit the home run. The third baseman is Jim Davenport, apparently well again after a knee operation in 1959. Davenport is the best defensive third baseman in the league. His hitting, like Bressoud's, is at the .250 level, but he, too, can hit a few home runs, especially over that screen in Los Angeles, his favorite target.
Hobie Landrith came to the Giants in a trade a year ago and originally was regarded only as a good second-string catcher to back up the 1958 rookie standout, Bob Schmidt. As it turned out, it was Landrith who became first string, a valuable man in the team's near-pennant drive. A low-average hitter with little power, he has never been good with the bat, but his handling of pitchers is regarded highly. More than that, Hobie seems to be the spirit of the team, with a line of chatter that can be heard from the bleachers. Schmidt will be the second catcher, unless he begins hitting as he did in 1958. The Giants wouldn't mind that a bit.
•UP THE PITCHING
The most handsome change in the Giant team since it arrived in San Francisco is the pitching staff. In 1958 there was only Johnny Antonelli. Antonelli is still their best left-hander (a 19-game winner last year), but he has been known to let his temper get out of control, especially when beaten, and it was rumored last fall that he might be traded. Such was not the case, however, and the Giants look forward to more wins and better relations with the San Francisco fans.
No one was more agreeable last year than Sam Jones, who pitched whenever Manager Bill Rigney asked him. Toward the end of the season that seemed to be every day, either as a starter or in relief. Jones won 21 games for the Giants, including a seven-inning no-hitter and a much-disputed one-hitter. No pitcher in the league has as sharp a curve as the 34-year-old Jones; it's a wicked thing that seems to tick a right-handed batter in the ribs before breaking way across the plate.
Jones and Antonelli are the big men, but the Giants are fortunate to have three other good starters, Jack Sanford, Billy O'Dell and Mike McCormick. Sanford is a fast-balling right-hander who won 15 games last year. O'Dell pitched for Baltimore for five years before being traded to San Francisco during the winter, along with Billy Loes. McCormick, a bonus pitcher with four major league seasons, is only 21. Each year he has shown improvement, and this year could be his first really big one. Both he and O'Dell are lefties.
The Giants are also well stocked with relief pitchers. Loes will be used as such, as will Stu Miller and old Bud Byerly, who is almost 40 and who has played in 15 different cities during his 20 years as a pro. Miller throws the sweetest, slowest pitch this side of the Little Leagues, but no one hits him very much. Witness his low earned run average for the past two years. Of course, the Giants will have one more relief pitcher for those tight games late in the season. That will be Sam Jones.
The Giant bench strength is not good. Only Outfielder Felipe Alou can be called a good hitter. He may switch off with Kirkland when a left-hander is pitching against the Giants. Joe Amalfitano, the old bonus boy, is back with the Giants and hitting well. He'll be an infield reserve, along with Andre Rodgers and perhaps José Pagan. Not an impressive group, but, considering the Giants' first-line strength, it is probably good enough.
Otherwise the Giants seem to be as golden as the West into which they moved. They have all a team should need: hitting, fielding, pitching and experience. What happened to them last year should not happen again.
1959 TEAM PERFORMANCE
RUNS BATTED IN