When the Giants traded cleanup man Matt Williams to the Indians
over the winter, San Francisco fans fretted about who would
protect Barry Bonds in the batting order. The Giants' front
office, meanwhile, quietly worried about who would hit in front
of Bonds. San Francisco tried six leadoff men last year, who
combined to bat .244, the third-worst average at that spot in
the National League. The Giants number-two hitters, of whom they
auditioned 13, batted only .278. Despite table-setters who
regularly failed to do their job, Bonds still drove in a
career-high 129 runs.
"Leadoff has been a trouble spot here for a long time," Giants
general manager Brian Sabean says. "This organization really
hasn't had a productive leadoff hitter since Brett Butler."
Butler last played for the Giants seven years ago. So in a
winter of whirlwind moves, San Francisco filled one of its
longest-standing needs when it signed a lifetime .291 hitter who
last year batted leadoff for a first-place team, finished tied
for 10th in the American League in hits and flagged down more
balls in centerfield without making an error than any player in
history except Curt Flood. With that sort of resume, Darryl
Hamilton expected to be back with the Rangers this season.
Instead, he is playing for his third team in three years.
The Giants, like most clubs, also expected Hamilton to return to
Texas. But the Rangers were eager to open centerfield for
untested Damon Buford, and their signing of high-priced reliever
John Wetteland prompted them to look for ways to save on
salaries. San Francisco offered Hamilton a two-year contract
with an option year based on playing time that could have
totaled $9 million. Hamilton rejected it while fielding interest
from other clubs, including the Indians and the Orioles. The
Giants then signed Darrin Jackson as a potential centerfielder.
Hamilton never did find a deal that he liked better, and when he
resumed talks with San Francisco, he had to settle for a
two-year, $4.5 million contract.
Says Hamilton, who began his major league career by playing
seven seasons for the Brewers, "Questions about my health had
always been there. Last year I dispelled them with 700 plate
appearances. I thought I deserved better after last season. I
don't know why teams were more interested in me as a free agent
in 1995 than last year."
"He needed a place to call home, and we needed a centerfielder
and leadoff hitter," Sabean says. "It's a good fit. With him
leading off and [new shortstop] Jose Vizcaino behind him, Barry
should have more chances to drive in runs."
In spring training Hamilton got tips from Willie Mays about
playing centerfield at 3Com Park, won a first-place trophy at
the Giants' annual golf outing and struck up friendships with
outfield mates Bonds and Glenallen Hill--they refer to one
another as D, B and G--who dominate an otherwise low-voltage
clubhouse. Initially, Hamilton has fit in with the Giants.
"I played with the best player in the American League last
year," says Hamilton, referring to Juan Gonzalez, "and now I'm
playing with the best player in the National League. Barry's
always telling you he's the best. He's the same way in golf. I
can tell we're going to have fun this year."
CF Darryl Hamilton
Only 54 walks in 1996, but that was a career high
SS Jose Vizcaino
Combined .297 with Mets and Indians in '96
RF Glenallen Hill
At 32 has never had 500 at bats in a season
LF Barry Bonds
40-40 man in homers and steals for the first time
2B Jeff Kent
Bad glove, will travel--four teams in six years
C Rick Wilkins
Hit 30 homers in 1993, only 28 since
3B Mark Lewis
Challenged for job by second-year man Bill Mueller
1B Stan Javier
He and David McCarty fill in for injured J.T. Snow
Ace Mark Gardner
Journeyman (53-55 career record) heads weak rotation
Closer Rod Beck
Most saves in baseball since 1993: 144
Last year Barry Bonds broke the National League record for walks
in a season, with 151, bringing his career average to one free
pass every 6.204 plate appearances. Among National League
players who have played their entire careers in this century,
only three have walked with greater frequency than Bonds
(minimum 5,000 plate appearances): Eddie Stanky, one walk per
5.457 trips to the plate; Joe Morgan, 6.075; and Ralph Kiner,
STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU