The 1966 San Francisco Giants were a very good ball club. Their record was 93-68, good enough for a very close second place (just a game and a half behind the arch-rival Dodgers) in the National League.
That strong second-place finish was (frustratingly) typical of Giants’ entries in that period. It was the second year in a row they’d been second banana, and they would repeat that status for the following three seasons.
But the ’66 Giants weren’t a great ball club. Nor were they even quite as good as they looked; their Pythagorean record was just 86-75. They were, as was so often the case with Giant teams in the 1960s, an unusual mixture of terrific strengths and gaping holes.
In center fielder Willie Mays, first baseman Willie McCovey and pitchers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, they had four future Hall of Famers delivering at-or-near-peak performance, with 37, 34, 33 and 21 Win Shares respectively. Third baseman Jim Ray Hart (27 Win Shares), catcher Tom Haller (22) and pitcher Bob Bolin (17) were three more superior contributors.
But alongside them were cavernous problems. Middle infielder Hal Lanier played in 149 games and delivered an OPS+ of 50. Ray Sadecki and Bob Shaw combined for 25 starts, 14 relief appearances and an ERA+ of 65. Outfielders Jesus Alou, Ollie Brown, Len Gabrielson, Cap Peterson and Don Landrum combined for 1,356 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 62.
Clearly, had the Giants received anything close to league-average performance from much of their supporting cast, their core of stars would have been quite sufficient to lead them to a championship. But is that a realistic scenario to envision? Is there a plausible manner in which the 1966 Giants might have received a better performance from their supporting cast?
Oh, my, yes. There is.
The Overflowing Harvest
As we examined here, the San Francisco Giants’ organization in 1966 produced the greatest accumulation of talent in the history of baseball. Players signed and developed by the Giants’ farm system accounted for 522 Win Shares in the major leagues in 1966, the most produced by any organization in any season since farm systems were devised.*
The Giants’ problem was that, as the result of a long string of frivolous trades, a huge bulk of those 522 Win Shares were being produced by former Giants, for other teams. As we put it in the Value Production Standings article:
… one could nearly comprise an All-Star team in 1966 from the list of Giants’ farm products they’d coughed up over the years: outfielders Felipe Alou (Braves), Matty Alou and Manny Mota (Pirates), Jose Cardenal (Angels), and Leon Wagner (Indians), first basemen Bill White (Phillies) and Orlando Cepeda (Cardinals), infielders Eddie Bressoud (Mets), Tony Taylor (Phillies), and Jose Pagan (Pirates), catcher Randy Hundley (Cubs), and pitchers Mike McCormick (Senators), Hoyt Wilhelm (White Sox), Eddie Fisher (White Sox-Orioles), Al Worthington (Twins), Hal Woodeshick (Cardinals), Minnie Rojas (Angels) and Bill Hands (Cubs).
So how might it have been that the Giants retained a reasonable portion of their bountiful farm production, and gotten better leverage from it in 1966?
What Might Have Been: Element One
Nov. 30, 1961: The Giants traded pitchers Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni, first baseman-outfielder Bob Farley and a player to be named later to the Chicago White Sox for pitchers Billy Pierce and Don Larsen. (On Aug. 17, 1962, the Giants sent pitcher Verle Tiefenthaler to the White Sox, completing the deal.)
The Giants had finished third in 1961, and their 85-69 record was the franchise’s best since their 1954 championship. Owner Horace Stoneham (who essentially acted as his own GM, though his nephew Chub Feeney held that title in the 1950s and 1960s) decided that the time was right to go for it and make a “win now” move, surrendering young talent for veteran role players.
In Pierce and Larsen the Giants picked up two quite useful veteran pitchers, and the immediate results in 1962 were undeniably positive. Both (especially Pierce) made solid contributions to the team’s pitching staff, and the Giants did indeed win the 1962 pennant.
But it’s far from obvious that the trade was necessary to the Giants’ championship. Pierce’s 162 innings and 108 ERA+ for the Giants were more than matched by the 183 innings and 125 ERA+ Fisher delivered for the White Sox. Larsen’s 86 innings and 86 ERA+ lined up against the 86 innings and 104 ERA+ Zanni produced in Chicago. It’s entirely likely that had the Giants shown the patience to use Fisher and Zanni (both of whom had performed quite well in the Giants’ farm system, but had never gotten much opportunity with the big league team) in the Pierce and Larsen roles in 1962, they’d have done just fine.
And in the long run, the team would have been a lot better off. Pierce and Larsen were in the twilight of their careers, and would last only a few seasons beyond ’62. So, as it turned out, would the journeyman Zanni. But Fisher, 25 years old in 1962, would perfect a knuckleball to go along with his curve and slider, and enjoy a long and highly successful career as a reliever. In his best year, 1965, Fisher would set an American League record for appearances, earn 20 Win Shares and finish fourth in the MVP voting.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Eddie Fisher into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Two
The Giants had gotten good service from Amalfitano as a semi-regular utility infielder in 1960 and 1961 before losing him to Houston in the expansion draft, and they thought it wise to re-acquire him to shore up their infield bench for 1963.
But Mota would be 25 in 1963, and he could play a little second base and third base as well as all three outfield positions in those days. And all he’d done in six minor league seasons was hit over .300 five times, plus a .289 performance in AAA. Amalfitano would be 29 in 1963, and it was clear he’d never be anything more than a garden-variety utility man. Why not let Mota show what he might contribute as a major league utility player?
Mota would, of course, become one of the greatest utility players of all time, compiling a .304 career average over 20 seasons, never as a regular, and earning the reputation as the most fearsome pinch hitter of his day. Amalfitano would flop with a .175 performance in the backup role with the Giants in 1963, be sent to the minors, and then be sold to the Cubs the following spring.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Manny Mota into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Three
Miller and McCormick had been stars for the Giants prior to 1962, but both had delivered disappointing contributions to that pennant-winning campaign. Miller, the best relief ace in the league in 1961, had seen his ERA+ plunge from 144 to 92. McCormick, one of the better starters in the league in 1960 and 1961, came up lame-armed in ’62, and pitched just 99 ineffective innings, few of them in the second half.
So it was sensible for the Giants to be concerned about Miller and McCormick going forward. But the return they netted for them here is the essence of “selling low.” Hoeft was a veteran who’d rebounded from arm trouble to find some success in the bullpen, but not the sustained excellence as a reliever that Miller had shown, and in 1962 Hoeft had been no more effective than Miller. Similarly, Fisher had been a highly regarded young pitcher with the Orioles (part of Paul Richards’ “Kiddie Corps”), but he’d never been nearly as good as McCormick, and had struggled mightily himself in ’62.
Nor even did the throw-in exchange of backup catchers make any sense: Orsino was a young player with questionable defensive skill, but a highly impressive bat, while Coker was two years older and pretty much a proven mediocrity.
The trade failed miserably. For the Giants in 1963, Hoeft got hurt, Fisher pitched badly and Coker was sent to the minors, and all would be gone by 1964. For the Orioles, Miller would rebound in ’63 with a terrific season, and would remain one of the game’s elite relief aces for several more years. McCormick would continue to struggle, but he would eventually work his way through his arm trouble and re-emerge in 1965 with the Senators as an effective starting pitcher. Orsino would blossom with an outstanding season in 1963, but quickly regress into a backup role.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Stu Miller and Mike McCormick into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Four
Dec. 3, 1963: The Giants traded outfielder Felipe Alou, catcher Ed Bailey, pitcher Billy Hoeft and a player to be named later to the Milwaukee Braves for pitchers Bob Shaw and Bob Hendley and catcher Del Crandall. (On Jan. 8, 1964, the Giants sent infielder Ernie Bowman to the Braves, completing the deal.)
A long-running theme of Giants’ trades under the Stoneham regime, through the 1950s and 1960s and into the ‘70s, was the attempt to convert surplus outfield talent into pitching talent. (A disturbing element in this theme, which I wrote about in Nine in 2002, was the persistent conversion of black talent into white talent.) It is certainly the case that Stoneham’s amazingly fertile farm system produced an overabundance of good outfielders.
Here they surrendered one of their star outfielders as the core of the package in exchange for two useful, though hardly extraordinary, pitchers. Shaw and Hendley would both be helpful, at least for a while. But Alou, after an injury-hampered 1964, would rebound to produce as a star for the Braves for several years to follow. Shaw and Hendley between them would produce 55 Win Shares from 1964 forward. Alou alone would accumulate 160.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Felipe Alou into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Five
As we examined here, this trade made no strategic sense, and accomplished nothing for the Giants. Even if they didn’t have room for the multi-talented Cardenal as a regular, he certainly might have made a contribution as a utility player. And they demonstrably had no room to do much of anything with Hiatt.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Jose Cardenal into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Six
The lefty O’Dell had been a consistently fine pitcher for the Giants since they’d acquired him from Baltimore in 1959. But he encountered his first off-year in 1964, his ERA ballooning to 5.40, and he lost his spot in the starting rotation.
However, O’Dell’s peripherals in 1964 didn’t look nearly as bad as that ERA. Moreover, his starter versus reliever splits in ’64 were extreme: In his eight starts, O’Dell had been blown out with 46 hits in 34 innings and an 8.55 ERA, while in relief he was quite effective, allowing just 36 hits in 51 innings, and posting an ERA of 3.33. At the age of 33, it appeared as though O’Dell was entering the phase of his career in which he might no longer be capable of doing well as a starter, but might thrive in the bullpen.
Rather than find out, the Giants traded O’Dell for the good-hitting veteran catcher Bailey. But, of course, had they not traded Bailey away a year earlier as part of the Felipe Alou deal, they wouldn’t be needing to reacquire him.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Billy O’Dell into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Seven
Sanford had been a standout workhorse starter for the Giants from 1959 through 1963, before finally encountering injuries at the age of 35 in 1964. In ’65, Sanford continued to produce mediocre results as a starter, and the Giants gave up on him, selling off the veteran despite being in an extremely tight pennant race.
As with O’Dell, the Giants seemed quick to discard Sanford when it became apparent he was no longer up to the demands of the starting rotation. The Angels in 1966 would give Sanford a shot as a long reliever and spot starter, and he delivered a fine performance.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this deal, and had kept Jack Sanford into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Eight
Felipe’s younger brother had been an enigma to the Giants. Matty didn’t have power, nor (in keeping with the Alou family creed, apparently) did he exercise strike zone discipline. But he did several things well: He had good speed, was a fine defensive outfielder (and despite being just a little guy, at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, he had a good throwing arm, even being used by the Giants as an emergency pitcher in 1965). And he was a terrific bunter (his pinch-hit, drag bunt single leading off the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the 1962 World Series was, despite the eventual losing result, one of the great clutch hits in franchise history).
Most importantly, Alou had been a fine hitter for average, all through the minor leagues and in his first two seasons in the majors as well, hitting .310 and .292 in a utility role for the Giants in 1961 and 1962. But the ability to find holes with his slaps, pokes and bloops had deserted Alou: In 1963 through ’65, his major league batting average was a lowly .234 in 650 at-bats. Though he was just 27, the Giants exchanged him for the journeyman southpaw Gibbon, plus a throw-in bench player in Virgil.
It’s hard to fault the Giants for this deal. When contributing a high batting average, Alou was a very useful player, but when not—and he hadn’t since 1962—he wasn’t much good. Converting him into the useful reliever/spot starter Gibbon wasn’t a bad idea.
But had the Giants not dealt away the pitchers they had, their need for Gibbon wouldn’t have been so great. And Alou had demonstrated the capacity to deliver real value as a lefty-hitting backup outfielder, and he was still young.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Matty Alou into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element Nine
Here was a classic case of young-potential-for-veteran-certainty. The 25-year-old Hands had led the Pacific Coast League in wins (17) and ERA (2.19) in 1965, and while Hundley’s minor league hitting had been spotty, he was a highly regarded young defensive catcher.
But it’s easy to see the Giants’ logic in giving them up. They needed the solid veteran McDaniel to shore up their shaky bullpen, and the lefty-batting journeyman Landrum would fill Alou’s bench role.
But, of course, if Fisher and Miller had still been on hand, there wouldn’t have been such a need for McDaniel, and with Alou still around, there would be no purpose in acquiring Landrum. Given that, the Giants would have been able to work the impressive youngsters Hands and Hundley into their major league mix, and build for the future while contending in the present.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Bill Hands and Randy Hundley into 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element 10
May 8, 1966: The Giants traded first baseman-outfielder Orlando Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki.
This was an all-time howler of a giveaway trade, of course, which we groaningly discussed at length here. To reiterate the essence of the obvious: Had the Giants all along shown the fortitude to write “Cepeda, LF” on the lineup card, and had they not allowed themselves to become devoid of left-handed starting pitchers (for instance, had they shown the patience to stick with Mike McCormick though his difficulties), then this trade would have made even less sense than it did.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this trade, and had kept Orlando Cepeda throughout 1966.
What Might Have Been: Element 11
The Giants had acquired Schofield from Pittsburgh a year earlier, in a May 1965 trade for shortstop Jose Pagan. Schofield had his limitations, to be sure: He had neither power nor the capability of hitting as high as .250 in full-time play. Still, the switch-hitting veteran had a good knack for drawing walks, providing at least some offensive contribution, and he was a smooth, sure-handed defensive infielder, fully capable of handling shortstop or second base.
Pagan had more pop in his bat, but had been rapidly declining, especially in his defensive range. Though Pagan would emerge as a useful platoon third baseman for the Pirates, the Giants had no use for him in that capacity, and Schofield was a better fit for their needs.
The Giants had hoped Schofield would be a productive regular shortstop, but he’d fallen short of that expectation. But discarding him in early 1966, despite enormous question marks still lingering over both the shortstop and second base positions, was pointless. Despite his weaknesses, the Giants had a use for Schofield.
Let’s suppose the Giants hadn’t made this deal, and had kept Dick Schofield throughout 1966.
We’ll find out just what sort of a 1966 roster all thisl would have rendered for the Giants.
References & Resources
* So far as we’ve yet been able to determine. Based on our examinations of farm system production, so far complete from 1946 through 1980, the 1966 Giants’ total of 522 organizational Win Share production is tops, edging out the 510 produced by the 1962 Los Angeles Dodgers and 509 from the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals.
It may be that the Cardinals’ feat is the more impressive, given that their 509 Win Share total was amassed in a 154-game season, and with just 15 other major league teams available to absorb their surplus talent. It’s also possible that an earlier edition than the ’46 Cardinals produced even more than the total of 509, but my research hasn’t yet reached that far.