The Virtual 1966 San Francisco Giants:  Part 2

Last time, we set up a scenario imagining what sort of a ball club the 1966 San Francisco Giants might have been, had owner/GM Horace Stoneham been more content to allow the best of the astounding flow of talent gushing from his tremendous farm system to play, instead of trading so much of it away. Specifically, we identified 11 transactions the Giants made between November 1961 and May 1966, and supposed that Stoneham and his executive team had just said “no,” and declined each offer.

Here’s how that scenario plays out.

The 1962 Season

The actual Giants’ 1962 roster and our version would be identical, but for two changes: pitchers Billy Pierce and Don Larsen would be replaced with Eddie Fisher and Dom Zanni. As we mentioned last time, these changes would have almost no impact on the performance of the Giants’ 1962 pitching staff; if anything, Fisher/Zanni would perform slightly better than Pierce/Larsen.

There is, however, one other change we will impose, not on the makeup of the roster itself, but rather on how manager Alvin Dark deployed it. In 1962, Dark decided to shift Willie McCovey from first base to left field, and play Orlando Cepeda at first base full time. Dark also deployed McCovey in 1962 not as a regular, but as the second-string left fielder behind the veteran Harvey Kuenn. McCovey started just 64 games in 1962, accumulating just 262 plate appearances (only 12 against left-handed pitchers).

As we discussed here, the McCovey-to-the-outfield shift was a monumentally poor decision, and it was only compounded by using him in such a strict utility role in 1962. In our scenario, the Giants commit no such blunder. They’ll start McCovey at first base and leave him there, and they’ll start Cepeda in left and leave him there. Kuenn becomes the utility man.

Kuenn was a good hitter, but McCovey was so much better that the switch of 300-or-so plate appearances from Kuenn to McCovey meaningfully improves the 1962 Giants’ offense. Given that they already had the best offense in major league baseball (119 OPS+, 878 runs scored), their 1962 offense in our scenario would be one of the all-time greats.

Given that the 1962 Giants actually won the pennant, our version, with better hitting and at-least-as-good pitching, would certainly win it too. In our scenario, the championship would be considerably easier than the actual heart-stopping best-of-three playoff victory over the Dodgers.

The 1963 season

Actual Giants’ 1963 pitchers Pierce, Larsen, Jack Fisher and Billy Hoeft would be replaced by Eddie Fisher, Zanni, Stu Miller and Mike McCormick. All in all, this (especially the performance of Miller) would improve the Giants’ staff.

The right-handed-hitting Johnny Orsino’s presence as a third catcher behind left-handed batters Ed Bailey and Tom Haller would help the team’s offense against left-handed pitchers, and give the Giants more pinch-hitting flexibility.

Manny Mota would be on the bench, essentially handling the roles filled by Joey Amalfitano and Cap Peterson. The Giants would miss Amalfitano’s second base glove, but the advantage gained by Mota’s hitting would counterbalance that. Moreover, Mota’s presence as a utility outfielder would allow the Giants to use Kuenn at third base, and slide Jim Davenport over to second to supplant the slumping Chuck Hiller more often than they did.

These changes would improve the 1963 Giants. Whether the improvement would be enough to overcome the 11-game gap they finished behind the Dodgers is unclear, but certainly these ’63 Giants would have been tightly embroiled in the pennant battle.

The 1964 season

In trading Felipe Alou to make room for his youngest brother, Jesus, to take over as their primary right fielder, the Giants made one of the oddest on their long list of questionable decisions.

Jesus was a pretty big guy (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and by all accounts a very fine fellow, but he was, in fact, not an especially impressive athlete. Jesus had neither brother Felipe’s power nor brother Mateo’s speed, and his amazing lack of plate discipline made his free-swinging brothers look like Eddie Yost and Richie Ashburn. Jesus Alou would become perhaps the least capable ball player to ever amass more than 4,500 major league plate appearances; had his name not been “Alou” it’s near certain his big league career would have been far less extensive.

In our scenario, Felipe replaces Jesus on the Giants’ 1964 roster. Bailey, Orsino and Mota would all be on hand as well, and Del Crandall, Duke Snider and Cap Peterson wouldn’t. Even though neither Felipe Alou, Bailey nor Orsino had especially good years in ’64, on balance this alignment would still improve the Giants.

On the pitching side, Mike McCormick would need to go the minors in 1964 to regroup. Fisher and Miller would be on hand in place of Bob Shaw and Bob Hendley, providing meaningful improvement, but it’s likely the Giants would need to scrounge around for a left-handed pitcher or two to complete the staff.

All told, our version of the 1964 Giants wouldn’t be a lot better than the actual team, but they would be better. And given that the actual team finished just three games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals in that season’s wild-and-woolly National League pennant race, if this scenario’s Giants didn’t win the 1964 pennant, they would come breathtakingly close.

The 1965 season

In the outfield, Felipe Alou, Mota and Jose Cardenal would replace Jesus Alou, Len Gabrielson and Cap Peterson: a distinct upgrade. Catchers Bailey and Orsino would replace Dick Bertell and Jack Hiatt, which would be a slight improvement.

Pitchers Fisher, Miller, McCormick and Billy O’Dell would displace Shaw, Hendley/Warren Spahn, Ron Herbel and Jim Duffalo/Bill Henry. This would move young right-handers Gaylord Perry and Bob Bolin into straightforward starting roles, while the actual ’65 Giants used both as high-volume swingmen. Thus the virtual Giants probably wouldn’t have as effective a starting staff as did the actual team, but the bullpen would be hugely improved; indeed this bullpen would truly be one of the greatest ever assembled. Overall the pitching would be stronger than it actually was.

The actual Giants finished second by two games in 1965. This version, with better hitting and better pitching, almost certainly wins the pennant, possibly in an easy fashion.

Bringing us to the main event.

The 1966 season

Pos  Player    B   Age   G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1B   McCovey   L   28  150  527  112  155   27    6   38   91   80  105 .294 .391 .586 .977  165
2B   Fuentes   R   22  126  361   32   94   14    2    6   35    6   38 .260 .272 .360 .633   72
SS   Davenport R   32  111  305   32   76    6    2    9   38   22   40 .249 .300 .370 .670   83
3B   Hart      R   24  156  564   86  161   22    4   32   92   47   73 .285 .340 .509 .849  130
RF   F. Alou   R   31  154  620  111  210   31    6   25   79   24   46 .339 .363 .529 .892  142
CF   Mays      R   35  152  574  107  165   30    4   38  111   73   84 .287 .368 .556 .924  150
LF   Cepeda    R   28  142  476   76  141   25    0   22   88   38   75 .296 .348 .487 .836  127
C    Haller    L   29  124  404   57   99   16    2   24   67   47   63 .245 .324 .473 .796  116
     REGULARS              3831  613 1101  171   26  194  601  337  524 .287 .345 .498 .843  129

SS   Lanier    R   23  122  277   22   64    8    1    2   17   10   29 .231 .258 .289 .547   50
O2   Mota      R   28   87  215   36   68   11    4    4   26   17   19 .316 .366 .460 .827  126
2S   Schofield B   31   84  175   23   35    3    0    0    8   23   23 .200 .293 .217 .510   43
O2   Cardenal  R   22   77  187   26   48    4    1    5   18    9   25 .257 .291 .369 .660   80
C    Hundley   R   24   75  175   17   40    7    1    5   21   13   37 .229 .282 .366 .648   77
OF   M. Alou   L   27   83  179   29   57    6    2    1   13    7   17 .318 .344 .391 .735  102
C    Dietz     R   24   43   98   12   23    6    1    1   10   16   22 .235 .342 .347 .689   90
     Others                  86    5   22    1    1    1    4    3    9 .256 .281 .326 .606   66
     BENCH                 1392  170  357   46   11   19  117   98  181 .256 .305 .346 .652   79

     PITCHERS               428   30   80    8    3    5   35   12  132 .187 .209 .255 .464   27

     TOTAL                 5651  813 1538  225   40  218  753  447  837 .272 .326 .442 .767  115

Pitcher     T   Age     G   GS   CG   IP    W    L   SV    H   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
Marichal    R   28     37   36   25  307   26    5    0  228   32   36  222 2.23  165
Perry       R   27     36   35   13  256   22    7    0  242   15   40  201 2.99  123
Bolin       R   27     36   34    7  202   11    7    1  155   22   62  131 2.74  134
McCormick   L   27     41   29    6  194   11    9    0  183   21   40   91 3.44  107
Hands       R   26     30   21    0  127    8    8    0  131   13   46   77 4.35   85

Fisher      R   29     67    0    0   96    6    4   11   86    5   30   51 2.77  133
Miller      R   38     51    0    0   83    8    3   14   65    5   18   60 2.48  148
Linzy       R   25     51    0    0   80    6    5    5   82    3   26   47 2.81  131
O'Dell      L   34     55    2    0   75    3    2    4   71    4   27   50 2.51  147
Sanford     R   37     30    4    0   54    7    2    0   49    5   12   29 3.64  101

Others                  6    0    0    7    0    1    0    8    0    5    5 6.43   57

TOTAL                 161  161   51 1481  108   53   35 1300  125  342  964 2.94  125

The typical batting order probably would be as follows:

1. F. Alou, rf
2. McCovey, 1b (McCovey actually batted second more than occasionally in the mid-1960s, and it’s a slot that always makes sense for a left-handed pull hitter who gets on base a lot.)
3. Mays, cf
4. Cepeda, lf
5. Hart, 3b
6. Haller, c
7. Davenport, ss
8. Fuentes, 2b
9. Pitcher

Davenport’s fragility would limit his playing time. Frequently, in late innings he would slide over to third base, replacing Hart, while Hal Lanier would take over at shortstop and Dick Schofield at second base.

Mota, Cardenal and Matty Alou, good defensive outfielders all, would spell the veteran first-string outfielders, especially Cepeda, still recovering from his 1965 knee surgery. Mota and Cardenal both would see some time at second base as well.

The rookies, Randy Hundley and Dick Dietz, would catch against left-handers, especially the excellent-fielding Hundley.

All in all, the team’s tremendous front line of stars would be supported by a cast of extraordinary depth, in hitting, fielding and pitching. The bullpen in particular would be brilliant.

The team wouldn’t be quite without weakness; the Giants would get precious little offense from the middle infield, and the rookie Bill Hands would take a few lumps in the fifth starter/long relief role. Still the manifest strengths would be overwhelming: They would lead the league in OPS+, and tie the Dodgers for the major league lead in ERA+.

Their total of 218 home runs would be the most by any National League team between 1956 and 1996. Their record of 108-53 would make a mockery of the ’66 pennant race; their .671 winning percentage would be best in the league since 1953, and a mark not matched in the NL to this day (though the ’86 Mets came darn close at 108-54).

And that 108-53 is our virtual ’66 Giants’ Pythagorean record. If they overperformed Pythag by seven wins, as did the actual 1966 Giants, then they’d go 115-46, .714, the best record in the National League since the 1909 Pirates cut a 110-42 swath.

But how might they have been even better?

The team is a bit right-handed-heavy, both in hitting and pitching. It could have used another lefty bat or two, as well as another southpaw pitcher.

Let’s remember that we’ve assembled this roster simply by having the Giants not execute many of the trades they did; we haven’t invoked any imaginary transactions. Players in the major leagues in 1966 (or capable of it) who’d been at the Giants’ disposal, but who would be surplus to this Giants’ roster, include Jesus Alou, Bob Barton, Ollie Brown, Jim Duffalo, Gil Garrido, Ron Herbel, Chuck Hiller, Harvey Kuenn, Johnny Orsino, Cap Peterson and Jose Tartabull.

It’s not at all unreasonable to imagine that with some of this talent capital the Giants might have been able to trade for another left-handed-hitting utility outfielder, perhaps even someone as good as Russ Snyder or Lee Maye. Similarly, they might have used their trade bait to hook a lefty pitcher to replace Jack Sanford in the bullpen, maybe someone along the lines of Bill Henry (whom the Giants actually acquired in exchange for Duffalo), John O’Donoghue or Johnny Podres. And/or, with ample left-handed-hitting bench strength on hand, they could have made their actual Matty Alou-for-Joe Gibbon deal.

An even more intriguing pitching possibility is this: Southpaws readily available in the major league scrap heap in 1964 included George Brunet and Mike Cuellar, both of whom subsequently blossomed. Earlier we mentioned that the Giants in ’64 probably would have been sorting through that scrap heap in search of a left-hander; they might have found buried treasure.

Let’s be reasonable

That 108-53 is plenty good enough. It stands as a vivid measure of just how rich was the bounty of talent produced by the Giants’ organization in that era.

While the precise scenario we’ve worked out here is admittedly a bit unrealistic (we have the benefit of hindsight, which the Giants obviously didn’t), it’s well within the bounds of plausibility. The essential premise is simple: By 1961, the Giants had amassed enough organizational talent that their best course would have been to exercise the patience and discipline to fill the vast majority of their emerging needs from within, rather than making one short-term-fix trade after another.

Given that the actual Giants from 1962 through 1966 won 103, 88, 90, 95 and 93 games, they wouldn’t have needed to be much better than they were to have forged something of a mini-dynasty. And the means to do so was eminently in their hands.

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