San Francisco Giants: Greatest All Time Team

San Francisco Giants (1958-Present)

New York Giants (1883-1957)

Also known as the New York Gothams

National League (1883-Present)

National League Champions: 1888, 1889, 1904, 1905, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1933, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1954, 1962, 1989, 2002, 2010, 2012, 2014

World Championship Series Champion: 1888, 1889

World Series Champions: 1905, 1921, 1922, 1933, 1954, 2010, 2012, 2014

The Mutuals of New York were established in 1857 as a travelling Baseball Club. Following the lead of Harry Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings they became a professional team in 1870, joining the National Association of Professional Baseball Players in 1871. They would compete in the Association for the entire five year run of the first Major League. When the stronger franchises reorganized into the National League they were a charter member. Under-financed from the beginning, the Mutuals were expelled from the National League when they failed to complete their swing through the western cities. New York was without a Major League team from 1877 to 1882.

The establishment of the American Association in 1882 put tremendous pressure on the National League. The Association, recognizing that the National League had abandoned the nation’s two largest cities, New York and Philadelphia and immediately installed franchises in those two places. The National League’s response was to confront the American Association directly, thus were established the two clubs that are now the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants.

The New York Gothams began play in 1883, but it wasn’t until 1884, when the Gothams enticed several members of the American Association’s New York Metropolitans, including their manager, Jim Mutrie, to sign with with them that the Gothams began their reign as the dominant team in town. With Roger Connor, Monte Ward, and Buck Ewing leading the way, they became a power in the National League. Mutrie summed them up best, when he exclaimed after a big victory in 1885, “My big fellows! My Giants!” And an iconic nickname was born.

The Giants would win their first two league championships in 1888 and 1889, then cap the season off with victories over the American Association Champions of those years, the St. Louis Browns and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. The latter, against Brooklyn (who would later be known as the Brooklyn Dodgers)was the beginning of the bitterest rivalry in professional sports; the Giants and the Dodgers. Within a few years both St. Louis and Brooklyn would switch to the National League.

New York would not win another pennant until 1904. That was the year that the arrogant John McGraw refused to play the American League Champion Boston Pilgrims in the World Series. When New York again won the National League in 1905, tremendous pressure was put on McGraw to face the American League Champion, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. This they did and led by Christy Mathewson’s three shut-outs won easily in five games, outscoring the out manned Athletics 13-2 in the Series. John McGraw’s Giants would win three straight National League Championships between 1911-1913, then lose all three World Series in tight hard fought battles, two of them to Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.

They would win four straight National League pennants from 1921-1924, a National League record that still stands. In all, McGraw would lead New York to 10 National League Championships and three World Series Titles before he retired in 1932. The Giants remained one of the stronger teams in the league for the duration of their time in New York.

In 1957 the Giants’ owner Horace Stoneman broke the hearts of their loyal fans by following their bitter rivals in Brooklyn, and bolted to the west coast. While not as consistently good as they were in New York, the San Francisco version of the Giants have had their moments, winning six National League Championships and three World Series Titles since the move.

The San Francisco Giants celebrate after Game 7 of baseball’s World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. The Giants won 3-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Catcher

Buck Ewing (1883-1890) and Roger Bresnahan (1902-1908) are both in the Hall of Fame. Ewing was a big star, second only to Cap Anson in 19th century baseball. That said, the greatest catcher in Giants history is the current occupant of the position, Gerald “Buster” Posey (2009-Present). Through 2018 Posey has played more than twice as many games behind the plate as Ewing or Bresnahan. He was the best player on a team that has won three World Series Championships. He has won a Gold Glove, finished in the top ten of the MVP vote three times, including his win in 2012. It’s tough to leave Bresnahan, and especially Ewing off the all time Giant team, but Posey is simply better.

First Base

One thing you can say about the Giants is that they have plenty of quality first baseman. Five are members of the Hall of Fame, and another probably should be. Willie McCovey (1959-1980), Bill Terry (1923-1936), Roger Connor (1883-1891, 1893-1894), Orlando Cepeda (1958-1966), and George Kelly (1915-1926) are all enshrined in Cooperstown, while Will Clark (1986-1993) should be. We can easily dismiss George Kelly, his selection was a huge mistake by the veterans committee, maybe the worst ever. Roger Connor and Bill Terry are solid Hall of Fame members, but are clearly behind the other three. Will Clark never won an MVP, while both McCovey and Cepeda have, plus he only spent eight years in San Francisco. By historical standards Clark is very underrated, but he’s still below the other two. The Giants came up with Cepeda and McCovey at the same time and they decided McCovey was better! They were right, Willie McCovey (1959-1980) was better, and is the best first baseman in franchise history.

Second Base

“Laughing” Larry Doyle (1907-1920) and Frankie Frisch (1919-1926) were two of John McGraw’s favorite players. Hustling middle infielders who kept their heads in the game and rarely made mental mistakes. Frisch replaced Doyle in the early 1920s. Both were National League MVP, Doyle winning the Chalmers Award in 1912, and Frisch the first modern MVP Award for the Cardinals in 1931. That’s the problem for Frisch, he split his best seasons between the Giants and the Cardinals. While Frisch is a member of the Hall of Fame and “Laughing” Larry Doyle (1907-1920) is not, we feel Doyle was the more valuable Giant.

Third Base

Matt Williams (1987-1996) was the best regular third baseman, however the Giants have a slew of Hall of Fame Shortstops, and it just so happens that one of them played a lot of third base for the New York Giants. George Davis (1893-1903) played 633 games at short, but also played 428 games at third base while in New York. If we listed him at short he would be the number one man, but is it better if we move him to third and select one of the other Hall of Fame shortstops at the short field? Let’s check it out. The answer is no. Matt Williams (1987-1996) was a better offensive player than any of the Giants’ Hall of Fame shortstops. He was also a fine third baseman.

Shortstop

As mentioned before George Davis (1893-1903) is the best shortstop in Giant history by a wide margin. The fact that the Hall of Fame waited until 1998 to induct him, well after former Giant shortstops John “Monte” Ward (1883-1889, 1893-1894), Dave Bancroft (1920-1923), and Travis Jackson (1922-1936), reflects badly on the Hall’s selection process. Fortunately they finally got it right.

Left Field

The Giants probably have a better all-time outfield than any other franchise. To verify this we’ll use Bill James’ rankings in the 2003 version of The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Barry Bonds (1993-2007) is rated third in left field ( behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial)…

Center Field:

Willie Mays (1951-1972) is first in center field, and…

Right Field:

Mel Ott (1926-1947) is fourth in right field (behind Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and Frank Robinson). A truly awesome combination. Only the New York Yankees come close.

Pitchers

The Giant pitchers seem to sort themselves out quite nicely. The only regret is that “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity (1902-1908) doesn’t make the cut. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916) is an easy #1. One of the first five players selected to the Hall of Fame in 1936. Carl Hubbell (1928-1943) is #2. He won 20 or more games five straight years in the middle 1930s, 253 games overall for the Giants and earned two MVP Awards. #3 goes to Juan Marichal (1960-1973). Since the Cy Young award came into being in 1956 only three times has a pitcher won at least 25 games in a season and not won the award. 1963 Juan Marichal, 1966 Juan Marichal, and 1968 Juan Marichal. Just to be clear, the voters got the award right all three years (Koufax in 1963 and 1966, Gibson in 1968), but Marichal was an outstanding pitcher for six years. It just so happened that somebody else was better. Check out our story of the Marichal Incident. The #4 spot belongs to Amos Rusie (1890-1898) who won 230 games for the Giants in the 1890s, then was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1900 for Christy Mathewson. Just a note about the trade…Rusie won no games for the Reds, while Mathewson would go on to win 372 games for the Giants. Sounds like the worst trade in baseball history.

Manager

Bruce Bochy (2007-Present) has led the Giants to three World Series victories. The only National League Manager to win more is the Dodgers’ Walter Alston with four. It doesn’t matter. The most important person in Giant history is John McGraw (1902-1932). He is also the man with the most successful managerial record in National League history, and maybe in Major League history. John McGraw was a disciple of Ned Hanlon, who he played for in Baltimore during the 1890s. He was a no nonsense autocratic leader, who bullied his players to do things his way. One of the most influential figures in baseball history

MVP

The conversation for greatest Giant of all time comes down to Barry Bonds and his Godfather Willie Mays. Bonds was narrowly, but clearly the better offensive player, more power, more walks. Mays was much more valuable with the glove. Mays’ Giants won three National League Championships and one World Series, Bonds’ won one National League Pennant and no World Series. Mays was the NL MVP twice while playing for the Giants, Bonds was selected four times while wearing a Giant uniform. Of course, Bonds has a huge asterisk next to all his records. Mays was the most respected player in baseball during his time. We at A Sip of Sports listed our ten greatest players of all time in our Honus Wagner Article; we had Mays 3rd (behind Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner) and Bonds 10th. We’ll stick with that and choose, with some reservation, but not a lot, Willie Mays.


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