As the Retired Number Series quickly draws closer to an end, we’re left with only two more teams to cover. But one of them is quite a big player in the retired-number-field. The San Francisco Giants are both the final National League team and the final original sixteen team I have left. With a history dating back to 1883, only two teams have honored as many players as the Giants. Will the future bring even more?
Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers, until recently (as in, after I started this series), only went back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Already Retired Numbers
In 1944, the Giants became the first National League team to permanently retire a number. Carl Hubbell’s number 11 was honored for the eventual Hall of Famer to commemorate his sixteen seasons with the team (the Reds had retired a number for Willard Hershberger four years earlier, but later returned the number to circulation; only Lou Gehrig preceded Hubbell in the AL). Those sixteen seasons saw him produce 53.6 fWAR and 67.8 bWAR en route to his Hall election three years later.
Four years later and a month after the Yankees became the first team with two retired numbers, the Giants joined them with the honoring of 4 for Mel Ott. The third player with 500 home runs, Ott retired as the Giants’ franchise leader in both fWAR (110.5) and bWAR (107.9). Ott played twenty-two seasons (1926 to 1947), all with the Giants.
The Giants then took a long hiatus, going almost two and a half decades without honoring another player. In 1972, they finally honored new franchise leader Willie Mays. Number 24 played for the Giants in twenty-one of his twenty-two major league seasons, totaling up 154.5 bWAR (156.1 total) and 147.8 fWAR (149.9 total) in that time. This also marked the first number retired after the team moved to San Francisco.
Another eight seasons after that, the team honored its second-best Willie, first baseman Willie McCovey. While he didn’t quite measure up to the high bar set by Ott or Mays, “Stretch” still had Hall of Fame numbers. In nineteen seasons (1959 to 1973, 1977 to 1980) with the team, number 44 put up 59.3 bWAR and 61.4 fWAR. Over his full twenty-two seasons, McCovey totaled 64.4 bWAR and 67.3 fWAR.
The early 1980s were good for Giants retired numbers; three years after McCovey’s ceremony, Juan Marichal got one of his own. Marichal, number 27, was the team’s first pitcher honored since Hubbell almost 40 years prior. From 1960 to 1973, Marichal was worth 62.5 bWAR and 69.2 fWAR . Marichal would play two more seasons after leaving San Francisco, which were fairly uneventful (bWAR says -0.6, while fWAR says 0.7).
A year later, the team retired yet another number, this time 3 in honor of Bill Terry. The first baseman and longtime player-manager spent all fourteen seasons with the then-New York Giants, including his 1930 season (the final time any National League player has hit .400). The eventual Hall of Famer only wore a number for his final four seasons, but that was more than enough for the Giants to honor him. In his tenure, Terry was worth 54.3 bWAR and 57.0 fWAR.
It was another decade and a half until the team honored its next player, Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda was a 1999 Veterans Committee choice to join the Hall, and the Giants honored him that summer for his induction. Number 30, Cepeda played nine of his seventeen seasons with the Giants and marked the third first baseman to get a retired number with the team. From 1958 to 1966, Cepeda accumulated 30.2 bWAR and 29.1 fWAR in value. For his full career, Cepeda mustered 50.3 fWAR and 50.1 bWAR.
Gaylord Perry became the first Giant to get a retired number in the 21st century when the team retired his number 36 in 2005. Perry spent only a decade (1962 to 1971) of his twenty-two seasons with the Giants, starting his career there and racking up 37.0 bWAR and 46.3 fWAR. For his career (which lasted until 1983), the spitballer was worth 103.7 fWAR and 93.7 bWAR.
Five seasons later, Monte Irvin had his number, 20, retired. Irvin became the first African-American to play for the Giants in 1949 after several seasons in the Negro Leagues before that. From 1949 to 1955, Irvin managed 18.9 bWAR and 18.4 fWAR. He would only play one more season after that, worth 2.5 bWAR and 2.4 fWAR.
On top of those, the Giants have also honored two players from before uniform numbers were used in a manner similar to the other retired numbers. Christy Mathewson and John McGraw each have an “NY” logo listed among the team’s honorees. Mathewson is the franchise’s undisputed leader in pitching WAR. Pitching every game in his seventeen-year career with the New York Giants except for his final one, Mathewson provided his team 95.6 bWAR and 88.9 fWAR from 1900 to 1916.
John McGraw played for the team for five seasons, but earned his spot more for his 31 seasons managing the team (the first five were as player-manager). From 1902 to 1932, the Giants were the premier team of the National League, winning three World Series and seven more pennants. Overall, McGraw had 2583 wins and 1790 losses with New York, a .591 winning percentage.
Compared to the League
There are a few different factors that I can look at with regards to how teams retire numbers. I can look at the bWAR totals versus the fWAR totals, I can look at the team average versus the team median, or I can look at the value from the total career versus the value from playing only with the team.
As is to be expected by their history and players honored, the Giants have some of the highest standards in the game. The rate as a first quartile team in every way involving value with the team. For career value, they slide to the top of the second quartile due to a few statistical oddities (most notably, the Rays, who only have Wade Boggs as an honoree, jump from the bottom of “with team” rankings towards the top in career value).
As mentioned, the Giants’ 11 numbers puts them only behind the Yankees (16) and the Cardinals (13)
So Who’s Next?
One way to get ideas for the next retired number would be to look at the franchise WAR leader boards. In that case, there’s a pretty obvious choice: Barry Bonds leads all non-Mays Giants in both forms of Wins Above Replacement despite spending his first seven years in Pittsburgh. From 1993 to 2007, he managed 112.4 bWAR and 115.7 fWAR even while being more or less forced out of the game. Counting those seasons with the Pirates, he stands at a total 162.5 bWAR and 164.1 fWAR, more than enough to clear any team’s bar. Of course, there’s the question of whether the team will choose to honor him given his steroid ties. In all honesty, I would be shocked if Bonds wasn’t eventually honored in some way in the long run. He was still well-loved in San Francisco even when most of the rest of MLB turned on him, and I believe that most hatred towards him will die down over time. To put it another way, I think he’ll eventually make the Hall in the long run, and I would think the Giants would retire his number before that.
The next unhonored Giant, going down the list of batters, is Roger Connor. Connor spent a decade with the team, from 1883 to 1894 (with a year in the Players League New York team in 1890 and a short sojourn to Philadelphia in 1892) as part of his eighteen-year career (1880 to 1897). As you can probably guess from the dates, Connor never wore a uniform number, which makes his ceremony much less likely to happen. As mentioned, teams can “retire” things for non-numbered players as the Giants have already done for McGraw and Mathewson. However, no team has more than two of these (the Tigers only seem to include Cobb with their other retired numbers, while the others are separate). I doubt the Giants would push far behind this two-player limit, not that Connor gives them much of a reason too. He was good, making the Hall of Fame, but he only spent a decade with the team. Add in that it was well over a century ago in a different city and it gets harder to see Connor being the player that sets this new trend.
A lot of other players are in this boat, including George Davis, Larry Doyle, Art Fletcher, and Mike Tiernan. Additionally, none of these players were really terribly transcendent; they were all good for a long time, but it just so happened that all or most of their career value came in a time when the player was bound to the team by reserve clause. Being just above average for a team for thirteen-fifteen years would at least be special today with free agency and all, but in an era where it was the norm, these players stand out much less. Davis is probably the most likely of them since he’s in Cooperstown, but I still wouldn’t lay money on him.
Travis Jackson is probably a slightly more likely case than any of them. Like those four, he played before free agency, consequently spending his whole career with the Giants (fifteen seasons, from 1922 to 1936). And he was above average for the whole time, managing 44.1 bWAR and 46.0 fWAR. He managed to sneak into the Hall of Fame under the “good friends with then-Veterans Committee chair Frankie Frisch” clause, but he wasn’t much better than numerous other passed-over players. He has the added benefit of playing his final five seasons with a uniform number, though, so at least there’s something there to retire. I still wouldn’t call him likely, though.
Speaking of Frankie Frisch, he also played, and was actually pretty good at it. From 1919 to 1926, he was worth 37.8 bWAR and 39.1 fWAR for the New York Giants as a second baseman. He was traded after those eight seasons, though, in a blockbuster deal that brought back Rogers Hornsby (Hornsby would spend one fantastic season with the Giants before wearing out his welcome and being dealt to the Braves). Frish would play eleven more seasons with the Cardinals, totaling 70.4 bWAR and 74.8 fWAR. St. Louis is also the only team he wore a uniform number for, unfortunately. Maybe they could retire 3 from his St. Louis days, but that would be a little odd. Still, he was a better player than Travis Jackson, so I’d put his odds a little higher (although still not great).
Bobby Bonds is neck and neck with Frisch in both franchise rankings. Bonds the Elder played the first half of his career with the Giants, spending seven seasons there from 1968 to 1974. It was there that he accumulated the first 37.9 of 57.6 bWAR and 37.2 of 57.2 fWAR. Seven seasons may not be enough, although it’s not like he wasn’t very good while there. It’s worth noting too that Barry Bonds wore his number 25 to honor his father, which means that Barry has almost certainly displaced Bobby as the player likely to have 25 retired. Unless the team retires 25 twice or uses some sort of dual-retirement (which has happened before), Barry getting his number retired (which is the more likely scenario) sort of precludes his dad.
Will Clark is another modern player, and probably the second most likely candidate of anyone not still on the active roster. From 1986 to 1993, Clark amassed 35.6 bWAR and 33.5 fWAR while playing first base for San Francisco. His full career went another seven seasons, seeing him earn a total of 56.2 bWAR and 52.0 fWAR. As an outsider, he appears to be a fan favorite as well, which helps his case. I’d be curious to see if he’d have a number retired already if he had built off of his strong final season or stayed in San Francisco rather than leaving for Texas in 1994. Even with both of those factors, he has numbers that don’t look out of place with most other retired number players across the league (given the Giants’ overall strong crop, he rates a little low, but he wouldn’t look too out of place next to Cepeda or Terry). It could happen, although I’d probably put it at 50/50. Part of me wonders if the Giants’ bulk of honored first basemen works against him at all.
There are only about four more hitters worth looking at, and they fall into two groups. The first is Matt Williams and Jack Clark. Both spent the first decade of their careers in San Francisco (Williams from 1987 to 1996, Clark from 1975 to 1984) and played about the same amount after that (Williams played another seven seasons, Clark another eight). And in both cases, their case rests more or less entirely on how they did as Giants and fan response. Williams’s time in San Francisco produced 34.0 of his 46.5 bWAR and 31.9 of his 44.9 fWAR. Clark’s time, meanwhile, accounted for 30.6 of his 52.9 bWAR and 27.0 of his 50.6 fWAR. Both are solid figures in history, and stand out from their free agency-era peers (although it’s worth noting that Clark is now the fifth or so first baseman mentioned). However, they aren’t anything near locks. If fan or team support pushes them over the top, they would be reasonable choices, but nothing will likely happen without some sort of impetus to push it forward.
Jeff Kent and Johnny Mize comprise the second group. Their total value is not totally different from Williams and Jack Clark, but they did it in a little less time. Kent managed six seasons with the team from 1997 to 2002 with 31.4 bWAR and 31.0 fWAR. In total, from 1992 to 2008, he was worth 55.2 bWAR and 56.6 fWAR while establishing himself as one of the better offensive second basemen in history.
Mize only played five seasons with the New York Giants, coming over in a lopsided trade with the Cardinals in 1942 and then playing from 1946 to 1949, during which time he managed 28.3 bWAR and 26.8 fWAR (he missed 1943 through 1945, his age 30 through 32 seasons, for World War II). Playing from 1936 to 1953, Mize was probably the best first baseman in National League history up until Jeff Bagwell or Albert Pujols started, with 70.9 bWAR and 68.6 fWAR despite the three missing peak seasons. He never played with any team for more than six seasons, so he’s as much a Giant as he is anything else.
In both cases, the players might get bumps from Hall of Fame voting. Mize was critically underrated in his day, but did eventually make the Hall of Fame. Kent hasn’t come up for election yet, but as mentioned, he’s one of the best hitters at his position in history (his defense is a serious hit, though). Either way, it probably makes up for their slightly lower playing time with the team. Both also have other hits to their candidacies (Mize played a long time ago; Kent probably won’t make the Hall), but they’re more likely candidates than a lot of the other players I’ve covered. And based on Cepeda’s numbers, making the Hall can patch over a lot of other issues, even if the player hasn’t played in a while.
At this point, though, we’ve probably gone deep enough into the historical hitters. It’s time to move on to the pitchers. And, like the hitters, there’s a lot of players without much of a shot towards the top. Aided through varying combinations of skill, a lack of free agency, and the absurd quantity of pitches thrown in the early days of the game, Amos Rusie, Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe, Joe McGinnity, and Red Ames all wound up near the top of one or both WAR leader boards. None wore numbers, and as mentioned, they’re probably all competing for one slot at most (even removing the numberless hitters mentioned. “Iron” Joe McGinnity is probably the best shot, as he’s one of the more memorable ones from that list and he pitched for the early Giants dynasty that also featured Mathewson and McGraw. Even then, though, I’d consider him something of a long shot.
The first pitcher on the lists that both has a number and hasn’t already been honored is the still-active Matt Cain. In only nine seasons with the team, he’s already worked his way into the top ten of both lists. He ranks ninth in bWAR with 31.7 and seventh overall in fWAR with 28.7. The Giants’ pitching leaders aren’t as top heavy as the hitters (a top combination of Mays/Bonds/Ott is tough to beat), so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Cain to climb a little higher in the five-and-a-half seasons he’s still under contract for. We’ll check back in a few years, but right now, he appears to be in a good place.
Other modern pitchers are less clear. Tim Lincecum, for example, isn’t viewed wildly differently by the two WAR frameworks. fWAR has him at 27.7 in his seven seasons, while bWAR places him at 23.0 wins. However, the rest of the list is jumbled around him; he winds up in ninth in fWAR and only sixteenth in bWAR. And really, there are still a lot of variables in place. If he resigns with the Giants this winter, that helps. If he leaves but goes on to establish a dominant second half of his career, he could still be honored (that worked for Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda, at least). No one’s denying his two Cy Young Awards-peak wasn’t good enough; there are just too many questions right now.
Due to the jumbled order stemming from the different calculations, there aren’t really any other standout candidates for the pitchers. Jason Schmidt, somewhat surprisingly, looks good under fWAR (eleventh with 26.0) but falls significantly in bWAR (eighteenth with 22.6). On top of that uncertainty, injuries stopped him well short in career value (he barely passed 30 career WAR in both formats), and he only played six years with the team.
Johnny Antonelli and Larry Jansen rate well under one system or the other. Antonelli is tenth in bWAR with 30.6 and twenty fifth in fWAR with 25.3. Jansen makes the top ten in fWAR with 27.4 but falls all the way to seventeenth in bWAR with 22.8. Neither really did much outside of their time with the (New York) Giants either, so neither has career totals to fall back on. And on top of that, they only played seven and eight years with the team, respectively. At least they had numbers, though.
I think it’s fair to say we’ve hit about as low as you can consider realistic on the pitching side, so that leaves only the present roster. The best candidate from that group, even counting the players I already covered, is probably Buster Posey. Only 26, and with an MVP award, two World Series trophies, and a nine year contract (counting this year) under his belt already, it’s difficult to come up with knocks on his case that don’t involve unreasonably pessimistic projections. As I covered a while a go, he’s pretty much on pace for a Hall-worthy career as is, and it looks like most (if not all) of that career will come as a Giant. He’s the probable favorite right now, if only because he doesn’t have as much unpredictable baggage as Bonds does. As is, he stands at 16.9 bWAR and 17.2 fWAR.
The rest of the roster has a handful of interesting names. Pablo Sandoval has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but his play seems to fluctuate inversely with his weight. Add in that he’s only under contract through 2014 (at the moment) and we’ll have to wait and see. He does stand at around 16 wins after six seasons, though (in both stats).
Madison Bumgarner is the third pitcher in the rotation with a decent shot. He’s already a four-year veteran at the age of 23, and he’s under contract for another six seasons. Having such success in the majors at such a young age would seem to bode well for his future. Both formulas of WAR have him around 11 wins and counting.
And lastly, we should probably mention manager Bruce Bochy. He’s managed the team for seven years and is only slightly above .500 (.509, 558-538), but he also has the only two World Series titles since the team moved to San Francisco. If Bochy winds up Hall-worthy, he’ll almost certainly get his number retired. But even if he falls short of the Hall, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two titles are more than enough to merit a retired number.
So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the San Francisco Giants in the future are, in order: