SAN FRANCISCO — The collection of Giants alumni is as intriguing as it is iconic.
For every superstar who established Hall of Fame credentials with San Francisco (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, for example), there was a Cooperstown inductee who made a forgotten or relatively unheralded cameo appearance as a Giant (like Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton and Duke Snider).
The seldom-mentioned Giants included pairs, such as the Carters (Gary and Joe), Dans (Gladden and Driessen) and fading closers (Goose Gossage and Dan Quisenberry). There were performers who at one time excelled at all facets of the game (Eric Davis and Carlos Beltran) and those who specialized in one craft (pinch-hitter deluxe Manny Mota).
Here’s a list of 10 of the most surprising Giants alums, plus a summary of the rest. Put them all together, and they might form a fairly decent team.
Darryl Strawberry, 1994
The Giants were an unsettled bunch in 1994. They lurched to a 35-50 record through July 6 while barely resembling the powerhouse that finished 103-59 one year earlier.
Moreover, like every other Major League team, the looming work stoppage left club management wondering whether striving to reach the postseason would be worth the effort. With right fielder Willie McGee sidelined by a left Achilles injury, the Giants opted for the go-for-it approach on June 19 by signing Strawberry to occupy the vacancy.
Strawberry hadn’t played all year. He had spent nearly two months at the Betty Ford Center after revealing to his previous club, the Dodgers, that he had a drug problem. Strawberry was recommended to find employment elsewhere to hasten his recovery, prompting Los Angeles to release him on May 25. He did little to bolster San Francisco’s sagging offense, batting .239 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 29 games before the work stoppage ended the season. But Strawberry’s innate ability still left the Giants wondering about his potential, particularly after he, Barry Bonds and Matt Williams each homered in a July 31 victory over Colorado. San Francisco was 17-10 in games started by Strawberry, who finished his career with the Yankees.
Gary Carter, 1990
During the 30-plus years spanning the Al Rosen, Bob Quinn and Brian Sabean administrations in the general manager’s hot seat, one element remained constant: They never met a veteran ballplayer they didn’t like. So nobody was shocked when the Giants signed catcher Gary Carter for the 1990 season, though he turned 36 shortly before Opening Day and was coming off a right knee injury that limited him to 50 games and a .183 batting average in the previous season.
Carter, who happened to win the Most Valuable Player Award at the 1984 All-Star Game played at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, went 5-for-5 on July 7 against Chicago and batted a resilient .254 in 92 games overall. He migrated to the Dodgers in free agency for the following season before ending his Hall of Fame career with Montreal, his original club, in 1992.
Warren Spahn, 1965
The Giants were renowned for their impressive lineups during the 1960s. However, except for future Hall of Fame right-handers Marichal and Gaylord Perry, they rarely could brag about their pitching. Needing rotation reinforcements for another spirited National League pennant race in ’65, they signed Spahn as a free agent on July 19, just two days after the Mets cast him aside.
With New York, Spahn was 4-12 with a 4.36 ERA in his first Major League experience following 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Braves. He improved slightly as a spot starter with the Giants, compiling a 3-4 record and a 3.39 ERA. He delivered a complete-game, 9-2 triumph over the Cubs in the nightcap of a Sept. 12 doubleheader for the last of his 363 big league victories.
Steve Carlton, 1986
Employing the logic that prompted them to sign Spahn, the Giants reeled in Carlton on July 4, 1986, a little less than two weeks after the Phillies released him. Surely, San Francisco believed, the four-time NL Cy Young Award winner had something left.
However, Carlton soon proved that the 4-8 record and 6.18 ERA he had compiled with the Phillies was no fluke. He posted a 1-3 mark with a 5.10 ERA in six starts before the Giants released him. Carlton finished the season with the White Sox and made 36 appearances with the Indians and Twins from 1987-88 to finish his career.
Duke Snider, 1964
Through much of the 1950s, the thought of Mays and Snider patrolling the outfield together would have thrilled any fan. By ’64, when the Giants purchased Snider’s contract from the Mets, the thrill was gone. At 37, Snider no longer possessed the dynamic skills that made him part of New York City’s matchless center-field triumvirate which featured himself, Mays and Mickey Mantle.
Snider appeared in 91 games but amassed just 189 plate appearances in 1964. He hit .210 with four homers and 17 RBIs in what proved to be his final Major League season.
Goose Gossage, 1989
The right-hander’s tremendous velocity was gone by the time he joined the Giants in 1989. Gossage remained adept enough to convert four of five save opportunities, but he struck out only 24 batters in 43 2/3 innings. Manager Roger Craig used Gossage, Craig Lefferts and Mike LaCoss in the closer’s role before settling on Steve Bedrosian, whom San Francisco obtained from Philadelphia in a five-player trade on June 18. Nearly two months later, the Yankees selected Gossage off waivers.
Dan Quisenberry, 1990
At least Gossage recorded a few saves for San Francisco. Quisenberry, who exceeded 30 saves five times in six seasons (1980-85) for Kansas City, blew his lone save opportunity for the Giants and was gone after recording a 13.50 ERA in five April appearances. He yielded at least three earned runs in three of those outings.
Orel Hershiser, 1998
Having established himself as a top starter while winning 98 games in six seasons (1984-89) for the Dodgers, Hershiser also thrived in Cleveland with a 45-21 record from ’95-97 before signing with the Giants as a free agent. He performed adequately in ’98, finishing 11-10 with a 4.41 ERA in 34 starts. Unlike most pitchers, who thrived at Candlestick Park, Hershiser went 5-6 with a 4.22 ERA at home. He returned to the Tribe after the season, and though the Indians released him in Spring Training, he signed with the Mets for what turned out to be his last full big league season.
Deion Sanders, 1995
The two-sport speedster was a fan favorite in Cincinnati, but that didn’t stop the Reds from trading Sanders to the Giants in an eight-player deal on July 21, 1995. During the previous year’s NFL season, Sanders played for the 49ers team that won the Super Bowl. Because of the deal that sent Sanders, an NFL free agent, to the Giants, speculation surrounding a return to the 49ers proliferated. Instead, the perennial All-Pro cornerback signed with the Cowboys.
Carlos Beltran, 2011
Midway through the 2011 season, the Giants were confident that they could repeat as World Series champions. Their confidence grew after they obtained Beltran from the Mets on July 28 for right-hander Zack Wheeler, their No. 1 selection (sixth overall) in the ’09 Draft. Unfortunately for San Francisco, a right wrist injury forced Beltran onto the disabled list and limited him to 44 games. He was mostly productive when healthy, recording a .323/.369/.551 slash line with seven home runs but only 18 RBIs.
Honorable mentions: George Foster, Sam McDowell, Randy Hundley, Don Larsen, Phil Garner, Mota, Brad Penny, Driessen, Joe Carter, Davis, Jose Cardenal, Ken Reitz.