Retired numbers: San Francisco Giants

14 Giants have already been honored, but several more are waiting their turn

Only the New York Yankees have retired the uniform numbers of more stars than the San Francisco Giants.

The Yankees, with 27 World Series championships, are the logical leaders. But the Giants have won only eight world titles. So why are they second?

Longevity is one factor. The Giants are 138 years old. They date back to their 1883 birth in New York, which they called home until 1958.

Success is another reason. The Giants can’t match the Yankees’ hardware, to be sure, but the fact remains that the combined New York-San Francisco franchise has won 11,194 regular-season games, the largest victory total for any big-league club.

The Giants have retired 14 jerseys in all, including four without numerals. That pales in comparison to the Yankees’ 22, but it’s equal to the St. Louis Cardinals’ 14 — and ahead of everybody else.

Will the team’s current honorees be joined by a 15th? Future additions seem almost certain, though the names of the players and managers aren’t. Let’s look at the possibilities, as we make the 11th stop on our every-other-Friday tour of the majors.

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Giants’ numbers already retired

What follows is a rundown of the Giants’ 14 retired numbers. Eleven of these honorees can also be found in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, with the exception of a controversial star and a pair of broadcasters. The first two men on this list completed their careers before numerals were affixed to jerseys:

Pitching legend Christy Mathewson (1900-1916 with the Giants) was one of five players elected in the first year of Hall of Fame balloting in 1936. His 373 wins remain third in baseball history, trailing only Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Mathewson led the National League in strikeouts and earned run average five times apiece. 

Feisty John McGraw managed the Giants for 31 seasons (1902-1932), bagging 10 National League championships and three World Series trophies. His career total of 2,763 wins (including a stint with the Baltimore Orioles) is second to Connie Mack in the all-time rankings.

No. 3 Bill Terry (1923-1936) posted the highest career batting average of any Giant, .341. The first baseman, who won the National League batting title in 1930 with an average of .401, never hit worse than .319 when playing a full season. Terry also managed the Giants from 1932 to 1941, picking up three NL pennants and a world title.

No. 4 Mel Ott (1926-1947) was as mild-mannered as Terry was fiery, yet the right fielder’s calm disposition didn’t keep him from stardom. He won six league home-run crowns, and his career total of 511 homers is 25th on baseball’s all-time list. Ott replaced Terry as the club’s manager in 1942, remaining until 1948 without winning a championship.

No. 11 Carl Hubbell spent his entire 16-year career (1928-1943) with the Giants. He pitched 3,590 innings, the most in club history for anybody not named Mathewson. Hubbell’s 253 victories also rank second among all Giants pitchers. He led the league in wins three times, peaking at 26 in 1936.

The statistics for No. 20 Monte Irvin (1949-1955) are impressive at first glance, though they don’t seem to warrant his inclusion in Cooperstown. Blame segregation. The left fielder didn’t make his National League debut until he was 30, following an outstanding career in the Negro Leagues. He paced the NL in 1951 with 121 runs batted in and batted .296 for the Giants over seven seasons.

Experts generally consider No. 24 Willie Mays (1951-1972) to have been the greatest center fielder ever, and many insist there never was a better player at any position. He ranks among the game’s elite on several all-time lists: fifth in wins above replacement (156.2), sixth in home runs (660), seventh in runs (2,062), and 12th in hits (3,283).

Mays’s godson also attained lasting fame in San Francisco. No. 25 Barry Bonds blasted his final 586 home runs for the Giants (1993-2007), finishing with 762, the highest total in baseball history. The left fielder won seven Most Valuable Player Awards in all, the last five with the Giants. Yet accusations of steroid abuse have kept him outside the Hall of Fame.

No. 27 Juan Marichal recorded 2,281 strikeouts during his 14 years as a pitcher for the Giants (1960-1973), putting him second in franchise history. Marichal also ranks second on the team’s logs for games started (446) and shutouts (52). Who’s ahead of him in all three cases? Mathewson, of course.

No. 30 Orlando Cepeda (1958-1966) had good timing. The first baseman debuted with the Giants in their first season in San Francisco, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and being embraced by local fans as one of their own. He led the NL in 1961 with 46 homers and 142 runs batted in. Cepeda made six All-Star teams before the Giants traded him to the Cardinals.

No. 36 Gaylord Perry played for eight clubs during his 22-year career, but he wears the SF logo on his plaque in the Hall of Fame. That’s because the pitcher lasted longest (1962-1971) and attained the most fame with the Giants. Perry recorded 134 of his 314 victories in a San Francisco uniform.

Only Mays and Ott took the field more frequently for the Giants than No. 44 Willie McCovey, who played 2,256 games in two stints (1959-1973, 1977-1980). The first baseman was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 1959 and its MVP a decade later. He finished with 521 home runs, putting him 20th in big-league history.

The final two honorees never played for the Giants, though they were famously linked with the club. Russ Hodges handled the team’s radio broadcasts for 22 years (1949-1970), spanning the transition from New York to California. Lon Simmons was a San Francisco broadcaster who joined the club’s play-by-play team when the franchise moved west. He worked for 26 years over three stretches (1958-1973, 1976-1978, 1996-2002).

Giants’ candidates for retired numbers

Fifty-five Hall of Fame players have worn a Giants uniform at some point. Many just passed through as their careers wound down — Gary Carter, Rich Gossage, and Randy Johnson, for instance — but a few remain plausible candidates for retirement ceremonies. And there are non-Cooperstown contenders, too.

Let’s start by going back to the franchise’s New York years. Some of these players predated uniform numerals: 

  • Roger Connor spent 10 seasons as a 19th century first baseman for the Giants (1883-1889, 1891, 1893-1894), winning the National League batting title at .371 in 1885. He still ranks 10th in franchise history in WAR (53.0), eighth in runs (946), and ninth in RBIs (786).

  • Amos Rusie racked up 246 wins in his 10-year career, including 234 with the Giants (1890-1895, 1897-1898). He ranks third in WAR among all Giants pitchers (66.4), and he’s fifth in wins.

  • Joe McGinnity won 31 games in 1903 and 35 the following season. He pitched a total of 151 victories in seven seasons with the Giants (1902-1908) and 246 in his career.

  • The Gold Glove didn’t exist when No. 5 Travis Jackson played shortstop for the Giants (1922-1936), but he undoubtedly would have won several. Jackson ranks second in franchise history in defensive WAR (22.9), sixth in games played (1,656), sixth in RBIs (929), and seventh in hits (1,768).

  • The previous four are all in the Hall of Fame, but No. 23 Bobby Thomson (1946-1953, 1957) is not. So why is the outfielder included here? Thomson is seventh on the Giants’ home-run list with 189, though he is remembered solely for the most famous blast in team history, the Shot Heard Round the World that clinched a berth in the 1951 World Series.

There is a slightly larger line of candidates from the franchise’s San Francisco era, which dates back to 1958. Let’s take them in numerical order:

  • No. 15 Bruce Bochy (2007-2019) managed the Giants to three world championships in 13 seasons, duplicating John McGraw’s accomplishment in less than half the time. Bochy amassed 2,003 wins in 25 years as a manager, including a previous stretch with the San Diego Padres.

  • Jeff Kent played for six clubs in 17 years, though he reached his peak while wearing No. 21 for the Giants (1997-2002). The second baseman was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000, when he batted .334 and drove in 125 runs.

  • No. 22 Will Clark played first base for the Giants in the first eight seasons (1986-1993) of his 15-year career. He finished among the top five votegetters for the Most Valuable Player Award four times in a San Francisco uniform, though he never took the top honor. He did win a Gold Glove.

  • No. 28 Buster Posey paused last year because of Covid-19, but is slated to resume his Giants career (2009-2019) this season. The catcher was Rookie of the Year in 2010 and MVP in 2012. San Francisco won the World Series in both of those seasons, as well as in 2014, when Posey finished sixth in the MVP voting.

  • No. 40 Madison Bumgarner (2009-2019) notched 120 regular-season wins for the Giants, but his four World Series victories are the ones that stand out. Two of those wins came in the 2014 series against Kansas City, capped by a gutsy five-inning Game Seven save that clinched the title.

  • No Giant has worn No. 55 since Tim Lincecum wrapped his nine years as a San Francisco pitcher (2007-2015). Lincecum won successive Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, led the National League in strikeouts three times, and posted a 5-2 postseason record.

The outlook

I cheated a bit. The Giants announced in 2019 that they would retire Will Clark’s jersey, presumably in 2020, though it turned out to be an awful year for on-field ceremonies. We can assume that No. 22 will receive a formal farewell during the season ahead.

Who comes after Clark? It’s doubtful that any of the ancient New York candidates will be tapped. Nobody alive saw Connor or Rusie take the field, and there aren’t many with coherent memories of Thomson, whose famous home run soared into the atomsphere 70 years ago.

It seems more likely that Bochy is next, recognizing his championship touch. Some of his players will almost certainly follow. Lincecum’s number has been retired for all intents and purposes. Posey and Bumgarner are still active, the latter with Arizona. All three are good possibilities.

That leaves Kent, whose candidacy is linked to his possible induction to the Hall of Fame. He received 32.4% of the votes this month — well short of the 75% threshold, but still his best percentage to this point. He might make it yet.

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