The Most Disappointing Season For…The San Francisco Giants

The 1972 San Francisco Giants

Record: 69-86  (5th NL West, 10th out of 12 in the NL)

Pythagorean Record: 79-76

Runs Scored: 662 (5th in the NL)

Runs Allowed: 649 (10th in the NL)

Prior Season Record: 90-72

Manager: Charlie Fox

Hype: NL West champs in 1971, the Giants had a few aging stars but some good young players, and they hoped a deal they made would bring them to not just the division title, but the NL pennant.

The Gory Details:  The seeds of the 1972 season were actually planted in early 1971, when the Giants traded from a position of plenty, outfield, for a position of need, infield. The Giants were in need of a young backup shortstop to Chris Speier, their rookie starter, and so they dealt George Foster to the Reds for Frank Duffy and a pitcher.

That turned out a wee bit lopsided in the long run, but the Giants won the division in ’71 while the Reds tanked, so all was well in San Francisco.

Over in Cleveland, Sam McDowell was going through a rough 1971. He was suspended twice, once for a contract issue regarding incentives (it’s so quaint that they were actually banned in 1971) and another because he bolted the team for a bit. McDowell wanted a trade, and he got one at the end of the year.

The Indians needed infield help themselves, and wanted a starter to replace McDowell, too. They called up the Giants and lo and behold, McDowell was soon a Giant, in exchange for Duffy and 32-year old Gaylord Perry.

The Giants certainly thought they got the better end. McDowell was three years younger, and a flame throwing lefty, not a slop-tossing righty. Never mind that McDowell’s strike out rate dropped in 1971 while his walk rate increased dramatically. He was a lefty. He threw fast!

San Francisco still had Juan Marichal, who was just 33, and good young pitchers such as Steve Stone, Ron Bryant, John Cumberland, Frank Reberger, Jim Barr and Don Carrithers. Jerry Johnson was a solid reliever and 42-year old Don McMahon still had something in the tank. Pitching’s not a problem.

The lineup was pretty solid too. Willie McCovey had knee problems which kept him out of games in 1971, but he was raring to go. Willie Mays had a great 1971, and hopefully he and the Giants were over their contract issue. Dick Dietz was a solid backstop that could hit for some power.

The rest of the team were young, including budding superstar Bobby Bonds, flashy second baseman Tito Fuentes, solid shortstop Speier, and young outfielders Ken Henderson and Dave Kingman. Plus, there’s this kid named Garry Maddox who may be even a better center fielder than Mays in his prime.

Dietz hit 19 home runs in 1971, started 127 games at catcher, and had an OPS+ of 130 and a WAR of 3.8, 4th best on the team. He would only be 30 in 1972, and it could be said he could be the Giants catcher for the next few seasons.

Well, he was also the Giants’ player representative, and during the spring of 1972 the Players Association couldn’t get the owners to budge on pension contributions and the addition of salary arbitration.

So, using the leverage they had, they went on strike on Opening Day. Dietz was a leader of the union, so he was a public face during the negotiations and strike.

Horace Stoneham was the Giants’ owner and general manager. (Yes, he’s the one that traded Foster for Duffy and Perry and Duffy for McDowell.) He was the one that moved them from New York to the West Coast. He replaced Chub Feeney as General Manager with himself in 1970 when Feeney became the NL President.

He was supposedly losing money as well (even though the Giants drew over 1,000,000 fans in 1971). So he didn’t take too kindly to the players’ striking for such radical ideas as more pension money and salary arbitration. Why, he may have to pay Bobby Bonds $100,000 a year to play this game!

Stoneham couldn’t believe the players went on strike. He couldn’t believe that Dietz, his catcher, was one of the ringleaders. That made him verrry angry. When Stoneham was angry, he got even.

When play resumed, and the teams finalized their rosters for the year, somehow Dietz was put on waivers. The Dodgers claimed him. “Oh, no, it was a mistake,” said the Giants and no one with a brain believed them. So Dietz was gone, and now the Giants had to play with two young catchers, Fran Healy and Dave Rader. Both rather unproven, and both now having to backstop a contender.

A postscript on Dietz: he suffered a lot of injury issues in 1972 and played just 27 games. He caught on with the Braves in 1973 and had a great year as a bench player. But 1974 came, the Braves didn’t offer him a contract, and no one else did either.

He, along with several other union leaders who were backups or average players, were mysteriously blackballed within a few years of the 1972 season. Hmmm…

Hey, it’s OK, right. That’s just one player. We have enough depth and pitching.

Four games into the season, McCovey was feeling great. He had a good spring, and it seemed the knee problems were gone. He had four hits, including a double and home run, in the first three games.

In the bottom of the first in the fourth game of the season, at San Diego, those good feelings unraveled, and quickly. Carrithers walked Enzo Hernandez (which is a rare feat in itself) to start the game, then Hernandez stole second. Derrell Thomas hit a bunt single to put runners at the corners, and Johnny Jeter went to the plate.

Jeter cracked a ground ball to Speier at short. Hernandez was going to score, but they were going to turn two. Speier flipped the ball to Fuentes and then….CRACK!

Jeter ran into McCovey. Both had to leave the game. Jeter came back the next day. McCovey, though, broke his forearm. Wrist and forearm injuries are the worst injuries a power hitter can have, since the snap of the wrist generates the bat speed. An injury there and your timing is off.

McCovey would miss 45 games.

The plan was to spot McCovey at first with either Mays or Kingman. That went out the window. The Giants had to scramble, and Kingman was now the full time first baseman until McCovey came back.

The loss of Dietz and McCovey caused the Giants to reel a bit. Cumberland and Carrithers were also struggling as starters, so manager Charlie Fox plugged in Stone and Bryant. Marichal was struggling from a W/L standpoint, with a 1-5 record after six starts, though his ERA was 3.25. In his last start, the Giants made five errors behind him, including two by Kingman at first.

McDowell, though, was solid. He won his first five decisions and walked just 15 in his first six starts.

There were other troubles. Mays was struggling mightily. He was taking plenty of walks, as he did in 1971, but wasn’t hitting otherwise. His speed was going, his defense was slipping and Maddox was ready to play full time. Mays knew his time was coming, and wanted to end his career in New York.

The Giants decided to accommodate him, and shipped him to the Mets for Charlie Williams, a non-descript relief pitcher.

Dietz, Mays, McCovey, all gone. When Mays was traded, the Giants were a dismal 9-18, with five of those wins being McDowell’s. It certainly wasn’t over yet, but they needed to get it into gear.

They put it into reverse. The team went into a collective funk. At the end of May they were 15-31. After two wins, they then went on an eight-game losing streak. Whatever magic McDowell had, he lost it. Marichal was still pitching in bad luck.

The hitters didn’t hit when the pitchers pitched well. It was ghastly. Stone was one of the unlucky ones, as his 2.44 ERA was good for just a 3-7 record at one point in the season.

They bottomed out on June 23rd at 22-45, after the Padres beat McDowell 4-1 thanks to a one-hitter by Steve Arlin. The only good news was the McCovey had come back.

Yes, he had come back, but his power was gone and his timing was off.

The rest of the season the Giants played better, but it was a very odd season. When they won games over the second half of the year, they blew teams out. When they lost, it was a close low-scoring game. Bryant emerged as the stopper in the rotation as Marichal never got fully untracked, McDowell slipped mightily in the second half, Stone missed some time, Cumberland totally washed out, and the others were mediocre with flashes of okayness.

The bullpen was also an issue. After a great 1971 Johnson was struggling. Barr pitched well in relief, but when the other starters scuffled he had to fill in as a rotation member. McMahon was OK but old. Rookie Randy Moffitt gave them some good innings and some bad innings.

Instead of the World Series, the Giants had to shift goals. One was to escape the basement. They did that for good on June 26th (even though their record was 25-45). Second was to get into fourth place, then somehow get to .500. All the while make sure the young players and pitchers were getting time, and getting McCovey back on track.

McCovey never did get on track. His power stroke did, but he hit just .213 (though he still had an OPS+ of over 100 thanks to his power and walks, it still was far from what they needed). Speier was a very solid shortstop in every way.

Bonds didn’t flirt with 40/40 as he had before, but still had plenty of dingers. Henderson and Kingman were emerging as potential power supplies.

By playing the kids and juggling pitchers around, the Giants kicked tail in July. A 16-8 month put them at 44-54, in striking distance of fourth and another two months of good play from .500. Hey, it was something.

They did peek into fourth place for one day in August, but the rest of the season was a struggle. McDowell and Marichal missed starts, and while Jim Willoughby gave them some quality innings it just wasn’t enough. Again, the team blew teams out when they won, and lost close games.

Finally, it was over. They never got to fourth except for that one day, but they ended the season with a sweep of the Padres in a two-game series. Those two games were viewed by 3,333 – TOTAL. The Giants fans, faced with a bad team and no Mays, found better things to do – like go across the Bay to root for a World Series champ.

Speier was the bright spot for the club. He played good shortstop and socked 15 home runs. Kingman staked a claim to become a regular too. For the pitchers, it was a mixed bag. Marichal was getting older. McDowell was on his way to becoming a lushing bust. Bryant and Stone, though, were candidates for greatness if they could stay healthy.

The Giants never did find the magic of 1971 again, and it stayed away for a long time. They had good teams, but then collapsed mightily. Fans stayed away, and Stoneham finally had to sell the team. There was talk the Giants would move. Somehow, they stayed put, even with attendance rarely hitting five digits a game for a long time, but it was an up-and-down two decades until 1989.

Chicken Wolf All-Stars: Speier had a 6.0 WAR to lead the team. Bonds did OK, with a WAR of 5.0 but was termed a disappointment in 1972.

Honorable Mention Team: The Giants won the Series in 2012 behind a bunch of decent players, decent pitchers, and Bochy magic. No magic in 2013. Even with the removal of TOOTBLAN Theriot from their lineup, you can’t win when 4/5 of your rotation turns into pumpkins and the only one to rescue that was…Chad Gaudin. From Champs to 76-86.

Bad Blast from the Past: John McGraw led the Giants to three straight NL Pennants from 1911-13, even though they lost the World Series each year. (McGraw was 3-6 in the World Series, but hey they got their nine times.)

In 1914 they slipped to second, mainly due to sub-prime performances by pitchers Rube Marquard and Al Demaree. Well, it got really bad in 1915. Larry Doyle was the only player worth his salt. Christy Mathewson was 8-14 with a 3.58 ERA (which was like 5.08, really). They limped to dead last at 69-83.

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