A tough team to beat
Strong points: The Giant outfield is very good, could be the league's best in all-round ability. Center Fielder Willie Mays improves with age. He played over 150 games for the eighth straight year, had his biggest home run (40) and RBI (123) production since 1955. Left Fielder Harvey Kuenn had his worst major league season (.266) but is a good bet to rejoin .300 hitters (.309 lifetime) after year of adjustment to new league. Strong, swift Felipe Alou is in right field, should maintain .289, 18-homer hitting, improve on 52 RBIs. In reserve is Matty Alou, strong-armed and speedy like his older brother, and a .310 hitter last year. Kuenn is the only questionable defensive link and he is adequate. To long-ball hitting of Mays and Alou add the crushing power of First Baseman Orlando Cepeda (46 HRs, 142 RBIs—both tops in the league) and the sporadic power of Catcher Ed Bailey and reserve Willie McCovey (18 HRs). Aside from second base, infield defense is spotless. Cepeda is a good first baseman, and Jose Pagan at short and Jim Davenport at third are excellent glovemen. Giants also have in Stu Miller, the small, economy-sized junk pitcher, the best reliever in baseball (14-5, 2.66 ERA).
Weak spots: Second base and catching. The Giants are going all the way with Chuck Hiller at second base. He is, however, a questionable hitter (.230 in 70 games last year) and has trouble making the double play. Catcher Ed Bailey has never lived up to his early promise. Behind him the Giants have only weak-hitting Joe Pignatano (obtained from A's) and youngster Tom Haller.
The big ifs: The strength of the pitching staff is questionable. Mike McCormick and Jack Sanford lose just about as often as they win (26-25 combined last year). Juan Marichal (13-10) may be a big winner someday; Giants hope it's this year. Billy O'Dell always posts a fine ERA (three times under 3.00) but he has not become the winner the Giants need. Much hinges on the showing of Billy Pierce and Don Larsen (acquired from the White Sox). Larsen worked hard this spring and showed a snappy fast ball. He could be a valuable long man and spot starter. Pierce moved right into the starting lineup, and Manager Al Dark expects him to win enough "to take the pressure" off McCormick and Marichal.
Rookies and new faces: Except for Pierce, Larsen and Pignatano, the team is essentially unchanged. The Giants are high on three rookie pitchers: Ron Herbel (16-5 at Tacoma), Gaylord Perry (16-10 at Tacoma) and Gerry Thomas (20-7, 2.40 ERA at Springfield). Manuel Mota, also up from Tacoma, clobbered spring pitching, can play outfield and second base.
OUTLOOK: Giants are geared for all-out rush at the pennant, have their best chance since fateful 1959 (when they lost in last week). Strong catching and smooth fielding at second base could bring home the flag.
One Giant who can't miss
"Hey, you should have seen me yesterday," Willie Mays said to a visitor in the Giant clubhouse. "I stood at the plate and this pitch come inside. I pull my bat away and fall down on my back. Guess where the ball goes? That's right, over third base for a hit."
"Imagine that," said a teammate. "Some guys try to hit a ball and they can't. Mays tries to miss it and he can't."
"He likes to feel wanted," Catcher Joe Pignatano was saying of Don Larsen, the big right-hander who has so much talent but has produced so little in his nine years in the majors. "I roomed with him at Kansas City last year. I know how he thinks. He wants to work. When he pitches he's all right. Sometimes he has a bad day. Then they forget him for a while. He starts to get down on himself. He figures if they don't want him to pitch he might as well go out and have a good time. If this club lets him work, I think he can be a winner."
Larsen, tall and crew-cut, walked into the clubhouse at the Giants' training camp. Several players gathered around to pat his broad back and shake his hand. The man who once pitched a perfect game in a World Series was receiving the applause of his teammates for throwing eight strong innings in a B-team game. Nobody hugged him as Yogi Berra did in that victory in 1956, but Larsen was wanted.
Mike McCormick was 17 years old when he broke in with the Giants in 1956 as a high-priced bonus player. Now, at 23, he is considered one of the best left-handers in the league.
"You learn, you change, you experiment," McCormick said. "Lots of guys have good arms, but it's what you do with your stuff that counts. This is where a catcher comes in. Hobie Landrith and I were roommates. We thought alike about certain hitters. If a catcher goes with your best stuff, you can concentrate on the hitter.
"That's why it was tough for a while when Ed Bailey joined us. He's an All-Star catcher and all that but he never caught me. It's different when he just hits against you. He doesn't think the same as when he's catching you. It takes time for a catcher to adjust to a pitcher. Bailey was catching Jay and O'Toole and Purkey at Cincinnati. Now he's catching different types of pitchers. When he joined us last year, we weren't thinking alike. This year it should be better."
The wind in Candlestick Park is legend among the San Francisco Giants. Each player has his own favorite story about it.
Stu Miller, the 165-pound reliever, who was blown off the mound at the All-Star Game by the Candlestick wind, gives you a baseball glove to hold when he tells his windy one.
"You feel that thing. It's heavy. One day I put it flat up against a fence and walked away. It stayed right there. It was pressed against the fence by the wind."
WONDERFUL WILLIE MAYS is baseball's most exciting player to watch, and no one gets more kick out of playing the game than Willie.