Great pennant races in San Francisco Giants history

I’m pleased to present a guest post by Rory Paap of Rory emailed me after reading my interview with Joe Posnanski and offered to write something. Being a fellow Giants fan, I asked Rory to compare this year’s contenders to a few Giants playoff teams. The post is longer than what’s typically here. Rory explained to me that his writing is “Posnanski-ish, i.e. Curiously long.”



The 1951 Giants pulled off quite possibly the most stunning comeback in baseball history, coming back from 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in August and winning 50 of their final 62 games to force a three game playoff. This culminated in the greatest call in sports history, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” with Bobby Thomson hitting a three-run walk-off home run off Ralph Branca to give the Giants the National League pennant.

The Giants (run differential +140 against the Dodger’s +183) were sparked that year by rookie Willie Mays (3.5 WAR), who debuted May 25 and went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Giants fans will also recall Monte Irvin (6.3 WAR) – whose number was recently retired by the club – as he led the league with 121 RBI.

The Giants of today could have learned a lot from their 1951 counterparts. Wes Westrum (3.4 WAR), for example, despite hitting just .219, had an OBP of .400. This was because he drew 104 walks. Their second baseman, Ed Stanky (4.8 WAR), drew 127 walks. They had solid contributors throughout the team: AL Dark (5.2 WAR), the Scottish hero Bobby Thomson (4.8 WAR).  They also had excellent defenders in both the outfield and infield and had large contributions from starters Sal Maglie (6.1 WAR) and Larry Jansen (5.8 WAR).

Despite all the theatrics, the Giants lost the World Series in six to the New York Yankees.

1962 — JustThisClose

The 1962 season was another that had great promise but ended in disappointment.  Their lineup included McCovey, Mays (10.6 WAR) and Cepeda (3.1 WAR) to name a few.

Mays was absolutely sensational on defense (and offense) and led baseball with 49 HR. But he was also jobbed.  Somehow – and this is ludicrous – Maury Wills (6.1 WAR) won the National League Most Valuable Player award with a .720 OPS (100 OPS+, i.e. league average hitter).  This was likely because he stole 104 bags, but he wasn’t even the best player on his team. Tommy Davis had a 6.8 WAR by seasons end for the Dodgers.

The Giants had several solid contributors: Jim Davenport (5.0 WAR), Felipe Alou (5.4 WAR), and equitable pitching performances for the season: Marichal (3.6 WAR), Billy O’Dell (3.4 WAR), Jack Sanford (3.5 WAR). The Giants had the leagues best run differential at +188 versus the Dodgers’ +145, but once again needed a three game playoff to decide the pennant.

The Giants would again come out victorious but, once again, lose to the Yankees in the World Series, this time in seven.

1989 — Bay Bridge Series

The 1989 Giants will always be one to remember for Giants fans.  After the Loma Prieta earthquake struck just prior to game three of the first and only Bay Bridge series, the Giants were all but sunk, but there were so many tremendous memories along the way.

Kevin Mitchell (7.7 WAR) was NL MVP by hitting .291 (.388 OBP, .635 SLG, 1.023 OPS) and leading the league with 47 HR and 125 RBI. Will Clark (9.4 WAR) was even better, but didn’t have the gaudy power numbers. He hit .333 (.407 OBP, .546 SLG, .953 OPS) while knocking out 23 HR with 38 doubles and 9 triples. The Giants also had huge contributions from Robby Thompson (6.0 WAR).

They were built on offense with the biggest pitching contributors being Rick Reuschel (2.8 WAR) and Scott Garrelts (3.7 WAR). They took down the Padres down the stretch in a pretty weak division, as their run differential was +99 to the Padres +16. They finished a good but not great 92-70.

But, perhaps the story of the year was a guy who only pitched 13 innings. Dave Dravecky came back from a tumor in his pitching arm that was discovered the previous year to pitch the Giants to a 4-3 win over Cincinnati on August 10, 1989. It was truly inspiring. This was just 10 months after having a tumor removed along with 50% of his deltoid muscle. In his next start, his arm snapped in half on a pitch to Tim Raines – causing Dave to fall to the ground in agony – ending his career and ultimately costing him his arm. After it was remarkably broken again during the pennant clinching post game jubilation, a doctor once again discovered a mass in his arm.

2010 –Expect the Unexpected

The 2010 Giants have been very good overall, but they’ve done it in the most unexpected ways. I think the idea was to pitch brilliantly like they did in 2009, and behind their ace Tim Lincecum (2.8 WAR), but he’s only been good and not great. Matt Cain (4.1 WAR). Jonathan Sanchez (3.1 WAR), brilliant closer Brian Wilson (3.0 WAR) and in only 106 innings Madison Bumgarner (2.1 WAR) have actually been better than he.

Offensively, the idea was basically to surround Pablo Sandoval with enough offense to be considered average. They’re average, but with out-of-nowhere contributions. Andres Torres took over the CF job and posted 4.1 WAR before going down with an appendectomy. He’s done this by playing breathtaking defense and being a spark plug at the top of the lineup. Aubrey Huff (5.3 WAR) has experienced resurgence on his first winning team. He was in the MVP picture before fading of late while playing 3 positions for the Giants when he was ridiculed– by me included– for being a DH.

Burrell was dumped by the Rays and has been nothing but fantastic for the Giants with a 2.6 WAR while providing desperately needed power and patience. Management took far too long to bring up the phenom Posey, but he’s got a chance at RoY and has posted a 2.9 WAR in just 99 games. Uribe (1.6 WAR) was supposed to be a utility man, but instead has hit 22 HR while playing mostly shortstop. As for Sandoval, who was supposed to be the ballast of the lineup, he’s posted a 0.2 WAR just barely above replacement.

At the start of the weekend, the Giants had nine games to play and led the division by 1⁄2 game. Their +106 run differential is third best in the league and best in the division. They are in great position to play in October for the first time since 2003, but whether they do or don’t, don’t be surprised if something goofy happens.


This guest post was written by Rory Paap, who founded in 2009. For a more complete Giants pennant history, read his post Gotham to Golden Gate, Generation to Generation on his blog.

(All WAR figures come from

6 Replies to “Great pennant races in San Francisco Giants history”

  1. How does 1951 qualify as a great race in “San Francisco” Giants history?

    And how can anyone discuss those events at this point in time without acknowledging the known fact that the Giants cheated their way to that pennant by illegally stealing signs?

    1. Hi Robert,

      Thanks for commenting on the guest post at my blog.

      You asked how the 1951 pennant race could be considered a great race in “San Francisco” Giants history. I’m to blame for the confusion on this one. I asked Rory to write about great pennant races in Giants’ history, counting both their time in New York and San Francisco. Then, when it was time to put a headline on the piece, I didn’t think and stuck San Francisco in there.

      To address the other part of your comment, I was struck too about revelations in recent years that the Giants stole signs during that pennant race. Still, they came back from 13 games down and won the pennant on one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history. Say what you will about the cheating, it was still a thrilling race.

      Thanks again for commenting, and best wishes.

      Graham Womack

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