San Francisco Giants: Ranking the 10 Greatest Hitters of the SF Era
What makes a hitter legendary?
There's the long ball, clutch timing, consistency and of course, the intangible element of fear your bat instills in every pitcher you face.
The San Francisco Giants are no strangers to sluggers, despite their offensive drought in recent seasons. From the moment the team switched coasts in 1958, they carried with them two of the best hitters in franchise history.
Even in hitting-starved seasons, the immortal batters of San Francisco's past lined the outfield walls and sat atop the back of fans throughout the stadium.
These hitters were hardly secrets. Of the ten listed in the pages that follow, three are in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and two others may join them in the near future. There may not be any World Series rings to their names, but there are many pennants, division titles and classic games among them.
Here, in order, are the 10 best hitters in the San Francisco era of the Giants.
10. Brett Butler
Between 1988 and 1990, there was no better leadoff hitter in the bigs than Brett Butler.
Charged with the task of getting aboard for the big bats of players like Will Clark and Matt Williams, Butler got on base by any means necessary. In three seasons, Butler hit .293 with a .381 on-base percentage. He was in the top four for runs scored in each of those campaigns, and led the league in '88.
In addition to his batting prowess, Butler also had a great eye for the ball. He was top three in walks in 1988 and 1990. His overall accomplishments garnered him MVP votes in all three of his seasons as the Giants leadoff man, a role he may have played better than anyone in franchise history.
9. Matt Williams
While he may be a coach for the rival Arizona Diamondbacks these days, Bay Area faithful will always remember Matt Williams as one of the finest men to ever don the orange and black.
In his time as a Giant, Matt Williams hit 247 home runs and drove in 732 runs. On two occasions, he drove in over 100 runs in a season.
Williams had four seasons with over 30 homers. He finished in the top for home runs and RBI in multiple seasons, and took home three Silver Slugger awards for his troubles.
A four-time All-Star, Williams had 43 home runs in the 1994 strike-shortened season. Had the season progressed like normal, Williams surely would've put up a challenge to Roger Maris' single-season record of 61.
8. Jack Clark
They called him Jack the Ripper.
As a member of the very forgettable late 1970's to early 1980's Giants, Clark gave his team some semblance of respectability. For five straight seasons, he led the Giants in RBI and home runs.
Unfortunately, Clark was also prone to injuries. It stands to reason that had he stayed healthy in his time with the team, his numbers could've been even stronger.
7. Bobby Bonds
Perhaps remembered best as the father of another Giant, Bobby Bonds was quite memorable in his career in San Francisco.
As the everyday right fielder from 1969 to 1974, Bonds hit 186 home runs and drove in 552 runs. Overshadowed by legends like Willie McCovey and Willie Mays, Bonds made an impact as a leadoff hitter and speedster on the base paths.
Bonds was elected to the All-Star game twice, and holds a San Francisco Giants record for runs scored in a season with 134 in 1970.
In addition, he shares another San Francisco record with his son, both having stole 263 bases while with the club.
6. Jeff Kent
Kent holds the distinction of being perhaps the best slugging second baseman in baseball history.
As a probable future Hall of Fame inductee, Kent spent six seasons with the Giants. In that time, he hit 175 home runs, and batted in over 100 runs in every season he played for San Francisco. During his career as a Giant, Kent hit .297 and averaged 29 home runs and 115 RBI.
Kent's efforts were rewarded with three Silver Sluggers, three trips to the All-Star game and the NL MVP trophy for his 2000 season. That MVP year saw Kent hit 33 home runs, drive in 125 runs and hit .334.
While he wasn't always popular with the media or his teammates, Kent's on-the-field performance is unquestionably one of the strongest ever for a middle infielder.
5. Orlando Cepeda
Homegrown in the Giants farm system, Orlando Cepeda started with the Giants in their first year in San Francisco and ended his career at the steps of Coopertown.
In his career with San Francisco, Cepeda hit 226 home runs and collected 767 RBI. He was unanimously voted Rookie of the Year in 1958 and was a six-time All-Star. Cepeda holds the Giants single season record with 142 RBI in 1961.
In seven seasons with the Giants, he was consistently in the top 10 in every significant hitting category, despite playing on a team that also featured Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
His jersey, No. 30, was retired by the Giants.
4. Will Clark
Will the Thrill started his San Francisco Giants career by hitting a home run off the first major league pitch he saw. Even more impressive was the fact that Nolan Ryan was the guy throwing it.
In eight seasons with the orange and black, Clark hit 176 home runs and had 709 RBI. He hit better than .300 in four seasons, including a .333 average in 1989. There were also three seasons where Clark drove in over 100 runs.
In the 1989 NLCS, he batted an astonishing .650 to compliment his 8 RBI, helping the Giants earn their first pennant in 27 years.
While Clark's chances of making the Hall of Fame seem faint, his importance to San Francisco will never be forgotten.
3. Willie McCovey
Willie "Stretch" McCovey did it all in his 19 seasons as a San Francisco Giant.
McCovey started strong, winning the 1959 Rookie of the Year. He played in six All-Star games, and ranks second in San Francisco history with 469 home runs, 1,388 RBI and 1,974 RBI.
In 1979, McCovey took home MVP honors for his 1969 season in which he hit 45 home runs and 126 RBI. In addition, he had eight seasons in which he was within the top ten in walks.
McCovey batted a career average of .274 and held a .377 on-base percentage. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. His No. 44 was retired by San Francisco.
2. Willie Mays
If the rankings were for best all-around San Francisco Giants, there is no doubt The Say Hey Kid would be first. Considered by many to be the best player in the history of the game, Willie Mays was a dominant batter when he wasn't flashing glove in the outfield.
Mays was the all-time San Francisco leader in hits (2,284), doubles (376) and triples (76). He is third in home runs (459) and RBI (1,350). During his 21-year tenure with San Francisco, Mays went to 19 consecutive All-Star games, won MVP honors in 1965 and also won 11 Golden Gloves for good measure.
in 1958, Mays set the single-season San Francisco record for hits with 208. In 1961, Mays hit 4 home runs in a single game, driving in 8 runs. Both remain franchise records. In 1979, Mays took his place at the Hall of Fame. His No. 24 was retired by San Francisco.
1. Barry Bonds
Undeniably, there will always be a disconnect between Barry Bonds' numbers and the allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs in the latter portion of his career.
From a numbers standpoint, Barry Bonds is the all-time best San Francisco Giants hitter. He played with the team from 1993 to 2007. He is the San Francisco leader in home runs with 586 and RBI with 1,440. He holds both the team and Major League record for home runs in a single-season when he hit 73 in 2001.
Bonds was elected NL MVP five times, including four consecutive titles from 2001-2004. His Giants lifetime average is an insane .312, during which he hit around 40 home runs and 100 RBI each season.
He came painfully close to a World Series ring before losing to the Anaheim Angels in seven games in 2002. Bonds' status for Cooperstown will be clearer when he first becomes eligible next year, but however you view him, his contribution to the Giants is unparalleled.