San Francisco Giants: Greatest Defensive Players By Position
The San Francisco Giants have a rich history since their move west in 1958. Some of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game have played for the Giants. Great players like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Barry Bonds have all worn the orange and black.
However, there is much more to the game of baseball than just offense. A great defense starts with excellent pitching and ends with outstanding fielding. It is the fielding that's often overlooked when we consider the great Giant players in San Francisco.
I will correct that omission. Let's take a position-by-position look at the top defensive players in the history of the San Francisco Giants.
Pitcher: Kirk Rueter
Kirk Rueter, affectionately nicknamed "Woody," after the Toy Story character, is one of the most well-liked Giants ever. He was also one of the most consistent winners in San Francisco Giant history.
What made it even more impressive was that Rueter won without the benefit of a blazing fastball or outstanding stuff of any kind. His fastball regularly topped out in the mid-80's and he had to live on the outside corner.
Rueter pitched for the Giants for 10 years, from 1996-2005. He compiled a record of 105-80, with an ERA of 4.27 and WHIP of 1.414. The relatively ERA and WHIP numbers belie his effectiveness. His sinking fastball was one that opposing hitters often beat into the ground, resulting in double play balls.
Although Rueter had below average velocity, he found ways to win. He was an excellent bunter, held runners on well and was very quick to the plate. Rueter was known for working quickly and forcing opposing hitters to put the ball in play. This helped Rueter, as his defense was always on their toes when he pitched.
Defensively, in addition to doing a good job holding runners on and being quick to the plate, Rueter was an excellent fielder. Because he focused on throwing the ball with pinpoint control, as opposed to velocity, Rueter was always in great fielding position after he delivered the pitch.
Much like perennial Gold Glover Greg Maddux, Rueter was always on good balance and ready to field any ball hit back up the middle. He was an outstanding competitor and did all of the little things very well.
Catcher: Kirt Manwaring
Kirt Manwaring gets our award as the top defensive catcher in San Francisco Giants' history. He was not a strong offensive player and that limited his playing time, but he was excellent behind the plate.
Manwaring was a student of the game and knew how to read opposing hitters and call a good game for his pitchers. He was also an excellent receiver behind the plate and blocked pitches in the dirt very well.
Never an accomplished hitter, Manwaring hit .246 with 16 home runs and 207 RBI in his 10 years with the Giants. Manwaring played in San Francisco from 1987-1996 and played in 709 games over that span.
Manwaring won the Gold Glove in 1993, also his best year offensively, as a Giant. He twice led the league in throwing out opposing base runners, with a 51 percent rate in 1992 and 46 percent rate in 1993.
Pitchers loved throwing to Manwaring, and his defense more than made up for his lackluster offensive production.
First Base: J.T. Snow
When you rate the value of a position player, the first thing you look at is his run production. After that, you look at the number of runs a player can save defensively.
J.T. Snow was a decent offensive player, but not a standout. He came to the Giants in 1997 and played for 10 years, through the 2006 season. He batted .273 with 124 home runs and 615 RBI in 3,822 at-bats with the Giants. His OBP was a solid .369.
However, it was his defense that made him extremely valuable. The smooth fielding Snow was second-to-none at first base. He won the Gold Glove for National League first basemen in each of his first four years with the Giants.
Snow was the best I have seen digging throws out of the dirt, thereby saving his fielders several errors. He also was flawless fielding ground balls and pop flies. Nobody picked it better at first base in San Francisco, than Snow.
Second Base: Robby Thompson
Robby Thompson was one of the most likable players in San Francisco Giants history. He was scrappy and played with a passion to a point where you knew he was giving 100 percent every time he took the field.
Thompson played his entire career with the Giants, from 1986-1996. He was named to the All-Star team in 1988 and 1993. Thompson was also a Gold Glove winner in 1993.
Offensively, Thompson was a solid hitter, possessing a career batting average of .257, with 119 home runs and 459 RBI.
At second base, Thompson fielded his position well and was also excellent at turning the double play. The greatest compliment I can give to Thompson was that he was always ready to play. His consistent high level of effort was always there, and you knew he would never be out-worked.
Third Base: Matt Williams
Matt Williams was an outstanding offensive player for the San Francisco Giants. He played with the Giants for 10 years, from 1987-1996. In the 10 seasons, Williams was a four time All-Star and won three Silver Slugger awards.
Williams hit 247 home runs while in a Giants' uniform and drove in 732 runs. He led the National League in home runs with 44 in 1994 and also led the league in RBI in 1990 with 122.
One thing that often goes unmentioned with Williams is his defense. He was an excellent defensive player and won three Gold Gloves while in San Francisco.
Williams began his pro career as a shortstop, but moved to third base early on in his career. He had soft hands and a strong, accurate arm. I was also very impressed with Williams' ability to charge slow rollers or bunts and how quickly and accurately he could get the ball to first base.
Shortstop: Omar Vizquel
There are almost no baseball players who were worth the price of admission for their defensive ability. Omar Vizquel was one of those rare exceptions. He was truly a magician defensively and with the glove.
Vizquel hails from Venezuela and fashioned his game after the great Luis Aparicio, another great defensive shortstop. Vizquel learned to play baseball in the poor sandlots of Caracas. As a youth, Vizquel, was forced to use a modified milk carton as his baseball glove, at times.
On a par with Ozzie Smith, Vizquel was the greatest defensive shortstop I have had the pleasure of watching on a daily basis. He played four seasons with the Giants and won two Gold Gloves, the latest when he was 39 years old. In all, Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves in his career.
Not blessed with a tremendously strong arm, Vizquel had a quick release and was very accurate. He had incredibly quick and reliable hands, often taking double play feeds from his second baseman with his bare hand, so he could make the throw quicker. I never once saw him drop one of these throws.
Vizquel was also extremely acrobatic at shortstop. He would frequently make diving stops and was incredibly quick to his feet to make the throw, taking a hit away from a frustrated hitter. It was a great pleasure watching Vizquel making plays in the infield.
Still playing at the age of 44, Vizquel handled 133 chances and made only one error this year, with the White Sox.
Honorable Mention Infielders
There are a few infielders worthy of note, who I will list as Honorable Mention.
Freddy Sanchez, Second Baseman from 2009-Current
Has great hands and is solid on the double play pivot. He does not have the greatest range, but he fields everything he gets to. Sanchez also won the NL batting title with a .344 average in 2006, while with the Pirates.
Jim Davenport, Third Baseman from 1958 - 1970
A solid defensive third baseman with a strong accurate arm. Davenport won a Gold Glove with the Giants in 1962. He also went on to be a coach for the Giants and managed the team in 1985.
Left Fielder: Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds was one of the most feared hitters of his time. He played for the Giants for 15 years, from 1993-2007. During that span, Bonds led the league in home runs in 1993 and again in 2001, when he hit a single-season record of 73.
So feared was Bonds that he led the league in walks in 11 of his years in San Francisco. As a Giant, Bonds was a 12 time All-Star and a nine time Silver Slugger award winner. Bonds also was named MVP five times with the Giants, plus another two as a Pirate.
Bonds is the only player in the history of the game to hit over 500 home runs and achieve over 500 stolen bases. Bonds finished his illustrious career as the number one home run hitter of all time, with 762 long balls. He also stole 514 bases.
Offense was not the only thing Bonds did well. He was an excellent fielder, who specialized in knowing hitters' tendencies and positioning himself to be in the best spot to make plays in the outfield.
Bonds won five Gold Gloves, as a Giant. Although he did not possess a real strong arm, he got rid of the ball very quickly and was accurate. Up until the last few years of his career, Bonds also had excellent speed and had good range in the outfield.
Bonds was a complete player and a much better defensive outfielder than he is usually given credit for.
Center Fielder: Willie Mays
Willie Mays was the greatest all-around player in the history of baseball. He could do it all on the field and was truly a six tool player. He could hit for average, hit for power, run, field, throw and also use his incredible baseball mind to beat you.
Mays played for the Giants from 1951- 1972. Starting his career in New York, Mays came west to San Francisco when the Giants moved in 1958.
Mays finished his 22-year career with a .302 average, 660 home runs and 1903 RBI. He was a two-time MVP and 20-time All-Star.
Mays won 11 of his 12 Gold Gloves as a San Francisco Giant. The other was as a New York Giant. Mays had excellent speed and covered tremendous ground in center field. He also possessed a tremendous throwing arm that was both powerful and accurate.
Defensive positioning was one of Mays' trademarks, as he knew the hitters, as well as how his pitchers were going to attack them. So strong were Mays' instincts that he also helped his fellow outfielders with their positioning.
Mays also had a tremendous throwing arm, that was both strong and accurate. He also played with a flamboyance and flair that excited fans. I can still envision him running in for a fly ball, his hat flying off his head and making his signature basket catch.
Willie Mays is a living legend, and I feel blessed to have seen him play.
Right Fielder: Nate Schierholtz
AT&T Park in San Francisco has the toughest right field in all of baseball. Outfielders must contend with the wind, a cavernous right center field alley, multiple types of material that make up the fence, as well as several nooks and crannies that make up the wall.
Schierholtz came up to the Majors with San Francisco in 2007 and emerged as an everyday player in 2011. He is an excellent defensive outfielder. Schierholtz gets a great jump on balls hit in his direction and is able to track down balls that other outfielders can't get to.
What sets Schierholtz apart is his outstanding throwing arm. He has thrown out 26 runners on the bases over the past three seasons in mostly part-time duty.
This was the toughest position for me to decide on, as Bobby Bonds was also an excellent right fielder who won three Gold Gloves.
Honorable Mention Outfielders
Several outfielders are worthy of Honorable Mentions.
Bobby Bonds, Right Fielder from 1968-1974
He had great speed and patrolled a tough right field at blustery Candlestick Park. The father of another Giant great, Barry Bonds, Bobby was an outstanding player in his own right. He won three Gold Gloves as a Giant.
Bonds was a two-time All-Star as a Giant. He also hit 186 home runs and stole 263 bases.
Garry Maddox, Center Fielder from 1972-1975
Maddox was nicknamed the "Minister of Defense." He had long graceful strides that could eat up ground like a gazelle. Maddox won a Gold Glove in 1975, when he began the season in San Francisco, but was traded to the Phillies in mid year. He went on to win seven more Gold Gloves.
Darren Lewis, Center Fielder from 1991-1995
Lewis had excellent speed and set a Major League record by playing in 369 consecutive games in the outfield without making an error. Lewis won a Gold Glove in 1994.
Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Center Fielder in 2002
Shinjo was much maligned for his sporadic hitting, but one thing you could not dispute was his prowess as a defensive outfielder. He won nine Gold Gloves in Japan, prior to coming to play in the United States.
I recall one play when Shinjo hustled over after a fly ball hit the right field wall and bounded away from the right fielder. Shinjo grabbed the ball with his bare hand, spun and threw a strike to third base to nail the base runner. He played with a stylish flair and had a great arm.
The Gold Glove Is A Symbol Of Defensive Excellence
The San Francisco Giants have had some of the greatest offensive hitters in the game. There have also been many outstanding defensive players to wear the orange and black.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at some of those great defensive stars.