It has been 84 years since the New York Giants first put numbers on their uniforms. This is the first in a series that will look back at the great and good to wear these numbered jerseys, starting at zero and working up. This edition explores the numbers 0, 00, 1 and 2.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 1
Player: Al Oliver
Only 16 ballplayers have worn the number 0 in major league history. Al Oliver was not only the first to have zero on his back, but he was also comfortably the most successful of those to do so.
Having worn more conventional digits during his tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates, ‘Scoop’ chose to mark his trade to the Texas Rangers with a new number, “I was going to a new league, a new city, so it was like starting all over again,” Oliver said. “So ‘0’ was a new starting point.” 1 Others found humour in the choice of number; supposedly one Fenway Park announcer introduced the visiting Oliver with the remark “Up next… Nothing… Al Oliver.” 1
Oliver wore the number for the final eight years of his career, including the half season he spent with Giants in 1984. Oliver did well enough in San Francisco, hitting .298 in 91 games, but the Giants were not contending and Scoop was traded away to the Phillies. Oliver did at least live up to his number: his Giants tenure was marked with zero home runs, and he also didn’t hit any after the trade, becoming only the second first baseman since 1949 to hit zero homers in a season (min 450 PA). The other player with that distinction? Pete Rose, who had achieved the same feat with the Phillies just a year before Oliver (and also in 1981).
Number of Giants to wear this number: 1
Player: Jeffrey Leonard
Somewhat surprisingly, double zero has been worn by a handful more major leaguers than just plain old zero. Some famous Giants have worn 00 for other clubs, including Bobby Bonds, Jack Clark and Brian Wilson, but only Jeffrey Leonard has worn the number as a member of the Orange and Black.
Having originally worn the number 26 for the Giants, Leonard switched to 20 in 1985 in honor of Frank Robinson, who had been relieved of his duties as manager the previous season. Following two surgeries in the ’86 season, the left fielder switched to double-zero, the digits representing a fresh start for Leonard.2
Hac-Man spent parts of eight seasons with San Francisco between 1981 and 1988 and was an All Star in ’87 as the Giants won the division. Leonard caught fire in the NLCS against the St Louis Cardinals, hitting home runs in each of the first four games of the series whilst waging a war of words with St Louis and their fans. The Giants ultimately lost the series in seven, but Leonard still picked up MVP honors, the last player on a losing postseason team to do that.
I wrote extensively about Hac-Man and the 1987 NLCS previously: you can read it all here.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 34
Notables: Bengie Molina, Kenny Lofton, Jo-Jo Moore
Most recent: Ehire Adrianza
At last, we arrive at a number which several Giants have worn, none for longer than Jo-Jo Moore. Born on Christmas Day, 1908, the Gause Ghost, so named because of his slight frame and his hometown in Texas,3 was a staple of the Giants outfield of the 1930s, helping the club to three pennants. Along the way he earned himself six All Star selections (though he never started and did not pick up a hit in five plate appearances) and a third place finish in the 1934 MVP vote, with the voters clearly impressed by his .331 batting average.
Moore was known for his strong arm in the outfield and late swing at the plate; Yankee catcher Bill Dickey once said that he’d never seen anybody hit the ball out of his mitt the way Moore did.3
In the ’33 World Series Moore tied a record by getting two hits in one inning off the same pitcher, and in the ’37 Fall Classic he also tied a record with nine hits in a five game set.4 A lifetime Giant, Moore’s nine consecutive seasons playing 100 games in left field is still a record for the franchise.5
After baseball Moore went home to Texas where he raised his family on the farm which he had bought.4 He died in 2001 at the age of 92. He had been the last living member of the ’33 World Champions.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 39
Notables: Randy Winn, Brett Butler, Dick Bartell
Most recent: Denard Span
For a long while, the number 2 was the sole preserve of the part-time catcher. Between 1962 and 1980 the deuce was exclusively assigned to six different backstops, none with particularly fascinating careers. So instead I’m going to talk about Brett Butler, one of the Giants best free agent pickups.
Butler spent three years by the Bay from 1988-90, scoring 100 Runs at the top of the order in each season. One of the quickest guys around, Butler stole 125 bases across those three years. The center-fielder’s 192 hits in the 1990 season have only been surpassed since by Jeff Kent and Rich Aurilia, while his 97 walks in 1988 have only been topped since by Jose Cruz and some feller named Bonds.
The pennant winning year of ’89 was actually a down-year for Butler, but his contributions still merited MVP votes, which he received every year of his Giants tenure. In the Series itself Butler had a respectable .732 OPS, but scored only one Run as the A’s swept. Butler made the final out of the series on a close play at first.
Also wearing number 2 was shortstop of the ’30s Dick Bartell. Bartell was renowned for his super-aggressive play on the bases. The following is taken from his SABR bio:
[Bartell] was hated in Brooklyn. In the opening series [of 1933] he spiked Brooklyn first baseman Joe Judge as he ran out a groundball. Judge told Brooklyn writers that he had been spiked intentionally, a charge that Bartell denied. Then, later in the season, Dodgers pitchers knocked him down with four straight pitches and he retaliated by spiking Dodgers shortstop Lonny Frey. Both Judge and Frey were out for several games and Dick was hated even more by Brooklyn fans.
Bartell was a good fit for the Giants. Their first baseman-manager, Bill Terry, needed a replacement for the Giants’ longtime shortstop, Travis Jackson, and he was pleased to obtain Bartell. The very businesslike Terry also coveted Bartell to add spice to the longstanding Giants-Dodgers feud. New York writer Stanley Frank wrote in the New York Post: “Belligerent Bartell is probably the most hated Giant in the National League. Boys don’t like his flip tongue, his overweening arrogance, or the manner in which he throws his spikes into people’s faces while sliding into bases or charging across second on double plays. . . . Terry has had occasional tastes of Bartell’s hardbitten baseball, but now that the pepperpot is one of his own gang, he’s all in favor of it.”
Bartell would continue his feud with the Dodgers, getting involved in multiple fistfights down the years and once accidentally hitting Terry in the eye. The fans got involved too: one paying customer managed to hit Bartell square in the chest with an overripe tomato shortly after the very first pitch of the game.6
After spells with the Tigers and Cubs, Bartell returned to the Giants in 1941, where he remained until being called up to the Navy in ’44 (his 1943 season had been ended by a wrist-breaking inside pitch from a Dodgers hurler). Bartell was assigned to Treasure Island, where he he sought to arrange games for the local Pacific Coast League team. “Baseball,” Bartell explained “stiffens morale and helps keep the gobs from running over to the mainland where they might get too familiar with cocktail bars and such.”
Bartell, like Brett Butler, never managed to win it all. He appeared in three Fall Classics, but fell short each time. Through his aggressive play, however, he did give us one of the great baseball photographs.
In the next edition: a pair of Hall of Famers, and a handful of legendary infielders from the recent past.
- Jared Diamond (Feb. 23, 2014). “A Met with Zero to Prove“, Wall Street Journal
- George Vecsey (Oct 12, 1987). “No Flower Power“, New York Times
- Richard Goldstein (May 7, 2001). “Jo-Jo Moore, 92, All-Star Outfielder With Giants in 1930’s“, New York Times
- Ira Berkow (Dec 25, 1998). “Even a Ghost Loses a Bit of Speed at 90“, New York Times
- Doug (Dec 15, 2014). “Circle of Greats: 1908 Balloting“, High Heat Stats
- Fred Stein. “Dick Bartell SABR bio“, Society for American Baseball Research