Welcome to the second edition of Uniform numbers through the ages, the series that looks at Giants of the past through the lens of their jersey numbers. This edition examines the players to wear 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Previous entries: 0-2
Number of Giants to wear this number: 20
Most recent: John Rabb
Bill Terry is the first truly great Giant to feature in this series. The left-handed first baseman played most of his career before the introduction of uniform numbers in 1932. Terry initially wore number 4 in that ’32 season, but switched to #3 the following season and wore it till his retirement from playing in ’36.
Memphis Bill was a career Giant, playing for the club from 1923-36 (his 1579 games at first base are second only to Willie McCovey in franchise history) and managing the team from 1932-41. His calling card was his consistently high batting averages. Terry hit over .320 every year from 1927-35, the zenith being his 1930 season where he batted .401. His lifetime batting average of .3412 is 15th all time in major league history1 and his .400 season is the last by a National Leaguer.2
Terry was the NL’s starting first baseman for the first three All-Star games and even managed the 1934 All-Star game, having won the World Series as a player-manager with the Giants the year before. The Giants missed the opportunity to make back-to-back Series appearances as they squandered a late lead to the Cardinals in ’34. Terry’s withering remark, “Is Brooklyn still in the league?” came back to haunt him as the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of contention with victories in the last two games of the season. 3 Terry took the Giants to two further Series, in ’36 as a player-manager, and the following year as a regular old manager. Both saw losses to the Yankees.
Terry’s number was not immediately retired. Mel Ott, among others, briefly wore #3 under Terry’s managerial stewardship. Two ex-Cardinals, Ducky Medwick and Johnny Mize, wore it in the early ’40s, but the number seemed to undergo an unofficial retirement, perhaps caused by Terry’s election to the Hall of Fame in ’54, as none wore it from 1950 to 1968. Backup catcher Mike Sadeck took over the jersey from ’73-’81 and, perhaps embarrassed by the sight of such a mediocre player wearing the number, the Giants finally retired #3 in 1985. Terry died in 1989 at the age of 90, the last living member of the 1924 pennant winners.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 3
Most recent: Mel Ott
And now to our second Hall of Fame career Giant turned player-manager. While Terry had a brilliant but relatively short career, Ott was one of the greatest hitters in baseball for nearly two decades.
Master Melvin was a precocious talent. Debuting at the age of 17, he had appeared in more games by the age of 20 than Terry had by the age of 27. His age-20 season in 1929 was the making of him: the quiet kid with the high leg kick batted .328 while leading the league in walks and slugging a career high 42 home runs. The 7.4 WAR he put up that year is a National League record for a 20-year-old position player.4
It was the start of incredibly long period of consistency and success. From 1929-42 (the first year he started managing) Ott averaged 148 Games a season and only twice had an OPS+ lower than 150 (and never below 137). He led the league in homers six times and walks six times as well (he finished in the top three sixteen years in a row!5).He appeared in eleven consecutive All-Star games from 1934 onwards.
He was also a popular player. From his SABR bio:
In 1938, when he shifted between right field and third base, a cereal company ran a contest to determine the most popular major league player at each position. Mel received the most votes for both positions. And despite the Giants’ awful season in 1943, Mel’s popularity with the fans remained undiminished. Sport Magazine named him Sports Father of the Year. In a nationwide vote by war bond buyers in 1944, he was selected as the most popular sports hero of all time, beating out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey.
Ott played his entire career at the Polo Grounds, the unique dimensions contributing to his then NL-record 511 home runs. His 323 home runs hit there are still the record for the most homers hit by one player in one ballpark. But Ott was not solely a creature of the Polo Grounds; the spacious center field depressed other types of extra base hits, meaning Ott actually had more XBH on the road than at home. His .918 away OPS from home is still remarkable, while his 107.8 WAR with the Giants is third highest in franchise history.
Master Melvin finished with one World Series championship to his name (1933), while also appearing in the ’36-’37 losses to the Yankees. He took over from Terry as manager in the 1941 offseason, leading the Giants through the war years before stepping down in 1948. He would manage in the Pacific Coast League before joining the Detroit Tigers announcing team. During the 1958 offseason Ott’s car was hit head-on in heavy fog; he died from his injuries a week later at the age of 49.
Unlike Terry, Ott’s number was retired immediately upon his retirement. Only one other number between 1 and 62 has been worn by fewer Giants than the three that wore #4.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 30
Most recent: Matt Duffy
The number 5 has a slightly less illustrious history within the Giants organisation than the previous two figures. Ott briefly wore it before switching to the more familiar #4. The jersey was subsequently passed on to fellow Hall of Famer Travis “Stonewall” Jackson, who switched between it and #6 for the final years of his career.
Jackson’s career overlapped with Terry’s almost entirely. The shortstop arrived just early enough to pick up a Plate Appearance in the 1923 World Series and, along with Terry, retired as a player after the 1936 Series, his career being bookmarked with losses to the Yankees in the Fall Classic. He also played in the intervening two World Series against Washington.
Jackson was considered a quality defensive career for most of his career, but was error prone in his early days. He contributed to the Giants Game 7 loss to Washington in the ’24 Series. His 12th inning error allowing Walter Johnson to reach base was only the meat in a shambolic Giants sandwich: catcher Hank Gowdy had initially failed to snag a pop foul when he tripped over his own catcher’s mask, and the winning run scored after a ground ball hit a pebble, causing it to bounce over third baseman Freddie Lindstrom’s head. 6
While Jackson was a great Giant (his 1326 games at shortstop are a franchise record), his brief, injury and illness interrupted career resulted in him being initially overlooked for the Hall. However, the Veterans Committee surprisingly elected him in 1982. VC member and Jackson’s contemporary Al Lopez called him “the best bunter I ever saw”.7 “Stoney” lived just long enough to see his election.
Few others have worn #5 for any great length of time. Tom Haller, the Giants leader in home runs by a catcher, wore it from 1962-1967. Motocross enthusiast Tsuyoshi Shinjo took it to the 2002 World Series. Ray Durham, the career second baseman/DH except for that one time Felipe Alou made him play an inning of center field, wore it for much of the ’00s. Juan Uribe clutched his way through the 2010 postseason with #5 on his back. And most recently, Ryan Theriot, he of the 4 career postseason runs in 25 games, crossed home plate with it in memorable fashion.
Number of Giants to wear this number: 30
Most recent: Marlon Byrd
For twenty seasons between 1986 and 2005 only two men wore the number 6 for San Francisco. One was born in West Palm Beach, FL; the other Long Beach, CA. Both were Gold Glovers on the right side of the infield. Both helped the Giants to a National League pennant. They were Robby Thompson and Jack Thomas Snow.
Thompson was the Giants starting second baseman from ’86-’96. Injuries plagued his tenure – he missed the All-Star game through injury both times he was selected – but he was a quality offensive and defensive player when healthy. He played in 149 Games in his rookie season, coming runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting. The voters presumably chose to overlook his June 27th appearance where he set a major league record by being caught stealing four times in one game.8 It wouldn’t be the only time Thompson had an embarrassing moment on the basepaths.
His presence coincided with a turnaround in the Giants fortunes. Having been cellar dwellers prior to Thompson’s arrival, the Giants finished above .500 in each of Robby’s first five years, including two division titles and one World Series appearance. Thompson’s election to the All-Star team in 1988 was the first time the Giants had had a representative at that position in 35 years – at the time it was supposedly the longest such drought in the NL for one team at one position.9
The contract he signed in the ’93 offseason made him the second-highest paid second baseman in the majors. He had received serious interest from the Dodgers, but claimed that he was always prepared to take less money to remain a Giant.10. He stayed with the organization until his retirement in 1996; he had played more games at second base than any Giant besides Larry Doyle.
The following year was J.T. Snow’s first as a Giant, the acquisition from the California Angels taking Thompson’s uniform number. Snow arrived on the back of two consecutive Gold Glove seasons at first base and he picked up where he had left off, winning the award for another four years in a row.
Despite Snow’s flashy play at first base and the esteem in which his glove was held,11 his defense is not considered elite by most modern metrics, an assessment I imagine most Giants fans would disagree with. The discrepancy between his reputation and his numbers has not been investigated by many, but some have looked into it.
Beyond the defense, Snow is probably most famous in the wider baseball world for his part in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series. With Snow on third base, Kenny Lofton hit a triple off the right-field wall. As Snow scored, manager Dusty Baker’s three-year-old son/batboy Darren ran in to collect Lofton’s bat. A quick-thinking Snow grabbed Darren by the jacket, hauling him away from home plate before David Bell could score. The situation caused MLB to introduce an age limit of 14 on all batboys.12. Snow and Baker have reunited several times since.
Snow stayed with the Giants until 2005, before playing one season in Boston. He came back on Opening Day 2008 to retire as a Giant.
In the next edition: A Fighting Hydrant and Little Joe
- “Career Leaders & Records for Batting Average“, Baseball-Reference
- Fred Stein. “Bill Terry SABR bio“, Society for American Baseball Research
- Thomas Rogers (Jan 10, 1989). “Bill Terry, a .400 Hitter for the Giants, Dies at 90“, New York Times
- Play Index search, Baseball-Reference
- Steve Treder (Oct 2, 2007). “All too forgOtten“, The Hardball Times
- Bob Mamini (Dec 12, 1946). “Johnson, a Baseball Legend“, Calgary Herald
- Joseph Durso (Mar 11, 1982). “Chandler, Jackson to Join Hall“, New York Times
- Associated Press (Jun 29, 1986). “Thompson Sets Wrong Mark“, Rome News-Tribune
- Sun staff (Jul 8, 1988). “Ex-Gator Named to N.L. Squad“, Gainesville Sun
- Associated Press (Nov 15, 1993). “Giants sign Robby Thompson“, Lodi News-Sentinel
- Jeff Fletcher (Aug 9, 2002). “Snow’s defensive ability makes all Giants better“, Baseball America
- Alyson Footer (Oct 7, 2012). “Ten years later, Darren Baker’s footprints visible“, MLB.com