Uniform numbers through the ages: #7 – #8

Welcome to the third 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 explores the numbers 7 and 8.


Previous entries: 0-2, 3-6


7

Number of Giants to wear this number: 32

Notables: Burgess Whitehead, Kevin Mitchell, Marvin Benard

Most recent: Gregor Blanco

It might be a small surprise to discover that the Giant to wear the number 7 the longest was the 1391st pick in the 1992 draft1 and only the sixth player from his country to make the majors.2 But not only did 50th-round pick and Nicaragua-born Marvin Benard make it to the majors, “the Fighting Hydrant” staked out a nine year career with San Francisco.

Benard, not to be confused with “So Seductive” songsmith Tony Yayo, transcended his late-round draft status by hitting .300 in three consecutive seasons as he moved up the minor leagues. His performance earned him a 1995 September call up. He hit .382, cementing his place in the outfield for the following season.

Shockingly, Benard was not a true .382 hitter. His hitting came down to earth in ’96, and for ’97 and the first half of ’98 he was mostly relegated to pinch hitting duties. But a July 31st start against the Phillies gave Benard an opportunity to impress, and impress he did, finishing the day with three hits. He started every game of the four-game set, ending up with 12 hits, four of them doubles. He stayed hot, OPSing .935 the rest of the way, and when he continued to hit as the team’s primary center fielder in 1999 he was rewarded with the Willie Mac award, not to mention a three-year, $11 million dollar contract extension.3 In the final home game of that season he hit the last ever home run by a Giant at Candlestick Park, while also making the final out.

The rest of his Giants tenure would be somewhat of a disappointment. While he did hit a walk-off homer against the Dodgers in 2000 (one of 12 Giants to do that4) his bat would not reach the highs of ’98-’99. By 2001 he was being heavily platooned, before being reduced to pinch-hit duties once again. He had a solitary hit in the 2000 NLDS against the Mets and while he returned from a knee injury in time for the 2002 playoff run, his lack of a hit in seven September pinch hit appearances contributed to his non-appearance in the postseason. Benard would later admit to using steroids in an attempt to come back from his injury sooner.5 His offensive game had always suffered from an inability to hit high heat (as Grant Brisbee remarks in this article) to the extent that his Baseball-Reference page was once sponsored by “a high fastball”. The ad continued, ”He couldn’t hit me with a tree trunk.”6

Upon retirement, Benard moved to the Tri-Cities area in Washington with his family, at one point attending junior college with a view to completing a kinesiology degree.7 More recently he took up the position of hitting coach with the local Tri-City Dust Devils,8 a Padres affiliate, while his son Isaac is a ballplayer at the University of Washington.9 His nine-year career with San Francisco made him eligible for the Wall of Fame: his plaque was added, along with that of Jason Schmidt, in a ceremony in 2011.10 Benard is the all-time plate appearance leader by a Nicaraguan.


8

Number of Giants to wear this number: 33

Notables: Gus Mancuso, Joe Morgan, Kirt Manwaring

Most recent: Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence has a good chance of being the greatest number eight in Giants history. Crazy Eight (I’m coining it) has made quite the impression in his three and a half years in San Francisco, which is more than can be said for many of his predecessors.

Let’s see. There was Eugenio Velez, who left an impression in all the wrong ways. The graceful utility man ended his Giants career by bunting into a force out in the 2010 final-day-of-the-season showdown with San Diego, concluding an 0-9 hitless streak with the Giants. After signing with the Dodgers he carried on where he left off, managing to go the entire season without a hit, setting a major league record of 46 consecutive hitless at-bats.11

There was also was two-hit wonder Yamid Haad, the only Yamid and the only Haad in MLB history, and the first Colombian to play for the Giants.

Backup outfielder journeyman Tom Goodwin went 0-9 in the 2002 postseason. In Game 7 of the World Series the Fresno native struck out swinging with men on second and third and the Giants down by three. He reached on a fielders choice in the ninth, advanced on defensive indifference and joined Willie Mays in the club of Giants outfielders who have been left standing on second to conclude a World Series Game 7.

Shawon Dunston wore #8 in his first go around with the Giants in 1996. In that season he stole eight bases without being caught, the most such stolen bases without a CS for the Giants since caught stealing data started being collected reliably in 1951. Dunston is currently a special assistant to the Giants.

Kirt Manwaring had one of the longer careers for a Giant number eight, toiling away as a backup catcher for years and shining on defence when he got the chance to start. Manwaring was the primary catcher on the 103-win Giants of 1993 and won the Gold Glove that year, having led the league in caught stealing percentage for the second straight season. Like Dunston, Manwaring has found work with the Giants after his playing career ended: he worked as the catching instructor at one point.

Joel Youngblood rocked the eight for six years as a super utility man in the ’80s. He is one of only eight Giants, and the second most recent, to play a game in the field at every non-battery position. (The most recent to do it, Cory Snyder, did it in one season.)

Catcher Gus Mancuso was the second man to wear number eight for the Giants. Mancuso is eighth on the list of players to have played the most games at catcher while playing no other position (DH is given a pass here). The son of Sicilian immigrants (given the somewhat un-politically correct nickname Blackie – this was the 1930s after all) was a wizard on defense. In 1944 The Sporting News called him “the National League’s most skilled receiver of his time, and one of the most underrated backstops in two decades of major league competition.”12

However, the most famous number eight in Giants history is a player not usually associated with the team. Joe Morgan joined the Giants in 1981 as a thirty-seven-year-old, having spent the 70s winning two World Series with the Big Red Machine and putting together a pair of MVP seasons to boot. The legendary second baseman and future blog-inspiring announcer saw an injury-shortened first season with the Giants but remained the team’s starting second baseman in 1982, despite the arrival of feared slugger Duane Kuiper from Cleveland.

Kuiper was used predominantly as a pinch hitter in ’82, a job in which he excelled, hitting .318/.464/.409, while occasionally getting a start at second over Morgan. Who knows why the following happened. Perhaps manager Frank Robinson wanted to get both Kuiper’s and Morgan’s bats in the lineup, perhaps Morgan fancied a change of scenery, perhaps there was some sort of Freaky Friday mix-up, but on Friday 13th August, Kuiper got the nod at second, bumping Morgan across the diamond for the future Hall of Famer’s only career game at third base. Dodger’s pitcher Bob Welch threw a complete game three-hitter. Kuiper got one of the hits.

Morgan’s final act as a Giant was to hit a three-run homer on the last day of the season to leave the opposing Dodgers a game behind Atlanta in the final standings. Manwaring’s Giants would know the feeling eleven years later.


In the next edition: the Carson Crusher.


References:

  1. 50th Round of the 1992 MLB June Amateur Draft, Baseball-Reference
  2. Players born in Nicaragua, Baseball-Reference
  3. Marvin Benard“, Baseball Library
  4. Grant Brisbee (Sep 24, 2013). “A short history of Giants homers against the Dodgers, McCovey Chronicles
  5. Henry Schulman (Apr 11, 2010). “Benard says he hopes to use his steroid use as a lesson for his son“, SF Gate
  6. The Best of Baseball Reference’s Sponsorship Comments, Baseball Junk Drawer
  7. Henry Schulman (Apr 12, 2010). “Benard says he took steroids after knee surgery, SF Gate
  8. Gerald Hernández (Jan 20, 2015). “Marvin Benard será coach en los Padres“, La Prensa
  9.  “Isaac Benard player page“, GoHuskies.com
  10. Chris Haft, (Aug 27, 2011). “Schmidt, Benard added to Giants Wall of Fame“, MLB.com
  11. Associated Press (Sep 29, 2011). “Dodgers’ Velez Sets Hitless Streak Record“, Society For American Baseball Research
  12. Warren Corbett. “Gus Mancuso SABR bio“, Society For American Baseball Research
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About Aidan Jackson-Evans

I write about baseball. Follow me on Twitter: @ajacksonevans
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