Uniform Numbers Through the Ages: #13 – Mark Davis, Omar Vizquel and more

Welcome to the eighth edition of Uniform Numbers Through the Ages, the series that looks at Giants of the past through the lens of their uniform numbers. This edition explores the number 13.

Previous entries: 0-2, 3-6, 7-8, 9, 10, 11, 12


13

Number of Giants to wear this number: 15

Notables: Mark Davis, Omar Vizquel, Cody Ross

Most recent: Ehire Adrianza


Baseball players are a superstitious bunch. Heck, baseball fans are just as bad. It’s no surprise then that the number 13 is one of the least popular uniform numbers around the majors. In Giants franchise history no non-retired number between 1 and 52 has been worn less.

Appropriately enough, it took 13 years after the introduction of uniform numbers before a Giant dared try it on. Even then, it was only because destiny was having it no other way. “Prince” Hal Schumacher had been everpresent in the Giants rotation from 1932 to 1942, wearing #17 for the most part. But war interrupted his career, and the righty hurler enrolled in the navy after the ’42 season and served on the aircraft carrier Cape Esperance.1

Schumacher rejoined the Giants in 1946 to find his uniform number taken in his absence. Instead of demanding his old number be returned to him, the unsuperstitious New Yorker instead requested the as-yet unused 13. “Why not?” figured Schumacher; the number seemed to be following him around anyway.2 In 1936 Prince Hal lost 13 games. Then for four straight years from 1937-40, he won exactly 13 games each season while losing 13 in 1940 for good measure. Then in his final season before joining the navy, he lost 13 again.

So Schumacher bore the #13, becoming one of only five players to wear the number in 1946. It was to be his final year in the majors. He started 13 games.


One of those five players wearing #13 in 1946 was Mort Cooper. When he joined the Giants in ’47, the jersey was his. However, his 7.12 ERA with the Giants was not particularly auspicious, and he appeared in only one further major league game after that season. Cooper’s bad luck seemed to serve as a warning sign to Giants of the future, as the number remained unclaimed for the next three and a half decades.

Mark Davis didn’t seem to mind. The Bay Area native was traded from the Phillies to the Giants in a 1982 deal that saw two broadcasters of differing repute heading in opposite directions: Mike Krukow, who was something of a mentor to Davis,3 arrived in San Francisco while Joe Morgan was offloaded to Philadelphia. Davis, probably happy simply to not be hawking sausages any more, dusted off the long-forgotten #13.

It didn’t seem to have any negative effects in Davis’ first year, as the lefty posted a respectable 3.49 ERA, second best in the rotation. On September 16th he outduelled Fernando Valenzuela, throwing a two-hitter against the eventual division champion Dodgers.

The Giants must have liked what they saw, as Davis was handed the Opening Day start for 1984. But things only went downhill from there for Davis’ Giants career. He went 5-17 with a 5.36 ERA that season, and followed that up with a 5-12 record from the bullpen in ’85.

In July of ’84 Davis lost each of his six starts, posting an 8.07 ERA.Only six other pitchers in MLB history have lost each of their six starts in a month while posting an ERA north of eight (one of those six is current Giant Jeff Samardzija, who “achieved” this last August with the White Sox).

Davis’ .227 W-L% in 1984 is the worst figure by a qualified pitcher in Giants history, and he’s the only Giant to have two seasons with a W-L% under .300 (min 100 IP). His .357 W-L% with the Giants is the worst in post-1901 franchise history by a long stretch. Among those with 500 IP, only Al Worthington is remotely close, with a .416 W-L%. (Barry Zito is seventh worst.)

Davis was traded to the Padres in 1987 in what turned out to be a great deal for both sides. Davis, shorn of the #13 jersey, rediscovered his form in San Diego, making two All-Star teams in his two full seasons there and winning the 1989 NL Cy Young Award after posting a 1.85 ERA and saving a league-leading 44 games. In return the Giants received, among others, Kevin Mitchell, who won the 1989 MVP award and was part of the team that made two postseasons after a decade and a half long October drought.

On the back of his Cy Young season, Davis signed with the Royals, becoming the highest paid player of the 1980s.4 But he performed poorly, was booed by the fans, and was generally having a miserable time of it.5 One can’t help but speculate that the size of his deal had something to do with it. It was for $13 million dollars.6


Davis’ tenure wearing the number 13 opened the floodgates for a string of fate-tempting and generally underwhelming Giants. Ernie Camacho, J.R Phillips, Charlie Hayes and Edwards Guzman came and went without causing much of a stir.

But Edgardo Alfonzo was not supposed to be like the others. The former Mets third baseman had signed with the Giants in the winter of 2002, coming of a 5 win season per Baseball-Reference WAR. In fact, Alfonzo had put up four seasons of 5+ WAR with the Mets, complementing a great bat with quality defense.

It took all of two at-bats for Alfonzo’s Giant career to nosedive. Opening Day, 2003 was Alfonzo’s first taste of hitting directly after a Barry Bonds intentional walk, and he did not take it well.7

“In the beginning when it started happening, I got so angry,” Alfonzo said. “I would be like, ‘Why? I got to show these guys I can hit.’ I took everything backwards. When they intentionally walked Barry, I got so angry I got out of my approach, because I wanted to kill it. I wanted to hit the ball out of the park all the time.”

While Alfonzo would learn to get past his frustration, the results did not get much better, an impressive 1.320 OPS in the ill-fated 2003 NLDS aside. GM Brian Sabean had to deny trade rumors ahead of the 2004 season for the homesick third baseman, who was still living in New York.8 The emergence of Pedro Feliz further weakened his hold on the third base poition, and by the start of 2005 Alfonzo had told the club he was amenable to a trade.9 It wasn’t until the end of that season that he got his way, being traded straight up for Steve Finley.10


By that point Alfonzo had already surrendered his #13 jersey to Omar Vizquel, the shortstop having worn the number throughout his career in all but his debut season. Vizquel joined the Giants on a $12.25 million deal, wisely avoiding the unlucky $13 million figure that had brought down Mark Davis in Kansas City.11

He quickly became a fan favorite in San Francisco. He lit up the ballpark with his combination of speed and stellar defense, his flashy play at shortstop earning him two Gold Gloves in his first two seasons by the Bay. Those were the first Gold Gloves for a Giants shortstop in franchise history, and the last that any Giant would win until Brandon Crawford picked one up in 2015. Playing in front of fellow veteran Barry Bonds, who had lost the speed of his youth, Vizquel’s defensive responsibilities often extended to catching fly balls in medium left field.12

Vizquel played for San Francisco from 2005-2008. His 512 games at the position from his 38th birthday on are 468 more games than all of the other 38-and-over Giants shortstops in franchise history combined. His longevity extended beyond just the Giants: in 2008 he broke his countryman and hero Luis Aparicio’s record for most games played at shortstop in MLB history.13


Perhaps Vizquel removed the stigma from the number 13, as it has been worn by a Giant in every season since his departure. Notably, Cody Ross, the player the Giants didn’t even want, ended up exemplifying the ragtag bunch of misfit 2010 World Series champions, as he wore the #13 while slugging his way to an NLCS MVP trophy.

And, of course, Joaquin Arias, the utility man who managed to find himself in the middle of some of the greatest moment in Giants history, was adorned by the #13 jersey. The author has extensively covered the good, bad and ugly of Arias’ career in previous posts.


In the next edition: Atlee, Vida and Jesús


References:

  1. Roger Melin. “Hal Schumacher SABR bio”, Society for American Baseball Research
  2. Roger Melin. “Hal Schmuacher -The Prince of the New York Giants
  3. Matt Johanson, Wylie Wong. “San Francisco Giants: Where Have You Gone?
  4. Bill James. “The New Bill James Historical Abstract
  5. Bob Nightengale (June 12, 1990). “Can`t Buy Happiness Mark Davis Is Struggling – and Miserable – with No Relief In Sight”, Los Angeles Times
  6. Joseph Durso (Dec 12,1989). “Mark Davis Signs With Royals for $13 Million”, New York Times
  7. Adam Kilgore (May 10, 2016). “Bryce Harper’s walks means unique pressure for Ryan Zimmerman”, Chicago Tribune
  8. Henry Schulman (Jan 31, 2004). “Giants deny trade talks for Alfonzo”, SF Gate
  9. Henry Schulman (Feb 23, 2005). “Giants Notebook: Alfonzo OKd trade possibility”, SF Gate
  10. Susan Slusser (Dec 22, 2005). “Giants get Finley – Alfonzo to Angels, SF Gate
  11. Henry Schulman (Nov 15, 2004). “Giants add some polish at short”, SF Gate
  12. Henry Schulman (Nov 4, 2006). “Giants Notebook: Vizquel has a shot at Gold Glove record”, SF Gate
  13. Associated Press (May 31, 2008). “Vizquel breaks Aparicio’s MLB record for most games by shortstop
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About Aidan Jackson-Evans

I write about baseball. Follow me on Twitter: @ajacksonevans
This entry was posted in Pinch Writers, Uniform Numbers Through the Ages and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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