Giants look to new season the only way they can -- up
Dimes have changed, but there is no guarantee that the 1980 edition of the San Francisco Giants will win any more often than last season, when they finished 10 games under the .500 mark.
The result was a switch in managers -- from Joe Altobelli to Dave Bristol, who actually began his duties last September. The Giants' next step was to plunge modestly into baseball's re-entry draft.
Now wearing San Francisco uniforms are second baseman Rennie Stennett (from the Pirates); catcher Milt May (from the White Sox); and outfielder Jim Wohlford (from the Brewers).
What helped scuttle Altobelli was a pitching staff that went from 42 complete games, 17 shutouts, and a 3.30 earned-run average in 1978 to 26 complete games, six shutouts, and a 4.26 ERA in 1979. There were also some internal problems that occasionally bubbled up during that leisure time the club spent on airliners.
The pitching staff Bristol hopes will make it all the way back and beyond consists of starters Vida Blue, Bob Knepper, John Montefusco, and Ed Halicki, with the fifth spot expected to go to either Phil Nastu or Ed Whitson.
Blue (14-14 in '79) and Montefusco (3-8) have both sworn on the masthead of The Sporting News that their concentration this year will not be broken by the probing questions of reporters, since they don't plan to talk to any.
If this works and they each win 20 games, quite a few Bay Area baseball writers will be running elevators next season.
Left-handers Gary Lavelle and Al Holland, along with right-handers Greg Minton, Randy Moffitt, Pedro Borbon, and Tom Griffin give Bristol one of the best-balanced bullpens in the majors.
The Giants catching, which has not been particulary strong in recent years, is now in the hands of May, a 10-year veteran who has already made stops with the Pirates, Astros, Tigers, and White Sox.
May is probably best remembered for a pinch-hit single that allowed Pittsburgh to beat Baltimore in the fourth game of the 1971 World Series. Though Milt's lifetime .262 batting average includes only 53 homers and 293 runs batted in, the chance to play regularly should help him.
Bristol still hasn't decided who May's backup will be, but he's leaning toward Marc Hill.
With Mike Ivie not yet fully recovered from a hand injury, the Giants first base job (at least early in the season) could mean some extra days in the sun for 42-year-old Willie McCovey. Stennett will be at second base, Darrell Evans at third, and John LeMaster at shortstop.
Stennett, who didn't hit above .243 in his last two years at Pittsburgh, is a solid fielder who says his drop off at the plate (.336 in 1977) has been due more to injuries than anything else.
Evans figures to hit anywhere from 15 to 25 home runs, while LeMaster is carried strictly for his glove and his ability to turn the double play. As consistent as McCovey still is with his bat, he won't come close to Ivie's power figures of last year, which include 27 homers and 89 runs batted in.
Bristol probably will go with a starting outfield to Terry Whitfield, Billy North, and Jack Clark. North is a speed merchant who can run down anything that doesn't have wings and is also an excellent leadoff hitter, who stole 58 bases last season.
Clark is still on his way up as a power hitter and should improve on last year's 26 homers and 86 RBIs. Jack has been named to the National League's last two All-Star squads and had a sensational June a year ago with 25 runs batted in.
Whitfield fought opposing pitchers and injuries last year while playing in 133 games and may need a fast start this season to hold off challenges from Larry Herndon and newcomer Wohlford. It was Wohlford who was first credited with the line: "Ninety percent of baseball is half mental!"
Bristol, in his pre-season newsletter to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, said he thinks the Giants are definite pennant contenders.
That would mean that San Francisco must beat all three teams (Cincinnati, Houston, and Los Angeles) that finished ahead of them last year in the National League West.
At this point that merely put Bristol's hopes on a par with California Gov. Jerry Brown's presidential campaign.