1984 SF Giants: Worst in the National League

In baseball, sports on May 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm

The 1984 Giants were bad. Last place bad. No other team won fewer than 70 games. Only two teams finished within ten games of their 66-96 record. But amazingly: it was not their offense’s fault. The offense finished middle of the pack or higher in most categories, even leading the league in hits and finishing second in average and third in OPS+, SLG, OBP, home runs, RsBI and total bases.

For this entry, rather than just running through the list of players on the roster without any discernible theme, I am going with a certain statistic. For the 1984 San Francisco Giants offense, we’re going with Total Bases.

The Top Three

Three players had more than 200 total bases, which is about par for the course (for a random sample: the 2009 Giants had three, the 2010 Giants had five, and the 2011 Giants only had one player):

  1. Chili 253. This was the year he put it together. His average jumped over .300 for the first time. He hit more than 20 home runs for the first time. He reached the All Star Game. Unfortunately, he set the bar a little too high. His OPS was the highest it would get until seven years later with the Twins, and he would not have an OPS above .800 again with the Giants. He would not hit .300 for another decade. In the All Star Game, Chili pinch hit for starting pitcher Charlie Lea (?) in the bottom of the second against Dave Steib and lined out in his only at bat.
    (I had to look up Lea: it was his only All Star appearance, in his third straight 10+ win season with Montreal. He had thrown a no-hitter in strike-shortened 1981. Because of arm injuries, he was out of baseball in 1985 and 1986, returning briefly in 1987 before moving to Minnesota for his final season.)
  2. Jeffrey Leonard 249. His first two seasons in San Francisco were nearly identical superficially: 516/514 at bats, 74/76 runs, 238/249 total bases, 21 home runs each, 87/86 RsBI. But his batting average and SLG jumped 23 points, and his OBP by 34. His OPS went up nearly 60 points, boosting his OPS+ from 118 to a career-high 138. Sadly, like Chili, this was a career year; and unfortunately for Leonard, it was the career year. He only once would approach his 1983 OPS of .784, and he never again approached his 1984 numbers.
  3. Brenly 235. Brenly’s first full season would prove to be his best. He earned his only All Star appearance and hit 20 home runs for the only time in his career. He also reached career bests in at bats, hits, doubles, runs, RsBI, average, OBP, and OPS on his way to an awesome 131 OPS+. Brenly has mostly been in broadcasting since his playing career ended, except for improbably leading the Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 in his first year as manager.

Still in Triple Digits

Only six other guys were above 100 (on the bright side, the 1983 team only had eight guys above 100 total bases):

  1. Joel Youngblood 168. Youngblood earned more playing time after his stellar 1983 production. Unfortunately, that glory year was quickly forgotten, and Youngblood played at mostly replacement level for the rest of his career. This would be his last full season and the last time he hit 10+ home runs. But it just occurred to me that he kind of brought in the bearded-Hunter-Pence-psycho look 30 years before Pence.

    Grizzly Man I

    Grizzly Man II

  2. Dan Gladden 153. While Youngblood was 32 and on his way out, Gladden was 26 and had barely begun. This was his first full-ish season, and he burst out with what would be a career-best .857 OPS and 145 OPS+, batting .351 in 342 at bats. That was good enough for fourth place in the RotY voting, behind Dwight Gooden, Juan Samuel, and Orel Hershiser. He stole 31 bases and scored 71 runs in just 83 games. For whatever reason, I have always remembered Gladden as a bigger guy, a slugger-type. I remembered very wrongly. He only hit double-digit home runs twice in 11 years, while he stole 20+ bases seven years in a row. He only hit above .280 once in his career after the amazing batting average this season.

    I think I was thinking of Rob Deer

  3. Manny Trillo 137. This was his first of two seasons with the Giants. He had a pretty prolific career before reaching San Francisco: a four-time All Star, with three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, he was the NLCS MVP with the Phillies in 1980 on their way to a World Series championship. He signed as a free agent before the 1984 season and was traded to the Cubs after the 1985 season. His combined numbers with the Giants were… bad: seven home runs, 81 runs, 61 RsBI. A .238/.293/.313 split. A 74 OPS+, which makes him waaaay worse than most replacement players. He couldn’t hit worth a damn, but his defense got him into four All Star games.

    He was also quite debonair.

    And yet, his numbers were still better than…

  4. Johnnie LeMaster 127 (so… he had fewer total bases than games played. That’s not good). LeMaster continued his string of sub-80 OPS+ seasons. He was a perfect ten-for-ten in his career. Fun fact: he is one of only 23 players all time to have an OPS+ lower than 65 and more than 3,000 plate appearances.
  5. Al Oliver 124. Every once in a while I come across a relatively known player who I never knew had played for the Giants. Al Oliver is on that list. A seven-time All Star and World Series champ with the Pirates, he debuted in 1968. He had one final great year in 1982 with the Expos, finishing third in the MVP voting. He came over to the Giants before the 1984 season for Fred Breining, Max Venable, and Andy McGaffigan. Six months later, midway through the season, the Giants sent him to Philadelphia for Kelly Downs, George Riley, and a player to be named later (who ended up being the great Renie Martin to complete the trade). He did manage to hit for average in his short time with the Giants, coming in just below .300. But he did so without any power, hitting only 21 extra-base hits (and zero homers) in 339 at bats.
  6. Jack Clark 109. The end of the era, and just another black mark against the mid-1980s Giants. Clark had come up at age 19 in 1975. This would be his eighth straight season with double-digit homers, and he had more than 20 in five of those seasons. Unfortunately, he didn’t get along with his teammates, manager, or management, which led to a trade to the Cardinals before the 1985 season. He would subsequently have six seasons of 20+ home runs and reach the All Star game twice, including during a monster 1987 season when he finished third in the MVP voting (and the Cardinals beat the Giants in the playoffs). That 1987 MVP is one of the more well-known cases of horrible voting, where both Ozzie Smith and Clark had better cases than the actual winner, Andre Dawson, but Dawson had a ton of home runs and RsBI, and those are sexy. (For that matter, most of the rest of the top 10, including Will Clark, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Raines, Tony Gwynn, and Eric Davis, had better numbers than Dawson) Clark only lasted three seasons with the Cardinals before finishing up a productive career with the Yankees, Padres, and Red Sox.
    Also, I just discovered “The Ripper” website, which leads to fun facts like: “Jack’s second passion is drag racing. In 1991 he started an NHRA Top Fuel drag racing team.


Now we move to the players who had fewer than 300 at bats. Some of these guys were downright terrible, while others actually had OPS+ above 110. First, the set with more than 50:

  1. Dusty Baker 91. Dusty signed as a free agent just before the season started. He was in his seventeenth year, after eight seasons each in Atlanta and Los Angeles. He did fine in limited time, and he had one more productive season left in Oakland in 1985, but his Giants career did not leave much of a mark. The Giants traded him to Oakland for two players who never made it out of the minors. But rather than go into detail about his one unremarkable season in San Francisco, here is how he pioneered the high-five.

    Dusty and the Dodgers high-fiving

  2. Scot Thompson 87. He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 1974 draft (Lonnie Smith and Dale Murphy went at 3 and 5; Garry Templeton (13), Lance Parrish (16), Willie Wilson (18), and Rick Sutcliffe (21) went later). He came up with the Cubs and finished third in RotY voting in 1979, behind Sutcliffe and Jeff Leonard (and there were only three players in the vote); I have no idea how Thompson was in there, because his numbers were underwhelming. Was the rookie pool that bad? Thompson signed with the Giants before the 1984 season and actually had a good year, setting a career high with a .306 average.
  3. Brad Wellman 77. This would be Wellman’s most-prolific season in terms of at bats. He was also in the midst of a four-year hike in his OPS, from awful to still awful: .500, .543, .565, .578 from 1981 to 1984.
  4. Steve Nicosia 61. Nicosia had come to the Giants in 1983 for Milt May and did fine in limited duty. He had a pretty good 1984 as the second catcher, batting a career-high .303 and slugging a career-high .462 over 132 at bats. He left as a free agent after the season and finished up in 1985 with Montreal and Toronto.


Now we move to the guys who were probably defensive replacements or rookies. Or they were just plain unproductive. Somebody’s got to be.

  1. Gene Richards 38. This was Richards first and only season in San Francisco, and his last season in baseball. The Padres had made him the first pick in the first round of the 1975 January draft (his teammate at South Carolina State University, Willie Aiken, was drafted number two, and they are the only two from the school to ever reach the Majors). Richards was substantially better than anyone picked in the first round of the main draft that same season. He finished third in the RotY voting in 1977 (Andre Dawson again!) and started his career with five pretty productive seasons. He never hit for power, but he hit for average and got on base. Unfortunately, by the time he reached the Giants, he was fading.
  2. Fran Mullins 38. This sounds like my grandmother’s name, but Francis Joseph Mullins was a local kid from Oakland who went to Santa Clara. The White Sox drafted him in 1979, one pick before Jose DeLeon. He debuted briefly for the White Sox in 1980, then played pretty productively in the minors for the next couple of seasons. The White Sox traded him to Cincinnati in 1983, and the Giants quickly selected him in the Rule 5 draft. Mullins hit his only two career home runs for the Giants in the 1984 season, then played with the AAA Phoenix team in 1985. Cleveland purchased his contract in early 1986, and he made a brief appearance with the team. He looked like your average completely non-athletic white guy from the 1980s.

    This was probably before he swung and missed.

  3. Chris Brown 34. Finally, somebody with an excuse for his low number: a rookie! The Giants had selected Brown in the second round of the 1979 draft; and of the eleven players drafted in that round who made the Majors, he was the most productive (one player somehow managed to get a -0.0 WAR, which is impressive). He had played high school baseball in Los Angeles with Darryl Strawberry. Brown would be a key piece of the Giants’ mid-1980s teams before being shipped to San Diego midway through the 1987 season. He finished fourth in the RotY voting in 1985 (Vince Coleman and his 110 stolen bases led the way). But in 1984, Brown had a stellar debut. He hit his first home run, didn’t hit badly, and took some walks. Some sad news that I did not know: after working in Iraq as a truck driver, he passed away the day after Christmas in 2006 at the age of 45, and cause of death was not established.
  4. John Rabb 26. Rabb was another backup catcher, but he also played OF and first base (as I mentioned last time, Biggio-esque!). 1983 was his “big” season with the team. The Giants would trade him to the Braves before the 1985 season. He played minor league ball with Rob Deer, who shows up just a little further down this list.

    I have a feeling this card sits somewhere in a binder at my parents house.

  5. Duane Kuiper 24. Almost done. This was the last time Kuiper recorded more than 100 at bats, and he did not get on base much. The swan song was nearly complete.
  6. Rob Deer 13. Deer came up and hit three home runs in 24 at bats, showing a brief glimpse of the machine he would become. He took a step back in 1985, so the Giants traded him and watched him become a home-run masher for the next decade. Good times. At least they got something back in the trade… wait, no. Neither player the Brewers sent to the Giants ever made the Majors. On the bright side, Deer hit home runs and not much else. And he was a prolific walk and strikeout artist–one of the original (or at least well-known) “three true outcome” players. He’s now a hitting instructor for the Cubs.

    I guess he kinda looked like Dan Gladden, maybe?

The End of the Bunch

The final trio involves hitters with fewer total bases than pitchers (Mike Krukow (11) and Mark Davis (10) “led” the way in what appeared to be a very non-hitting pitching staff):

  1. Alejandro Sanchez 10. Put him in the “I’ve never heard of him” category. He played for five teams over six seasons. The Giants had traded Dave Bergman to the Phillies for him before the 1984 season. Sanchez reached 100+ at bats once, with the 1985 Tigers. Twice he totaled fewer than 10 at bats, and this 1984 season was the only other time he had more than 20. But he had a prolific minor league career that went from 1978 to 1998. He had a career minor league year in 1984 with Phoenix in the PCL, with 26 home runs and 108 RsBI (he was second in home runs behind Rob Deer). The Giants traded him to Detroit for somebody named Roger Mason before the 1985 season. After bouncing around from the Majors to minors for another few seasons, he spent the 1989 to 1994 seasons in the Mexican league. After a three-year break, he returned to the States and non-affiliated minor league teams in 1997 before finishing his career.
  2. Randy Gomez 6. The Giants had several backup catchers this season. This would be Gomez’s one and only appearance in the Majors. The Giants had drafted him in the 25th round of the 1980 draft; only one other player (Darren Daulton) from that round made it to the Majors, and the Giants picked Gomez, a catcher, five picks before Daulton, a catcher. Whoops. Gomez had only one extra-base hit (a double), but he had a BB/K ratio of 8/3. But four errors in 14 games probably did not help his cause. He kept playing in AAA until 1987 but never quite made the leap.
  3. Joe Pittman 5. Pittman had been a fifth-round pick by the Astros in 1975, twelve picks after Lou Whitaker. Pittman had 100+ at bats in both 1981 and 1982, with the Astros and Padres. He played a full season in the minors in 1983; after the season, the Padres sent him and a minor leaguer to the Giants for Champ Summers. Pittman only had 22 at bats with the Giants. They released him after the season, and he spent 1985 in the Tigers minor-league system.

Last, and Least

And the winner, with the least hits on the team for a position player: Tom O’Malley with 3. This would end O’Malley’s unsuccessful run with the team.  The Giants traded him to the White Sox midway through the season, in return for pitcher Mike Trujillo and a minor leaguer. The Red Sox ended up taking Trujillo in the Rule 5 draft, so the Giants essentially gave O’Malley away for two players who never played for them. And as mentioned before, O’Malley’s second and more successful career came in the 1990s in Japan.

Another Tom O’Malley


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