In this new series I’ll be taking you back 50 years periodically to the 1971 San Francisco Giants team. That 1971 Giants team is one of my favorite Giants teams during my 63 year love affair with the San Francisco Giants. 1971 was the last stand for the super-talented Giants teams of the 1960’s that I grew up following passionately. Within a year the incomparable Willie Mays and future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry would be traded. In late 1973 Giants legends and Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey would follow Perry and Mays out of San Francisco. Now let’s go back half a century to relive some Giants history.
June 23, 1971
Like the 2021 Giants, their predecessors 50 years ago got off to a torrid start in 1971. On June 23, 1971 the Giants sat atop the baseball world with the best record in the major leagues, just as this year’s team enjoys.
The Giants had their longtime ace, Juan Marichal, on the hill facing the Chicago Cubs at the newly enlarged Candlestick Park. The Dominican Dandy, Marichal’s nickname, scattered 10 hits to pick up his tenth win 5-2. Marichal was matched up with Cubs righthander, Milt Pappas. Both hurlers pitched complete games, Marichal’s 10th and Pappas’ 7th.
With the win the G-men finished a 7-0 homestand with their seventh straight win. Oh yeah, the win stretched their NL West lead to a comfortable 8 ½ games over the Dodgers! Their record sat at a glittering 48-25, a .658 winning percentage, one win better than this year’s Giants team.
Juan started shakily giving up his only 2 runs of the game in the top of the first. The damage was done when with the bases loaded and two down Cubs centerfielder Brock Davis lobbed an off-field clutch single into left field to plate two.
Milt Pappas dodged some traffic on the bases until the third inning when rookie shortstop Chris Speier walked with one out. Speier moved to third on a passed ball and a fielder’s choice where Bobby Bonds scored him with a single.
The Giants tied it up the next inning when recently acquired leftfielder Floyd Wicker took a Pappas fastball off his right elbow leading off. Giants manager Charlie Fox put on the hit-and-run with Hal Lanier at the plate. The hit-hit-and-run worked perfectly when Lanier smashed a double into the left-field corner and Wicker motored around the bags from first to score easily.
The score remained knotted at 2-2 until the bottom of the eighth as the starting pitchers took control. Leading off for the Giants was switch-hitting right fielder Ken Henderson. Kenny lined an opposite-field homer into the capricious Candlestick gales. Henderson said afterwards, “That’s the first home run I’ve ever hit left-handed to left field at Candlestick. With that wind, if a left-hander hits a fly to left field he usually might as well take his time going to first base.”
Following Henderson’s home run, Giants catcher Dick Dietz drew a walk. After two were down, Juan Marichal stepped to the plate with a runner on first base. In today’s baseball Juan would be pinch hit for automatically in a tight one run game to bring in a 100 MPH throwing closer for the ninth. In my opinion, today’s baseball has lost something with the constant parade of relief pitchers. Complete games happen about as often as a blue moon today.
Marichal’s at bat beautifully illustrated why I am totally against the designated hitter! Juan hit a screaming line drive far over the left field cyclone fence into the strong gale blowing in from left field! The DH eliminates the surprise when a pitcher helps himself with a shocking home run.
It was the Dominican Dandy’s fourth and last career home run. “I told Tito Fuentes I was going to hit a home run when I went up there. When I came in after doing it, Tito gave me a kiss.”, Marichal related delightedly in the clubhouse.
Before securing his tenth victory against four losses, Juan had to navigate the pinch hitter for the pitcher’s and the top of the Chicago lineup in the ninth. Paul Popovich grounded out to second base. Then things got interesting. Cubs shortstop Don Kessinger lined a single into center field. Glen Beckert legged out an infield hit to short. That brought up the dangerous slugger Billy Williams representing the tying run. Williams had taken Marichal deep five times previously in their long Hall of Fame careers.
Williams scorched a grounder to Willie Mays playing at first base for Willie McCovey. The 40 year-old Mays made a leaping catch of the hot grounder, but flopped on his back after his leap. From his back the Say Hey Kid flipped the ball towards the bag. His throw was low, meanwhile Marichal was racing to first base as Billy Williams was churning down the line. Marichal dove for the low throw snagging it with his bare pitching hand and tagged the bag a split second before Williams reached it. Williams stepped partially on Marichal’s bare hand on the bag!
The Giants trainer ran out with manager Charlie Fox to check on their pitching ace. It thankfully turned out that Marichal’s valuable pitching hand was only bruised. After a few throws from the mound to ensure Juan’s hand was OK, the game continued. Cubs clean-up hitter Joe Pepitone promptly popped up weakly to third and the game was over.
That’s the story from 50 years ago of the Giants 48th victory. This year’s Giants team reminds me very much of the 1971 Giants. Both teams were written off because two powerhouse division foes were expected to battle for the NL West title, in 1971 those vaunted foes were the defending NL champion Cincinnati Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers, this year it’s the Dodgers and Padres. As they say, “That’s why they play the games!”
I’ll be back with more memories of the 1971 Giants team soon!