50 Years of the San Francisco Giants - 1964

90 wins is usually good for tops in the NL West… but in 1964 there was no NL West, just a mad dash to the NL pennant. How did the Giants fare in this chase?


Record: 90-72 (4th, National League)
Ballpark: Candlestick Park
Manager: Alvin Dark
All-Stars (3): Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays
Awards: NL Gold Glove – Willie Mays

How do you finish two games better than the previous season and drop down a spot in the standings?  Tough competition, that's how – 1964 in the National League ended up being a four-team scramble for the pennant, with just two games separating first from fourth.  Unfortunately for the San Francisco Giants, they ended up being the fourth team.

The 1964 Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Harvey Kuenn RF
  2. Jim Davenport 2B
  3. Willie McCovey LF
  4. Willie Mays CF
  5. Orlando Cepeda 1B
  6. Jim Ray Hart 3B
  7. Tom Haller C
  8. Jose Pagan SS
  9. Juan Marichal P

Trading away Felipe Alou and Ed Bailey during the offseason allowed more everyday playing time for a number of players, including youngsters Hal Lanier and Felipe's brothers Jesus and Matty Alou.  However, one player that failed to take advantage of their departure was Willie McCovey, who slumped badly (.220/18/54) after a breakout 1963 season.  But picking up the slack in a big way was another youngster, Jim Ray Hart, who himself had a breakout season (.286/31/81) at the hot corner, thereby displacing the other Jim, slick-fielding utilityman Jim Davenport.

Like Michael Jordan a few generations later, true greatness can be taken for granted and even overlooked because of a consistent level of outstanding performances.  Thus it was that in a season in which Willie Mays had yet another monster year (.296/47/111), he finished a distant sixth in voting for the NL MVP award, which was won by St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer (.295/24/119).  Likewise, Orlando Cepeda's numbers were just as impressive (.304/31/97), but he finished out of the top 25 for the MVP honor.

Juan Marichal (21-8, 2.48) had another outstanding year, but the glaring weakness of the 1964 Giants was the rest of the starting pitching, as only one other starter – Gaylord Perry (12-11, 2.75) – finished the season with a winning record.  Like Johnny Antonelli before him, age finally caught up with former ace Jack Sanford (5-7, 3.30), who managed to make only 17 starts in 1964 after taking the bump 42 times the previous season.  The two Billys –O'Dell and Pierce – who were so successful a few seasons prior likewise succumbed to the effects of father time, and both spent the majority of the 1964 season in the bullpen.  Taking their place were two youngsters, Bobby Bolin (6-9, 3.25) and Ron Herbel (9-9, 3.07), as well as newcomer Bob Hendley (10-11, 3.64), who came over in the Felipe Alou/Ed Bailey trade.

Despite these pitching shortcomings, a good start and a late season surge by the 1964 Giants made things interesting until the final weekend.  The team began the season well, spending most of the first month in first place.  Marichal outlasted Warren Spahn 8-4 on Opening Day, and the offense for the most part was their old thumping self early – in half of their first ten games, the Giants scored at least eight runs, including a 15-5 drubbing of the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field on April 24 in which Mays scored five times.  The Giants spent a great deal of the first half of the season flip-flopping with the surprisingly piching-strong Philadelphia Phillies for the NL lead.  A tightly contested three-game Giants sweep of the Phillies at Shibe Park in early June temporarily put San Francisco back in first, and a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Candlestick Park in late June put them back in first again.  The Phillies exacted revenge on the Giants by sweeping them in San Francisco in early July to reclaim first place, but the Giants again reclaimed first by mid-July.

Sadly, the second half of the 1964 season was not nearly as successful for the Giants.  The Milwaukee Braves swept the Giants at County Stadium during July 14-16 to knock the Giants out of first place – which they would never see again that season.  The Giants could not sustain any sort of winning streak in July and early August, when they fell to third place behind both the Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals, who were doing nothing but playing .500 ball at the midway point of the season, began creeping up the standings, aided greatly by a pair of six game winning streaks and an eight-game winning streak – capped off by a three-game sweep of the Phillies, who concurrently lost ten straight for one of the biggest late-season flops of all time.  The Giants won four games in a row to get within two games of the now front-running Cardinals as late as October 2, but then lost the final two games of the season to the lowly Chicago Cubs to end their pennant dreams.  The Cardinals capped off their miracle comeback by winning their last game of the season to finish as NL pennant winners, one game ahead of both the Reds and Phillies, and then went on to win the 1964 World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees.

So once again, the Giants competed early, but eventually fell shy of the pennant.  But in addition to the usual offseason tweaks – which included the departures of both Billys, including O'Dell to the Braves in exchange for former catcher Ed Bailey – the 1964 Giants pulled a stunner by firing manager Alvin Dark amidst a great deal of off-field controversy.  How would a change at the top affect the 1965 squad?  Stay tuned…

The complete 1964 roster:

#5 Tom Haller
#7 Harvey Kuenn
#9 Del Crandall
#10 Jose Cardenal
#10 Masanori Murakami
#12 Jim Davenport
#14 Jesus Alou
#15 Jose Pagan
#16 Jim Ray Hart
#17 Cap Peterson
#18 Don Larsen
#18 John Pregenzer
#19 Billy Pierce
#21 Jose Cardenal
#21 Gil Garrido
#22 Hal Lanier
#24 Willie Mays
#25 Dick Estelle
#26 Chuck Hiller
#27 Juan Marichal
#28 Duke Snider
#29 Bob Shaw
#30 Orlando Cepeda
#31 Billy O'Dell
#33 Jack Sanford
#34 Ron Herbel
#36 Gaylord Perry
#37 Ken MacKenzie
#38 Bob Hendley
#39 Randy Hundley
#41 Matty Alou
#42 Bobby Bolin
#44 Willie McCovey
#45 Jim Duffalo

Don Shin eats, breathes, thinks, and bleeds in Orange and Black. Pac Bell Park officially opened on his 25th birthday (the one year he decided to move out of the Bay Area!!!). For the 2000 playoff drive, he dyed his hair orange while studying in Korea. He watched Game 6 of the '02 World Series at a restaurant in LA, and couldn't finish his meal afterwards. Feel free to write him at dongsoo411@yahoo.com to commiserate, cheer, and complain.

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