Don Larsen, Manny Mota and the 1962 Giants

As the New York Yankees are trailing the Detroit Tigers 2-0 in the ALCS it is unlikely that the Yankees will meet the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. As a lifelong fan of both teams, as strange as that may sound, this possibility become less likely makes means I may not have to root against one of my favorite teams in the World Series. It also would mean that baseball fans may not get to see a rematch of the 1962 World Series exactly fifty years after it happened.

That series was a hard fought seven game affair which the Yankees won by barely holding on to a 1-0 victory in the final game. The most famous play of that World Series is undoubtedly Willie McCovey’s line drive out to Bobby Richardson for the last out of the game with the tying and winning runs on base.

That World Series was significant for other reasons as well. The Giants had a talent laden roster featuring star players, and future Hall of Famers, McCovey, Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. They won that 1962 pennant in only their fifth year in San Francisco. Most Giants fans probably assumed the Giants would be winning a few more pennant due to their strong nucleus of stars, but it was 27 years until the Giants next appeared in the World Series. The 1962 Yankee team was the last team of the Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra period to win a championship. After that series, the Yankees would have to wait fifteen years, a lifetime in Yankee years, to win another World Series.

That Giant team was, perhaps like all teams and all World Series teams, a fascinating collection of past and future players. Viewed from half a century later it is an even more intriguing team. For example, two of second tier pitchers for the Giants that year were a 23 year old future Hall of Famer who still had not found his groove as a big leaguer, and a 32 year old journeyman who was mostly done, but six years removed from having thrown the only perfect game in World Series history. Gaylord Perry and Don Larsen were only two of the more interesting players on that team. These two were part of a bullpen led by Stu Miller who, in one of the most iconic moments in San Francisco Giant history, was blown of the pitcher’s mound in the All Star Game at Candlestick Park in 1961.

The offensive stars of that team were Cepeda and the incomparable Mays. The former had a good year, while Mays was in the middle of a period of dominant play that would last for the better part of two decades. It was, however, the rest of the outfielders and first baseman that also makes that team memorable. Harvey Kuehn, Manny Mota, two Alou brothers (Felipe and Matty) and McCovey, who was primarily an outfielder that year divided, up playing time in left and right field. Harvey Kuehn was a former batting champ having one of his last good years. The Alou brother were solid players more famous for being two of three baseball playing brothers than anything they did on the field. Mota lasted forever as a pinch hitter, but most famously for the Dodgers while McCovey, one of the top left handed bats of his generation, had still not found his way into the Giants lineup on a full time basis.

That 1962 Giants team cast a long shadow for Giants fans of my generation. After coming within one run of winning the World Series, the franchise and its fans had to wait 48 years before winning a championship. The promise of that 1962 team gave way to an extremely frustrating few years where that star studded lineup averaged 91 win each of the next seasons, but never won another pennant finishing third once, fourth once and second four times in a ten team league.

The third baseman from that team Jim Davenport later managed the Giants when they were probably at their all time nadir. Davenport, however, did not last a full season as he posted a sub .400 winning percentage in 144 games before being fired before the 1985 season was over. For fans of my generation, Mays, and Marichal were names from another era and reminders that the Giants were once a storied franchise, something that was less than obvious to most baseball fans in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Gaylord Perry, a minor player on that team, went on to win 180 games and two Cy Young awards after the Giants traded him away in the early 1970s. Orlando Cepeda, one of the big stars on that team, went on to win his only MVP award after being traded away from the Giants. In the late 1970s, the Giants bad trades were legendary in the Bay Area, but having nothing to show for these two future Hall of Famers other than Sudden Sam McDowell and Ray Sadecki, was proof that the Giants penchant for bad trades had long roots.

The only player from that team who was still playing for the Giants by the late 1970s was, fittingly, Willie McCovey, the great slugger whose line drive out just missed being a game winning hit in game seven returned to the Giants in 1977 after a three year sojourn in San Diego and Oakland. He was the Giants closest link to that 1962 team and a constant reminder to fans of what might have been.

Fifty years after that tough defeat, and more importantly two years after finally getting their World Series victory, Giants fans can look at that 1962 team more charitably. They can recognize the impressive talent and interesting baseball stories that were brought together on that team. It is still possible, but not likely, that that great World Series will be commemorated by a 50th anniversary rematch. Even if this does not occur, it is worth taking a few minutes this October to remember this extraordinary team that came up just a foot or so short of a championship.