Ah, April. The first month of the season, the month of possibilities. In this most recent April, for example, Brandon Crawford has more than twice as many home runs as Josh Hamilton. Preseason favorites like the Blue Jays, Nationals, Dodgers and Angels all had losing April records. Yuniesky Betancourt challenges Ryan Braun for the Brewers’ home run crown.
In the spirit of this crazy April, I would like to present a set of Giant All-Stars. Not the best Giants. Not even necessarily the Giants with the best April statistics. Rather, the Giants who might have spent the rest of their lives looking back and saying, “There, in that April, I showed ’em what I could really do.”
C – Dick Dietz (April 1970)
He’s always been a good hitter, particularly for a catcher, but in 1970, his first season as a full-time player, Dick Dietz went off. It started in April, when he hit .379/.453/.727, good for an OPS+ of 229. He finished the season with a 941 OPS and 153 OPS+. Dietz is still the only catcher to walk 100 times, have 100 RBI, and bat at least .300 in the same season. He hit well again in 1971. His defense, however, was always below-average, and he led the league in passed balls in both 1970 and 1971. Perhaps more damaging, from the perspective of the Giants front office, was Dietz’s role as the team’s player representative during the players strike that delayed the start of the 1972 season and won the players increased pensions and salary arbitration. The Giants waived Dietz, and he was claimed by the Dodgers.
1B – Mark Carreon (April 1996)
The seasons between 1993, Will Clark’s last with the club, and 1997, J. T. Snow’s first, were bleak years for the Giants at first base. The Giants promoted J. R. Phillips, played Todd Benzinger, Mark Carreon and then Phillips again. What we forget now is that in April 1996, in his last season with the Giants, Mark Carreon was a star. He hit .297/.385/.626 for an OPS+ of 156. But in May, his OPS+ fell to an execrable 41, and once he’d gotten it back up to league average, sometime in August, the Giants traded him to Cleveland for pitcher Jim Poole and some cash.
2B – Manny Trillo (April 1984)
Manny Trillo was signed as a free agent by the Giants before the 1984 season. To that point, Trillo had been a classic second-baseman of his era, a good glove and throwing arm but a weaker bat. His career OPS+ in ten seasons through 1983 was 81. Trillo’s first month hitting for the Giants was encouraging: .295/.382/.466 for an OPS+ of 140. It couldn’t last, though, and Trillo finished the year with an OPS+ of 83. Bill James wrote of him at the time, “It requires a mighty faith in the value of experience to see Manny as a good ballplayer anymore.”
3B – Edgardo Alfonzo (April 2005)
Not everything Brian Sabean touches turns to gold. There was the long period 1997-2007 when Sabean continually tried to cobble together groups of veterans to support Bonds, letting the farm system grow fallow in the process. Edgardo Alfonzo was one of those veterans, signed to a big, free-agent contract at 29. His first season as a Giant, 2003, was a disaster, and 2004 confirmed his status as a slap-hitter with little power and eroding plate discipline. Back injuries and age robbed him of the electric bat that had made him a star with the Mets. But in April 2005, his last April with the Giants, Alfonzo was electric again, to the tune of .359/.457/.538, for a 170 OPS+. He reverted to form in May, though, and the Giants traded him for fellow overpriced bust Steve Finley after the season ended.
SS – Rich Aurilia (April 2001)
Acquired from the Texas Rangers as a minor leaguer, in four-plus seasons with the Giants, Aurilia had been good, but not great, a league-average defensive shortstop who was also an average hitter, putting up OPS+ of exactly 100 for 1997-2000. April 2001 was his coming-out party, though. He hit .390/.432/.610, for an OPS+ of 174. It would be Aurilia’s best month of his best season. He cut his strikeout rate, he stayed healthy, and he got bigger. Overall, it would be one of the best shortstop seasons in history, lost to most baseball fans behind a better one in Texas and the Greatest Season Ever by his own teammate.
LF – Ken Henderson (April 1970)
In his first full season as a regular, the 24-year-old Henderson started hot, hitting .372/.515/.526 in April, for an OPS+ of 145 for the month. He cooled off after that, but had a July that was even better than his April, to conclude with his best offensive season as a Giant, with a 130 OPS+ and 4.1 WAR. But two years later, the outfield was getting crowded. Bobby Bonds was a (often underappreciated) star, Gary Maddox was up with the big club, and Gary Matthews was knocking on the left-field door. Henderson was traded to the White Sox.
CF – Marquis Grissom (April 2004)
The Dodgers in 2002 finally used Marquis Grissom in a platoon against lefty pitching, and he had an OPS+ of 123, the highest of his career. Brian Sabean promptly signed him at age 36 to play center field full time, but at least at only half of what the Dodgers had been paying him. Grissom put up league-average numbers in 2003, and his poor defense made people forget his incredible range as a young gazelle with the mid-90s Expos. Then, in April 2004, Grissom had one of the best months of his career, hitting .346/.391/.543, for an OPS+ of 142. But he underwhelmed the rest of the year, and finished with a 104 OPS+.
RF – Jose Cruz (April 2003)
The twenty-eight-year-old Cruz was signed to a one-year contract by the Giants in January 2003. Up to that point, he had been a slightly-above-average player with a reputation for an indifferent attitude. Cruz had a fantastic April, hitting .319/.454/.606, for a 180 OPS+. It would, though, prove to be a weird year. One week, his play in right field evoked memories of the great Roberto Clemente, the next of Candy Maldonado’s misadventures on the Busch Stadium Astroturf. Cruz’s dropped fly ball in the 11th inning of Game 3 of the NLDS may not go down with Merkle’s Boner or Buckner’s wicket job — there are too many playoff games these days for one gaffe to take on such legendary status — but it will long be bitterly remembered by Giants fans. Yet for one April, he was the toast of the town.
Thanks to the invaluable Baseball-Reference Play Index for all April-related research.