In November 1972, a 22-year-old pitcher from New Jersey had a tryout. He threw hard, and when the Giants offered him a contract on the spot, he blew off his scholarship to Clemson, signed the deal, and boasted to the scout he would be in the major leagues in two years. John Montefusco would dominate in the minors, and arrived in the majors even sooner than he predicted, making his debut on September 3, 1974, against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
He’d been drinking with his minor-league teammates the night before, having been assured by the Giants that with the roster expanded he wouldn’t pitch in the bigs for at least a week. Shaking with a hangover, Montefusco came into the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the first inning and the Giants trailing, 3-2. When he got to the mound, he tried to sound cool. “You need some strikeouts?” Montefusco asked manager Wes Westrum. “Just don’t fucking walk anybody,” Westrum replied as he handed the rookie the ball. Montefusco worked out of that jam, hit a two-run homer in the third in his first major-league at-bat (and first of the season after playing in the Pacific Coast and Texas leagues, which used the designated hitter), and finished the game to earn a 9-5 victory.
|John Montefusco, W (1-0)||9||6||1||1||5||7||0||1.00||40||3||1||0.281||1.03||3.8|
Freshly minted as a 1-0 big-league pitcher with a homer to his credit, Montefusco went on KSFO’s postgame show and told broadcaster Al Michaels, “If it’s this easy, I’ll win thirty games next year.” One of the KSFO radio engineers gave the rookie a nickname, “The Count of Montefusco.”
September 1974 wouldn’t prove to be quite so easy for Montefusco. He next pitched at Houston on September 9, but gave up six runs. Fortunately, Larry Dierker gave up more, and the Giants won, 8-6.
|John Montefusco, W (2-0)||8.2||11||6||6||3||5||0||3.57||40||40||-0.042||0.93||-2.4|
Dierker got his revenge at San Francisco on September 14, throwing a complete-game shutout while Montefusco gave up five runs in five innings.
|John Montefusco, L (2-1)||5||4||5||4||5||5||0||4.37||24||41||-0.276||0.71||-2.6|
Montefusco lost again on his next outing, September 18 against the Braves at Candlestick.
|John Montefusco, L (2-2)||5||5||4||4||3||8||1||4.88||23||46||-0.184||0.99||-1.6|
On September 22, at Candlestick, Montefusco struck out Johnny Bench three times and shut out the Big Red Machine. He even hit a solo home run in the eighth.
|John Montefusco, W (3-2)||9||7||0||0||2||7||0||3.68||35||78||0.266||0.65||4.4|
Six days later, on September 28, Montefusco lasted only two innings, giving up five runs while facing only thirteen batters. Bench homered off him, and so did Joe Morgan.
On the final game of the season, in San Francisco against the Padres, Montefusco came on in relief of Ed Halicki, with two runners on and no outs in the seventh inning. Montefusco let those runners score (one on a double by pinch hitter Dave Winfield), and gave up a run of his own to allow the Padres to tie a game they would go on to win, 9-5.
|John Montefusco, BS (1)||0.2||2||1||1||0||1||0||4.81||4||2||2||-0.262||2.45||-1.8|
So his first month in the big leagues was a mixed bag for the Count. His debut would become the stuff of legend, but he was erratic at times, very much learning how to pitch at the big league level for a team that hadn’t had the luxury of letting him spend more time in the minors. His final line for 1974:
Giants fans saw some glimmers of hope, with Montefusco’s excellent minor-league record, his fun debut game, his easy handling of the Reds hitters on the 22nd. Yet there was also the young pitcher not always living up to his potential, but winning the fans over with his bravado and charm. The hope would prove to be well-founded, however, as Montefusco would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1975 and finish fourth in the Cy Young voting. He would be one of the rare bright spots in some fallow years for San Francisco baseball fans.