The 1958 San Francisco Giants, in their first year on the west coast, finished in third place, twelve games behind the defending World Champions (and eventual World Series losers) Milwaukee Braves. Their 80-74 record was the best the club had managed in four years. The race for the pennant wasn't always so one-sided, however.
In mid-July, the National League was wide-open. For three days in the middle of the month, the Giants and Braves were actually tied for the crown. On July 29, the Bay Area squad found themselves a half-game in front of Hank Aaron and his crew. For a team that had finished the previous season 16 games below .500 and 26 games behind the World Champs, their mid-season success was an exciting surprise.
During this run, the New York Times' John Drebinger, writing under the "Sports of the Times" banner, went to Seals Stadium to see what was driving the Giants' good fortune. Amidst a realistic-but-hopeful assessment of the team from manager Bill Rigney, Drebinger focused on two key cogs for the squad.
Too bad the Giants did not tarry one more year at the Polo Grounds so that New York fans could have got a look at [Orlando Cepeda]. This 20-year-old Puerto Rican stands 6 feet tall and weighs a solid 200 pounds, but he moves with lightning reflexes and feline grace.
Orlando, who currently is topping even Willie Mays in homers and runs batted in, swings what they call a fast bat. This means that no trick pitch catches him unprepared; and if it is anywhere near the plate, there's a fair chance he'll murder it. Rival pitchers already have learned this to their sorrow.
Cepeda would end the season with a .312/.342/.512 slash line and the Rookie of the Year award. In 1999, the Veterans' Committee elected Cha Cha to the Hall of Fame. He was indeed a very important part of the team's success that year. Drebinger also highlighted newcomer Felipe Alou as a "versatile performer" helping keep the team in contention.
Still another prize is Felipe Alou, who hails from the Dominican Republic. Here indeed is a versatile performer. He has been a javelin-throwing champion and a sprinter with a 0:10.6 record for 100 meters.
In 1958, the world record for the 100-meter race was 10.1 seconds, so Alou's time was indeed notable. His ability to throw a javelin is also a nice factoid to have about the future Manager of the Year. I'd love to have seen Alou use that skill when dealing with Pedro Martinez or Barry Bonds once or twice. Drebinger continued:
During the off-season, he kills sharks, no less. We mean off-season in baseball, of course. There is no off-season for killing sharks in the Caribbean.
Who would have guessed? Felipe Alou, Major League Baseball's poster boy for Shark Week. (Alou finished the 1958 season with an unimpressive .253/.325/.390 line, this despite batting .303 with a .530 slugging in his first month of play.)
The Giants fell out of the race with a 1-10 stretch beginning July 30. By the end of the stretch (which, remember, the club began alone atop the league), they were 7.5 games behind Milwaukee. There was no coming back from that. It was a good showing from the young team, and fans, who showed up in even larger numbers the next year, didn't seem to care about the poor finish.
Others who didn't care about the club's weak finish? The sharks in the Caribbean that Felipe Alou went home to kill. With his bare hands—while wearing a toga and clenching a knife between his teeth. Presumably.
An artist's rendition of the seasonal event. Click here for the full image.