Just when the San Francisco Giants looked as dead in the baseball water as their one-time ace Tim Lincecum, little Timmy turned the tables by throwing a no-hitter last Saturday night. Though the 9-0 score proved lopsided, Lincecum’s quest for baseball immortality kept me tense as could be on the edge of the couch. Afraid of jinxing Timmy, I clutched my empty dinner plate through the last three and a half innings in much the same way I did for Matt Cain’s perfect game 13 good-luck months ago. When “she-who-must-be-obeyed” asked after five innings, “Do they have a hit?” I ignored the query, signaling her that there was something worth watching here.
Unless you count splitting kindling as a sport, baseball was the first game I played. The Giants moved to San Francisco when I was four years old. My earliest religious experiences involved praying for Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda to hit it out of Seals Stadium.
For a couple of decades I knew every player on the Giants roster as well as 99% of the rest of both leagues. A few years ago this column ran a list of the 50 greatest San Francisco Giants. It would be too difficult to limit the entire franchise of New York and San Francisco Giants to just 50. Any real fan knows that Giants greatness started 20 years before even John McGraw and Christy Mathewson, when Tim Keefe and Smiling Mickey Welch were the Lincecum and Cain of their era.
My father taught me about Buck Ewing, the Buster Posey of the 1880s and 1890s, but also pointed out some of the more obscure, colorful or tragic figures of the baseball world. In 1895 the Giants brought up a promising left-handed pitcher named Ed Doheny. He never quite panned out with them, losing nearly 70 games while winning barely half as many. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1901, where he turned things around, posting 16-4 and 16-8 won-loss records the following two campaigns. About halfway through the 1903 season, at the age of 30, Doheny suffered some sort of psychological breakdown. By October, after inexplicable violent outbursts against teammates and his personal physician, Ed Doheny was permanently committed to the Danvers Asylum for the Criminally Insane where he died 13 years later.
Though never a Giant, one of Doheny’s contemporaries is worthy of note in the world of obscure baseball incidents. It would take too long here to explain the exact details of how Ed Delahanty played Cap Anson’s 1892 deep fly ball to centerfield into an “inside-the-doghouse” home run, but intrigued ball fans can do a little digging and find what Paul Harvey might have called “the rest of the story.” The precise cause of Delahanty’s death, at age 35, when he was found floating in the waters near Niagara Falls, remains a mystery to this day.
Of course, the most memorialized obscure baseball player of all time wore a Giants uniform. Moonlight “Doc” Graham played right field for two innings without coming to bat on June 29, 1905. Graham was not forgotten by W.P. Kinsella in his novel, Shoeless Joe, or in the film version entitled, Field of Dreams.
A few weeks back this column discussed the 1-0 sixteen-inning pitching duel between Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn that occurred 50 years ago this month. Perhaps some astute reader can name the extremely obscure Giant who watched that game from the bench. Hint: he performed in only eleven big league games though he spent the entire 1963 season with the major league Giants.