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Bracketology: The Best Players in San Francisco Giants History

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COMMENTARY | When a team has as much history as the Giants, picking an all-time lineup of players is almost impossible. From New York to San Francisco, there have been great players at every position from every era. And if picking an all-time lineup is impossible, picking the best player in Giants history is even tougher.

So what better way to decide the best Giants player than with a March Madness-style bracket? I've taken the players I consider to be the best in Giants history and seeded them from 1 through 16. Picking only 16 players was hard, and I'm sure I've left some worthy names out; however, I feel good about this list and think it encompasses the best of every era of Giants baseball. There was only one prerequisite for inclusion in the bracket: if a player has had his number retired by the Giants, he's in (except for John McGraw, whose number is retired for his managing skill). There's no other criteria for the rest of the players included here.

Without further ado, here's my New York/San Francisco Giants all-time players bracket. Feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments. The stats included after the player's names are their stats with the Giants only.

The Sweet 16

1) Willie Mays (.304/.385/.564, 646 HR, 1859 RBI) vs. 16) Matt Williams (.264/.312.498, 247 HR, 732 RBI)

In the NCAA tournament a 16-seed has never beaten a 1-seed, and the same holds true for this Giants bracket. Willie Mays is the obvious 1-seed and arguably the best player of his generation, so knocking him out of the tournament would take a monumental effort. Matt Williams can lay claim to being one of the best third basemen in Giants history, either New York or San Francisco. He made a spirited run at Roger Maris' single-season home run record before being cut short by the 1994 strike, was an excellent defensive player, and was one of the most fearsome power hitters the Giants have ever produced; still, he falls well short of overtaking Mays. Mays could do things on the baseball field that Williams simply couldn't, and Williams would be no match for Mays' tools. Mays advances.

Winner: Willie Mays

2) Barry Bonds (.312/.477/.666, 586 HR, 1440 RBI) vs. 15) Monte Irvin (.296/.389/.477, 84 HR, 393 RBI)

Monte Irvin is a lot of things: a war hero (he served in World War II), a pioneer (he and Hank Thompson were the first black players in Giants history), and a great ballplayer whose career numbers suffer because he was forced to play in the Negro Leagues for much of his prime. The Giants recognized Irvin's greatness by retiring his number 20 in 2010, and he's a member of the Hall of Fame. Yet all of these accolades aren't enough to unseat Barry Bonds, one of the most feared hitters of all time. Bonds' accomplishments are too long to list, and though many question the legitimacy of his numbers there's no questioning the talent he possessed. While Irvin was a great player, Bonds was a transcendent one. He advances to the next round.

Winner: Barry Bonds

3) Mel Ott (.304/.414/.533, 511 HR, 1860 RBI) vs. 14) Tim Lincecum (79-56, 3.31 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 1317 K, 1214 IP)

Lincecum's inclusion in this bracket may stir debate, but he belongs here. In spite of his recent struggles, Lincecum is still one of the most electrifying pitchers in San Francisco history. He's won two Cy Young awards, was dominant as both a starter and a reliever during the Giants' two World Series runs, and was a phenomenon the likes of which Giants fans hadn't seen in some time. No matter what he does the rest of his career, he's cemented his place amongst the Giants' best pitchers. On the other hand, there's no debate about Mel Ott's inclusion here. Ott's name is rarely mentioned when discussing the best power hitters of all time, but Ott was the youngest player to hit 100 home runs, the first National League player to hit 500 home runs, and was the all-time National League home run leader from 1937 through 1966. Ott's numbers may be forgotten by many, but not here. He easily advances past Lincecum.

Winner: Mel Ott

4) Christy Mathewson (373-188, 2.13 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 2507 K, 4788.2 IP) vs. 13) Will Clark (.299/.373/.499, 176 HR, 709 RBI)

In every March Madness tournament, there's an early-round upset that busts everyone's bracket and destroys their hope of winning their office pool. This is that upset. While Mathewson's numbers are other-worldly, Clark had that extra something you just can't put a finger on. From his debut in 1986 through his last season with the team in 1993, Clark wasn't just a Giants player- he was the Giants. Whether it was taking on Jose Oquendo and Ozzie Smith in a brawl or winning the 1989 NLCS with a base hit, Clark provided enough memories to Giants fans to last a lifetime. If they were to face each other in a game, Mathewson would no doubt be the favorite. But ask anyone who saw Will the Thrill in his prime, and they'd tell you he'd find a way to get a hit off of Mathewson. Clark was that good, and that's why he wins this one.

Winner: Will Clark

5) Carl Hubbell (253-154, 2.98 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 1677 K, 3590.1 IP) vs. 12) Buster Posey (.314/.380/.549, 46 HR, 191 RBI)

In the 1934 All-Star Game, Carl Hubbell struck out five consecutive batters. Those batters? Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin- all eventual Hall of Famers. Pretty impressive. Hubbell is also a two-time NL MVP and a Hall of Famer himself. All Buster Posey has done in parts of three major league seasons is win NL Rookie of the Year, NL MVP, and two World Series rings. He's only a 12-seed because he hasn't played long enough to warrant being ranked higher, but you can make the case that Posey can retire tomorrow and still be considered the best catcher in Giants history. Like the Mathewson-Clark match-up, you just get the feeling that Posey would get a hit off of Hubbell were the two to ever face. Posey wins, narrowly, in the second upset of the tournament.

Winner: Buster Posey

6) Willie McCovey (.270/.374/.515, 469 HR, 1388 RBI) vs. 11) Bill Terry (.341/.393/.506, 154 HR, 1078 RBI)

McCovey was one of the best power hitters of his era, the man charged with protecting Willie Mays in the lineup and the only hitter Don Drysdale was afraid to face. His overall numbers would be better if he a) hadn't played most of his career in Candlestick Park, and b) became an every day player earlier in his career. Terry once hit .401 in a season and was known for being one of the best contact hitters of his time. He also had power, as evidenced by his .506 career slugging percentage. McCovey, though, was the more formidable hitter and advances to the next round.

Winner: Willie McCovey

7) Juan Marichal (238-140, 2.84 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 2281 K, 3443.2 IP) vs. 10) Gaylord Perry (134-109, 2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1606 K, 2294.1 IP)

Two former teammates and two Hall of Famers face off in this match up, and Marichal has the clear edge. He won 20 or more games six different times, and never walked more than 90 batters in a season. He was the pitcher of the 1960s for the Giants and his signature high leg kick is immortalized in statue form outside of AT&T Park. Perry was a fierce pitcher in his own right and a workhorse, twice pitching over 300 innings in his Giants career and reaching 290+ two more times. He won two Cy Youngs in his career but none with the Giants, and it's arguable that Perry's greatest successes came after he left San Francisco. Marichal is more associated with the Giants, and the better pitcher. He advances.

Winner: Juan Marichal

8) Jeff Kent (.297/.368/.535, 175 HR, 689 RBI) vs. 9) Orlando Cepeda (.308/.352/.535, 226 HR, 767 RBI)

In his time with the Giants, Jeff Kent became one of the most prolific offensive second baseman the game has ever seen. Kent had 100+ RBI in every season with the Giants, was a three-time all star, and won the NL MVP. He also helped power the Giants' late-90s resurgence and helped take them all the way to the World Series in 2002. Cepeda had tremendous power and hit over .300 six different times with the Giants. He was essentially the right-handed version of Willie McCovey, and was just as feared of a hitter. Still, the fact that Kent's power came from second base adds more value to his numbers. It's a close call, but Kent gets the edge and the last spot in the second round.

Winner: Jeff Kent

The Elite Eight

1) Willie Mays vs. 13) Will Clark

Clark's Cinderella slipper gets shattered in this second round match-up, as he simply doesn't have enough to overtake Mays. Clark's heart and determination were immeasurable but he can't measure up to Mays in talent and results. He had a good run, but there's just no way you can pick Will Clark over Willie Mays with a straight face.

Winner: Willie Mays

2) Barry Bonds vs. 12) Buster Posey

It's going to be fun to revisit this one in about 10 years. By that time, Posey may have multiple MVP awards and another World Series ring or two on his resume and the result may be a lot closer. For now, Bonds is the clear winner as Posey can't touch Bonds' career accomplishments. But Posey is definitely on track to be one of the all-time Giants greats and challenge Bonds' lofty standards if he stays healthy and continues the production he's shown early on in his career. He's not there yet, though. Bonds wins by a wide margin.

Winner: Barry Bonds

3) Mel Ott vs. 8) Jeff Kent

Kent's numbers are impressive, but he doesn't stack up to Ott. Quite simply, Ott is one of the most under-appreciated and underrated hitters of all time. He wasn't just a power hitter, but a great all-around hitter who also had incredible patience (he had 100 or more walks 10 different times in his career). Kent will likely make the Hall of Fame one day, but he won't surpass Ott in the pantheon of great Giants.

Winner: Mel Ott

6) Willie McCovey vs. 7) Juan Marichal

McCovey gets the nod in a very, very tough match-up. Both played in the same era, and both meant a great deal to the Giants. McCovey has a tendency to be overshadowed by Mays, but he was great in his own right and deserves to advance to the next round. Marichal was a dominant pitcher, but the protection McCovey provided Mays in the Giants' lineup gives him the edge. McCovey did the impossible: he helped make Willie Mays better.

Winner: Willie McCovey

The Final Four

1) Willie Mays vs. 6) Willie McCovey

The two former teammates who pushed each other to be better go head-to-head. McCovey was a powerful hitter, but Mays had comparable power and was a better all-around player than his teammate. Mays played a more challenging position than McCovey as well, and while McCovey struck fear into opposing pitchers Mays was the player who haunted their dreams. McCovey doesn't have enough to best Mays in this tournament, but there's no shame in losing to Willie Mays. The Say-Hey Kid advances to the finals.

Winner: Willie Mays

2) Barry Bonds vs. 3) Mel Ott

Like the previous Final Four match-up, the great hitter is bested by the better all-around player. While Ott was fearsome with the bat, he couldn't match Bonds' blend of contact, power, and speed. There was no way to stop Bonds except to walk him, and his presence at the plate changed the way the game was managed. No other hitter could touch Bonds in his generation. Ott was great, but Bonds was better.

Winner: Barry Bonds

The Finals

1) Willie Mays vs. 2) Barry Bonds

The godfather versus the godson: it had to end this way. The two greatest players of their generations, and two of the best all time. Bonds and Mays had similar skills offensively: both could hit for power, both could hit for average, both had tremendous speed, and both were feared. They're so close offensively that it's impossible to judge them on that alone, so you have to turn to something else. In this case, it's defense. While Bonds won his fair share of Gold Gloves playing left field, he was never thought of as a great defensive player and lacked a strong throwing arm. On the other hand, Mays is widely considered to be one of the best defensive center fielders to have ever played the game. He had a rocket arm and covered more ground in the outfield than Bonds ever did. It may not seem like much, but it's enough to push Mays past Bonds as the greatest Giant to have ever played.

Winner: Willie Mays

There really couldn't be any other choice.

Dave Tobener is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer who has written about the Giants for the better part of a decade. His work has appeared on numerous sports websites including Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew. You can follow him on Twitter @gggiants

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