Willie Mays

Willie Mays (Credit: Openverse)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated following the passing of Willie Mays on June 18, 2024. This list also reflects the entire history of the San Francisco Giants franchise, which played in New York through the 1957 season. Mays played in both cities during his 22-year career.

San Francisco is a gorgeous city known for its beautiful architecture, the Golden Gate Bridge, and passionate sports fans who love to cheer for the Giants and 49ers. Undoubtedly, the San Francisco Giants have had some amazing players come through the organization. But, which players deserve to be called the best Giants player of all time? 

Before we dive into the list of the best players to wear a Giants uniform, let’s examine the lengths fans are willing to go to watch their favorite team play in person. A recent survey of 1,500 self-identified sports fanatics sought to discover the lengths sports fans are willing to go to see their favorite team play a game in person. The survey found that the average respondent is willing to travel an average of five hours and 48 minutes plus spend over $760 for tickets to the game. 

Traveling to professional sporting events is nothing new for Americans. We love our sports and we’re loyal to our teams. However, another recent study suggests that simply getting out to watch a live sports event – whether it’s professional or amateur sports – is beneficial for your mental health. Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that attending live sporting events actually helps increase overall mental well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness. A survey of 7,000 adults found that those respondents who attended live sporting events scored better in terms of life satisfaction than those who had not recently attended events. That’s a great reason to get out and watch the Giants play at Oracle Park in San Francisco this summer. 

So, which players are considered the greatest in franchise history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you a consensus best Giants players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed Giants players from across these sites. Think we missed your all-time favorite? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

Oracle Park in San Fransisco
Oracle Park in San Fransisco (Photo by Galaad Aerilys on Unsplash)

The List: Best Giants Players of All Time, According to Experts

1. Willie Mays (1951-1952 & 1954-1972)

Easily topping the list of the best Giants players of all time is none other than the legendary Willie Mays. Mays is one of the best baseball players of all time, and he’s certainly considered one of the top center fielders in MLB history.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, no player is more synonymous with the Giants organization than Willie Mays. The ‘Say Hey Kid‘ is probably the best center fielder in baseball history, and his career accolades are seemingly never-ending…. He won the batting title in 1954–the same season he earned his only World Series championship ring. Mays led the league in homers four times, stolen bases four times, and triples three times. In addition to his immense offensive accomplishments, Mays is incredibly just as remembered for his defense. He earned 12 Gold Glove awards and almost everyone reading this has certainly seen videos of some of his memorable catches. Mays is the Giants all-time leader in games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, homers, and offensive WAR,” explains Yardbarker

Mays is considered one of the best all-around players in MLB history. Mays could hit, run, field, and throw. Mays’ career numbers definitely stand the test of time, and he still holds several Giants records. However, Mays’ numbers should be even greater as he missed a couple of seasons early in his career to serve in the military during the Korean War. Mays’ sacrifice wasn’t forgotten by the Giants organization or Giants fans, and this true American icon is honored as such. 

“One of the greatest all-around players in MLB history, Mays played in 155 games for the Giants between 1951 and 1952, before missing the entire 1953 serving for the United States military in Korea. Mays returned to MLB in time for his age-23 season, and won his first National League MVP Award. Mays would spend parts of 21 seasons with the Giants franchise (six in New York, 15 in San Francisco). The ‘Say Hey Kid’ won two NL MVPs, 12 Gold Gloves and helped the Giants to win the 1954 World Series during his illustrious career spent almost exclusively with one franchise,” writes Audacy

Mays didn’t have to win a World Series to be considered one of the best MLB players in history, but that 1954 title is just the icing on the proverbial cake. In all, Mays still has the sixth most home runs all-time (660) and is tied with Roberto Clemente for the most Gold Gloves won by an outfielder (12). 

“A rare five-tool player, Mays hit .302 for his career, swatted 660 home runs, stole 338 bases, won 12 straight Gold Gloves from 1957–68, and had a strong outfield arm that earned 188 assists from center field. He easily went into the Hall of Fame after receiving 94.7 percent of the vote on his first ballot in 1979. Mays opened his career with a bang for the New York Giants, earning his first career hit with a home run off of Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Mays would go on to win National League Rookie of the Year honors,” adds How They Play

2. Barry Bonds (1993-2007)

Next up on the list of the best Giants players of all time is the greatest home run hitter in MLB history – Barry Bonds. Despite not being voted into the Hall of Fame, Bonds is considered by most to be the greatest hitter in the history of baseball, and as most Giants fans know, Bonds is Willie Mays’ Godson. 

“While Mays is the most accomplished player in this organization’s history, fellow outfielder Barry Bonds was certainly the most polarizing. The big left-handed slugger had already won two MVP awards in Pittsburgh before arriving in the Bay Area in 1993, but in San Francisco he became the most intimidating offensive player in the sport. In 15 seasons with the Giants Bonds blasted the final 586 home runs of his illustrious career–en route to a Major League record 762 career long balls. He won five MVP awards in a San Francisco uniform–including four in a row from ’01-’04, and in that 2001 campaign he crushed an MLB record 73 homers,” raves Yardbarker

Bonds has the career numbers to claim the top spot on almost every list, but he did not play his entire career with the San Francisco Giants. Bonds played the first seven years of his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“If you had factored in Bonds’ seven seasons in Pittsburgh, he would have the top resume of anyone on this list. As is, Bonds won five National League MVP Awards with the Giants, more than any other player in the history of the sport has won in their entire career. He set the single-season home run record in 2001 when he hit 73 home runs. He set the single-season walks record in 2004 with 232. And in 2007, his final season with the Giants, Bonds surpassed Henry Aaron for most home runs in MLB history, finishing at 762,” furthers Audacy

Regardless of steroid allegations, Bonds is an amazing player. Barry Bonds holds the MLB career record for the most home runs, walks, and Silver Slugger Awards with 12. “Barry Bonds is undoubtedly the greatest player to play in San Francisco—after all, he is arguably the greatest player to ever play the game. The most feared hitter of his generation, Giants fans had a blast watching him hit bombs into McCovey Cove. As a reminder of his greatness, just look at some of the numbers he amassed over his illustrious 22-year career… The list goes on and on. Yes, he took steroids, but that doesn’t override the fact that he was the single best player for San Francisco. Whether or not he is a Hall of Famer is a whole different discussion,” explains Bleacher Report

3. Willie McCovey (1959-1973 & 1977-1980)

Sliding into the third spot on the list of the best Giants players of all time is none other than Willie McCovey. McCovey was a powerful hitter who played a huge role for the Giants throughout the 60s, and the team honored his legendary efforts by naming the area of the bay outside the stadium McCovey Cove.

“Willie Mac played nearly two decades for the San Francisco Giants. His powerful stroke was a dominant force in the middle of the Giants lineup in the ’60s. A member of the 500 home run club, he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1959. A decade later, he won the NL MVP award, leading the league with 45 HR and 126 RBI. The six-time all-star was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986 and left a lasting impression on San Francisco. The Giants appropriately retired his No. 44, and the water behind right field, McCovey Cove, also honors this Giant great,” explains Bleacher Report

McCovey was a truly extraordinary hitter whose talents were overlooked a bit as he played alongside Willie Mays. Fortunately for Giants fans, McCovey eventually broke out of Mays’ shadow and went on to create his own legacy of greatness

“First baseman Willie McCovey was overshadowed a little during the early part of his career by playing on the same team as Willie Mays, but the sweet-swinging lefty soon became one of the more feared hitters in the National League in his own right. McCovey was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1959 and would go on to make six all-star teams in a San Francisco uniform. He was never better than in 1969 when he slashed .320/.453/.656 and led the league with both 45 homers and 126 RBI–his second consecutive season pacing the NL in both power categories. McCovey was deservedly named NL MVP in that ’69 campaign, and he still remains royalty in the San Francisco Bay Area,” explains Yardbarker

Willie McCovey was a powerful hitter with a great eye at the plate. McCovey was a big man who stood at six feet four inches tall and weighed around 200 pounds, so you can imagine his ability to hit towering home runs. Today, McCovey’s home run totals are good for 21st all-time, and he’s a member of the Hall of Fame. 

“While another left-handed hitter in Giants history is most famous for hitting balls into McCovey Cove, you can bet that the man who the section of the San Francisco Bay just beyond the right field wall at Oracle Park is named after would have hit quite a few splash home runs himself. McCovey hit 469 of his 521 career home runs as a member of the Giants. McCovey, who is 21st in MLB history in home runs, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986,” adds Audacy

4. Christy Mathewson (1900-1916)

Mathewson played for the New York Giants before the team moved to San Francisco, but he’s still widely regarded as one of the best players to ever wear a Giants uniform. 

“Right-hander Christy Mathewson pitched all but one of his 636 Major League outings in a New York Giants uniform, and for the bulk of his career was arguably the premier starter in the National League. Mathewson led the league in wins four times, earned five ERA titles, and led the league in strikeouts on five different occasions. He won the pitching Triple Crown twice, finished 2nd in the NL MVP voting in 1911, and was a huge part of the Giants World Series win in 1905. Mathewson’s name is littered across the Giants record books, as he remains the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, shutouts,” explains Yardbarker.  

Christy Mathewson played during the early days of MLB, but faced some of the most talented players baseball has ever seen. Mathewson is one of the best pitchers in the history of MLB, and he was so good that the annual Cy Young Award could have easily been named the Christy Mathewson Award. 

“The Cy Young Award wasn’t given out until 50 years after Mathewson last pitched in the majors, but it’s fair to assume he would have won quite a few had the honor been given out during his career. Between 1900 and 1911, Mathewson led all pitchers with 73.2 fWAR, edging out, literally, Cy Young. Among all pitchers in MLB history, Mathewson’s 70.2 WAR 7 — a player’s top seven individual season bWAR totals added up — is fifth,” writes Audacy

Mathewson could be considered a better pitcher than Cy Young, according to the stats. Mathewson was so good that he was one of the first players inducted into the Hall of Fame, alongside other all-time great players such as Ty Cobb. 

“Though he pitched in the dead-ball era, the pitching contributions of Christy Mathewson will never be forgotten. He became a charter member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 when he was selected on 90.7 percent of ballots. That cemented his legacy after a legendary 17-year career that was spent entirely with the New York Giants (save for one start with the Cincinnati Reds in 1916) …  Mathewson was perhaps at his best during the 1905 World Series. In the span of six days, Mathewson hurled three complete-game shutouts to win Games 1, 3, and 5 to propel the New York Giants over the Philadelphia Athletics. He appeared in eight more World Series games between 1911–13, but the Giants lost each year. He was 5-5 all-time in the World Series, but had a minuscule 0.97 ERA,” writes How They Play.    

5. Mel Ott (1926-1947)

Rounding out the list of the best Giants players of all time is yet another legendary power-hitter – Mel Ott. The Giants have a history of fielding some of the greatest left-handed power-hitters in MLB history, and Mel Ott is the player who started that legacy. 

“Left-handed slugger Mel Ott was far from a hulking figure at just 5’9 and 170 lbs, but for over two decades, he was one of the most feared power hitters in the league. The Louisiana native spent all of his 22 big league seasons with the Giants–while they were still in New York–and he was the face of this franchise for a long time. In over 2700 games for the Giants, Ott slashed .304/.412/.533 with 511 homers and a franchise-leading 1860 RBI,” writes Yardbarker

Again, Mel Ott played for the New York Giants, not the San Francisco Giants. Regardless, Ott is widely regarded as one of the best hitters to ever wear a Giants uniform and he’s a truly legendary player in the franchise’s history. 

“Ott is third in Giants history in home runs with 511, having spent his entire 22-year career with the New York *baseball* Giants. Ott never won a National League MVP Award, but he finished in the top 10 in voting six different times and made 12 All-Star teams,” furthers Audacy

Mel Ott came before all of the other power hitters on this list, and he’s considered the first big power-hitting threat to ever come through the Giants organization. In fact, Ott was the first player from the National League to join one of the most prestigious ‘clubs’ in all of baseball

“For many years, Mel Ott was the most dangerous offensive force the Giants had ever rostered. Ott was the first player from the National League to become a member of the 500-home run club. He finished his career with 511, and he held the league record until Willie Mays overtook him in the 1960s… Ott debuted at age 17, and by his fourth season, he had already displayed prodigious power by swatting 42 home runs and 151 RBI—both career-highs. That came amidst an 18-year stretch from 1924–45 in which Ott led the Giants in home runs, the longest such streak for any player with any single team in Major League history,” adds How They Play

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