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Fortunately for King and the Giants, McCovey and Bonds both have been able to play almost every day, and right now they form the most lethal one-two batting attack in the league. Not that McCovey has been enjoying crazy, all-out health. On the contrary, he has been hurt all year with an arthritic knee and calcium deposits and bone chips in his hip. Nevertheless, he has missed only 13 games, and he leads the National League with 41 home runs and is tied with Ron Santo with 112 RBIs, statistics that are even more impressive when his 104 bases on balls (including 41 intentional walks) are added to them. The opposition now often plays a four-man outfield against McCovey and in close situations prefers to walk him even when there is a runner on first.
Bonds, at 23, has suddenly blossomed, as many had predicted he would. He has marvelous speed and has stolen 39 bases in 42 attempts. He also has tremendous power when he meets the ball, something he does not always do. So far this year he has hit 29 home runs and driven in 75 runs, but he also has struck out 159 times. "If I were batting, say, .210 instead of .270," he said, "then I'd be worrying about my strikeouts. But I don't like to worry up there."
Called the next Mays when the Giants signed him in 1965, Bonds shrugs and says, "There will be no new Mays. How can there be? I just want to play the way I can. I can run and steal bases. I don't steal like Brock. He goes anytime. I only go in strategic circumstances. I've always had good power when I've hit the ball. Hitting the ball has been the problem. I've got time, and I've got a lot of players here helping me out."
McCovey and Bonds have carried the Giants during the long injury siege. "The writers always said we wouldn't win without Mays," McCovey said last week in Houston. "We have proved the last few weeks that we can win without him. We have gotten rid of that tag. Guys read things like that and they think to themselves, 'I'll show them,' and they go out and play great ball. That's what has happened to us. The guys who have come off the bench this year have done great jobs for us. And that never used to happen before. Look at Jim Davenport. Ten game-winning hits, and he's really a reserve."
The dependable, efficient bench is only part of the new look that Clyde King has injected into the Giants. From the start of the spring he has preached teamwork to his players. In the old days a Giant home-run hitter was welcomed back to the dugout like a worst enemy; King wanted a reception committee at the dugout steps. If a Giant happened to have a bad day even though the club won, that player usually sat around the clubhouse and sulked. King surveyed the locker room and detected the sulkers. He then prodded them into joining the party. Also, he discontinued the parties after defeats.
Most of the Giants accepted the manager's fresh approach. However, they all waited for the first real confrontation between manager and superstar. Mays, the No. 1 Giant of all time, is 38 years old now, and at times he performs like a 38-year-old rather than the marvelous player of only a few years back. He was virtually his own manager under Franks, playing when he wanted to, resting when he wanted to. Although the other Giants agreed that Mays deserved some preferential treatment, they did feel that he often took advantage of his position. Franks, unfortunately, never played a dominant role in these matters.
King and Mays clashed in the Astrodome near the end of June. The two men had devised a plan whereby Mays would get extra rest after particularly strenuous games or series of games. This night there was a mixup. When King, who had written Mays' name into the lineup, noticed that Willie was not on the bench to bring the lineup card out to the umpires at home plate, he grabbed the card, scratched Mays' name from it and went to the umpires' conference himself. Mays arrived in the dugout seconds later, and when he discovered what King had done he was furious.
There are various and conflicting accounts of what happened on the bench. King says that everything he read in the papers was accurate, although he says he did not read every report. Two Giants did prevent Mays from doing something he would have regretted. King censured his star in front of the other players. In effect, he said that he was the manager of the Giants. When he said that, Clyde King was the manager of the Giants, and the fact has not been questioned since. McCovey and Marichal assured him it was so.
Last weekend the Giants flew into Houston again, this time to open an eight-game road trip—their most important of the year—with three games against the Astros. The Giants had not won in six games in the Dome this year, and both McCovey and Bonds were hit-less on the AstroTurf. At the same time the Astros were talking pennant. The dozens of motels surrounding the Astrodome complex had "All The Way Astros" messages on their marquees. The Houston papers bannered the series on page 1.
The enthusiasm might well have depressed the Giants, who had become just about inured to inattention at home. Recently, for instance, they returned to San Francisco from a long trip East with a five-game winning streak and, for the moment at least, a lock on first place. The headlines on the sports pages, however, were CLIFTON MCNEIL MAY SIGN WITH 49ERS and RICK BARRY MAY SIGN WITH WARRIORS. One paper, dead set against the expansion of Candlestick Park, seemingly would give up its sports page rather than mention the Giants favorably.