The Count returns to San Francisco
Posted on May 18, 2018
John “The Count” Montefusco of the San Francisco Giants stands on the dugout steps waiting for a pre-game ceremony before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park on Sunday, April 8, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
It’s no secret that I grew up a huge San Francisco Giants fan. Even though I was raised in the East Bay surrounded by Oakland A’s fans during their incredible World Series run of championships in 1972, 73, and 74, I clung to my heroes in the orange and black. And it was hard. They were so shitty! But they were my team and I learned to look for any bright spots I could find when I watched one of the few games that were televised each season on KTVU, listened to every game on radio station KSFO, or read game stories written by the great Ralph Wiley in the afternoon Oakland Tribune.
The 1973 squad was my first real team. I was 8-years-old and fully into everything they did for the first time. Bobby Bonds was great, but I also loved guys like Chris Arnold. The team was pretty good and kept my interest for the entire season, but the 1974 team was bad. Like really bad. The team was unwatchable, but in our house we still watched every game that was televised and listened to every game on the radio. This is why I was in front of our 25-inch Zenith color television on September 3, 1974 when a rookie pitcher named John Montefusco made his big league debut for the Giants in a tough situation against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Giants starting pitcher Ron Bryant got lit up in the bottom of the first inning and was removed from the game with the bases loaded without recording an out after giving up three runs. The Dodgers were leading 3-2 and the fans were going crazy. The bullpen door in right field opened and out came a kid from New Jersey with #26 on his back facing a daunting task.
On this night a legend was born and little kids like me became star struck. All Montefusco did was pitch 9 innings, while striking out 7 and giving up only 1 run. And oh yeah, he homered in his first official at bat. You gotta be kidding me?!
In 1975 Montefusco, now nicknamed “The Count” earned the National League Rookie of the Year Award by going 15-9 with a nifty 2.88 ERA. His flamboyant personality and boastful predictions helped draw fans to dreary Candlestick Park and kept the club interesting. “He was all we had,” said MLB.com Giants beat writer Chris Haft to me the other day when we talked about Montefusco. Haft grew up in the Bay Area and was a huge Giants fan as a kid. He has insane knowledge about the club and can out talk me about the old school Giants, which is incredibly hard to do. The thing is Haft is right. You always wanted to see what The Count would do. He made the All-Star team in 1976 and threw a shut out inning at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia while wearing white cleats. He tossed a no-hitter later in the 1976 season against the Braves in Atlanta.
Everything The Count did in was bigger than life. He signed a new $60,000 contract at the Playboy Club in North Beach after arriving in a limo and being escorted in by Playboy Bunnies. In 1975 NBC launched a sitcom called “The Montefuscos.” The show was so bad many critics called it “The Monte-Fiascos” and it was cancelled after eight weeks. The Chicago Tribune said, “it was a program built around an alleged Italian family in which each member talked with his hands, drank gallons of red wine, and said ‘AY!’ approximately every 15 seconds.”
Legendary Sports Illustrated scribe Ron Fimrite called Montefusco “the most refreshing personality to play baseball in a long time,” in a 1976 story. “This city was made for me. It’s a class place, and I’ve got class,” said Montefusco. Montefusco later opened up a nightclub in San Francisco’s North Beach with teammate John D’Acquisto. The late night hangout for ballplayers had alleged mob ties and was closed down shortly after it opened.
Montefucsco’s career slowly unravelled in San Francisco, culminating in June of 1980 when he squared off against skipper Dave Bristol after a game in the Giants clubhouse. “I’ll be out of here soon,” Montefusco predicted yesterday, blackened eye in evidence because, the angry pitcher said, Bristol “sucker-punched me.” Can you imagine this happening now? The picture of The Count showing off his black eye the next day at his locker is priceless. Never the less, after stints with the Braves, Padres, and Yankees, Montefusco will always be a Giant. This is why every time he comes back to San Francisco it is a huge deal for me.
Last month The Count made an appearance at AT&T Park before a Giants game to be honored on the field before a game with some other former Giants. I just had to go and shoot some pictures and talk to him. I had shot pictures of him before but had never said much to him other than “hi.” This time we talked quite a bit in the dugout and I let him know how special he was to guys my age. I recounted many great moments in his career from my crazy memory bank and he loved to finish my stories because remembers everything. The highlight was introducing him to current Giants pitcher Corey Gearrin. Gearrin is a great guy who recently switched his number from #62 to #26, which was Montefusco’s number. The great thing is Gearrin knows who Montefusco is and I told this to The Count. He went nuts and demanded to meet him and have his picture taken with him. This resulted in a fun moment in the dugout before the game and some great pictures that The Count demanded be sent to him.
Being able to see Montefusco and reflect back on his career and my pictures of him has been very special. Of course I am not quite old enough to have shot him while he was an active player I am thrilled to have had the chance to see him a few times around the park in recent years. Giants fans still love Montefusco and you can see how much he loves it here. I keep hoping that someday Montefusco’s old friend and former Giants bat boy Mario Alioto (currently the club’s Executive Vice President, Business Operations) will give The Count a job and bring him back to San Francisco where he belongs. How about it Mario?