One particular Giants player lacks this easy recognition. Yet this left-hander’s deeds ought to be etched in boldfaced type instead of time’s fading ink.
Perhaps the passing of the decades will validate Gary Lavelle’s oft-overlooked, yet significant club record.
Lavelle pitched in 647 games from 1974-1984 with the Giants, topping the franchise’s all-time list. He amassed that total while performing almost exclusively in relief, starting only three big league games. His durability made him a valued member of Giants teams that finished above .500 only three times during his San Francisco tenure.
Sergio Romo, who relieved in 515 games with the Giants from 2008-16, seemed to have a chance to catch Lavelle. But Romo, who departed in free agency, would have needed at least two more solid seasons and probably part of a third to climb to the top spot.
“Guys don’t stay with teams as long as they used to,” Lavelle said recently. “That’s one record I was very pleased to get. I was a Giants fan growing up, so I was blessed to be able to play with them for all those years.”
Lavelle appeared in at least 62 games eight times, including six seasons in a row (1975-80).
“When I played with him, it was, ‘Gary’s up, Gary’s up, Gary’s up,’ said John D’Acquisto, a Giants pitcher from 1973-76. “Every time we looked, ‘Pudge’ was in the game.”
Lavelle, 72, earned his ubiquitous image. He occupied various bullpen roles before serving as the Giants’ primary closer from 1977-79. He was a National League All-Star in 1977 and ’83, two of the three seasons in which he reached 20 saves.
“Jack of all trades, master of them all,” D’Acquisto said.
Relying on a mid-90s fastball and a sharply breaking slider, Lavelle was no soft-tossing lefty.
“On today’s [radar] guns, he’d be around 100 [mph],” said Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, a teammate of Lavelle’s from 1983-84. “With that high leg kick, you didn’t see the ball early. He could pitch high in the strike zone with that hard fastball. And his ball was ‘heavy.’ It was not one you wanted to get jammed with, especially playing on cold nights in San Francisco.”
“The slider down and in to a right-hander was devastating,” said pitcher Bill Laskey, a teammate of Lavelle from 1982-84.
Lavelle also won 10 or more games, a lofty total for a reliever, in three different seasons. That reflected his effectiveness -- “I was going to get into the game if it was close,” he said matter-of-factly -- as well as the way ballclubs employed relievers in that era. Lavelle and his counterparts routinely worked multiple innings, compared to the preponderance of one-inning stints that constitute a reliever’s workload today.
Lavelle amassed 1,085 innings in 745 career Major League outings. He pitched 100 innings or more in five seasons for San Francisco. The last Giants pitcher to accumulate at least 100 innings while pitching solely in relief was Craig Lefferts, who totaled 107 innings in 70 games in 1989.
Lavelle developed his knack for working multiple innings in the Minors, where he started in 129 of 199 appearances.
“Most of us were starters,” said D’Acquisto, who was groomed as a starter in the Minors before relieving in 174 Major League games and starting 92. “You had to be a starter to get to the big leagues. Gary did better in short stints. He could pitch every day because he was so strong.”
Lavelle, who occupies a spot on the Giants’ Wall of Fame, also took that special pride to the diamond that comes from playing for one’s favorite team.
Lavelle explained that he grew up in northern Pennsylvania, between New York and Philadelphia. When the time came to root for either the Phillies or Giants, he chose the team that had Mays on its roster.
“He was kind of like my hero,” Lavelle said.
Lavelle felt “saddened” when the Giants moved to San Francisco before the 1958 season, but he coped by listening to Mets, Phillies and Pirates radio broadcasts when the Giants visited those teams.
“I gravitated toward the Giants the whole time,” he said.
After Lavelle’s Major League career ended, he maintained his passion for baseball while coaching Greenbrier Christian Academy of Chesapeake, Va., to 12 state titles in 20 seasons. He spent four years as head coach at Bryant and Stratton College in Virginia Beach, where he will serve in an advisory role and as assistant pitching coach in 2021.