SF Giants great Hunter Pence officially announced his retirement on Saturday via a video on social media.
He wasn’t a part of the 2010 World Series championship team. He wasn’t drafted or developed by the organization. Yet, few players have formed a bond with the SF Giants fanbase like outfielder Hunter Pence, who announced his retirement in a video shared on Twitter Saturday.
It’s a testament to Pence that in a Giants dynasty defined by homegrown talent, he still managed to join the upper echelon of fan favorites. Players like Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner were present for the Giants transition from cellar-dwellers to world champions. Pence wasn’t.
He was acquired after the Giants already had a ring in 2010 and were far removed from irrelevance. It didn’t matter. Pence’s undeniable passion and charm left every fanbase he played for mesmerized, perhaps none more than Giants faithful.
Pence was different. In more ways than worth describing. He played defense like his right elbow was in a permanent cast and batted like he would turn to stone if he ever stood still. If a different player had those characteristics, they could have easily become a source of frustration. With Pence, they were the unforgettable pizzaz with which he played.
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2004 MLB Draft out of the University of Texas by the Houston Astros, Pence would make his debut in less than three years. He wasted no time proving he belonged in the majors, blasting 17 home runs and a .322/.360/.539 triple-slash line as a rookie. For the next seven seasons, Pence would hit at least 20 home runs and play in 154 games.
As the Astros committed to Jeff Luhnow’s extreme tanking, Pence was shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies, concluding five impressive seasons with Houston. While he immediately became a major contributor in Philly, the rest of the team’s aging core didn’t have enough left to make a deep postseason run.
Roughly a year after he was shipped to the Phillies, the Giants sent outfielder Nate Schierholtz, young catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and pitching prospect Seth Rosin to Philadelphia for Pence’s services.
His first stint in San Francisco was far from his best work. To close the 2012 regular season, Pence hit just .219/.287/.384. His struggles continued that postseason. In the Giants postseason run, Pence batted just .210 with a .290 slugging percentage.
Of course, no one remembers that part of the story. No one should. Pence was the heart that inspired them to mammoth comebacks in the NLDS and NLCS against the Reds and Cardinals.
Pence’s work on the field felt secondary to all he seemed to do for everyone else on the team. He did plenty on the field though. He received his only All-Star selection for the Giants in 2014 and had an even better performance in 2013.
He redeemed his 2012 postseason struggles in the Giants most recent title run. In the 2014 postseason, Pence hit .303 and had a compelling case for World Series MVP (.444/.500/.667 triple-slash) if not for Bumgarner’s incomparable pitching performance.
Injuries and age began piling up for Pence following the 2014 campaign and it seemed like his career would come to a quiet end following a career-worst 2018 season.
Looking back, it feels silly to ever think Pence couldn’t find a way to rebound. That offseason, he rebuilt his swing from the ground up, joined the Texas Rangers, recorded the highest slugging percentage of his career, and earned his fourth and final All-Star selection.
This offseason, the Giants and Pence reunited for one final season. He failed to replicate his 2019 success, but he still found a way to have a signature moment. Eventually, the Giants designated Pence for assignment where he became a free agent.
In the end, Pence hit .279/.334/.461 with 244 home runs and 942 runs batted in. While not quite a Hall-of-Fame career, Pence has been one of the most consistent outfielders of the 21st century. Still, it’s impossible to quantify Pence’s value in numbers.
Hunter Pence was a generational talent, perhaps not with his production on the field, but with his uniqueness, the way he played the game, and how he connected with people on and off the field. There’s no way around it, he is an SF Giants legend.