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The Long Road Home
Some sports teams have a history. The Giants embody history.
These days, franchises choose their team colors in marketing focus groups and pick a nickname based on how many fuzzy mascot dolls it will sell. The Giants, by contrast, are the original goods. They pitched two no-hitters, suited up seven future Hall of Famers, and won two postseason championshipsall before 1900.
You want a long-standing rivalry? In the first-ever meeting between the two teams, the Giants defeated the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (later known as the Dodgers) six games to three in the 1889 championship (there was no official World Series until 1903). Game Four was marred by a huge rhubarb over an umpire's call. The teams haven't cared much for each other ever since.
Originally called the New York Gothams, the team was renamed in the 1885 pennant race, so the story goes, when manager Jim Mutrie, thrilled after an eleven-inning win over the Philadelphia Phillies, shouted, "My big fellows! My Giants! We are the people." Luckily, the New York Big Fellows didn't catch on, and it has been the Giants for more than a century.
The Giants were the first team to serve hot dogs (at the Polo Grounds in the early 1900s). They were the first to have a pitcher almost blown off the mound (Stu Miller in the 1961 All-Star Game). And they were the firstand hopefully the lastto have their home ballpark rocked by an earthquake during a World Series (1989).
About the only thing they haven't seemed to be able to do is stay in one place. From New York to San Francisco, from the Polo Grounds to Seals Stadium and Candlestick Park, this has been a franchise in search of a home. Although the New York Giants were in the "Polo Grounds" for more than sixty years, the team actually played in four ballparks in three locations that bore that name. One structure burned to the ground in 1911, and the Giants shared the "new" Polo Grounds with the Yankees for ten seasons.
There was an undeniable magic to the most famous Polo Grounds, the quirky park that sat next to the cliffs of Coogan's Bluff. Its offbeat dimensions certainly gave it a character all its ownshort fences in left and right that widened out to a cavernous center field that seemed to stretch on forever. But much of the magic came from the remarkable moments that took place in its confines, beginning with the unmatchable thirty-year run of John McGraw, who came to manage the Giants in 1902. It was McGraw who saw the potential of young right-hander Christy Mathewson. Others wanted Mathewson to play first or shortstop, but McGraw installed him in the starting rotation, and for the next seventeen seasons Mathewson averaged almost twenty-two wins a year.
In the 1905 World Series "Matty" tossed three complete-game shutouts in six days to win the championship. With McGraw managing, the Giants were a force in the game for three decades, winning ten National League pennants and three World Series.
The Giants took their fourth Series title in 1933 under new manager Bill Terry. But after that, there was a long lull, broken only by the thunderous slugging of Mel Ott. In the late 1940s, team owner Horace Stoneham shook everyone out of their doldrums and kicked off the modern era of the Giants by hiring Leo Durocher, former manager of the despised Brooklyn Dodgers.
Four years after he took over, Durocher led the Giants to a playoff against ... well, it had to be the Dodgers, didn't it? In the bottom of the ninth of the deciding game, trailing 4-1, the Giants scored once and put two runners aboard. With one out, Bobby Thomson slapped the second pitch he saw over the left-field wall. After that, there was a lot of yelling. You may have heard about it.
Durocher also had a young prospect he was pinning his hopes ona center fielder who could hit, run, and throw. After a promising first season (he was named Rookie of the Year), the kid had to spend a couple of years in the army. But when he returned in 1954, Willie Mays was ready to reinvent the way the game was playedwith his bat, with his legs, and with his glove. His over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds is still on continuous replay wherever baseball highlights are being shown.
But all was not well at Coogan's Bluff. Durocher left, the team faltered, and attendance slid disastrously. On August 19, 1957, Stoneham dropped the bombshell: he was moving the Giants to San Francisco. How, they asked in New York, could he do that to young baseball fans?
"I feel bad about the kids," Stoneham cracked, "but I haven't seen many of their fathers lately."
So the Giants headed west and settled into cozy Seals Stadium, where the Hamm's Beer sign endlessly filled and emptied a neon glass of beer behind home plate. To the surprise of nearly everyone, the Giants not only drew crowds on the West Coast, but they were contenders right from the start.
The established superstar was, of course, the incomparable Mays. General manager Chub Feeney would later admit that he had turned down a $1 million offer to trade the future Hall of Famer to St. Louis. Feeney joked that if he had made the deal, San Francisco fans would have heaved him into the Bay.
Along with transplanted New Yorkers, fans quickly had "homegrown" stars. Twenty-year-old Orlando Cepeda hit a home run on Opening Day and finished the 1958 season as Rookie of the Year. The next season, big Willie McCovey was called up for the stretch run, and in 1960 Juan Marichal, perhaps the greatest pitcher never to win the Cy Young Award, made his first appearance. That's three more Hall of Fame inductees right there.
Between 1958 and 1973, the Giants finished worse than third only three times. And in the unforgettable 1962 season, they took it all the way to Game Seven of the World Series against the New York Yankees. An entire book could be devoted to that final game alone. Let's just say that one interested fan called it the greatest Series game he had ever seen, and since that fan was Joe DiMaggio, you have to figure he knew what he was talking about.
As exciting as the Series was, it epitomized a Giants phenomenon. They were always tantalizingly close but never quite won it. After a nice run as contenders and a brief playoff appearance in 1971, another stretch of the doldrums set in. In 1972 the team fell below .500 for the first time, and attendance began to slip.
A sad, familiar pattern reemerged. By 1976, Horace Stoneham announced that he was moving the team again, this time to Toronto. It was the same old song, and Giants fans would hear it again and again. (Over the next twenty years, in fact, there would be reports of the team leaving for Tampa Bay, San Jose, Sacramento, and other points all over the map.) Only through the herculean efforts of Bob Lurie, who bought the team from Stoneham, was baseball saved in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, it wasn't very good baseball. The Giants sputtered in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was grumbling about windy, cold Candlestick Park and the team foundered, eventually losing an even 100 games in 1985.
A black cloud seemed to hang over the 'Stick. The only hope was that someone would come along with the magic words to break the spell.
And someone did. His name was Roger Craig, and the words were "Humm Baby."
Hired as manager late in the '85 season, Craig seemed to turn the Giants into a solid contender overnight. They reached the National League Championship Series in 1987, losing to St. Louis in a seven-game battle that will always be remembered for Jeffrey (Hac Man) Leonard's "one flap down" home-run trot. Two years later they brought the World Series to Candlestick Park for the second time.
But the 1989 World Series turned out to be most memorable for the game that wasn't played. Just before the start of Game Three, the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake struck. When the shaking stopped, the Candlestick crowd, still primed for a game, gave a hearty cheer. It was no laughing matter, however. After a ten-day delay, the Series resumed, but the joy had evaporated. The Oakland A's won in a four-game sweep.
Excerpted from Splash Hit! by Joan Walsh and C. W. Nevius. Copyright © 2001 by Amy Rennert Books. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.