SI Vault
Robert Shaplen
May 05, 1958
The Giants' owner is one of baseball's best-liked but least understood men. Here, as he starts anew in San Francisco, is a warm and revealing picture of him
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May 05, 1958

The Lonely, Loyal Mr. Stoneham

The Giants' owner is one of baseball's best-liked but least understood men. Here, as he starts anew in San Francisco, is a warm and revealing picture of him

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Horace C. Stoneham, the president and principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, is not a man of many dimensions—baseball has always been and always will be the major interest of his life—but he is nevertheless one of the most complicated men in the game. On the one hand he has been called a highly knowledgeable executive and creator of pennant miracles, and on the other a sentimental, bad businessman who must be held chiefly responsible for the demise of the Giants in New York. Both, and a lot else, pro and con, may be true, but from a personal standpoint these are essentially superficial observations. The most significant thing about Horace Stoneham as an individual is his truly massive loneliness. It is that which casts his moods and guides his actions, which drives and goads him, and which, depending on what he does about it, makes him the best or worst of companions.

The forms of Stoneham's loneliness are both private and professional. Publicly he is an almost solitary figure on the contemporary scene. Virtually the last of the devoted club owners who grew up in a bona fide baseball and not a business atmosphere, whose love of the game and emotional investment in it transcend the cold realities of dollars and cents, he has friends but few confreres around him. At a National League meeting there are many men he can talk to but not many he can reminisce with, for where Stoneham prefers to deal in memories, others, like Walter O'Malley, nowadays want to deal in money.

Stoneham runs the Giants as if they were one big family, which, more than most teams, they are This often resulted in the operation being called "old-fashioned," overloyal and dilatory; but, in part at least, this is simply a compensation for his own lack of family ties. He would like to be bound by them, but no longer can be. A Catholic, he has been separated from his wife for many years. He doesn't get much of a chance to see his daughter, Mary, who is married to an Army officer, or his three grandchildren, aged 7, 5 and 2. Even though he and his 30-year-old bachelor son, Charles H. (Pete) Stoneham, have been working associates in recent years, they have a silent if not distant relationship, which simply seems to make them lonely together.

It is no secret that Stoneham, who is also an extremely shy man, has frequently found solace in drinking. He does it publicly as well as privately and is the first to admit it, as he did recently at an Old-Timers gathering in San Francisco. There, in his first major appearance in town, he insisted on getting up to speak, rambled for 10 minutes and then self-consciously suggested, before sinking into his chair, that "some of us drink too much...." But there are always people who take care of Stoneham when this happens, and, as time goes on, he shows an increasing ability to take care of himself, at least to the extent of knowing when not to start again once he has stopped; and on several occasions he has stopped for considerable periods of time.

San Francisco has a well-earned reputation as the hardest-drinking city in the country (its cirrhosis-of-the-liver rate is highest, and its citizens drink more than three and a half times the national average). According to the psychiatrist who heads the local center for treating alcoholics, the city is a magnet for people dreaming of fame, fortune and fabulous success, and when their dreams don't turn out many of them turn to drink. In his new home Stoneham has a good chance in the next few years of achieving all three basic objectives, and if he continues to do his share of drinking on the way, the chances are also that no one in San Francisco will call him for it.

Certainly no one at the Old-Timers beer session did, and the city's attitude is typically summed up by the two men chiefly responsible for bringing the Giants to San Francisco, Mayor George Christopher and Supervisor Francis McCarty. "Sure, Horace has his failings, but we all have," McCarty says. "We're happy to have him here and he'll have as many friends helping him as he had in New York." Mayor Christopher, who did most of the negotiating with Stoneham, was quick to learn what others have long accepted, that there are times when there is no sense talking to him. "When I see that Horace is argumentative," says Christopher, "I just get up and walk away. The next day everything goes fine."

So far, everything has been going fine in San Francisco for Horace Stoneham and the Giants, in contrast to the troubles Walter O'Malley had (and still has) in Los Angeles (see page 11). One of Stoneham's finest qualities is his patience, and with it goes a commendable lack of greed. He has demonstrated this while O'Malley, ever since he made the big decision to go west, impatiently has been drooling for profits. As one San Francisco writer put it not long ago: "Horace didn't create ulcers for everyone by running all over the Bay Area in search of a larger temporary home. He set himself up in business, took what was available, said he was going to be here a long time, and made friends like sixty."

This doesn't mean O'Malley and the Dodgers won't make a lot more money a lot faster than the Giants. But by 1959, when Stoneham has his brand-new stadium with a capacity of 45,000 all built, O'Malley will still be without a permanent abode, and the novelty of. the Dodgers may also have worn off in Los Angeles. Certainly, if Stoneham's transplanted Giants can offer San Franciscans a fairly consistent brand of good baseball, which their prospects promise, the experience of the past decade, when they were in the red half the time, ought not to be repeated.

Overlooking San Francisco Bay and Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard on Candlestick Point, the new ball park will be located in one of the relatively warm and unfoggy pockets of the city—a better spot than the site of Seals Stadium. Even so, the weather is apt to be a problem. Over the past 30 years the mean summer temperature in San Francisco has averaged only 59°, which is considerably lower than the major league average, and summer there generally tends to be a coolish time of the year (Mark Twain once said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco").

But quality, more than weather, may decide the Giants' future. This insistence on quality points up the fact that, like New York, San Francisco is a highly cosmopolitan city. As Frank (Lefty) O'Doul, the veteran player, manager and professional San Franciscan who was a Giant batting coach this spring and would be a popular choice to manage the Giants some day, said to me, "Whether they go out to the park or not, they know the game out here and they love it, and that's why they appreciate class and demand results. If Stoneham keeps the Giants in the first division, he'll keep up his attendance." But as O'Doul and others warningly add, Willie Mays alone won't be enough. Everyone agrees: When something falls with a thud in San Francisco, you can hear it all the way back East.

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