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 Stoneham is fully aware of this. When he appeared at the dinner of the Old-Timers, who comprise a fixed number of 150 ex-ballplayers from semipro ranks up to the majors, he did manage to convey, despite his rambling delivery, that the quality of the game was what he cares for above all things on earth, and that he will do his best to return the Giants to their former prowess. As the beer flowed, Stoneham could observe the crudely inked, sentimental but sharply worded posters around the room. "To the Skipper," said one. "We are given to understand you are as precious as a diamond stone, as sweet as ham. Welcome to San Francisco." Another, perhaps more to the point, read: "A message to the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club. The San Francisco Old-Timers Baseball Players Association welcomes you to our Beloved City, the city that knows how. We wish you a million tons of luck, WIN THE PENNANT. THEN THE WORLD SERIES. SUCCESS IN 1958."

A few days later, having discussed the Giant operation with his nephew, Charles (Chub) Feeney, who is the team vice-president, and with Leo Durocher, who managed at the Polo Grounds from 1948 to 1955, I followed Stoneham down to Phoenix, where the Giants then were training and where he lives part of the year. I wanted to find out what he had to say about himself and the game he has devoted his entire life to, and about the past and the present and the now-so-important future. Stoneham and two friends, a state senator and the manager of the Adams Hotel, met me at the airport, and between 5 p.m. and 4 the next morning there wasn't much time for serious conversation.

Around noon I made my way back to Stoneham's villa, a large, sprawling bungalow with beautifully landscaped gardens near Scottsdale, 17 miles from Phoenix, in the shadow of Camelback Mountain. Stoneham was baking out in the sun, but he came into the living room when I arrived and slowly sipped a soft drink brought him by his veteran all-round servant, Austin Tinsley, the only other person there. Within a few minutes he seemed miraculously to have recaptured his alertness. In his white robe, in the white house, with the glaring sun outside, he looked more at ease, more at home in the vast desert than anywhere else I had seen him. It may have been the stillness that suited him.

"I'll get a place of my own eventually in San Francisco," he said, when I asked him where he planned to live the rest of the time. "I'll take a small apartment first, because everybody tells me to wait a while before I decide what part of the city I love best. But New York? I've closed down there. That's gone."

He said the last briskly, almost as if he wanted to avoid talking about the many long associations he had left behind. I asked about such close friends as Toots Shor, the restaurateur, and others whom he would see only occasionally henceforth.

"You know," he said, "I've already made a lot of new friends in California. And I've found some old ones who moved out there 15 years ago. Sure, I'll miss Tootsie and the rest, but things change. We had to move on. There was no alternative."

The identification of Stoneham with the Giants is so close and has obtained for so long that it seemed logical to start at the beginning, back when his father, Charles A. Stoneham, a Wall Street operator and mining man, bought the team, and even before that.

"Dad came home one night in the fall of 1918," Stoneham recalled. "Mom and I were sitting there. I was 15 years old then and I remember just what he said: 'Maybe we're gonna have a ball club.' It was quite a moment. Pop was always a fan and he was a close friend of John McGraw's. 'Yes,' he said, 'I met Mr. McGraw today and we talked it over. If we can make a deal, we'll do it.' "

The Giants were owned at the time by the estate of John T. Brush and were being run by his son-in-law, Harry N. Hempstead. Since Hempstead had many other interests, he deputized McGraw to find a buyer for the Giants. After a number of prospective deals fell through, McGraw approached the elder Stoneham, who quickly made the purchase in partnership with McGraw and Judge Francis X. McQuade in mid-January 1919. There was a big champagne celebration at the old Waldorf-Astoria, which Horace was deemed too young to attend.

But he already knew a lot about the Giants and about baseball. "I had been seeing 30 or 40 games a year," he said. "In those days, of course, the Yanks and Giants were both playing at the Polo Grounds, and we'd get out of school in June and go out to the park all summer. My early heroes were Heinie Zimmerman and Chief Meyers. I guess I was only about 6 when I saw my first game. It was on Decoration Day, I remember that, too; it was the morning half of the double-header. Even so, the Giants threw in their best battery, Christy Mathewson and Meyers. Naturally, they won."

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