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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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At that time the Stonehams were still living in Jersey City, though Horace had been born in Newark, but shortly afterward the family moved to West 86th Street in Manhattan, near the Hudson River. "Our block was like a lot of others, only better," Stoneham said, with a grin. "We used to play stoop ball and stickball, and they were darn good games, too. For hard ball, though, we'd go down near the docks around 79th Street. It was all railroad yards through there, and if you hit over the freight cars in right field it was a homer, and up against the cars was a ground-rules double. A left-field homer went into the river. Ross Youngs—I guess maybe he was my first realxs hero—used to play there as a kid before he became a Giant regular."

Stoneham went to a Catholic church school on 79th Street and then to Loyola High School for two years, where he distinguished himself chiefly by playing a sturdy second base. He decided, then and there, that it was the hardest position on a ball club, and he still thinks so. "It's the toughest because you're in on all plays," he says, "and you work harder than anywhere else. You've got to make all the plays the shortstop makes and some of the first baseman's, too, and you've got to learn how to pivot and duck spikes."

By his own admission, Stoneham was always a poor student. "I guess I just didn't care much," he says. He did, however, write a respectable essay on the subject: "What I Would Do With a Million Dollars." His answer: "Buy the Giants," who were probably worth about $3 million then and for whom he says he wouldn't take $10 million now. When his dad actually made the purchase, a year or so later, Stoneham started learning more from John McGraw and other baseball men than from any further formal teaching.

"Mr. McGraw and Pop would often come from dinner after a game, and they'd sit around for hours just gabbing," he recalls wistfully. "I didn't get into the conversation but I got a chance to listen to everything that was said. Mr. McGraw was the greatest individual figure this game has ever seen. He was beyond any doubt the greatest offensive manager."

I asked Stoneham how much he thought managing had changed since McGraw ran the Giants. "It's not so much the technique that's different," he replied, "though that's changed, too, since the age of slugging came in. But there has been a real change in the player-manager relationship. It's just not as close as it used to be, or as fierce. Discipline is way down. I wonder now sometimes how these players get showered and dressed and out of the ball park so fast. Why, if a game was lost, Mr. McGraw might keep the whole team around three hours, and he might not even talk to anybody, but they'd all have to stay and just sit. In the morning, anyone not there at 10:30 would have to account to Mr. McGraw, even if he was only two minutes late.

"Players used to be more accustomed to being driven hard. Nowadays, a great many have off-season jobs and don't have to depend on baseball for their living. Nothing is as intense in baseball as it was 25 years ago. You notice it on the field. Players used to carry real grudges. The simple fact that you were on another club made you no good. There were no friendly teams in those days, and it made for more excitement. There are too many umps now, too, which has led to less rather than more concentration by each of them on the game, and they throw men out too quickly for brawling. Why, a player doesn't get a chance to express himself any more because he's out of there in five seconds! I don't think the fans ever resented a fight. Each time there was one they'd be out in droves the next day. The Dodger-Giant rivalry is about the only real one left, and I think we'll pick it up out West because San Francisco and Los Angeles don't like each other either."

Though Stoneham was always the heir apparent of the Giants—"I bought the team for Horrie," his father used to say—his own indoctrination in the front office was as stiff as any player's under McGraw on the field. It began when he was 20 years old, after a final fling at education and one other profession. When he was ultimately graduated from his third prep school, Pawling, young Stoneham had a short-lived college career at Fordham. His father then sent him out to California, where for a year he worked underground in some copper mines the elder Stoneham owned. "I started out with a pick and shovel and became a machine man's helper," Stoneham said. "I became really interested and wanted to go onto engineering school, but I wasn't smart enough. So, the following spring, I gave up and headed for Sarasota, Fla., where the team was training then."

Almost overnight, he became a hard-working front-office assistant. "Pop started me off in the ticket office at $3,500 a year," he said. (This is about half of what Pete Stoneham gets now for doing the same sort of work, which, with the rise in the cost of living, amounts to the same in real dollars. Stoneham himself now draws 20 times as much as he began with, or $70,000 a year.) After that, Horace took over the job of booking the Polo Grounds for nonbaseball events. "I learned slowly, by absorption," he explained. "Everyone talked baseball every day of the year. Eddie Brannick taught me how to set up hotel reservations and train schedules, and traveling around was a lot more complicated then. Air travel makes life much simpler."

No youthful dream could have been more happily fulfilled than young Stoneham's during his first years as a fledgling member of the Giant organization. He saw McGraw's greatest teams win four pennants in a row and two world championships. When McGraw retired in 1932, Stoneham helped his father make a big decision—whether Bill Terry or Fred Lindstrom should succeed the Little Napoleon. "When Dad asked my advice, it seemed to me that Terry, who was the greatest first baseman I ever saw, would be harder to replace than Lindstrom, great as he was at third, too," Stoneham said. "As it turned out, we made the right choice."

Four years later, after the Giants had won one more pennant, Charles Stoneham died, and Horace, at 32, became the youngest club president in history. Not only did he take over his father's desk, but he also assumed the elder Stoneham's favorite perch for watching games—from a window in the clubhouse, deep in center field. "I always liked it better up there," Stoneham said. "I don't like having people give me hell in the stands."

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