It is a hallowed tradition in baseball to grieve over the loss of an old ballpark. Consider the mourning that accompanied the demises of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. Tears are being shed over the imminent departure of Tiger Stadium, and when Fenway Park finally passes into the Great Beyond, we may expect all of New England to don widow's weeds. Oh, the memories, the memories....
No such lamentations are likely when Candlestick Park closes its gates to baseball this week. On the contrary, there should be civic celebrations throughout the National League, especially in Candlestick's own city, San Francisco. One envisions a funeral comparable to the one accorded some years ago to the universally despised despot of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. When people wondered later why such a reprobate should attract such a huge crowd to his services, the comedian Red Skelton said, "Well, it only proves what they always say: Give the public something they want to see, and they'll come out for it."
Apparently no one in baseball will miss Candlestick, or 3Com Park at Candlestick Point, as it has awkwardly been called since a Silicon Valley high-tech outfit pumped millions into it a few years ago. It looks no worse architecturally than Cinergy Field or Folsom Prison, but the quixotic winds that lash the Stick from all directions at once made it a monster.
Pat Gallagher, the Giants' supremely competent vice president, whose duty it has been to promote the place for more than 20 years, has said that "playing at Candlestick is like playing on the deck of the aircraft carrier Enterprise in the South China Sea." It was Gallagher who in 1983 conceived the Croix de Candlestick, to be awarded for service "above and beyond the call of fandom" to patrons who survived extra-inning night games.
The general feeling since Candlestick opened on April 12, 1960—with a game attended by Richard Nixon and Ty Cobb, and won by the Giants on a windblown triple—is that the park is better suited for Arctic explorers Peary and Amundsen than for ballplayers. "Until I played at Candlestick," says Ozzie Smith, the former All-Star shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals, "I never realized how great Willie Mays was. My god, what would he have done in a real ballpark?"
In the opinion of Mays's teammate Orlando Cepeda, Willie would have had 800 career home runs if he'd played home games someplace where there was not a wall of wind in leftfield. But Mays played a large part of his Hall of Fame career in Candlestick, and he mastered the elements there as no one has since. Mays never complained about his home park. "It was the opposing players who griped," says former Giants pitcher Stu Miller, "and that was fine with us."
That's easy for Miller to say, since Candlestick made him a legend. "I'd be Stu Who?" he has said, if he hadn't been, in baseball mythology, "blown off the mound" into a critical balk in the ninth inning of the 1961 All-Star Game, advancing two runners in a game that the National League won in extra innings. Actually, Miller says, "I just waved a little."
There was more than just waving minutes before the start of the third game of the 1989 World Series when a 7.1 (on the Richter scale of 10) earthquake rattled the rafters. Candlestick has an unfortunate habit of saving its worst moments for exposure on national television.
But there have also been some brilliant moments, too. Probably the best of these was the July 2, 1963 pitchers' duel between the Giants' Juan Marichal and the Milwaukee Braves' Warren Spahn, won in the bottom of the 16th inning by a one-out Mays home run. Spahn had shut the Giants out until then, and Marichal went the distance for the 1-0 win. It boggles the mind to think how many relief pitchers would be employed in such a game in these days of the six-inning "quality start."
Still, there's no question that Candlestick is in a bad spot for baseball, jutting out as it does from a prominence on the Bay where the wind is at its fiercest and trickiest. The park is there for the simple reason that there was no other place to put it in '60—particularly because Horace Stoneham, the Giants' owner at the time, had insisted that any new stadium have parking space for 12,000 cars before he'd move his team from New York. Ever since, Giants owners have been trying to induce the city, or even neighboring cities, to build them a new park. Current team president Peter Magowan took a different tack, persuading investors, most notably Pacific Bell, to help him finance a privately funded stadium near downtown. So next season, beautiful Pacific Bell Park, cozier, fancier and presumably less drafty, will open in the China Basin area.