Back in the days before the Giants abandoned New York for San Francisco, it took true love to be one of their fans, even if you lived in New York. If you lived in Mississippi, as I did, it required even more: a capacity to endure considerable ridicule from those around you.
In Mississippi during the '40s and '50s the St. Louis Cardinals were the "home" team, and every kid who played baseball batted in the hunched-over style of Stan Musial. That was because the local radio stations, which I sometimes listened to in the after-bedtime dark, broadcast only Cardinal games. In that era, St. Louis was the nearest major league city to the Deep South. Rooting for the Cardinals was natural.
More than two years before Bobby Thomson hit his historic ninth-inning home run to win the 1951 National League playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers, I defied local tradition and became a New York Giants fan. I did so because of John Bush Murdoch's baseball cap.
One day in the summer of 1949 when I was 11, the town of Corinth, where I had just finished the sixth grade, experienced an American Legion baseball miracle. Don Blasingame, who would go on to the majors and actually play for the Cardinals, and a slick third baseman named Gene Box led the Corinth Warriors to an upset of the awesome team from Jackson coached by Cooter Berry.
I watched the final game in a chauvinistic frenzy, whooping as the Warriors gave the Jackson pitcher an unmerciful hammering. I remember three things about that afternoon: the flushed face and neck of the tormented Jackson pitcher, his name—Red Gookin—and John Bush Murdoch's cap.
John Bush had already graduated from high school. He too was a spectator. He was wearing a genuine New York Giants baseball cap—a black wool wonder with the interlocking letters NY embroidered in orange on it. The underside of the bill was green, with white plastic material separating the wool from the tan leather sweatband. This white separator was visible in all the color photos of big leaguers in Sport magazine and was the sure tip-off that John Bush's hat was no-fooling real.
We started to talk. John Bush was a big, quiet boy with the good manners not to treat 11-year-olds like little kids. While we watched the game I learned that he was a devoted follower of Leo Durocher, then the Giants manager and, before that, the manager of the Dodgers and, before that, a feisty shortstop with the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals and Dodgers. When, in 1948, the controversial, win-at-all-costs Durocher left the Dodgers for the Giants, John Bush's loyalty changed teams, too. The Giants cap provided evidence.
"I'm a Durocher fan first and a Giants fan second," said John Bush. He tugged on the bill of his cap as he spoke. Later, he let me wear it for a while; it was too big. Nevertheless, this exposure to John Bush's cap made me a Giants fan on the spot.
My new team, I discovered, played in an odd and ancient ball park called the Polo Grounds, in which polo was never played. From this U-shaped arena the Giants could look across the Harlem River and see the concrete splendor of Yankee Stadium, where in that summer of 1949 the Yankees were in the process of winning the first of five consecutive American League pennants. The Giants, who were lumbering toward a fifth-place finish, hadn't won a pennant since 1937. All of this information I gathered from the books, magazines and newspapers that began to fill my room at 1109 Seventh St. in Corinth—a world and a thousand miles away from the Giants.
During that same summer, our family moved to Jackson and I transferred from Corinth Junior High to Bailey Junior High in Jackson. At Bailey, a chance discovery sealed my commitment to the Giants. As I was poking around in the school library in the spring of 1950, a book title arrested my attention: Batboy of the Giants by Garth Garreau. I could not believe it. After reading, out of sheer desperation, a trilogy by John Tunis about Roy Tucker, the kid from Tompkinsville who later became a Dodgers star, here was a book about my team. The elation that filled me when I happened across Garreau's book can only be understood by remembering that we had no television then, so that my only sources of Giants lore, besides the box scores in the local paper, were The Sporting News and magazines. And, of course, the radio—but only when the Giants played the Cardinals. Geography denied me the yearbooks, scorecards and other souvenir-stand memorabilia that a classmate's father or uncle was forever bringing home from Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. But now, here in my hand, lay something marvelous—a firsthand account, written by a boy from somewhere called Teaneck, N.J., of just what it was like to serve as batboy for the Giants.