The National League was leading 3-2, with one out in the ninth and Miller pitching to Rocky Colavito. Roger Maris was on first for the American League and Al Kaline on second. Miller, it should be remembered, was a lightly rigged man—5'11�", 165 pounds. He was aeronautically sound. "I knew the variations of that wind as well as anyone," says Miller, now a prosperous liquor store proprietor in suburban San Francisco. "I also knew that once you've taken your set position, you can't move anything except your head. Well, I took my set position into the wind, and just then about a 65-mile-an-hour blast hit me. My whole body waved, and Stan Landes, the National League umpire behind the plate, called a balk on me. I went up to him and said, 'Stan, the wind pushed me.' He said, T know that, Stu, but rules are rules.' " The runners advanced, and Kaline scored the tying run when the Cardinals' Ken Boyer, blaming the wind, misplayed Colavito's ground ball. The National League finally won the game 5-4 in the 10th, when Roberto Clemente singled home Mays with the winning run. Altogether there were seven errors in the game, five by the winning side. Candlestick had disgraced itself.
Miller was the winning pitcher, but that was not the big news in the nation's sports pages the next day. MILLER BLOWN OFF MOUND was. Miller is a wry man, and the irony of his achieving a lasting fame through an act of nature is not lost on him. "I wasn't blown off that mound," he says. "I just waved a little. But I'll always be the guy who was blown away, no matter what I say. There were 44,000 people in the park that day, but over the years I bet I've had at least 100,000 people tell me they saw me flying in the air. You'd think I'd been blown out into the Bay."
A further irony is that Miller, who won a career-high 14 games that year, actually enjoyed pitching in Candlestick. "The players I played with—Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepeda—never complained about it. We always felt it gave us an advantage. It was the opposing players who griped, and that was fine with us. For a pitcher like me, who threw a lot of off-speed stuff, the wind was a big help. You know, in that same All-Star Game, I threw a breaking pitch to Yogi Berra that looked like it was going to hit him. Hell, I thought it was. He jumped away and turned his back to the plate. Then the wind took the ball and blew it right down the middle. Landes called it a strike, and you should have seen the look on Yogi's face. He never even saw that pitch, and it was a strike."
The image of Miller being transported like Dorothy and Toto through space remains fixed in memory. His historic flight is now firmly part of the ever-accumulating Candlestick lore. Some of the stories about the place are even true. Bill Madlock did wear aviator's goggles in the Candlestick infield to protect his eyes from flying dust. Bobby Murcer did stick his bats in the clubhouse sauna to keep them warm for night games. Hotdog wrappers do get pinned by the wind to the outfield fences, looking from the stands like so many miniature billboards. The Cardinals' Alan Knicely was hit on the head by a foul pop-up he lost in the sun and wind this year. The sun, even on Hawkless days, can be a problem. One of the more salubrious side effects of the summer wind in San Francisco is that it leaves the skies cloudless. There are days of such crystalline clarity that you feel you can see China from one of the hills. It's altogether magical, but not at the old ballyard, where fly balls can become invisible in the high sky. Knicely learned that. Johnnie LeMaster, who played shortstop at the Stick for 10 years and griped about it all the way, concluded that, cold as it was, he would prefer to play night games there. "At night," he said, "you've only got two things to worry about—wind and cold. In the day, you've got a third—the damn sun."
Much of what is said about Candlestick is merely shooting the breeze. As far as anyone knows, it is not common practice, as A's pitcher Joaquin Andujar has claimed, for outfielders to place their gloves high on the outfield fences and walk away, firm in the knowledge that the wind will hold them there. And while it is true that pop fouls can be blown back from the reserved seats to the outfield, the reverse is more often true. Several years ago, when he was the Giants' general manager, Tom Haller said of the Candlestick stories, "A lot of this stuff has been blown out of proportion."
One question logically arises: Why did they ever build a ballpark out there on that godforsaken windswept promontory? Candlestick is not really in the boondocks; it's only 15 or 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco when traffic is light. When it is heavy, forget it. Getting there by the principal access, the Bayshore Freeway (Highway 101), in traffic is about as easy as driving to Tahiti. There are only four main arteries entering the ballpark, and three of them are through heavily populated areas. Candlestick Point itself is not exactly Golden Gate Park. Bay View Hill behind the stadium has been hacked at so often that it now looks like a dwarfish Mount St. Helens. And the flatlands around it were best described before the stadium was built by the Chronicle's Richard Reinhardt as "a breezy track of wild grass, red rocks, chapparal and torn trees...all strewn with whiskey bottles and beer cans."
So why put a ballpark there? "The park is where it is because we couldn't find anyplace else to put it," says Tom Gray, manager of the San Francisco Downtown Association at the time the land was acquired. Gray actively supported the campaign to bring major league baseball to San Francisco, which was spearheaded by former mayor George Christopher and former city supervisor and Superior Court judge Fran McCarty. It wasn't easy. The late Curley Grieve, then sports editor of the
San Francisco Examiner, had long campaigned in his columns for a big league franchise. There had been feelers in the early '50s from, among others, Cleveland, Boston, Washington and St. Louis, but no takers. The Braves' move from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 had established that there was money in franchise shifting, and some enterprising owners were looking to the Far West. McCarty was appointed in 1953 by then mayor Elmer Robinson to head a blue-ribbon committee that would seek out a team.
San Francisco had long had a grand baseball tradition, dating back to 1859, when the Eagle Baseball Club was organized. In the '20s and '30s the city had two teams—the Seals and the Mission Reds—in the strong Pacific Coast League, and Oakland had another, the Oaks, also in the Coast League. In 1946 the Seals set a minor league attendance record of 670,563 that was not broken until Louisville of the American Association did so in 1982. The Oaks that same year drew 634,311. Over the years San Francisco Peninsula playgrounds have nurtured such big league stars as Bill Lange, Duffy Lewis, George (High Pockets) Kelly, Harry Heilmann, Joe Cronin, Lefty O'Doul, the DiMaggio brothers, Tony Lazzeri, Dolph Camilli, Frankie Crosetti and Keith Hernandez. And from across the Bay have come Harry Hooper, Lew Fonseca, Chick Hafey, Lefty Gomez, Cookie Lavagetto, Billy Martin, Jackie Jensen, Dick Bartell, Curt Flood, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Rickey Henderson. Both 1929 batting champions, O'Doul (.398) and Fonseca (.369), were Bay Area progeny.
In the years immediately following World War II, Paul I. Fagan, then owner of the Seals, had a plan to convert the Coast League into a third major league. But television soon brought major league baseball into West Coast homes, and the Coast League's popularity, at a peak in the '40s, rapidly diminished. Obviously, the thing for the city to do was get its own big league team.
McCarty introduced a $5 million bond issue for the construction of a new stadium, and it was passed by the voters in 1954. The hitch was that not a penny could be spent on the stadium unless the city acquired a major league franchise within five years. "We had a catch-22 situation," McCarty says now. "No franchise, no money. And with baseball commissioner Ford Frick it was no stadium, no franchise." The quest was quickened with the election in the fall of 1955 of Christopher as mayor. A big, bluff, curly-haired man who had worked his way through night school to become a successful businessman, Christopher was the sort of go-getter the big league campaign needed. He had come to San Francisco from his native Greece in 1910, when he was two years old. He was 17 when his father died, and he then became head of a family of five children. He worked at various jobs during the day, attended accounting classes at Golden Gate University at night, read avidly and played sandlot second base on weekends. At 23 he wrote Christopher's Concise Recorder, a guidebook on accounting. "I'm a guy who likes to get things done," he says.