It really doesn't look like such an awful place. Anybody who has read about it or heard about it without actually having seen it might expect Candlestick Park in San Francisco to look more like some dump Norman Bates or Roderick Usher might hang out in than what it, in truth, is: a pretty decent looking ballyard. It certainly has more character than those cookie-cutter look-alikes in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Philadelphia. It is not the crumbling antique that tenants claim Comiskey Park to be. It is not a squeaky-clean romper room like Dodger Stadium and Royals Stadium. It has lights. It has no waterfalls. The grass is real. You can park your car there with a reasonable hope of finding it at the conclusion of nine innings or four quarters. The Polish sausages are terrific. So far, no monstrous dome crowns it, blotting out sun and sky. In fact, there's a perfectly lovely view of San Francisco Bay from outside the stadium. Candlestick even has some tradition, being, after Wrigley Field, the oldest ballpark in the National League.
And yet, in all the history of sport, no stadium—not even Philadelphia's old Baker Bowl, which was, as it was known at the time, "no bigger than your living room"—has been so consistently and relentlessly reviled as has the home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. The place has had the further bad luck to be situated in—or at least on the outskirts of—a city that takes fanatical pride in the quality of its architecture and the beauty of its setting. When Candlestick is called, as it frequently is, "the laughingstock of the nation," San Franciscans cringe.
It was not always thus, of course. When the park, designed for baseball, was completed in early 1960, visitors and locals alike regarded it as some sort of eighth wonder. Candlestick, it should be remembered, was the first of the modern ballparks, the first to be built entirely of reinforced concrete, the first with predominantly unobstructed seats and the first with a modern scoreboard, then the biggest in baseball—94 feet high, 164 feet wide. Its construction set off a veritable epidemic of ballpark building in the '60s and early '70s that changed the face of baseball and, eventually, of professional football, too.
Vice-President Richard Nixon, who was in the seats as a presidential candidate on Opening Day in 1960, gazed out upon the new park's lush green expanse and told the
San Francisco Chronicle's Art Rosenbaum, "This will be one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time." Jimmy Davenport, then the Giants' third baseman, said of his new home, "This is the best-built park in the National League—no, I mean the best park in the majors. It's beautiful." J.G. Taylor Spink, then publisher of
The Sporting News
(the Bible of Baseball), called the park "simply wonderful, marvelous, unbelievable. Baseball has never seen anything to compare with it." Wrote Bob Stevens of the Chronicle on the day the park was dedicated: "It's breathtakingly beautiful, the Taj Mahal of games."
Ah, but this was before any of them knew about "the Hawk," as director of stadium operations Don Foreman calls the howling winds that whip in from the nearby Pacific Ocean, then fragment into ministorms as they collide with Bay View Hill, directly west of the stadium, and finally swirl demonically within the park itself. There are other breezy ballparks—Wrigley Field, certainly, and Shea Stadium—but their winds are to Candlestick's as zephyrs to cyclones. The Stick's are not winds at all; they are devils at play, dancing, darting, stopping, starting. The park had been open a little more than two months before Dick Friendlich, then of the Chronicle, set out to define the phenomenon: "Winds of incredible cunning sometimes blow with gale force from home plate toward left field at ground level, while 100 feet above, they blow from left field toward home plate at velocities that break out small craft warnings from the Coast Guard."
The Hawk does not always fly, of course. At night, the wind generally subsides by game time, but nights in San Francisco, even in midsummer, can be wintry. Fog, the city's natural air-conditioning system, will transform the warmest day into an arctic evening, and if the Hawk is also flying...brrr. But there are days, particularly in the spring and fall, when Candlestick has the best weather of any ballpark in the country. The sun will shine brightly in a cloudless sky on those days, and the temperature will be in the comfortable, unhumid 70s or even 80s. Sometimes these conditions will hold for an entire game, but there will be many other games that will start out balmily then, after the arrival of the Hawk, finish in windswept chaos and despair. The 1984 All-Star Game in Candlestick began at 5:30 p.m. with a temperature of 82�. It was 54" by the fifth inning. And windy. Candlestick is the sporting equivalent of the mythical island of Manikoora. You remember the movie: In the beginning, lovely sarong-wrapped Dorothy Lamour gambols in the sun; in the end she is lashed to a tree as the hurricane threatens to blast her to eternity.
Chub Feeney, then the Giants' vice-president, now in his last days as National League president, first learned of the Hawk when the stadium was still under construction. The Giants had played their first two years in San Francisco's Seals Stadium, a jewel box of a ballpark in the somewhat more temperate Mission District. The wind blew at Seals Stadium, just as it blows everywhere in San Francisco in the summer, but at least it was predictable there, and the temperatures were milder than on Candlestick Point, which juts out onto the Bay, exposing its principal structure to the caprices of nature. But the jewel box was too small, with a capacity of only 23,000, and it had little parking, so the Giants were committed to Candlestick. Feeney had been to the construction site before, but always in the morning, when the Hawk was elsewhere. He was delighted in those hours by the view and the brilliant sunshine. Perfect baseball weather, he thought. Then one day he drove out there after lunch and was assailed by a wintry gale. "Say," he inquired of a workman, "does the wind always blow like this?" "Oh no," the man replied, "only between one and five in the afternoon." Uh oh.
It didn't take ballplayers long to spot the Hawk. Hank Sauer, who had ended his playing career after the '59 season, took one look at his old team's new home and muttered, "Thank God I'm retired." Willie Mays, who would play most of his career there, tested the wind and measured the prodigious distances down the power alleys—then 397 feet, now only 365 and 375—and muttered, "Somebody's gonna get some salary cuts around here." It wouldn't be Willie, though. He learned to go with the wind and became Candlestick's greatest hitter. It is often said that if he and Hank Aaron could have exchanged ballparks, there would be a different alltime home run king.
Lesser mortals than Mays were appalled by the new park. "The fly ball will be the big play here," said then Giants manager Bill Rigney. "I'm glad I only have to play here once in a while," said Lou Burdette, the fine Braves pitcher. "Because of the sun and the wind, I don't think anybody can get used to playing rightfield at Candlestick Park," said the Giants' Willie Kirkland, who never did. The Giants won the stadium's opener on April 12, 1960 by a 3-1 score. Orlando Cepeda drove in all three Giants runs, two on a fly ball that blew past St. Louis centerfielder Bill White for a triple. In the newspapers the next day an expression was born that would define baseball in San Francisco for the next quarter century: "wind-tortured fly ball."
Candlestick achieved some notoriety from the outset, but it would be another year before the place really became infamous. One game did it—the first All-Star Game of 1961 (there were two that year), played at the Stick on July 11. And one player, appropriately a Giant, would rise in the wind to legendary heights. It was a quintessential Candlestick day. Most of the 44,115 fans, who crammed the stadium beyond capacity, arrived early on a magnificent summer day. It was 81� by noon, an hour and 25 minutes before game time, and the crowds laboring up Cardiac Hill, a prominence that rises from the parking lot to the ticket gates, were actually suffering from the heat. San Franciscans do not respond well to temperatures much above 70�. In fact, some 90 persons would be treated that day for heat prostration. "For the first six innings of the game it was the best weather I'd ever seen out there," recalls Stu Miller, the Giants' pitcher this game would immortalize. "And then those flags started fluttering." Enter the Hawk.