SI Vault
Noel Hynd
August 29, 1988
"I have to admit that it's a big thrill to have a packed stadium cheering your every move," says Jerry Schwab. "It's fun to think back on what happened, to know that I did my part to get the San Francisco Giants into the World Series."
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 29, 1988

Giant-sized Confession: A Groundskeeper's Deeds

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

"I have to admit that it's a big thrill to have a packed stadium cheering your every move," says Jerry Schwab. "It's fun to think back on what happened, to know that I did my part to get the San Francisco Giants into the World Series."

The Giants in the World Series? No, this isn't the demented daydream of a contemporary Bay Area fanatic. We're talking 1962 here—the era of Marichal, Mays and McCovey. Schwab was 20 years old and couldn't run, throw or hit with any special skill. The fact is, he wasn't even on the San Francisco roster. Nevertheless, he made some critical moves on the base paths in the Giants' successful drive to the '62 National League pennant.

The L.A. Dodgers were strong that year, led by the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Junior Gilliam and Willie and Tommy Davis. But the real heart of the L.A. club was undoubtedly Maury Wills, the eventual MVP of the National League. Wills swiped everything but the pitchers' mail that year en route to erasing Ty Cobb's single-season theft record with 104 stolen bases.

In early August the Dodgers—leading the second-place Giants by 5� games—visited San Francisco for a three-game series. The Giants knew they would have to find a way to slow down L.A.'s vaunted running game, so before the series began, Giants manager Alvin Dark approached Matty Schwab, Jerry's father and San Francisco's head groundskeeper. Could anything be done to keep the speedy Wills in check? Dark asked. Yes, Matty replied, he knew a trick or two.

Monkeying with a playing field was nothing new, but the trickery took ingenious new forms from season to season. The front, step-off portion of the pitcher's "mound" at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, for example, was actually dug out to create a concave effect, increasing the chances of visiting pitchers' floating high, fat fastballs to the Frank Robinsons, Wally Posts and Gus Bells on the Reds' roster. The baselines at Chicago's Comiskey Park were slanted toward fair territory, the better to keep the bunts of home favorites Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox in play. Then there were the outfield fences at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, which owner Bill Veeck would regularly move back for the powerful Yankees and in for the banjo-hitting St. Louis Browns. Matty himself had seen the Dodgers' "1,000-pound roller," a vehicle that looked suspiciously like those used to flatten fresh asphalt on highways. Applied to the outfield grass at Dodger Stadium, such a roller would be a dandy way to stretch singles into triples for a fast ball club. Surprise, surprise, the Dodgers of 1962 tied for the major league lead in triples. So when Dark asked Matty for a little extra home-field edge against L.A., well, that was what a good groundskeeper got paid for, right?

"Dad and I were out at Candlestick before dawn the day the series was to begin," Jerry remembers. "We were installing a speed trap." Working by torchlight, the Schwabs dug up and removed the topsoil where Wills would take his lead off first base. Down in its place went a squishy swamp of sand, peat moss and water. Then they covered their chicanery with an inch of normal infield soil, making the 5- by 15-foot quagmire visually indistinguishable from the rest of the base path.

It was not so invisible the next afternoon, however, as the Dodgers took batting practice. Leo Durocher, the L.A. third base coach at the time, began digging it up with his cleats. Ron Fairly, the Dodger first baseman, called attention to it in a more artistic way by building sand castles near the bag. All of this quickly caught the attention of umpire Tom Gorman. Gorman, blessed with good eyesight, could see that something funny was lurking beneath the surface of the infield. He could also see that the entire Candlestick grounds crew had suddenly vanished when the Dodgers started scratching around. When Gorman finally found Matty, he threatened the Giants with a forfeit if the base paths weren't immediately repaired.

"Sure thing," said Matty, who was prepared for just such an ultimatum.

Out came the grounds crew. Up came some, but not all, of the Mystery Mixture. Away it was carted in wheelbarrows. Then, a few minutes later, back came more wheelbarrows to fill up the holes.

"It was the same stuff," says Jerry. "We mixed it with some dirt and brought it right back. When we put it down a second time it was even looser." For some reason—exasperation, perhaps—this seemingly new concoction appeared to satisfy the umpires. Matty then ordered Jerry to water the infield, a task which Jerry performed at length, much to the disgust of the Dodger dugout, from which derisive calls were emanating.

Continue Story
1 2 3