We all know how the World Series against the Yankees turned out. Willie McCovey hit that line drive right at Bobby Richardson, and, suddenly, the celebration was over. The Series loss was the start of a measured decline for the Giants, punctuated by five successive second-place finishes in the mid-to-late 1960s. Then, in 1968, with San Francisco's attendance already falling, the A's moved to Oakland from Kansas City. The Giants drew only 833,594 fans that year, compared with the 1.5 million they had averaged in their first 10 seasons in San Francisco. They were no longer the only game in town.
The A's were owned by Chicago insurance man Charles Finley, a most unusual fellow, who regarded his ball club as little more than an extension of his flamboyant personality. Who else would have upstaged his team by ostentatiously kissing his wife atop the dugout after a World Series win? Finley had a pronounced need to humiliate his perceived betters. He hired Joe DiMaggio as a vice-president in charge of nothing, for no other reason than to say he was the Yankee Clipper's boss. In the course of writing about the A's, I was once invited by Finley to have lunch in his pied-�-terre in downtown Oakland. The man who prepared our hamburgers, under Finley's exacting instructions, was, to my astonishment, former Red Sox flash Jimmy Piersall.
But give Finley credit: He knew how to put together winning teams, and his A's won three straight Series in the early '70s. Despite their success, however, the A's never were much of a draw, attracting more than a million fans only twice, and it was generally agreed that the Bay Area could not support two teams. The big turnaround came when 1) Horace Stoneham sold the Giants in 1976 to native San Franciscan Bob Lurie, and 2) Finley unloaded the A's four years later to another local concern, the Walter Haas family. The new owners skillfully cultivated their markets and, more important, built successful teams. Together, the A's and the Giants attracted nearly 4.7 million fans this year. And if San Francisco voters approve construction of a downtown ballpark in next month's referendum, the Bay Area should retain both franchises for years to come.
So here we are with the baseball world in our lap. By all rights, I should be a fan whose loyalties are sorely tested by this trans-bay battle. The East Bay is where I grew up and went to school; San Francisco has been my home for more than 30 years. But let's put it this way: The Giants got here first, and I'm a stickler for tradition. Anyway, all of this is a far cry, I tell myself, from the days of Rigney, Raimondi and Dynamite Dunn.