THE GIANTS: BOOM AND BUST
The poet Robinson Jeffers once observed that "all the past is future." In San Francisco live several hundred thousand baseball fans who hope his observation is a lot of bunk. These are the followers of the Giants, and a hardy lot they have proved to be, accustoming themselves to grueling ascents up steep flights of stairs into the swirling winds and rains and fogs and other assorted ills that Candlestick Park is heir to. They have also accustomed themselves to steamroller starts by the Giants, followed by midseason letdowns, end-of-season collapses and a total absence of National League pennants. Will the past be future again this year? Manager Alvin Dark, a taciturn, darkly handsome man from the Cajun country of Louisiana, says no. "I don't think my players give a thought to past performances," Dark announced recently in a rare spurt of loquacity.
But even as he was speaking, the Giants were beginning to show the signs that all San Francisco has come to recognize with horror. A throw to the wrong base, two dropped line drives, an overthrow with no one backing up, and the Giants had lost two games to Houston, two more to Los Angeles and one to Philadelphia within six days. Suddenly their lead, once 4� games, was down to almost nothing, and it looked very much as if the familiar pattern was repeating itself.
The Giants' pattern has been dismally consistent and it goes like this: the Giants usually win on Opening Day, play pennant-winning baseball through April and May and enter June in first place (or, at worst, second) with a handsome record, big on wins, short on losses. Then, as certain as the daily afternoon gale that sweeps up from the Bay, the Giants fade, finishing the season in third, or maybe fifth. It has happened that way for four years.
The worst year in point of San Francisco's mental anguish was 1959, the one time the team survived the summer slump. With eight games left, the Giants led the Dodgers and Braves by two games and seemingly had the pennant won. But they lost three straight to the Dodgers and four of their last five to finish in third place. Worse yet, the team from archrival Los Angeles won the pennant and the World Series. It was almost more than San Francisco could bear.
This year's start was the Giants' best yet, 26 wins in the first 34 games, most of them over contenders like the Cardinals, Reds, Braves and Pirates. "I don't know why we always seem to start so well," said Chub Feeney, vice-president of the Giants, recently. "I'd say it was a credit to spring training in Arizona, but then the Cubs train there, too."
There was nothing in the Giants' exhibition season to indicate that the team would start strongly this season. The exhibition record was 13-13 and the pitching staff was miserable. Billy Pierce, who had won 189 games in the American League, looked as if he wouldn't win one in the National League. Mike McCormick, the team's top left-hander last year, came up with a lame arm. "It happens every spring," complained McCormick. "It hurts, I throw anyway, and the pain disappears. This year I got smart and tried to get rid of the soreness with heat. It didn't work. McCormick's arm feels good again, though he is still not as effective as he should be.
But even without McCormick, the Giant pitching staff has been a wonderment. Juan Marichal, a jovial Dominican right-hander who kicks his leg even higher than Warren Spahn, won seven games by mid-May. Billy Pierce surprised everyone (except himself) by winning his first seven starts. Pierce and White Sox Manager Al Lopez had disagreed last year on when and how often he should pitch—"It's better to leave certain things unsaid," says Pierce when discussing it—so he was happy when he learned he had been traded to the Giants. He insists he is pitching just as he always did. So does Billy O'Dell (Digger to his teammates), a left-hander who won his first five games before losing to the Cardinals 1-0. "It's just a matter of working regularly," he says, the clich� of the satisfied pitcher.
The angry man of the Giant staff is Jack Sanford, one of the Bay area's favorite television characters. Standing on the mound, getting the sign from the catcher, Sanford scowls and grimaces, and the camera picks it all up. "He's better than Matt Dillon," said one viewer. "No one loses himself more in a game than Sanford does," said Alvin Dark. After a night game in which Sanford was the losing pitcher, Dark told the Giants to skip batting practice the next day and report at noon, an hour before game time. Sanford arrived at 9 in the morning and sat on his stool scowling for three hours. When Dark wandered by to offer his sympathy on the loss, Sanford merely stared at the floor. Grumpy or not, he has been a steady winner.
The Killer Moth