- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Any moment now San Francisco may discover that it has a baseball team. A winning team. There is even a chance that some people might wander into Candlestick Park, if they can remember where it is. Last week, though, like all of last season, legions of fans were forgetting. And some marauding high school students were having a field day mugging the few who did appear. What sports talk there was in the Union Street bars was of the basketball Warriors, and in the suburbs, where the Giants peddle 85% of the few season tickets they manage to sell, the situation was the same.
When they left San Francisco last week after an 11-game home stand, the Giants were in first place in the West but down 6,000 in attendance from last year, which was a disaster both on the field and at the gate. The 1972 Giants finished fifth in their division, drew only 647,744, lost more than $600,000 and for the first time in history did not pay a stock dividend.
Not that Owner Horace Stoneham is talking about fleeing San Francisco. He says the Giants signed a 35-year lease in 1958 and are committed to remain. But there are those who believe Stoneham laid the groundwork for legal escape a few years ago when he brought suit against the City and County of San Francisco over a freshly levied 50-cents-a-ticket operators' tax. Stoneham was understandably unhappy when the Giants were told that their fans would have to pay, via the tax, for the enlargement of Candlestick Park, an increase in seating capacity that would benefit the football 49ers but might ruin the Giants. Now there are 58,000 baseball seats in the park and an advance sale of near zero. Fans seldom rush to buy season tickets when they know they can get a good seat just by strolling in.
Nevertheless, the Giants are a team of tremendous talent and promise, and if they continue to perform as they have for the last couple of weeks, even San Franciscans will find it impossible to stay aloof. Of their first 16 games, the Giants won 12. All four of the losses were to Cincinnati, the 1972 pennant winner. Since the Giants have also beaten the Reds three times, it is not inconceivable that the team which plunged from first in 1971 to near the bottom in '72 could rebound all the way in 1973.
And when the fans do arrive, they will have few problems finding plausible heroes. First, there are the golden old-timers, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey, both in remarkable shape after a year or so of medical reconstruction. Although he pitched one bad game, Marichal already has won three. For the first time in memory, he says, he is pitching without pain. The surgeons removed a lumbar disc from his spine last winter. In doing so they gave back to the 34-year-old righthander his high kick, and with it his control and most of his fastball. Ice cubes have done the rest.
"Always before, I see the other guys with their arms in an ice bucket after a game and I say no," says Marichal. "But this year I look at the calendar and see this is 1973, and I am born in 1938 and I decide it's ice for me. My arm snaps back now like it did 10 years ago. I hope it stays this way."
McCovey has two arthritic knees and pain is assuredly no stranger to the 35-year-old first baseman, but the right forearm he broke early last season is as strong as before and once again he is the most feared hitter in the game.
"I hate to see Willie come up, let alone hit," says Leo Durocher. When Durocher brought Houston into San Francisco last week the Astros were half a game behind the Giants for the division lead. That night McCovey hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning and the Giants won 5-4. The next day he hit two more, both in the fourth inning, and the Giants won 9-3. "See?" snarled Durocher. "See what I mean?" Last Friday McCovey got his fifth homer and Marichal pitched a five-hitter as the Giants beat the Dodgers 7-3.
A quiet Southerner named Ed Goodson is giving McCovey a chance to do something more than trot to first base after an intentional walk. For the first time since 1968, Jim Ray Hart's last good year, the Giants have a hitter behind McCovey. "We finally got someone who can protect Willie," says Manager Charlie Fox—who wishes he could find someone to protect himself from the San Francisco columnists. Some of these contend that Fox is old-fashioned and therefore should be fired.
Unquestionably, Fox does have a deficiency—one of communication with his troops. He tells them what he thinks they should know, and often that consists of little more than nine names printed on a lineup card. In the spring his silence had Goodson climbing walls. Goodson has been a first baseman and an outfielder, but now Fox said that he would like to have the tall Virginian try his hand at third base. A few days later Fox apparently forgot about him. Goodson began wandering around playing third, playing first, playing the outfield, playing with the thought of sky-diving without a chute.