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A Los Angeles Dodger catcher once threw a brushback ball at a San Francisco Giant pitcher, whereupon the pitcher conked the catcher with a baseball bat. A Giant manager and a Dodger coach got into a fistfight right in the middle of batting practice one day. When a scorer from a Los Angeles newspaper robbed a Giant pitcher of a no-hitter, a San Francisco newspaper denounced the larcenous act in an editorial. A Giant manager once had the Candlestick Park groundkeeper muddy up the base paths to bog down a Dodger base stealer. An umpire refused to allow a Giant batter to take first base, even though he had been hit with a pitch. There was a time when the Dodgers and the Giants attracted 700,000 to 800,000 fans a year for their games against one another in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And on a fine October afternoon, champagne flowed through the streets of San Francisco.
Ah, but that was long ago. And what had been the game's most torrid rivalry has become tepid, has it not? Then why did Giant Pitcher John Montefusco say of the Dodgers only a week ago, "A lot of us can't stand those guys. They just get under our skin." And why will some 200,000 fans watch the teams play four games in Candlestick Park this week? No, the bitter old feud is not dead. Sure, it lay dormant for a while, but the resurgence of the Giants this season has revived it, and if the spectator response is any indication—and it certainly is—the rivalry has never been livelier.
In May, when the two teams last met, 153,113 fans saw three games in Los Angeles and 145,614 watched three more in San Francisco, the crowd of 56,103 on May 28 establishing a record for the Giants in San Francisco. There will soon be ample opportunity for more records because the Giants and Dodgers play eight times in an 11-day span beginning this weekend. This stretch could well settle the hash of one or the other in the National League West, where upstart San Francisco has held a narrow lead over the expected divisional contenders, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, for most of the season. As a result, the Giants figure to draw more than half as many fans in the nine home games with the Dodgers this year as they did for all their games at Candlestick in 1977. San Francisco home attendance is more than double what it was at this time a season ago, and it already exceeds last year's total of 700,056 by more than 300,000. Clearly, Giant baseball is all the rage in the Bay Area again. In saloons and restaurants, on the floors of the brokerage houses, in the North Beach coffeehouses, in the parks and on the Bay, the most pressing question these days is "What's the score?"
There are hidebound traditionalists who still contend that the true Dodger-Giant rivalry died when the teams moved west in 1958. They would be right only with regard to their first year in California, when San Franciscans and Angelenos felt a rare kinship, both being major league rookies. The chumminess could not last, however, because the physical and spiritual differences between the two cities are recognized even by those who understand neither. Isn't Los Angeles the place where everyone wears sunglasses? And, oh yes, isn't San Francisco the town Anita Bryant wouldn't be caught dead in? Both, in fact, are exceedingly complex communities. Los Angeles is a good deal more than Beverly Hills; much of it and its myriad suburbs are inhabited by politically and socially conservative Middle Americans. San Francisco is not just another pretty face. It is a tough town with a healthy sense of its own identity. One city is spreading, forever reaching beyond its borders; the other is compact, inward-turned. You confuse them at your peril. The rivalry between the cities, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once wrote, "is a reflex built in at birth. It is firmly a part of the mystique of each city, and why not? It's fun to have an object of automatic disdain so close at hand."
The transplanted ballplayers of the late '50s soon absorbed this sense of merry enmity, and a succession of unusual occurrences helped give Giants vs. Dodgers, in its California incarnation, a character quite distinct from New York vs. Brooklyn. The first such incident demonstrated that even a scorer's decision can exacerbate municipal prejudices. In 1959, Sam Jones, a laconic righthander who gnawed on a toothpick while he pitched, was the ace of the Giants' staff. On the night of June 30, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, he had a no-hitter working in the eighth inning when Jim Gilliam of the Dodgers hit an easy bouncer to the infamously maladroit Giant shortstop, Andre Rodgers. True to form, Rodgers bobbled the ball, picked it up and, aware that further effort would only compound his folly, made no throw to first. The official scorer, Charlie Park of the Los Angeles Mirror-News, did not hesitate in calling Gilliam's grounder a base hit. Jones nearly swallowed his toothpick. Members of the San Francisco press shouted imprecations, but Park resolutely rejected all appeals. Base hit! Russ Hodges, broadcasting the game home to San Francisco, was tremulous with rage. "If ever a man deserved a no-hit game, Sam Jones did tonight," he bellowed into the KSFO microphone. "The ball was a routine grounder."
The controversy did not die that night. The Chronicle, a wag of a newspaper, seized the opportunity to portray Park's decision as the embodiment of the Southern California mentality and to show up Charlie as the sort of bounder who would willingly rob the North of its drinking water and its no-hitters. There are, the Chronicle editorialized, "dark and secret things, unrelated to reality and governed by no law of man or nature, that happen all the time in the Los Angeles Coliseum.... Whatever the explanation, the facts are intolerable to San Franciscans who regard baseball as a sane pastime, bound by logical rules, fairly imposed. They don't like to have indignities inflicted on Sam Jones' no-hitter. This is a matter of principle, not sectionalism—a moral consideration which holds that it will be a cold day in Candlestick Park when any Dodger pitcher gets closer to an official no-hitter than the Jones boy did in the Los Angeles Coliseum."
The editorial writer had no way of knowing just how many cold days there would be in Candlestick Park, because the new stadium was still under construction in 1959, a matter of no small moment then. The Giants were playing in 23,000-seat Seals Stadium in a year in which, to their considerable surprise, they found themselves pennant contenders. In late September they were leading the league by two games and facing the prospect of playing the city's first World Series in a minor league park. The Dodgers resolved this dilemma by sweeping a three-game series in San Francisco, taking the lead themselves and pressing on to whip the White Sox and become California's first world champions. The battle now was truly joined.
The Giants avenged this humiliation three years later by tying the Dodgers on the last day of the season after L.A. had led by four with only seven games to play. The Dodgers' collapse was just as complete as the Giants' had been in '59; they lost six of those final games, the last two defeats coming by shutouts. In the subsequent playoff for the pennant, the Giants won two of three, thereby earning the privilege of losing to the Yankees in the World Series. It was a season in which Giant Manager Alvin (Swamp Fox) Dark had ground-keeper Matty Schwab drench the base paths, purportedly to keep loose dirt from blowing in the wind, but actually to keep Maury Wills of the Dodgers, who was en route to a record 104 steals, from blowing the Giants out of contention. The conspiracy was not lost on Los Angeles observers. One more squirt from Schwab's hose, wrote the L.A. Times' Jim Murray, "and the Red Cross would have declared second base a disaster area." Significantly, Schwab was voted a full $7,290 World Series share.
The 1962 race solidified the Dodgers' and Giants' new identities. Both teams had been reconstructed on the Pacific Coast, so there were few survivors from the New York- Brooklyn days. Sandy Koufax had never been a star in the East; he became one in Los Angeles. Wills and Tommy Davis, the new batting champion, had not even played in Brooklyn. Of the Giant stars, only Willie Mays retained a Coogan's Bluff patina. The others—Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Jimmy Davenport—all began their careers in San Francisco.
The summer of '62 saw the emergence of yet another new star—the transistor radio. Because of the sunglasses, Nathanael West had called Los Angeles "The City of the Blind"; with transistors now affixed to Southland ears, it looked more like "The City of the Deaf." And Bay Area fans were hardly less devoted to their tiny portable radios. The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco banned the infernal machines after more than one diva complained of applause and cheers curiously unrelated to the aria in progress. Radios were not proscribed in Kezar Stadium, and on the last day of the baseball season, John Brodie, quarterbacking the 49ers against the Vikings, humbly raised his arms to still the deafening cheer that had interrupted his signal-calling. Brodie was flattered by the attention his modest efforts were receiving, until he discovered the cheers were for the eighth-inning home run the Cardinals' Gene Oliver had hit to beat the Dodgers and drop them into a tie with the Giants.