But it wasn't
until the game ended—the last game the Giants were ever to play in the Polo
Grounds—that the fun, or a reasonable facsimile of fun, really began. In the
ninth inning, the public address had blared out its usual cautionary note about
fans not entering onto the playing field until the players and the umpires had
reached the clubhouse. The response had been a lusty, gusty jeer.
Then the Giants
came up and went down swiftly, but not before the fans had stood and cheered as
Willie Mays stepped into the batter's box for the last time. And when Mays
grounded out, they cheered him some more, which certainly must be the first
time in the history of the Polo Grounds that a great hitter was applauded after
he failed to hit. The game ended as anticlimactically as possible: Dusty Rhodes
hit a feeble ground ball to shortstop and was thrown out. Nobody seemed to be
aware that the man in the on-deck circle, waiting to bat, was Bobby
have been aware, actually. For as the game ended, the stadium erupted. Fans
streamed past cops and Burns Agency armed guards. The Giants raced toward the
clubhouse, 11,000 people in hot pursuit. Dusty Rhodes reached the bleacher
stairs that lead to the dressing room in what had to be record-breaking time.
Mays ran with his cap held tightly to his breast. The faces of the Giants were
stunned, nearly frightened. A ballplayer ran into a boy and knocked him
spinning. A cop grabbed the ballplayer. They pushed each other briefly. Then
the player pulled free and went up the stairs. Men and boys dug up the bases.
The canopy over the right-field bullpen came splintering down. A piece of the
left-field canopy was ripped off. The telephones in the bullpens were yanked
up. Fans tore the green covering from the outfield fences and discovered to
their delight a layer of foam-rubber filling. It came away easily. Samples of
the Polo Grounds' sod were stuffed into paper bags and glass jars that appeared
out of thin air, or into coat pockets. Someone uprooted home plate, and a dozen
men fought for possession of it. Jeff Chandler, the movie actor, went up the
Giant dressing-room steps, unnoticed.
gathered on the field between and in front of the two bleacher sections,
alternately cheering and jeering. They chanted, "Stay, team, stay," and
then switched to, "We want Stoneham." A wag changed this to, "We
want to stone him." They cried, "We want Willie." They cried,
"Hang Stoneham." A little boy said to his father, standing in the
bleachers, "I want to see." His father said, "There's nothing to
I started out
through the left-center-field exit ramp. A curio seeker went by carrying a
Ladies' Room sign. A man said, "What was the final score?" Another man
said, "I don't know. Who cares?" (For the benefit of those who do, it
was Pirates 9, Giants 1.—ED.)
It was a
crazy-quilt, self-intoxicated crowd. The loudest cheer, as I recall, had been
saved for a fan's one-hand catch of a foul fly hit into the right-field stands.
The fans had been out to see the other fans, and to be seen. It was a
last-ditch show, and they were making the most of it.
But real Giant
fans (whatever that means) go to ball games not to run off with the bases. They
go because they love baseball and because they want to see the Giants play. The
season and a history ended on Sunday, September 29. There was another game the
day before. On Saturday, 3,000 people, searching only for the souvenirs that
can be translated onto a scorecard in the fan's hieroglyphics as 6-4-3, went up
to the Polo Grounds, simply to see a Giant ball game. I went along.
I took a subway
to the Polo Grounds on Saturday, the way I always used to. On Sunday, I took a
coming up the subway steps, a man said to me, "It's the wrong day for a
funeral. It ought to be raining or something."
It was the wrong
day, indeed. September, with her ludicrous and mercurial talent for being a
little bit like yesterday's summer and a little bit like tomorrow's winter, was
her own sweet tangy self, the faintest breeze scampering through the
crystalline high sky.