From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, June 16, 1958
WHEN THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WIN, PEOPLE ASK, ARE THEY REAL? HOW MUCH longer can this last? ¶ When the Giants lose, people say, Guess the bubble's finally burst, hey? They'll find their level now, all right. ¶ What people don't seem to realize is that it really doesn't matter anymore. It isn't important that the team finishes first or a close second; and it won't hurt too much if it subsides quietly into the second division. ¶ The important thing is: The Giants have solidified their beachhead in San Francisco and taken a firm grasp on the future. The Giants are in.
They've been the one truly exciting element in the baseball picture this spring, their first since leaving New York City's Polo Grounds after 67 years. Their striking early success on the field saved baseball's move to California from turning into something of a sordid fiasco. Remember that the Giants, who had finished sixth the past two seasons, were not supposed to do much better than that this year. The expectation was that Los Angeles's Dodgers would give California a pennant pretender for at least another year or two and that maybe then the Giants would start moving up. But as the world knows, the Dodgers, 16-26 through May, have been a colossal flop. If the Giants had turned out as poorly as anticipated, California might well have been completely soured on major league baseball.
Instead the Giants, 30-22, are in clover, with plans all set and final contracts just about ready for signing on their new 50,000-seat stadium at Candlestick Point on the Bay, in the southeast corner of the city. Taxpayer suits against the contracts, which appear to be in Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley's future in Los Angeles despite receiving approval from voters to build at Chavez Ravine, are only a minor threat in San Francisco. The lawyer for one group, which had earlier announced plans for a suit, was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying that the suit probably would not be filed. "For one thing," he said, "the Giants' success makes it an unpopular undertaking."
Some hold that the Giants' success was also a factor in helping the Dodgers win their referendum in Los Angeles, the theory being that the Los Angeleno, no matter how disgusted he might be with financial maneuvering, political promises and the awful performance of the Dodgers, simply could not let San Francisco get away with all that glory.
What San Francisco is getting is not so much glory as it is performance, a succession of unbelievably exciting ball games. While Los Angeles sits on its hands, watching the listless Dodgers stumble through one humbling defeat after another, San Francisco sits on the edge of its seat, watching one thrilling game after another.
And it's more than just San Francisco, more than just the people watching in 23,000-seat Seals Stadium. KSFO radio broadcasts of games are heard throughout the heavily populated Bay Area, and they are picked up and rebroadcast by stations as far south as Fresno, as far east as Reno, as far north as Crescent City, up near the Oregon border, 300 miles away. Practically all of California north of Los Angeles is entertained by the derring-do of the Giants. It's something to be entertained by. The pitching is too thin and the hitting too youthful, but the heart is big, and the Giants simply are never out of a ball game. (Most notably, trailing Pittsburgh 11-1 on May 5, the Giants scored nine times in the bottom of the ninth and were denied only by a game-ending catch by Bill Mazeroski.)
THE GIANTS STARTED THE SEASON IN FINE STYLE IN California, walloping the Dodgers, then roared eastward on a highly successful road trip. On June 1 they came home in first place, and their first games back were against Milwaukee, the first time the Braves had played in the Golden State. Originally this series was the one everyone planned to go to because everyone wanted to see the Braves, the world champions. But now suddenly it had turned into one of baseball's beloved crucial series, a battle between the two best (for the moment) teams in the National League.
Well, it turned out that the Braves won two of the three games and tumbled the Giants into second place. But if the casual reader thinks that the city was disappointed or disillusioned or that the bubble finally did burst or that taxpayers' suits were hurriedly refiled, do not be misled. Defeat or no defeat, this series was the artistic triumph of San Francisco's dramatic season.
For instance, in the first inning of the first game there was an easy fly ball to centerfield. Willie Mays stood still, waiting for the ball, punched his glove once and then again, a gesture that absolutely delights San Franciscans, and caught the ball waist-high, with the palm of his glove up, in his famous basket catch. It was an utterly simple play, but it had the Willie Mays trademark and the crowd loved it. People turned to each other, grinning, as if to say, "Yes, that's Willie."