Two weeks ago, on a warm, sunny Saturday morning, a lovely day for a ball game, Horace Stoneham, the chubby, graying but surprisingly youthful looking president of the New York Giants, sat at his plain wooden desk high in the ancient clubhouse in deep center field in the Polo Grounds. Outside on the playing field the ballplayers were taking batting practice. There was a knock on the door, the door opened and a 10-gallon hat came in, closely followed by Dizzy Dean.
"Harya, Mr. Stoneham?" bellowed Dizzy, who was in New York to telecast the Game of the Week.
Stoneham was genuinely delighted to see Dean. They shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and talked over old times for a while, the treasured days of the '30s when Dean and the St. Louis Cardinals did battle with Carl Hubbell and the Giants. Dizzy stomped around the office talking and finally ended by a window, his hands on the sill, peering out at the great green expanse of the Polo Grounds' playing field.
He looked around at the grandstands and bleachers. The total capacity of the Polo Grounds is over 50,000, but there were less than 100 people sitting scattered here and there, like the last stray tufts of hair on a very mangy dog. It was only 11:30 in the morning and the game wasn't to start until 2 in the afternoon, but Dean made a face.
"Looka thet," he said in disgust. "When we played here back in the '30s, they'd be half full by now. Lines up the street waiting to get in even before the gates opened."
Stoneham stood next to him and looked out at the field. He nodded, perhaps just a bit wistfully.
"Times have changed, Diz," he said.
Times have changed. In the '30s you worried about the team you would put on the field next year. Now you worry about the field you'll put your team on.
Less than a week after Dean stopped in, another man came to New York to see Horace Stoneham. He was the mayor of San Francisco. His mission was obvious: Walter O'Malley of the Brooklyn Dodgers had already agreed (according to insiders) to move his Dodgers to Los Angeles next season. Wouldn't it be nice if the Giants moved to California, too, and kept the ancient rivalry humming to the tune of fresh new gold? San Francisco was ready. The mayor and Stoneham talked. Later they held a press conference at which they announced they had nothing to say, by order of Ford Frick, Commissioner of Baseball. Sly questions brought only coy response.
AN EXPENSIVE LUNCH
All this proved irritating to the assembled members of the press. One writer passed Arthur Patterson, the Dodgers' publicity man. Sourly he said, "A waste of time. This was nothing."
Patterson stared in amazement.
"Nothing?" he demanded. "The mayor of San Francisco flies across the country just to talk to Stoneham, and you think it's nothing?"
The newspaperman shrugged and went out. Patterson shook his head.
Perhaps it was nothing (though in that case it was a damned expensive lunch). Perhaps the Giants will remain the New York Giants and continue to play in the antiquated museum called the Polo Grounds, rather than in a sleek, modern baseball theater like the one San Francisco promises, or like the imposing one Minneapolis built (see page 32) just to dangle temptingly under Stoneham's nose.
Perhaps Stoneham has definitely refused Minneapolis and positively turned down San Francisco. Perhaps he intends to keep his Giants forever in Manhattan, squeezed between Coogan's Bluff and the Harlem River. Perhaps the whole thing is nothing, all this talk of moving.
But don't bet on it.
Horace Stoneham doesn't talk as much as Walter O'Malley, and he has no compulsion for forcing events, like O'Malley. But when the situation demands drastic action, Stoneham throws the dice with the best of them. Consider the dramatic hiring of Leo Durocher, the startling trade that brought Alvin Dark and Eddie Stanky to the Giants, the calculated dealing off of the hero, Bobby Thomson.
Currently, Stoneham is fondling the dice again. He is aware of the situation. It is drastic.
Attendance at the Polo Grounds in 1954, the year the Giants won the pennant and the World Championship, was 1,155,067, a very pleasant but hardly spectacular figure. In 1955 the Giants lost their good second baseman, Dave Williams, when spinal arthritis forced him to retire at 26. They released washed-up Monte Irvin, once their most valuable player, and sold Sal Maglie, their pitching hero of heroes. They managed to finish third, but attendance fell 330,955, by far the worst decline in the major leagues. Volatile Leo Durocher resigned as manager. The relatively colorless Bill Rigney was hired in his place.
In 1956 reports from spring training were tremendously optimistic, but in the regular season results were disenchanting. Though young rookies flared, and John Antonelli pitched masterfully, the Giants had to sprint to finish sixth, and attendance fell off another 194,933, again the worst in the league. In total attendance the Giants were dead last, almost 100,000 behind the eighth-place Chicago Cubs.
This year two of the bright rookies of 1956—Jackie Brandt and Bill White—are in the Army. Catcher Bill Sarni had a heart attack in spring training and at 29 had to quit baseball. Despite the finest, driest, warmest spring New York had experienced in years, attendance was steadily and pitifully low, until the first Dodger-Giant night game of the season. One warm Monday afternoon the Giants played to a crowd of 1,604. The next night, playing against the St. Louis Cardinals—ordinarily a great attraction in New York—on a most pleasant spring evening, the Giants drew only 4,934.
THE REASONS WHY
"People have moved out of the city," Horace Stoneham explained. "You used to be able—at least over in Brooklyn they could—to go out and get a crowd from within walking distance of the park and fill the stands. You can't do that any more. Nowadays people have to drive in from the suburbs. We have a transportation problem, and we have a parking problem. It takes people too long to get through the traffic close to the Polo Grounds, and too long to get away."
Stoneham has been called a lot of things in his 20 years as head of the Giants. He has been criticized for too often displaying an unjustified and misleading enthusiasm for his players. He has been accused of being a part-time boss, of being too fond of the camaraderie to be found in Toots Shor's bar, of failing to exercise firm top-command control of the Giant front office, of tolerating inefficient men in key jobs, of not realizing that petty jealousies were interfering with the proper operation of the club. He has been called oversentimental, tradition-bound, an anachronism in an age when the near-totalitarian efficiency of the neighboring New York Yankees has come to be accepted as the proper way to run a ball club.
But no one has ever said he lacks courage, and no one has ever called him stupid. Stoneham clearly recognizes these facts:
•The Brooklyn Dodgers are going to move out of Ebbets Field.
•The New York Giants ought to move out of their beloved Polo Grounds.
•The New York Yankees do not particularly want either the Dodgers or the Giants as tenants in Yankee Stadium, and neither the Dodgers nor the Giants particularly want to become tenants of the Yankees.
•The City of New York—its ruling politicians acutely aware of criticism because of delays in road building and school construction—is not going to build a stadium of any type for either the Dodgers or the Giants.
•Los Angeles wants the Brooklyn Dodgers and has already solved almost all of the problems heretofore preventing Walter O'Malley from accepting their bid.
•O'Malley will almost certainly move the Dodgers to Los Angeles, probably for next season.
•Both San Francisco and Minneapolis want the New York Giants and have backed up their invitation with cash and action.
•He has to make a decision soon. Stoneham knows that he has only the following courses open to him:
1) He can accept Minneapolis' bid.
2) He can accept San Francisco's bid.
3) He can reject both bids and move across the Harlem River into Yankee Stadium, though he would have to accept Yankee terms and Yankee prices and a reputation as the poor roomer in the second-floor rear.
4) He can do nothing—that is, stay in the obsolete Polo Grounds and hope that Willie Mays and Johnny Antonelli and the young kids will somehow bring the fans back to the lee of Coogan's Bluff.
No matter what his choice, it will be a difficult one to make. He is under heavy pressure from all sides.
For one thing, he is a sentimentalist. A move out of town would hurt his employees, his friends, his newspapermen, his fans. This is a most serious concern to Stoneham. He feels a strong loyalty and responsibility toward everyone close to him. He would prefer to keep the status quo, or as nearly quo as possible.
But Stoneham has other responsibilities, too. He is not the sole owner of the Giants. His father, Charles A. Stoneham, left his holdings to Horace and Horace's sister, Mary Alice. These holdings are in a family corporation known as the Third Security Company. Horace and his sister hold the great majority (though not all) of the stock in Third Security. Third Security in turn holds about 75% of the stock of the National Exhibition Company, which is the official name of the New York Giants. Stoneham, therefore, must think of his family. His children (one of whom, 30-year-old Charles H. (Pete) Stoneham, was made a vice-president of the Giants a year ago) and his sister's children (the eldest is 35-year-old Charles Stoneham (Chub) Feeney, senior vice-president of the Giants and one of the most capable young executives in baseball) are heirs to the Third Security Company holdings. A businessman appraising investments would be apt to say that the San Francisco Giants or the Minneapolis Giants might prove a much more valuable asset to the family than the moribund New York Giants.
Then, too, Stoneham is a National Leaguer, and the National League wants very much to beat the American League into California. If O'Malley and the Dodgers go to Los Angeles, the National League will try very hard to persuade Stoneham to go to San Francisco.
Despite this, some say the National League would resist any action that would leave it without a representative in New York. In that case, if O'Malley goes, then Stoneham, to go with him, would have to act quickly, threatening to use his veto power (a club must have unanimous approval to move its franchise) against all other proposed transfers unless his is approved. If he holds off too long and lets another team—Cincinnati, say—jump into San Francisco, then the league might, later on, refuse to sanction a Stoneham move to Minneapolis.
And, finally, both San Francisco and Minneapolis are becoming increasingly insistent on quick action. If the Giants delay, other clubs will be approached.
Alas, poor Horace. A baseball man, he finds himself involved in politics, economics and horse-trading. All he wants is friends, a winning ball club and a fair return at the gate. Instead he finds himself with the fuse of a tremendous baseball upheaval in one hand and a match in the other.
I think he'll light it.
There are two Ted Williamses. One has an aberration that drives him to denigrate by word and deed the Williams whose performances have won the admiration of a generation of fans. This season it is the latter Ted Williams who is most in evidence. His batting average has been well above .400, he is leading the American League in home runs, and his performance at the plate was a major factor in holding the Boston Red Sox within easy striking distance of the American League lead.
Before a game with the White Sox last week Williams smashed so many drives into the upper deck in right field during batting practice that Chicago Second Baseman Nellie Fox told him: "You don't need a bat. Just use your fists."
During the game, Williams stroked home runs into the stands on his first two at-bats. The third time up he died out. "I learned something then," he said. "Keegan had a 3-2 count on me when I swung—and it was a bad ball. If I hadn't gone for it, I would have walked."
The fourth time at the plate, Williams swung at a good pitch and drove his third home run of the day into the stands.
"What I don't understand is why everybody's getting so excited," Williams observed later. "I've only played 15,16 games and I got a long way to go. The pitchers just seem to be putting them where I like them."
Before the next day's game Ted was warming up in front of the Red Sox dugout and cavorting in one of his favorite gambols—pretending he was pitching a ball game. Williams would peer in for the sign, check the make-believe bases and then break off a big curve. While everyone in the park watched, he threw hooks, sliders and fast balls. Nellie Fox stared wide-eyed and finally muttered, "It isn't bad enough he's clubbing us to death. Now he's gonna pitch us to death."