When Calvin Coolidge chose not to run for the presidency in 1928, he retired to his native New England and for a time wrote a syndicated newspaper column. His essays were masterpieces of Yankee understatement. One day, characteristically, Mr. Coolidge led off by going about as far out on a limb as he ever cared to go. "Baseball," he wrote, "is our national game."
This is an article from the March 24, 1958 issue
It was indeed. But the best baseball, the big league brand, was far from being that. It had one foot across the Mississippi at St. Louis, and it seemed inconceivable that it would expand any further. A man who predicted (in Coolidge's. time) that the majors eventually might invade California would have been looked at askance. A man who dared to suggest that the traditional New York rivals, the Dodgers of Brooklyn and the Giants of Manhattan, might one day reside, respectively, in Los Angeles and San Francisco would have been summarily ordered to leave the speakeasy.
But in a matter of days now, it all becomes wonderfully true for California and for baseball in general. On April 15 the San Francisco Giants will be hosts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the minor league ball park that was formerly the home of the Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Three days later (on the 52nd anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake), the Dodgers and the Giants will bring the big time to Los Angeles in the great Coliseum that is to be the temporary home of the Dodgers. With that, the major league game will go truly national, making old Cal Coolidge more of a prophet than he ever intended to be.
If there are those who mourn that baseball has lost something in the dissolution of the Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry, let them weep no more. For nowhere in America are the ingredients of intercity rivalry more promising than along the California shore. The proudest boast of both Los Angeles and San Francisco is that they have nothing, but nothing, in common. And they like it that way.
"Those San Franciscans are too consciously civilized," says one Los Angeles observer. "They possess that unemotional British attitude toward life. They consider themselves true patrons of the arts. They look upon Los Angeles as boorish. For all their high-toned life, they drink far more liquor than we do. Is that sophistication or is it a fraud?"
"San Francisco lives in a cocoon," says a Los Angeles student. "Its people are able to avoid life. In Los Angeles, you have to elbow your way ahead. We're too sprawling. We're growing too fast. The market places are different. That's why Los Angeles is louder, more pushy, more blustery."
A Los Angeles newspaperman sees the Dodgers as a possible cure for what he thinks ails his town: "L.A. has no identity. We haven't got a landmark. In New York, it's the skyline. In New Orleans they've got those balconies. San Francisco has the bridges. Here every little township attaches itself to L.A., but it worries over its own school problem and its own sewer problem. We're looking for the Dodgers to pull it all together."
San Francisco feels in no need of being pulled together. As Herb Caen, columnist for the Chronicle, sees it: "Why, we're so well-integrated now that, one evening a Chinese and a Texan were having a loud discussion in a Chinatown restaurant and, strangely enough, it was the Texan who seemed like a foreigner."
As for San Francisco's attitude toward Los Angeles, Caen said: "Hating L.A. is sort of a joke, but it's serious the way 'Don't call it Frisco' is serious. This is a city in love with itself. You can stand on a rooftop and look at it. Hell, you can put your arms around it. The Giants are a traditional team, and this is a traditional town. We say 'Dem Bums' now, and we really mean it. Maybe we'll finish the season calling them the Smodgers."
A longtime San Francisco baseball fan developed the point:
"This isn't Los Angeles. Down there you could always sell a 10¢ beanie for a dollar and a half. Look at the way those suckers turned out when O'Malley arrived. A parade and everything, and O'Malley didn't even have a stadium or a firm franchise. When Horace Stoneham arrived in San Francisco, he was met by the Mayor and some other politicians—period. The fans were glad to have him come out, but their attitude was: 'Nice to have you in our city, Horace. Field a team next spring, and we'll look it over. If we like it, our hearts will go out to you. If not, we'll stay home. We won't go out to boo you. We'll love you or leave you alone.' "
It didn't take Horace Stoneham long to catch on. The other day, he gave an interview to Jeane Hoffman of the Los Angeles Times and promptly dashed a shot of Tabasco into the bubbling intercity stew. "Even if Walter O'Malley hadn't been in the picture," declared Horace, "I wouldn't have taken my club to Los Angeles. I prefer San Francisco. Why? Because it's a cosmopolitan city. Los Angeles is a 'transient city.' I predict that over the long run—10 years or more—San Francisco will outdraw Los Angeles in baseball.
"San Franciscans are a different breed of people. They're business people, substantial, with more pride in their community. Los Angeles fans? They're strictly 'name plate' people. By that I mean they go to an event to be seen or because it's the thing to do. They'll break their necks to get to a World Series, but how will they respond, day in, day out? You may outdraw us the first couple of years, but you don't have the kind of people down there to give as consistent support."
For Los Angeles, Walter O'Malley of the Dodgers says nothing in disparagement of anybody. If San Franciscans, even transplanted ones like Horace Stoneham, look down their noses at his new town and his old ball club, let them look up his bank account. He has sold something over 8,000 seats for every home game, which means more than $1,500,000 in the till before the first pitch. Stoneham may have it made in culture in San Francisco, but O'Malley has it in cold cash in L.A.
As the wedding approaches, there is some evidence of prenuptial jitters in both cities. Ticket sellers imported from Brooklyn have put some backs up in Los Angeles, and the less-than-cordial attitude of some Giant players has ruffled the feelings of sports-writers in San Francisco.
But one good game will cure all that. For, as Mr. Coolidge put it so well, baseball is our national game. And the dig league variety—played in the sunshine and smog of Los Angeles or the chill and fog of San Francisco—is irresistible.
MORE ON WEST COAST BASEBALL ON THESE PAGES:
The new big league parks 16
Giants and Dodgers in camp 18
Footloose in two cities 60
The ups and downs of O'Malley 62