As in the boy-meets-girl stories, San Francisco and the Giants want to like each other yet always seem to be bickering. Perhaps a National League flag will provide a happy ending
August 02, 1959

A year and a half has passed since the Giants moved to San Francisco, and last week, with the team fresh from a winning road trip and leading the National League by two and a half games, the city was as excited as ever over its baseball. Not that San Francisco gets excited in any ordinary way. As every tourist knows, San Francisco is a sophisticated town, and the people tend to look upon baseball in a sophisticated fashion. Oh, they talk about the Giants all right, and with great enthusiasm, but their commitment so far is more intellectual than emotional. San Francisco is not Milwaukee, where the fans act like orphans at a circus benefit, and neither is it New York or Brooklyn. No juveniles hang painted bed sheets from the bleachers exhorting their heroes onward, and no crazy dame rattles around the stands clanging a cowbell.

Instead of being raffish, the crowd at Seals Stadium is well mannered and tony, surprisingly so for a ball park. Any number of young marrieds have bought season tickets; there is a liberal sprinkling of society folk ("Tonya Lapham, daughter of the Roger Laphams Jr., was in a nearby box with Debutante Geraldine Christenson, daughter of Vicomtesse de Bonchamps, and with Peter Stent and Ivy Richardson," cooed Blanche Burnett, society editor of the News, recently in a story headlined BASEBALL LURES SMART SET); and stockbroker types are able to leave Montgomery Street in time for the afternoon games since the New York markets close down at noon, local time. "I've never seen as fine a group of people at a ball game," says Lefty O'Doul, the saloonkeeper, two-time National League batting champion and former manager of the San Francisco Seals. "The upper strata of the town is at the game. Half of them must be women, and they're dressed to kill. I saw a woman there the other day I thought was Mrs. Astor."

Seals Stadium itself has a sort of curbing effect on public exuberance. Since it rarely rains (only one postponement since the Giants came), there is no roof and hence no playback of crowd noise. Since there is no roof, there are no exasperating pillars, and in place of snarling ushers holding out their hands for a tip while they pretend to dust the seats, there are smiling usherettes who react on the unruly like the oxen used to soothe fighting bulls.

There are perhaps other reasons why enthusiasm doesn't run unchecked. San Francisco is a small city, and the players are not treated with the awe that comes with removal from everyday life. One sees Felipe Alou here, Orlando Cepeda there. The players are, in short, life-sized. Moreover, a few resented leaving New York with all its advertising endorsements and television shots, and on occasion the resentment will out. Johnny Antonelli, for example, has gone into a shell here, and his relations with the press are terrible. Last year he loudly announced that he wouldn't talk to San Francisco writers, only New York writers. Then Willie Mays has been a disappointment. He's perfectly willing to sign autographs or visit a sick child in a hospital, as he did one day last week, but he is simply not the superstar he was in New York, where he had the vast reaches of the Polo Grounds center field on which to display his defensive miracles. At present he is hitting under .300, and so far this season he has driven in the winning run in only four games. He is good, but he is not great, and he is starting to pay the price with a few boos. The question most often asked of a visiting New Yorker is, "What was Mays like in the Polo Grounds? Was he really as good as they said he was?"

Into this milieu came the Giants last week. They opened a 19-game home stand with two day games against second-place Los Angeles. Although both games drew capacity crowds of 22,000 plus, the park wasn't jammed until the last minute. The Giants and Dodgers are not the rivals they were back East. San Francisco and Los Angeles are almost 400 miles apart, and the rivalry can't feed on barroom arguments the way it did in New York and Brooklyn. Besides, in the old Coast League, San Francisco's big rival was Oakland, and Los Angeles' was Hollywood. If the Giants don't win the pennant, the majority of San Franciscans would rather see the Dodgers win than Milwaukee. "They could all go right down there and see the World Series," says O'Doul. "They're all Californians."

The games against the Dodgers were tight pitching duels, but, alas, the Giants lost both in the ninth. It was the first game which provided Topic A of the week. Antonelli gave up a hard-hit two-run homer to Gil Hodges in the first inning, then pitched brilliantly until Charlie Neal broke up a 2-2 tie with a high fly ball that the wind helped nudge over the left field fence. The fans took the defeat calmly enough, but Antonelli didn't. "Put it in the papers that this is a blanking ball park," he blustered in the clubhouse. "You ask me what kind of a pitch I threw to Neal, and I say what difference does it make? I get beat by two lousy fly balls. A pitcher should be paid double for working here. Worst ball park in America. Every time you stand up there, you've got to beat the hitter and a 30-mph wind." Daryl Spencer, another ex-Polo Grounder, complained about the infield ("The slowest in the world"), but the papers aimed their fire at Antonelli. A Chronicle editorial let him have it between the eyes: "His impatience with the local scene has now veered from the press to the prevailing westerlies; he has, in fact, requested the local press to print his unfavorable opinion of the offshore breezes so that it may be made known to Mr. Stoneham [the owner].... It is probably irrelevant to observe that Mr. Antonelli, who works six or seven hours a week, six months in the year, already draws a base pay equal to that of a governor or two plus that of some other very good pitchers. It is entirely relevant to note that Mr. Antonelli, in ascribing his defeat to 'two lousy fly balls' that became home runs by riding the winds, is entirely ignoring his considerable reputation in organized baseball for throwing the home run pitch, or gopher ball. He has been doing it for years, and in all ball parks on the circuit.... While at it, we would also like to present our own view that San Francisco fans, who have been supporting the Giants far beyond the rosiest hopes of Mr. Stoneham when he fled the barren stands of the Polo Grounds, do not like to be represented by crybabies, alibi artists and poor losers. It might be beneficial, all around, if he would reserve Mr. Antonelli for service in some mythical park where the wind never blows, or else hang a pacifier in the clubhouse."

Ray Haywood of the Oakland Tribune came out swinging from the heels at all the Giants: "The fact is that the Giants are about as unresponsive and apparently unappreciative an athletic organization as ever it has been our dubious pleasure to behold. There is a touch of something similar to condescension, an irritating, almost patronizing atmosphere in the Giants' quarters. It might stem from only a few, but makes the working visitor feel highly unnecessary.... Your first impression is, these expatriate New Yorkers consider the West Coast bushy—some players allegedly have said as much—and those charged with covering events, bushers in their respective fields. If this is their true feeling the Giants should be enshrined en masse in Cooperstown as history's most unappreciative team. They might not like Seals Stadium, the sea breezes or the local sporting press, but after gradual and certain starvation in the Polo Grounds they should love those bushy northern Californians who guarantee the payroll by packing the stands.... The basic trouble might stem from the fact the Giants and northern California were thrown together as complete strangers, with no time to develop the easy familiarity from which friendship grows. However, we doubt community arms were ever opened wider, so wide we wonder why the Giants failed to recognize they had finally found a home and warm friends. It would seem good business to return warmth with warmth—before it turns to coldness."

Antonelli was not allowed to forget the wind incident when he started against the Cubs last Friday night. When his name was announced he drew a substantial number of boos. In the second inning the Cubs rubbed it in by putting a weather vane atop the dugout rail. After the Cubs scored three runs in the fifth the crowd gave Manager Bill Rigney a big hand when he came out to remove Antonelli.

Generally, the pitching, almost unnoticed in the uproar over Antonelli, looks good, up to a point. Mike McCormick (it's hard to realize he's only 20) and Jack Sanford, who, along with Antonelli and Sam Jones, give the Giants a big four, both beat St. Louis convincingly. (It is indicative of Jones's growing stature that Manager Fred Haney added him to the National League pitching staff for All-Star Game II in Los Angeles on August 3.) Sanford's win marked the fifth straight time a Giant starter had gone the distance. "It's the best pitching I've seen around the Giants since I've been managing," Rigney said after the game. He was especially pleased by Sanford's change-up and said the game was Sanford's best so far, even better than the one-hitter he pitched against the Cards earlier in the year. "He overpowered them before," Rigney explained. "Today he changed speed a couple of times. He was just taking a little off the ball." Behind the big four there are Eddie Fisher, a knuckle-balling rookie who will be used in spots, and Stu Miller, a "junk"-throwing veteran, who will be used both in spots and relief. Two other pitchers, Gordon Jones and Allan Worthington, haven't worked much, and Rigney has had to call on Sam Jones (who won two, back to back, in Cincinnati) and McCormick in relief.

While the pitching has been good, the hitting has been bad. As a team, the Giants are only batting .257 compared to .270 at the same time last year. It's a rare day when they knock a pitcher out of the box. And when they do get the hits, they don't make them count. In the second game against St. Louis last week, the Giants got 11 hits and five runs, but only one of the runs was earned.

The defense has been tight. "Our pitching and defense have been carrying us through," Rigney said after the Card series. Eddie Bressoud has replaced Andre Rogers, the onetime cricket player, at short, and at last Daryl Spencer seems to have found a good partner for the double play. Spencer, incidentally, is having a fine year. He has been particularly good in the clutch and is batting .290. The big surprise has been Hobie Landrith, a left-handed hitter who took the catching job away from Bob Schmidt, last year's find, and has been doing exceptionally well. He reached a high point of some sort in an extra-inning win against Cincinnati recently. In the ninth, with none out, he picked Gus Bell off second, then threw Frank Robinson out stealing. In the 10th he caught Roy McMillan attempting to steal.

In the outfield, Jackie Brandt has been fine with the glove, but so-so with the bat. Willie Kirkland is doing all right, but Mays has yet to get un-tracked. If he were hitting like he used to hit, the Giants would be leading by 10. Cepeda, the sophomore first baseman, has been supplying the punch at the plate with a .321 batting average, 19 homers and 69 runs batted in, tops on the club. Yet despite various San Francisco shortcomings, a poll taken last week showed that 16 out of 23 members of the St. Louis Cardinals picked the Giants as the team most likely to win in the National League.

This is the team then that has San Francisco excited, in San Francisco's peculiar fashion. Should the Giants win the pennant, the new park at Candlestick Point is expected to be ready for the Series, and out there the wind blows in a different direction. However, a third of the season remains, and Rigney is not claiming any shoo-in. "I think we've got a real good chance," he says. As yet, there is no great rush of mail for Series tickets, and few fans are seriously talking pennant. Perhaps San Francisco's wait-and-see attitude toward the pennant was best summed up by Enrico Banducci, the proprietor of a chic sidewalk café and an ardent fan, when he remarked, "The people at the bar are talking about it, but it hasn't reached the tables yet."