Like men observing the behavior of addled ants under a magnifying glass, the two psychiatrists studied the Giants. Because they were Giant fans as well as doctors, they suffered, and finally they could stand it no longer. Next day their diagnosis landed on Page One of the Chronicle for all San Francisco to see: schizophrenia. The Giants, said the 42-point Gothic prescription, need a psychiatrist.
This was occasion for great merriment in the clubhouse and front office. Instead of laughing, the Giants should have been looking in the Yellow Pages. If the two doctors erred, it was on the side of caution. This team could use several psychiatrists; its problem is not just schizophrenia but a completely fragmented personality.
The Giant players are ashamed of the performance of the team, but it has apparently occurred to none of them to blame himself; a defeat is always the fault of someone else. They are resentful of the interference of the owner, Horace Stoneham, who from his private box high up in the stadium—or Bardelli's bar on O'Farrell Street—frequently tries to run the ball club on the field. They are contemptuous of their manager, Tom Sheehan, whom they consider an old clown. And they reserve a particularly virulent brand of hatred for that lovely, lethal monster, Candlestick Park, where hands freeze at high noon and the wind howls every day like Hurricane Donna. When playing there, all they can think of is escape; when on the road, they dread to return home.
Had the Giants been a team, in the sense that the Pirates are a team, complete with spirit and leadership and defiant pride in victory, even the misfortunes which befell them early in the year—Willie McCovey's collapse at the plate, the injuries to Jim Davenport and Eddie Bressoud, Don Blasingame's inability to match his old Cardinal performances—would not have broken the club into such small pieces. But the Giants of 1960 have never been a team—only a group of individuals, overpaid, over-publicized, overrated.
September 25, 1960
Even without leadership on the field, the Giants might have tried harder had the front office been willing to accept some of the stigma of defeat. But Stoneham feels only that the team let him down. What he does not admit is that he let the team down, too, first by overselling himself on its potentialities; then by removing its manager, Bill Rigney, in a moment of panic when the club was only four games out of first place in mid-June; and, finally, by giving the manager's job to his personal scout and drinking companion, a 66-year-old ex-house detective named Thomas Clancy Sheehan.
Of all the elements which have contributed to the Giant downfall this year, rival National Leaguers, as well as the Giants themselves, fasten first upon Candlestick Park. It is not easy to look inside a man, or a team, or an organization and discover why each failed to tick, nor, having found out the cause, is it pleasant to describe. But a baseball stadium, besides being a less dangerous topic of conversation, is a solid, measurable thing.
Candlestick Park is located on a point of land which juts into San Francisco Bay just south of town. The stadium nuzzles up against Morvey's Hill, which realtors have recently been calling Bay View Hill. In the mornings, except for some activity at a nearby garbage dump, it is a lovely, tranquil spot. Unfortunately, ball games are not played in the morning.
A TWO-HEADED MONSTER
Every day, usually about noon, the wind sweeps up from the south, splits around Morvey's Hill and attacks the stadium from two directions. By far the worst stream comes in from the northeast, over the left field stands, raging across the diamond and out toward right field, muffling the fabled power of Willie Maysand Orlando Cepeda, from which any hopes for a Giant pennant must spring. It doesn't help Felipe Alou and Davenport and the other right-hand hitters much, either.
In fact, the wind doesn't help anyone. Willie Kirkland, the best left-hand hitter on the club, has not profited a bit from the heroic tail wind, nor has Eddie Mathews of the Braves, who with his formidable ability to pull a ball hard down the right-field line should go crazy in Candlestick Park. So far, Mathews has failed to hit even one home run there. "Nobody can hit in that wind," says Bob Skinner of the Pirates. "It makes your eyes water." Says Rocky Nelson, who also hits left-handed for the same team: "It almost blows me over. I can't even stand still."
During games, abandoned newspapers and napkins and popcorn sacks and scorecards fill the air like confetti tossed from a tall building, swirling down from the stands to clutter up the diamond. The flags in center field usually stand out stiff toward right field, but sometimes they also blow left, and once in a while they blow straight up. One day the American flag blew all the way down. "There is no such thing in this ball park," says Bobby Bragan of the Dodgers, "as an easy fly ball."
Candlestick Park is not only windy, it is cold. San Francisco's warmest weather arrives in October, which would have come in handy had the Giants been able to arrange for a World Series then without first having to play 77 ball games in a city whose mean average temperature during the summer months is 59°. As Mark Twain or Charley Dressen or someone once said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
The weather does not faze the natives, who simply wrap up in parkas and blankets and Martinis and sit there as if shivering were fun, but ballplayers are not used to such treatment. Pregame batting and infield practice is so unattractive to the Giants that a coach usually has to come into the dressing room and shoo everyone out. "It gets you inside," says Blasingame, who comes from Mississippi. "You just don't feel like playing baseball out there." Says Wally Moon of the Dodgers: "No ballplayer likes cold weather. You hit one on the fists and your hands hurt for four days."
The wind and the cold are not all that ballplayers object to in Candlestick Park. The only background for hitters is a high blue sky, out of which a good fast ball comes like a rocket. (In June, Stoneham promised to erect a $15,000 green fence—40 feet high and 150 feet long—to serve as a background, but he never did.) The infield has been doused with oil, in an attempt to contain dust swirls, until it has become so hard and lumpy that ground balls now ricochet like a rifle slug going down a canyon. Dampness from San Francisco's early-morning fog leaves the outfield grass as slick as an ice rink.
Obviously, the Giants have every right to be unhappy about Candlestick Park. Whether they should be demoralized is something else. Around the National League no one really believes that this wind-blown error of a ball park adequately explains what has happened to the Giants this year; it is merely a contributing factor and the only one considered fit for public consumption by those on the inside.
In private, when this self-imposed censorship is relaxed, there are several dozen players, coaches, managers, writers and executives who will tell you what is really wrong with the Giants: too many Negroes. They said it last year and they are saying it now, out of the corners of their mouths, after looking warily around. Sometimes half a dozen people will be looking around and speaking out of the corners of their mouths in one small room at the same time. "That's the real reason the Giants are losing," they will say, "but, of course, you can't print it."
The reason you cannot print it—and mean it—is that it is not true. There are racial blocks, of course; there are also psychological and environmental and geographic barriers at least as strong. It is less a matter of pigmentation than what is inside each Giant that keeps the team apart.
In actual numbers, the Giants sometimes have six Negroes on the field when Andre Rodgers is filling in for Davenport at third base and when either Sam Jones or young Juan Marichal is pitching. Only Mays, Alou, Kirkland and Cepeda are considered regulars, however, and the Dodgers ordinarily have more Negro ballplayers in their lineup every day than that. What the Giants lack is leadership—and the responsibility here must be shouldered by the whites.
THE WHITES WOULD BALK
The best ballplayers on the club are Negroes, yet the Negroes, even if they chose to, could not lead because the whites would refuse to follow. Things being the way they are, this is something one can understand. Perhaps the only Negro ballplayer capable of that type of leadership was Jackie Robinson, and on the team on which he played there was no reason for Robinson to lead, not with Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Carl Erskine around. The thing that hurts the Giants is the absence of Reeses and Hodgeses and Erskines.
"Our white players," says one Giant official, "unfortunately have neither the ability to inspire others by their performance nor the personality to pick up this team and demand that it put out. The same thing was true of the Braves until they got Red Schoendienst; now that he is unable to play regularly, they are having that trouble again. So are the Reds."
From this vacuum the Giants have wandered off in all directions. Mays, held in great respect by black and white teammates alike for his remarkable baseball skills, is a loner off the field. Strangely enough, Mays will show more friendliness toward another star, a Mickey Mantle, a Yogi Berra, a Stan Musial, from another team, than to a fellow Giant. This year at the All-Star Game he put his arm around Eddie Mathews' shoulder. "I was amazed," said one of the Giants. "Willie wouldn't think of doing that with one of his white teammates here."
Cepeda may have been touched by the star complex, too; in any event, this big, likable, happy-go-lucky kid from Puerto Rico prefers his own company while living it up in San Francisco. He seldom buddies even with the other Latin Americans, Alou and Marichal, who are from the Dominican Republic and, perhaps for this reason, stick closer together than most. When McCovey came up last year, Kirkland and Leon Wagner took the hulking youngster under their wings, but Wagner was traded to the Cardinals during the winter and Kirkland has found McCovey too much of a load to carry alone. Rodgers, a Bahamian, fits in with neither the American nor Latin Negroes; the Giants realize that simple loneliness has been one of his big problems for three years. Sam Jones is a stranger to everyone off the field.
To a lesser extent, the white players are separated, too. There are college men and boys off the farm; some are old, some are young; some received big bonuses to sign a baseball contract, others have been scratching out a bare living in the game for years. Billy Loes has never been one to develop deep friendships with other ballplayers. Blasingame is well liked, but he is still new to the team, and he has a new bride. Bressoud, after a tragic accident which took his first wife and left him to raise two children, remarried last year, but he has had many adjustments to make. The only really close group of Giants—Johnny Antonelli, Mike McCormick, Stu Miller and Davenport—live in San Mateo, near Hank Sauer, who is part coach, part scout, part mother hen. If there is a clique on the Giant ball club, this is it.
AN INTERESTING CONTRAST
There is no rule in baseball, however, which says that a member of a team must take a blood-brother oath in order to play winning baseball once he pulls on his spikes. This year's Pirates are a case in point. Their interests and backgrounds vary almost as much as those of the Giants; socially, they break up into small, rather exclusive groups. Yet on the field the Pirates fit together like parts of a beautiful watch; the Giants do not fit together at all.
One might suppose that a team this badly divided would explode occasionally in dressing room fights or arguments. The Giants don't ever do that. High-stake card games, some of which lasted all night and left the losers grumbling unhappily during batting practice next day, were finally banned by Sheehan in the one positive action he seems to have taken since becoming manager of the team. Mike McCormick has at times been an angry young man because teammates failed to back up some of his more dazzling pitching performances with batting support. But the Giants do not ordinarily go around snarling at each other; instead, each seems to play as if the others did not exist.
"This is a team of individuals," one of the Giants told Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski, after standing on second base and watching three teammates swing futilely for the fences one day. "Nobody is willing to sacrifice himself to push a runner along."
"Of course, that's one of their big troubles," says Dick Groat. "They're individuals. Big swingers. They refuse to adapt to this ball park."
"I think it would be wrong to say that this ball club quit," says Maury Wills of the Dodgers. "Ballplayers don't quit; they all want to win. It's more like they don't know how to play together. Each one tries to do the thing he does best, and it doesn't quite fit."
Take Mays. Everyone realized from the first that the strong wind blowing in from left field at Candlestick Park would cut down on Willie's home run production; he would have to quit trying to pull every pitch and hit more often to center and right fields. "In the long run this is going to make Willie an even better hitter," Chub Feeney, who is Stoneham's nephew and a vice-president of the Giants, said at the start of the season. "He may not hit so many home runs this year, but his average should go up." After a month of the season, Feeney was all set to receive his prophet's badge; Willie had hit only two home runs but was leading the league at .425, and the Giants had won 15 of their first 22 games. Mays, however, could see only those two home runs.
"I tried to hit that way for a while," he says, "and it seemed to work all right here. But then we went on the road, and I couldn't pull the ball, man. So finally I quit. Now I hit the ball good on the road and I get my home runs. Back here I just swing and hope for the best." Mays figures that he has hit at least 15 baseballs to deep left field in Candlestick Park for outs which would have been home runs anywhere else. What he does not figure is that he might have been doing the club more good by hitting singles and doubles—at a .425 gait—into right center field.
The unhappiest Giant of all is Antonelli, a man so bitter over the press and public reaction to his now infamous words about the wind in old Seals Stadium that he refuses to discuss the subject. It is easy to be sympathetic to Antonelli, for he hardly deserved the condemnation he received. It is more difficult to understand why he should be so disgusted with the game itself or the people who pay his salary. In any event, he has let the Giant front office know that he wants to be traded; he has told other ballplayers that he will quit baseball within a year or two if he is not.
When a baseball team arrives at such an emotional state as this, it takes a very strong manager to pull it out, a rough whiplash of a man who can lead. A John McGraw, a Leo Durocher, a Paul Richards. "What this ball club really needs," says one of the San Francisco baseball writers, "is Captain Bligh." Instead it has Tom Sheehan, who only looks like Captain Bligh. Sheehan is not a McGraw, a Durocher or a Richards; he is a friend of Horace Stoneham.
Basically the Giants have a sound organization. The game is Stoneham's life; unlike other owners who look upon it as a sidelight or a toy, he has made baseball his business. Feeney is a sharp young baseball man. Secretary Eddie Brannick was with the Giants before Stoneham's father bought the club in 1919, and he is one of baseball's best-loved men. Carl Hubbell and Jack Schwarz run a farm system which consistently produces some of the finest prospects in either league. The Giants have made a lot of money in San Francisco; their 1960 attendance set a record, and this for a ball club that has been in business 78 years. It is a relaxed organization, a pleasant one to be around. Perhaps it is too relaxed.
"From what I have seen," says one San Franciscan, "my impression of the Giant front office is a bunch of jolly old Irishmen with red faces sitting around a table talking baseball and getting squiffed."
In the spring there were many people who thought the Giants would win the pennant, but only Stoneham anticipated a runaway. Overlooking the team's evident weaknesses behind the plate and in the bullpen, too willing to believe that Willie McCovey had proved himself a big leaguer in only half a season of play, Stoneham saw the forthcoming season through a rosy haze, compounded of equal parts foolish optimism and Dewar's White Label.
The Giants played well under Rigney, and on June 12, when they beat the Braves 16-7, they were 11 games over .500 and only half a game behind the Pirates' sizzling pace. Then the Giants lost a game to Milwaukee and three straight to Pittsburgh—and Rigney was fired. "The ball club was getting away from Rigney," said Stoneham. "We had to make the change now before it was too late."
Stoneham owns the Giants, and it is his privilege to change managers when he wants, like a man putting new sparkplugs in a car which is running well but is not winning the race because of two flat tires. In this case, Horace also reached for the wrong sparkplugs. Instead of hiring Durocher, who was available and panting for the job, Stoneham picked Tom Sheehan.
Sheehan has a great deal of baseball experience. He was a pitcher for several big league teams. One of them was the 1916 Athletics, who lost a record 117 games. Sheehan's contribution to this effort was one victory and 17 defeats. He managed minor league clubs for several years and since 1948 has been Stoneham's "personal scout," sitting at the owner's elbow in the private box when the Giants are at home, usually traveling with the club on the road. Both Durocher and Rigney have mentioned that old Tom kept a pretty good eye on the way things were going—and reported what he saw to Stoneham.
Lefty O'Doul, now a San Francisco restaurant owner and springtime batting coach for the Giants, is friendly with Stoneham and Sheehan, too ("Old Tom is a fine fellow," says O'Doul. "Great storyteller, heart as big as all outdoors"), but he is as mystified as anyone else as to why Sheehan got the job.
"I'll tell you one thing," says O'Doul. "Horace can be a very stubborn man. If somebody tells him he should hire so-and-so to manage the club, you can bet right there that Horace is going to hire somebody else. He doesn't like people telling him how to run his ball club.
"No, I don't know how it happened—but it might have happened like this. Tom sat there for so long telling Horace how Rigney should have done this and that until Horace finally decided, 'Well, now, old Tom's pretty smart, we'll let him run the ball club.' Now I don't say that's what happened. But it might have."
With Sheehan running the ball club, the Giants lost five straight, fell six and a half games behind and into third place. In early July they lost five in a row again and dropped into fifth place, eight and a half games behind. After one brief spurt in the last week of July, they hit the skids again, this time losing six straight in one period to kill off any hope of ever escaping the second division. That is where the Giants are now, winning a few through sheer talent, losing a few more through shoddy defensive play, uninspired base running and erratic hitting.
A SUDDEN TOUGHNESS
The ballplayers like Sheehan, for he helped scout and sign many of them, but they run all over him and he does not have their respect. Usually he is too easy on them; then, suddenly, he tries to get too tough, often in the wrong way, pointing the finger at individuals during group clubhouse meetings. He has publicly called the deal for Blasingame "the worst trade the Giants ever made." He says the pitching staff is too soft, that "those fellows need a tough guy like Maglie to show them how to pitch."
Unable to second-guess the manager, he now second-guesses his players. "I never saw anything like it," says one of the Giants. "Whatever you do is wrong. He's the only manager I ever saw who criticized line drives." On the National League All-Star team plane, going from Kansas City to Yankee Stadium, Sheehan was a riot; the show he put on left everyone in tears—except that the tears on the cheeks of the Giants were not the laughing kind. "Now you know," said one of the Giants to another National Leaguer, "why we're not going to win the pennant."
The basis for a winning team in 1961 is still there: Mays, Cepeda, Kirkland, Alou (the most pleasant development of a dismal year) and the potentially fine pitching staff built around Sam Jones, McCormick, Jack Sanford, Marichal and Billy O'Dell. But the Giants need at least one good infielder, desperately, and they need a catcher and a relief man who approaches the Lindy McDaniel-Roy Face class. In trade, the Giants have only Antonelli to offer as big bait—and how do you trade for a leader?
The Giants must also do something about the wind in Candlestick Park, and a dozen suggestions, some weird, some within the realm of reason, have materialized from various quarters. The most popular one, because of its scope, if nothing else, is to cut down Morvey's Hill. The theory is that the wind would then blow steadily over the top of the stadium, from home plate out toward center field, permitting Mays and Cepeda to bash a few baseballs into Union Square. There is no guarantee, of course, that without the protection of Morvey's Hill Candlestick Park itself might not blow into Union Square.
Another suggestion is to install a high, baffled fence atop the left-field stands, similar to the ones which deflect jet exhausts upward at the end of airport runways. "The people who want to build it insist that the thing will work," says Feeney. "They say that the baffle will not only block off the lower layer of wind but will shoot it straight up, forming a wall of air which will also deflect the higher layers. I don't know; we're ready to try almost anything."
Even without catchers, infielders, baffles or leaders, the Giants would have to be considered pennant contenders next year under the proper manager. Stoneham has never indicated there is anything wrong with the one he has, but nobody in San Francisco will have much interest in the spring's advance ticket sale unless something is done to bring them fresh hope. The best man would seem to be Durocher. Stoneham does not particularly approve of Durocher—Leo was the one Giant manager never really considered part of the family—but the Giants do need him badly.
"You would think," said one San Francisco writer, "that if Durocher is the one man who could make your ball club go, maybe win you a pennant and make you thousands of dollars in extra admissions, perhaps you could swallow a little of your dislike and pride. Although with Horace you never know."