A Los Angeles Dodger catcher once threw a brushback ball at a San Francisco Giant pitcher, whereupon the pitcher conked the catcher with a baseball bat. A Giant manager and a Dodger coach got into a fistfight right in the middle of batting practice one day. When a scorer from a Los Angeles newspaper robbed a Giant pitcher of a no-hitter, a San Francisco newspaper denounced the larcenous act in an editorial. A Giant manager once had the Candlestick Park groundkeeper muddy up the base paths to bog down a Dodger base stealer. An umpire refused to allow a Giant batter to take first base, even though he had been hit with a pitch. There was a time when the Dodgers and the Giants attracted 700,000 to 800,000 fans a year for their games against one another in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And on a fine October afternoon, champagne flowed through the streets of San Francisco.
Ah, but that was long ago. And what had been the game's most torrid rivalry has become tepid, has it not? Then why did Giant Pitcher John Montefusco say of the Dodgers only a week ago, "A lot of us can't stand those guys. They just get under our skin." And why will some 200,000 fans watch the teams play four games in Candlestick Park this week? No, the bitter old feud is not dead. Sure, it lay dormant for a while, but the resurgence of the Giants this season has revived it, and if the spectator response is any indication—and it certainly is—the rivalry has never been livelier.
In May, when the two teams last met, 153,113 fans saw three games in Los Angeles and 145,614 watched three more in San Francisco, the crowd of 56,103 on May 28 establishing a record for the Giants in San Francisco. There will soon be ample opportunity for more records because the Giants and Dodgers play eight times in an 11-day span beginning this weekend. This stretch could well settle the hash of one or the other in the National League West, where upstart San Francisco has held a narrow lead over the expected divisional contenders, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, for most of the season. As a result, the Giants figure to draw more than half as many fans in the nine home games with the Dodgers this year as they did for all their games at Candlestick in 1977. San Francisco home attendance is more than double what it was at this time a season ago, and it already exceeds last year's total of 700,056 by more than 300,000. Clearly, Giant baseball is all the rage in the Bay Area again. In saloons and restaurants, on the floors of the brokerage houses, in the North Beach coffeehouses, in the parks and on the Bay, the most pressing question these days is "What's the score?"
There are hidebound traditionalists who still contend that the true Dodger-Giant rivalry died when the teams moved west in 1958. They would be right only with regard to their first year in California, when San Franciscans and Angelenos felt a rare kinship, both being major league rookies. The chumminess could not last, however, because the physical and spiritual differences between the two cities are recognized even by those who understand neither. Isn't Los Angeles the place where everyone wears sunglasses? And, oh yes, isn't San Francisco the town Anita Bryant wouldn't be caught dead in? Both, in fact, are exceedingly complex communities. Los Angeles is a good deal more than Beverly Hills; much of it and its myriad suburbs are inhabited by politically and socially conservative Middle Americans. San Francisco is not just another pretty face. It is a tough town with a healthy sense of its own identity. One city is spreading, forever reaching beyond its borders; the other is compact, inward-turned. You confuse them at your peril. The rivalry between the cities, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once wrote, "is a reflex built in at birth. It is firmly a part of the mystique of each city, and why not? It's fun to have an object of automatic disdain so close at hand."
August 6, 1978
The transplanted ballplayers of the late '50s soon absorbed this sense of merry enmity, and a succession of unusual occurrences helped give Giants vs. Dodgers, in its California incarnation, a character quite distinct from New York vs. Brooklyn. The first such incident demonstrated that even a scorer's decision can exacerbate municipal prejudices. In 1959, Sam Jones, a laconic righthander who gnawed on a toothpick while he pitched, was the ace of the Giants' staff. On the night of June 30, in the Los Angeles Coliseum, he had a no-hitter working in the eighth inning when Jim Gilliam of the Dodgers hit an easy bouncer to the infamously maladroit Giant shortstop, Andre Rodgers. True to form, Rodgers bobbled the ball, picked it up and, aware that further effort would only compound his folly, made no throw to first. The official scorer, Charlie Park of the Los Angeles Mirror-News, did not hesitate in calling Gilliam's grounder a base hit. Jones nearly swallowed his toothpick. Members of the San Francisco press shouted imprecations, but Park resolutely rejected all appeals. Base hit! Russ Hodges, broadcasting the game home to San Francisco, was tremulous with rage. "If ever a man deserved a no-hit game, Sam Jones did tonight," he bellowed into the KSFO microphone. "The ball was a routine grounder."
The controversy did not die that night. The Chronicle, a wag of a newspaper, seized the opportunity to portray Park's decision as the embodiment of the Southern California mentality and to show up Charlie as the sort of bounder who would willingly rob the North of its drinking water and its no-hitters. There are, the Chronicle editorialized, "dark and secret things, unrelated to reality and governed by no law of man or nature, that happen all the time in the Los Angeles Coliseum.... Whatever the explanation, the facts are intolerable to San Franciscans who regard baseball as a sane pastime, bound by logical rules, fairly imposed. They don't like to have indignities inflicted on Sam Jones' no-hitter. This is a matter of principle, not sectionalism—a moral consideration which holds that it will be a cold day in Candlestick Park when any Dodger pitcher gets closer to an official no-hitter than the Jones boy did in the Los Angeles Coliseum."
The editorial writer had no way of knowing just how many cold days there would be in Candlestick Park, because the new stadium was still under construction in 1959, a matter of no small moment then. The Giants were playing in 23,000-seat Seals Stadium in a year in which, to their considerable surprise, they found themselves pennant contenders. In late September they were leading the league by two games and facing the prospect of playing the city's first World Series in a minor league park. The Dodgers resolved this dilemma by sweeping a three-game series in San Francisco, taking the lead themselves and pressing on to whip the White Sox and become California's first world champions. The battle now was truly joined.
The Giants avenged this humiliation three years later by tying the Dodgers on the last day of the season after L.A. had led by four with only seven games to play. The Dodgers' collapse was just as complete as the Giants' had been in '59; they lost six of those final games, the last two defeats coming by shutouts. In the subsequent playoff for the pennant, the Giants won two of three, thereby earning the privilege of losing to the Yankees in the World Series. It was a season in which Giant Manager Alvin (Swamp Fox) Dark had ground-keeper Matty Schwab drench the base paths, purportedly to keep loose dirt from blowing in the wind, but actually to keep Maury Wills of the Dodgers, who was en route to a record 104 steals, from blowing the Giants out of contention. The conspiracy was not lost on Los Angeles observers. One more squirt from Schwab's hose, wrote the L.A. Times' Jim Murray, "and the Red Cross would have declared second base a disaster area." Significantly, Schwab was voted a full $7,290 World Series share.
The 1962 race solidified the Dodgers' and Giants' new identities. Both teams had been reconstructed on the Pacific Coast, so there were few survivors from the New York-Brooklyn days. Sandy Koufax had never been a star in the East; he became one in Los Angeles. Wills and Tommy Davis, the new batting champion, had not even played in Brooklyn. Of the Giant stars, only Willie Mays retained a Coogan's Bluff patina. The others—Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Jimmy Davenport—all began their careers in San Francisco.
The summer of '62 saw the emergence of yet another new star—the transistor radio. Because of the sunglasses, Nathanael West had called Los Angeles "The City of the Blind"; with transistors now affixed to Southland ears, it looked more like "The City of the Deaf." And Bay Area fans were hardly less devoted to their tiny portable radios. The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco banned the infernal machines after more than one diva complained of applause and cheers curiously unrelated to the aria in progress. Radios were not proscribed in Kezar Stadium, and on the last day of the baseball season, John Brodie, quarterbacking the 49ers against the Vikings, humbly raised his arms to still the deafening cheer that had interrupted his signal-calling. Brodie was flattered by the attention his modest efforts were receiving, until he discovered the cheers were for the eighth-inning home run the Cardinals' Gene Oliver had hit to beat the Dodgers and drop them into a tie with the Giants.
The next Wednesday, the intermission at the matinee of the musical Oliver! at San Francisco's Curran Theater was extended 25 minutes so that the theatergoers—and the actors—might hear the final inning of the last playoff game on their radios. Bartenders served customers only between innings. One downtown saloon had five television sets going simultaneously, and lunch hour for many that famous day dragged on into evening. When the Giants won, a pandemonium not experienced in San Francisco since V-J Day broke loose. At Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill, verger Charles Agnews rushed to his carillon and played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. Downtown traffic was jammed up until after midnight, and an estimated 75,000 fans congregated at the airport to hail the conquerors on their return from Los Angeles. The mob scene forced postponement of scheduled flights throughout the evening.
James Meredith's historic enrollment at the University of Mississippi that week resulted in rioting in Oxford, Miss, and astronaut Wally Schirra completed six orbits of the earth, but the Chronicle's page-one headline the morning of Oct. 4 read, THE CITY FLIPS. AS a San Franciscan, Governor Pat Brown was not immune to the baseball hysteria. His campaign for reelection that year, he announced, was "the World Series of politics" and his opponent, one Richard Nixon, was "one of the most controversial players in the game of politics." Hardball politics, that is.
San Francisco's standing as the cultural capital of the West suffered mightily from the emotional response to the Giants' victory. "Good God," a woman told The New Yorker's Roger Angell, "people will think we're like Milwaukee or something."
The Giants and Dodgers were in another close race on Sunday, Aug. 22, 1965, when Pitcher Juan Marichal came to bat leading off the third inning against Koufax. There had been bad feeling between the teams all year, which had manifested itself in a succession of beanball episodes. And the tenseness of their rivalry had been increased the previous Friday night, when Wills cajoled a catcher's-interference call out of the plate umpire, despite the insistence of Giant Catcher Tom Haller that Wills had deliberately touched his mitt with the bat. When San Francisco's Matty Alou tried the same gambit later in the game, interference was not called. The teams were seething that Sunday at Candlestick; Marichal had brushed back Wills in the second inning and Ron Fairly in the third.
Koufax' first pitch to Marichal was a called strike. The second was low and inside. In returning the ball to his pitcher, Dodger Catcher John Roseboro, no Marichal fan, threw hard and close to the pitcher's head. Marichal had half expected to be dusted off by the pitcher, but certainly not by the catcher. When he asked Roseboro what he was up to, the big catcher advanced on him menacingly. Marichal quickly recognized an unpromising situation: he was about to be set upon by a larger man wearing protective armor. Instinctively, he lashed out with the bat, fetching Roseboro a blow on the left side of the head. Players from both dugouts rushed onto the field, and Marichal was soon buried under a tangle of bodies. Beneath him was Plate Umpire Shag Crawford. Police finally quelled the disturbance on the diamond and prevented a near riot among the 42,807 fans.
Roseboro, bleeding from a two-inch wound, was led off the field by Dodger Trainer Wayne Anderson, and Crawford, upon regaining his feet and his dignity, tossed Marichal out of the game. After a 14-minute delay, the inning resumed, with Mays hitting a two-out, three-run homer off an obviously rattled Koufax. Those runs stood up, and the Giants moved to within a percentage point of the first-place Dodgers.
National League President Warren Giles fined Marichal a record $1,750 the next day and suspended him for eight playing dates. The Los Angeles press found the penalty insufficient to the crime. "Let a common citizen whack someone over the head with a bat and see what he gets," wrote the Los Angeles Times' Paul Zimmerman. "This was baseball's chance to prove that attempted murder will not be condoned in the major leagues, and baseball blew it," the Los Angeles Examiner sermonized. "There is absolutely no justification, not even in the heat of a pennant race, for one man to attack another with a weapon on the playing field," said Roseboro reasonably, as he filed a $110,000 damage suit against Marichal and the Giants. The case was settled out of court 4½ years later, with Marichal paying Roseboro $7,500.
There was concern among Giant fans and assorted experts that Marichal, a sensitive man, might grow so disturbed over the ugly incident that his pitching would suffer. Hardly. In 1966, he had a 25-6 record. And in a final irony, he concluded his brilliant career in 1975 as a Dodger.
On May 31, 1968, in Dodger Stadium, Giant Catcher Dick Dietz was struck by a pitch thrown by Don Drysdale. It was the ninth inning, the bases were loaded, the count was 2-2, there was no one out and the Dodgers were leading 3-0. Dietz started toward first in the mistaken belief that he had broken up a shutout. But Plate Umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled Dietz had not made a reasonable effort to avoid being hit by the ball. The pitch that hit him became, therefore, ball three. The Giants' frantic protests were ignored, Manager Herman Franks was ejected, and Dietz was instructed to stand in again against Drysdale. He popped out to short left, and Drysdale retired the next two hitters to preserve his shutout.
An important shutout it was, because with it Drysdale tied a 64-year-old major league record of five consecutive scoreless games. In his next start, Drysdale threw yet another shutout to break the record. It was a considerable achievement, but it would not have been possible without Wendelstedt's unusual call on Dietz. "It was a gutsy call," said Drysdale's catcher, Jeff Torborg. "It would have been gutsy," responded Giant Vice-President Chub Feeney, "if he had made it in San Francisco."
The '60s were a fighting time, but soon after winning their divisional title in '71, the Giants faded from contention and the bitterness between the teams from San Francisco and Los Angeles subsided. Oh, in '73 there was a lively punch-up behind the batting cage between Giant Manager Charlie Fox and a Dodger coach named Lasorda, but it seemed merely an isolated incident between two middle-aged boys with long memories.
And yet it is a gentler moment that is frozen in memory. One thinks of Sam Cohen, the affable curmudgeon who operated the old Sam's Lane Club on San Francisco's chic Maiden Lane in the glory days of 1962. Sam proudly held a single share of stock in the Giants, and he made much of this minuscule investment, publishing a "minority report," which held the entire organization, from Matty Schwab to Horace Stoneham, to account. Publicly, Sam reviled the Giants; privately, he adored them. And on the day they won the pennant, his normally dour countenance was suffused with a roseate glow.
His bar erupted in cheers and back-slapping as Lee Walls' final out settled into Willie Mays' basket catch on the television screen. Sam silently detached himself from the hullabaloo and retreated to the refrigerator, from which he withdrew a bottle of Paul Masson champagne. With scarcely a word, he passed through the revelers and out onto Maiden Lane. There, with an appropriate flourish, he popped the cork and emptied the contents onto the street. It was an act so prodigal that even the most hysterical celebrant paused to watch. Why was this old man pouring good California champagne into the street when he should be drinking it or, as in the locker-room ritual, dumping it on someone's head?
Sam never dignified the resultant inquiries with a response, but it now seems perfectly obvious why he did it. He loved his Giants and he loved his city, and at a time when both were at their best, it seemed right that champagne should flow through the streets. As anyone who was around then can tell you, it was a very San Francisco thing to do.