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GIANT-SIZED CONFESSION: A GROUNDSKEEPER'S DEEDS

Aug. 29, 1988
Aug. 29, 1988

Table of Contents
Aug. 29, 1988

Zurich Track
Diving
Pro Football 1988
Charles White
Bobby Beathard
Bernie Kosar
Horse Racing
Tennis
Update
Point After

GIANT-SIZED CONFESSION: A GROUNDSKEEPER'S DEEDS

"I have to admit that it's a big thrill to have a packed stadium cheering your every move," says Jerry Schwab. "It's fun to think back on what happened, to know that I did my part to get the San Francisco Giants into the World Series."

This is an article from the Aug. 29, 1988 issue Original Layout

The Giants in the World Series? No, this isn't the demented daydream of a contemporary Bay Area fanatic. We're talking 1962 here—the era of Marichal, Mays and McCovey. Schwab was 20 years old and couldn't run, throw or hit with any special skill. The fact is, he wasn't even on the San Francisco roster. Nevertheless, he made some critical moves on the base paths in the Giants' successful drive to the '62 National League pennant.

The L.A. Dodgers were strong that year, led by the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Junior Gilliam and Willie and Tommy Davis. But the real heart of the L.A. club was undoubtedly Maury Wills, the eventual MVP of the National League. Wills swiped everything but the pitchers' mail that year en route to erasing Ty Cobb's single-season theft record with 104 stolen bases.

In early August the Dodgers—leading the second-place Giants by 5½ games—visited San Francisco for a three-game series. The Giants knew they would have to find a way to slow down L.A.'s vaunted running game, so before the series began, Giants manager Alvin Dark approached Matty Schwab, Jerry's father and San Francisco's head groundskeeper. Could anything be done to keep the speedy Wills in check? Dark asked. Yes, Matty replied, he knew a trick or two.

Monkeying with a playing field was nothing new, but the trickery took ingenious new forms from season to season. The front, step-off portion of the pitcher's "mound" at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, for example, was actually dug out to create a concave effect, increasing the chances of visiting pitchers' floating high, fat fastballs to the Frank Robinsons, Wally Posts and Gus Bells on the Reds' roster. The baselines at Chicago's Comiskey Park were slanted toward fair territory, the better to keep the bunts of home favorites Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox in play. Then there were the outfield fences at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, which owner Bill Veeck would regularly move back for the powerful Yankees and in for the banjo-hitting St. Louis Browns. Matty himself had seen the Dodgers' "1,000-pound roller," a vehicle that looked suspiciously like those used to flatten fresh asphalt on highways. Applied to the outfield grass at Dodger Stadium, such a roller would be a dandy way to stretch singles into triples for a fast ball club. Surprise, surprise, the Dodgers of 1962 tied for the major league lead in triples. So when Dark asked Matty for a little extra home-field edge against L.A., well, that was what a good groundskeeper got paid for, right?

"Dad and I were out at Candlestick before dawn the day the series was to begin," Jerry remembers. "We were installing a speed trap." Working by torchlight, the Schwabs dug up and removed the topsoil where Wills would take his lead off first base. Down in its place went a squishy swamp of sand, peat moss and water. Then they covered their chicanery with an inch of normal infield soil, making the 5- by 15-foot quagmire visually indistinguishable from the rest of the base path.

It was not so invisible the next afternoon, however, as the Dodgers took batting practice. Leo Durocher, the L.A. third base coach at the time, began digging it up with his cleats. Ron Fairly, the Dodger first baseman, called attention to it in a more artistic way by building sand castles near the bag. All of this quickly caught the attention of umpire Tom Gorman. Gorman, blessed with good eyesight, could see that something funny was lurking beneath the surface of the infield. He could also see that the entire Candlestick grounds crew had suddenly vanished when the Dodgers started scratching around. When Gorman finally found Matty, he threatened the Giants with a forfeit if the base paths weren't immediately repaired.

"Sure thing," said Matty, who was prepared for just such an ultimatum.

Out came the grounds crew. Up came some, but not all, of the Mystery Mixture. Away it was carted in wheelbarrows. Then, a few minutes later, back came more wheelbarrows to fill up the holes.

"It was the same stuff," says Jerry. "We mixed it with some dirt and brought it right back. When we put it down a second time it was even looser." For some reason—exasperation, perhaps—this seemingly new concoction appeared to satisfy the umpires. Matty then ordered Jerry to water the infield, a task which Jerry performed at length, much to the disgust of the Dodger dugout, from which derisive calls were emanating.

"What could you do?" remembers Tommy Davis, the 1962 batting champion and now a minor league hitting instructor for the Dodgers. "It was their park. They were going to get away with anything."

The Dodgers, robbed of their potent running game, stole no bases and went down to ignominious defeat 11-2. The howls of protest from the L.A. side were heard all the way back to the National League headquarters in Cincinnati. There was even talk of digging up soil samples before the next game. So out went the Schwabs, père et fils, before the next sunrise to remove the evidence. The next day the Dodgers looked hard for more dirty work, so to speak, but found none. What they did find was well-watered base paths, courtesy again of Jerry. So generous was the moisture content of the base paths in Game 2 that the umpires stopped the game in midcourse and invited the Schwab gang to sand things down a bit, creating a nice marshy effect.

All this, needless to say, had a less than salutary effect on the Dodgers. Concerned about what to do if they got on base, the Dodgers seemed to forget how to get on base. Wills, usually cool and collected, got himself tossed out of Game 2 by umpire Al Forman for arguing over how many times he had stepped out of the batter's box. The Dodgers lost that game 5-4 and the finale 5-1, and they left San Francisco with their lead cut to just 2½ games.

Back in L.A., the local press was having a field day decrying the conditions up north. "They found two abalone under second base," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray. Murray also suggested that an aircraft carrier could have safely navigated some of the deep infield waters. Throughout Southern California, Dark became known as the Swamp Fox.

The Dodgers filed a complaint with the league office, just in case they should have to visit San Francisco for a playoff series after the regular season. National League president Warren Giles sent a letter to Giants president Horace Stone-ham, mentioning Matty Schwab respectfully, but by name. Stoneham passed the letter on to Matty, but conspicuously omitted any particular instructions for the future.

On the last day of the season San Francisco's Willie Mays crashed a home run to defeat Houston 2-1. Half an hour later, as the Giants sat huddled around a radio in their clubhouse, St. Louis beat the jittery Dodgers 1-0, leaving San Francisco and L.A. with identical 101-61 records for the regular season. A three-game playoff series was quickly scheduled, with the first game slated for Candlestick. The Schwabs had their cue to assemble the armada of wheelbarrows and get ready again with the Mystery Mixture.

"The only trouble was that [umpire] Jocko Conlan arrived in San Francisco before we could do anything." recalls Jerry. Indeed. Conlan took charge of the Candlestick turf before the Schwabs could lay a shovel on it. With the Dodgers due a few hours later, what were a loyal groundskeeper and his son to do?

The Schwabs decided that if the speed trap couldn't be hidden beneath the surface of the infield, they might just as well perform their antics openly. This time the Giants grounds crew started by spreading sand around generously. When the Dodgers reported for practice, the infield was, in the words of The New York Times, "like a sandy beach well above the high water mark." There was no way anyone was going to get a firm foothold in that stuff. "It's just as bad as the last time we were here, only in a different way," moaned Wills.

Conlan was none too pleased. He had prevented the Schwabs from digging, but the excessive sanding had gone on while his attention was elsewhere. "Why don't you play the game like men?" he snapped angrily to Dark. Close to game time, Conlan summoned Matty again and complained that the base paths were too dry and sandy. Schwab promised to take care of the problem right away. He summoned his waterman extraordinaire, Jerry. "Get out there," he ordered, "and make a lake."

The large San Francisco crowd came alive as soon as Jerry appeared on the field with his hose. He watered the base paths as he normally would, then he watered them some more. He turned away, dampened the pitcher's mound a bit, then returned to the base paths with a vengeance. The result: Lake Candlestick. The crowd loved it, howling their appreciation with every flourish of Jerry's hose.

"They were with me all the way, cheering me on," Jerry remembers. "I kept watering until the umpires came rushing over to stop me. Then I got out of there fast."

But the water, which was seen by the umpires as a means of slowing down the Dodgers, was actually only a clever ploy to force the umpires to order even more sand. It worked perfectly.

"What's all this mess?" one of the umpires raged to Matty.

"New man on the job," shrugged Matty. "We'll get this cleaned up right away."

The "new man," it was noted, looked suspiciously like the one who had handled the hosing duties back in August. But before that realization could sink in, Matty was busy beckoning to his staff. Out came the wheelbarrows again and down onto those precious base paths went still more of the finest sand in California. The visitors stood helplessly in their dugout and watched. Again prevented from playing the style of baseball they favored, the Dodgers seemed to play in a trance all day, and the Giants cruised to victory, 8-0, in the crucial first game.

The festivities moved to Los Angeles the next afternoon, where the Dodgers evened the series 8-7. Back on the dry land of Dodger Stadium, Wills stole four bases in the final two games of the playoffs. Yet for all the shenanigans, it was an old-fashioned attack of wildness by the L.A. pitchers in the ninth inning of Game 3 that propelled San Francisco into its one and only World Series appearance, with a 6-4 win.

Alas, the outcome of the Series was a familiar one, as the New York Yankees triumphed in seven games. In a final irony, the last two games in San Francisco were delayed by torrential rainstorms. The Schwabs were sent scurrying around the outfield spreading sand. Divine punishment, perhaps?

To this day Jerry Schwab, now a post office branch manager in Fort Lauderdale, has fond memories of his smooth play around the base paths. And 79-year-old Matty Schwab, retired and also living in Florida, savors the memory of the full share of World Series loot that the Giants elected to give him. It was well earned.

PHOTOCARYN LEVYLake Candlestick makers: Jerry (left) and Matty had all the tools to win a pennant.PHOTOAP WIREPHOTOWills got swamped by the Schwabs, but stole No. 104 back in L.A.

Noel Hynd is the author of "The Giants of the Polo Grounds."