NEW YORK FALLS TO PIRATES, 9-1, IN FINALE
NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 29, 1957—In the end, at least, a Thomson touched 'em all.
As darkness fell over the Polo Grounds on Sunday evening, alter most everybody had left the park, Nancy Thomson, age 5, retraced her daddy's famous trot around the bases. Off to the first base side, Bobby Thomson, who fired the Shot Heard 'Round the World here, shot the bittersweet scene with his home movie camera. "Just one last waltz around the dance floor," said Thomson.
It's hard to believe that only three years after their world championship, six years after Thomson hit the home run to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers in their epic playoff, 67 years after moving into the Polo Grounds and 75 years after materializing in New York, the Giants are going, going...gone.
But they are, and they played their last game today under Coogan's Bluff in front of a crowd of 11,606 that embodied a prism of emotions: sorrow, rage, gratitude, greed, indignation, denial. Bowing to sentimentality, Giant manager Bill Rigney put as many of the '51 and '54 Giants on the field as he could find, and they ended up bowing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1. At 4:35 p.m., '54 World Series hero Dusty Rhodes grounded to Pirate shortstop Dick Groat, who threw to first baseman Frank Thomas for the final out, and with that, the San Francisco-bound Giants ran for their lives toward the centerfield clubhouse ahead of a stampede of jilted New Yorkers.
Having failed to capture any living souvenirs, the fans turned their attention to such inanimate objects as seats, bases, grass, the pitching rubber, the bullpen shelter. Once the looting had subsided, many of the followers gravitated toward the rightfield stands, where a banner implored: STAY TEAM STAY. Yelling toward the Giants' clubhouse, the fans at first called for the man who's taking their team away, owner Horace Stoneham, no doubt to demonstrate a phonetic spelling of his last name. Then they pleaded to say goodbye to the Say Hey Kid, but Willie Mays sensibly declined. Finally, the fans serenaded the Giants with a ditty to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell:
"We hate to see you go,
"We hate to see you go,
"We hope to hell you never come back—
"We hate to see you go."
The last day for the New York Giants did not begin quite so bitterly. In the morning, photographers took pictures of Thomson pointing to the spot in left-field where he had hit his Shot and of Rigney and head groundskeeper Matty Schwab loading a square of the center-field sod into a box for shipment to San Francisco. In the clubhouse before the game, Rigney kept singing the popular tune Bon Voyage. "I can't get it out of my head," said the 39-year-old skipper. "Just as I'll never be able to get this ballpark out of my heart. I grew up in the Bay Area, but this is still home to me. I played my first major league game here in 1946, and I can't tell you what a thrill it's been for me to put on the uniform in the same clubhouse that Matty and McGraw and Terry and Ott occupied."
For the finale, the Giants welcomed some of their legends: Rube Marquard, Hooks Wiltse, Moose McCormick, Kiddo Davis, Rosy Ryan, King Carl Hubbell—just to nickname a few. "What's going to become of this place?" asked the 54-year-old Hubbell, a.k.a. the Meal Ticket. "I'd feel mighty bad to come back here and see a housing project."
After the old-timers were introduced before the game by broadcaster Russ Hodges, Rigney presented a bouquet of American Beauty roses to Blanche McGraw, the widow of the Giants' mythic manager, John McGraw. Mrs. Mac, tears in her eyes, said softly to Rigney, "I can't believe this day is really happening. New York will never be the same."
In a nice touch, the Giants brought back George Levy, 81, who used to announce the lineups by walking through the stands with a megaphone, before public-address systems came into being. Once again Levy obliged. Rigney's lineup also had a nostalgic feel; he put Thomson at third for the first time this season, Rhodes in left, Don Mueller in right, Whitey Lockman at first, retiring Wes Westrum behind the plate and Johnny Antonelli on the mound.
The lineup, though, only accentuated the fact that the older Giants are sliding downhill fast while the younger Pirates are rapidly improving, what with future stars like centerfielder Bob Clemente, second baseman Bill Mazeroski and—most promising of all—rightfielder Johnny Powers. By contrast, when the San Francisco fog lifts on the '58 Giants, fans there will discover Mays and a whole lot of maybes.
The Bucs jumped on Antonelli early, and by the fourth inning, they were leading 6-1. Pirate starter Bob Friend gave up the run in the first on a sacrifice fly by Rhodes, but he stymied the Giants thereafter. As the game went on, the crowd, which had cheered Thomson and Mays earlier, became more and more menacing, much more so than the docile Dodger fans who bade goodbye to Ebbets Field five days ago. In the sixth inning, Rigney cautioned his players to sprint for the clubhouse at the game's conclusion. "I told Mays not to worry about his hat or his glove but about his life," the manager said after the game.
In the top of the ninth, Powers hit a blast over the rightfield roof—undoubtedly the last homer in the Polo Grounds. In the bottom of the ninth, Friend induced the first batter, Mueller, to fly out to right. That brought up Mays, and the fans put aside their wrath long enough to give him a standing ovation. "The crowd was cheering so loud I felt helpless," he said later. "I got a home run my first time at bat in the Polo Grounds, and I wanted to bow out with another." Alas, Mays bounced out to Groat.
As they say at funerals, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Or in this case, Dusty. Rhodes prolonged the inevitable by working the count to 3 and 2, then hit a broken-bat grounder to Groat. Before the shortstop's throw could reach Thomas, the barbarians were out of the gate.
The fastest of them stole second base, cutting it loose from its moorings and then lateraling it to his buddy to escape the groundskeepers. The field hands tried to save first base and third, but they were quickly overwhelmed. Large knots of people stood over home plate and the pitcher's rubber, clawing at them and eventually prying them up.
The seats, for the most part, proved too stubborn, but not so the green canvas screen behind home plate, which was torn to shreds, and the bullpen shelters, which were splintered into portable pieces. The 483-foot sign in the deepest part of the ballpark was bent in half before security guards secured it. Thousands of others made do with sod and just plain dirt. The most sacrilegious looters stole the centerfield plaque honoring Eddie Grant, the former Giant in-fielder who died a hero in World War I. (Thankfully, police quickly nabbed the thieves and recovered the plaque.)
In the stands a fan clutched the hand of his nine-year-old daughter, Callie, and wiped away a tear. Identifying himself as Roger Angell, a 37-year-old writer for The New Yorker magazine, he said, "I loved this place, and look what they're doing to it. This is terrible, really terrible. And so heartbreaking. I'm afraid we're never going to have National League baseball in New York again."
Only a witness to the Vandals' sacking of Rome in 455 could do justice to a description of those frenzied minutes right after the game. Shame on the pillaging fans, but then shame on the pillaging owners who keep wrenching teams out of cities. Baseball went from 1904 to 1952 without a franchise shift, yet in the last five years, there have been five: the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee, the Browns from St. Louis to Baltimore, the Athletics from Philadelphia to Kansas City, and now the Dodgers and the Giants. It would serve one of these new cities right if a metropolis with greener grass lured the club away someday.
Within an hour of the game's end, thank goodness, Giant fans had burned themselves out, and the Polo Grounds was calm, albeit battered. Madness gave way to sadness. Strains of Auld Lang Syne—sung by the last stragglers—echoed throughout. Mrs. McGraw, still clutching her now-wilting roses, walked down the aisle toward the exit.
On their way out, Rigney and Giant vice-president Chub Feeney stopped to say goodbye to the members of the grounds crew who wouldn't be going west to Seals Stadium. Rigney told one of them, "I want to thank you guys for making this the best damn field...." Too choked up to go on, the gentle skipper gave the man a hug and walked on.
Down on the best damn field in baseball, with the sun disappearing over the rim of the stadium, Bobby Thomson and his wife walked the next generation to home plate. And off Nancy went, around the bases, shouting with glee.
"Who knows?" said Bobby. "Maybe someday Nancy will have her own children. She can show them this movie and tell them about the home run that grandpa hit."