Day 26 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews in 2021: They might be Giants — dodging myths and truths about how San Francisco became a big-league town

“Forty Years A Giant: The Life of Horace Stoneham”

The author:
Steven Treder

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
536 pages
$36.95
To be released June 1, 2021

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Indiebound.org
At Bookshop.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At The Last Book Store in L.A.
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

“The Giants and their City: Major League Baseball
in San Francisco: 1976-1992”

The author:
Lincoln A. Mitchell

The publishing info:
The Kent State University Press
272 pages
$29.95
Released March 2, 2021

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Indiebound.org
At Bookshop.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At The Last Book Store in L.A.
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Sound the foghorn.

The Dodgers’ first weekend venture to San Francisco – and their oddly initial meet-and-greet with the rival Giants in 2021 – may be just enough to inspire a gregarious gaggle of Angelinos to take a premeditated, pre-Memorial Day journey up memory lane. Just to clear their heads and partake in some suitable chest thumping.

Go for it.

After all, considering the titles the Giants claimed in ’10, ’12 and ’14, and now sitting atop the NL West with a five-game win streak, Dodgers followers are apt to wave under their noses that whatever happened in ’20 meant something to someone.

The trip to the Phone Booth Sponsored Stadium adjacent to McCovey Cove is gorgeous. If you haven’t left by now, you’ve got time to venture somewhere off the 5 over to the 101. At least cut over at 152 West, through Gilroy and up to San Jose.

We are 63 seasons into this West Coast tete-a-tete. It historically began in New York, of course, as the borough of Manhattan’s elitist Giants faced the borough of Brooklyn’s blue-collar Dodgers in an April 18, 1884 exhibition game won by the Giants, 8-0. Their first game as professional franchises was Oct. 18, 1889 at the Polo Grounds — that would be the 1889 World Series, where the Giants prevailed, six games to three. The Giants once had an owner named Andrew Freedman. No relations to the Dodgers’ current president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman.

Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster watches the first home run ever hit in Pacific Bell Park in the 2000 Giants’ home opener. Elster hit two more that day. Somehow.

This present Giants’ home field, Oracle Park, opened as Pacific Bell Park on April 11, 2000. Against the Dodgers. The visitors’ 6-5 win was highlighted by a bizarre three-homer game by new Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster hitting out of the No. 8 hole in his one-and-only (and final MLB) season in L.A. Barry Bonds also homered in the third inning off Chan Ho Park.  

Before revolving telecommunication companies slapped their branding on this turn-of-the-century innovation at 24 Willie Mays Plaza in the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, the franchise was forced to propagate what was part of the Candlestick Park conspiracy on Candlestick Point, from 1960 through 1999 (also called 3Com Park in its final four years).

In 3,173 games there, the Giants won 1,775 and outscored opponents by nearly 1,000 total runs. Willie Mays hit about a third of his career 660 homers at this place (203 in 889 games), topped only by Willie McCovey’s 236 in 1,086 games, a solid slice of his 521 career clouts. Bobby and Barry Bonds combined for 243 homers at the Stick, and Will Clark his .307 there in 598 games. Juan Marichal was 122-58 in the place with a 2.67 ERA in 223 games.

In the last MLB game played there, on Sept. 30, 1999, the Dodgers squashed the Giants, 9-4 before 61,389. An Aussie named Jeff Williams pitched the first five innings for the going-nowhere Dodgers and got the win. Raul Mondesi hit the last homer there, his 33rd of the season, and also stole his 35th base. Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were a combined 0-for-6 for the similarly aimless Giants.

And somewhere in a cigar box, we have our own Croix De Candlestick pin – Veni-Vidi-Vixi. We came, we saw, we somehow survived just to say we got some certification that showed “loyalty and devotion above and beyond the call of fandom.”

When the Giants escaped from New York and the Polo Grounds and went by horseback and wagon train to the City by the Bay for the 1958 season, Seals Stadium in the Mission District, aka “The Queen of Concrete” built in 1930 for the Pacific Coast League’s Seals and Missions, was their transitional shelter for two years (154 total games).

Hank Aaron and Roman Mejias, two visiting players, each had three-homer games at Seals Stadium, which, it should be noted, had no warning track and a strong wind that often blew balls over the left field wall. The last game at Seals Stadium was Sept. 20, ’59 — again memorable for the Dodgers, who handed the Giants a 8-2 thumping in front of 22,923. Johnny Podres got the win over 20-game winner Sam Jones, who gave up the park’s last homer, to Duke Snider in the second inning. The game also included 23-year-old Sandy Koufax coming in relief in the eighth and picking up a strike out to end the inning. But he walked the first three in the ninth (Clem Labine replaced Koufax in the middle of that third walk), and that forced Labine to get a strike out and double-play grounder to end it and send everyone home.

The place was demoed a few months later. The land is now a shopping center.

Print available at TheStadiumShoppe.com

History is important to understand when learning from it and making sure we got it right. If not just for vital context, but also to explain, in this case, how a franchise came, saw and survived in this city that in 1900 census was the ninth-most populated city in the country at 342,782 but then fell out of the Top 10 and saw L.A. come in at No. 10 in the 1920 census at 576,000 and then jump to No. 4 (1.97 million) by the 1950 census — a watershed moment for population shifting with the Eisenhower infrastructure movement and the G.I. Bill allowing vets to seek housing not just in major metro areas, but also the suburbs.

Horace Stoneham, left, with Monte Irvin.

In “Forty Years A Giant,” a 500-plus-page gigantic effort by Steven Treder, it started as the result of a 3,500-word piece he and Rob Garratt did on Horace Stoneham for the SABR bioproject published in 2015. In the acknowledgements, Treder says it was “fellow lifelong Giants fan” Garratt who suggested this Stoneham project, sharing information he was researching on his own Giants-in-San-Fran book — “Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants,” released in April, ’17 (University of Nebraska Press).

Stoneham as the sole focus of a book of this magnitude comes after years of watching Walter O’Malley and Bill Veeck received accolades for their advancement of Black and minority players in Major League Baseball. Yet here was someone who got into the business in the 1920s when radio was barely a vehicle for game broadcasts, took over from his father in 1936, and kept it through 1976 and made a mark as just a vital mover and shaker in his own quiet, self-effacing way.

Before embracing Black starts like Mays and McCovey, Stoneham signed Hank Thompson and Monty Irvin as the third and fourth Black players in the major leagues in 1949. There was then the Latin-American players influence of Orlando Cepeda, the three Alou brothers, Juan Marichal, Jose Pagan and Tito Fuentes.

Stoneham, not O’Malley, had the first Japanese player – pitcher Masanori Murakami – in 1964. He also led the way to start the Cactus League in Arizona for spring training.

Yet none of that, so far, has inspired a cause for Stoneham’s place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. As Elliott Almond notes in a 2020 story for the Bay Area News Group for a series honoring the region’s history of “Game Changers,” Stoneham died in 1990 at age 86 without even recognition in the Bay Area Hall of Fame or the Giants Wall of Fame.

“He walked quietly away into the sunset and he was forgotten,” Treder, with sociology degrees from University of Santa Clara and Stanford who is a management consultant from Santa Clara, is quoted in the story.

And now can expand upon here.

It starts before the point where Stoneham assumed ownership control of the franchise a the game’s youngest owner, at 32, after Charles Stoneham died of kidney disease. By the time he convinced O’Malley to share in his vision of moving West (perhaps, first, to Minneapolis, and then going full bore into San Francisco), Stoneham, who also served as the team’s general manager from ’70 to ’75, only got to celebrate one World Series title (1954) and five National League pennants (’36, ’37, ’51, ’54 and ’62) for a franchise that now has amassed eight titles and 23 NL pennants (second only to the Dodgers’ 24).

As Treder writes in the epilogue, by the time you get to page 424:

He had his share of faults and made his share of mistakes. He was mostly successful but rarely a champion in his competition. … His life’s great pain was to behold the failure of his only son to succeed at assuming the role and responsibility of heir, as Horace himself had so diligently done for his own father. Horace Stoneham’s experience with, and imprint upon, the sport and the business of professional baseball was intricate.”

There are those in recent years still trying to shape the Stoneham narrative.

In a 2007 New York Times piece entitled “The Real Villain of New York,” writer Robert E. Murphy, who did a book called “After Many a Summer” about the Giants and Dodgers move West, notes that the Giants were still a “wonderful franchise” (in Red Smith’s words) “when Horace Stoneham inherited it … from his scurrilous father, Charles, a scandal-raising philanderer, gambler and crooked stockbroker. Horace … the youngest owner ever … was a great fan and, having been groomed for the job, took up his tasks with vim. …

“Time and again, writers described Stoneham as ‘shy’ and ‘sentimental,’ and one observed that he was burdened by a ‘truly massive loneliness.’ … However, to know these things was not to know Horace Stoneham. To find contrary traits in his character, one could look back to 1948, when Stoneham’s sudden move to pluck the reviled manager Leo Durocher away from the enemy camp in Brooklyn stunned baseball and dumbfounded Giant fans. In doing so he deposed the beloved Mel Ott, an unsentimental decision that, he would admit later, caused his daughter not to speak to him for a month.”

Heck, Stoneham also tried to steal Jackie Robinson away from the Dodgers, which Robinson apparently considered to be an option before retiring.

Treder doesn’t soften any of this, but simply explains it was what had to be done. Again and again.

By the time Stoneham sold the team in 1975, perhaps too many forgot what he had built. This book won’t let that happen.

Bob Lurie in his San Francisco office in Aug., 1976 (Photo by Kenneth Green/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images)

At this point, if not with Garratt in his previously mentioned book, we have Lincoln A. Mitchell picking up the story.

With “The Giants and Their City: Major League Baseball in San Francisco, 1976-92,” the start is how Bob Lurie assumed ownership of the franchise in near-move to Toronto, and then giving it up as there are rumblings of a near-move to St. Petersburg/Tampa areas of Florida.

Mitchell may too be a fan of the team, but this time it’s far less apologetic.

“Had Bob Luire not stepped up in 1976 and invested in keeping the team in San Francisco, my life as a baseball fan would have been different,” Mitchell admits in the acknowledgements. “From 1976 to 1992, being a Giants fan was alternately an exhilarating, disappointing, fun and odd experience.”

Mitchell brings context — his previous book, “Baseball Goes West: How the Dodgers and Giants Shaped the Major Leagues” came in 2018 (but isn’t listed among the bibliographies for Treder’s work on the Stoneman bio). Mitchell also wrote “Will Big League Baseball Survive: Globalization, the End of Television, Youth Sports and the Future of Major League Baseball” in 2017.

For this venture, Mitchell’s research includes key interviews with Lurie (who is in the Bay Area Hall of Fame), former San Francisco Mayors Art Agnos, Dianne Feinstein, former MLB commissioners Bud Selig and Peter Ueberroth, as well as former players Will Clark, Dave Dravecky, Mike Krukow, Atlee Hammaker, Dusty Baker, Duane Kuiper, John Montefusco (it was former Giants broadcaster Al Michaels who gave him the nickname of “The Count”) and even Vida Blue. Those were among the 275 who played for the team over that ’76-to-’92 period — as Mitchell counted.

Because he’s based in New York where he teaches at Columbia University, Mitchell admits it was a bit challenging to finish this book some 3,000 miles away and unable to travel during the pandemic. But as the 30-year mark nears of the point when Lurie’s run ended and his legacy could be assessed, this is pushed forward as one way of looking at it all. Even to L.A.-centric followers.

Mitchell is bound to relish in some memorable Dodgers-Giants points on the timeline — particularly Mike Ivie’s pinch-hit grand slam off Don Sutton in a late May 1978 game that to him was “the most memorable moment in an oddly memorable season.” Especially for Mitchell, then 10 years old. He also calls it the first “truly memorable” moment during Lurie’s years as the Giants’ owner. The Giants were in transition, and that game showed it, as there was a 23-year-old in right field named Clark, waiting for the 40-year-old McCovey to bide his time back at first base after he had been loaned out to San Diego and Oakland.

San Francisco Chronicle

Add to that the stories of Joe Morgan’s home run off Terry Forster to end the 1982 season and ruin the Dodgers’ NL West title bid. It’s something Mitchell calls “one of the great highlights of a pretty rough period” for the Giants.

But amidst that time in the Lurie run, there were failed attempts at a new ballpark. After the Giants lost the 1989 earthquake-interrupted World Series to Oakland, San Francisco voters rejected a ballot proposal for a new park in the China Basin. It “was a statement of priorities,” Mitchell explained, as the city was already trying to rebuild, facing AIDS and homelessness issues.

“Had the earthquake not occurred, the ballpark initiative almost certainly would have passed,” Mitchell writes. “Had the Giants beaten the A’s, even with the earthquake, it probably would have passed. We cannot know what might have happened if October 1989 had played out differently, but we know the effect that electoral defeat had on the Giants and their owner.”

And perhaps Lurie would still be in charge? One can only wonder.

How they go in the scorebook

Giant-sized W flags.

At a time when the Giants make the local news by laying off employees while current principal owner Charles B. Johnson is donating millions to QAnon, and another minority partner is implicated in criminal conspiracy, we see the impact of someone like Stoneham could do on the same plane as O’Malley.

Does Stoneham merit this depth of a book? Another one of our peeves lately is verbosity at the expense of a good editing job. Treder, in trying to point out the Dodgers-Giants rivalry as it continued out West, takes pages 295-to-304 to rehash the whole Marichal-Roseboro incident. There are entire books done about that, and as much as is rehashed here, there’s no real Stoneham reflection or connection to it otherwise.

To have another 16 years post-Stoneham covered in another book, before the team was bequeathed to Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, and their getting the new ballpark built, is worth the additional sewing of this tapestry, and realizing — the Giants could be on the other side of the country right now, and none of this Dodgers-Giants thing might even matter any more.

Think of that next time you see the clip of Max Muncy screaming at Madison Bumgarner to go fish his home run ball out of the ocean.

More to cover


== An excerpt of “The Giants and their City” on BaseballPropectus.com.

== From Mitchell’s Q&A with the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, some highlights:

Q: Why this book? Why now?

A: My intellectual pursuits have, in recent years, shifted from US democracy promotion and the former Soviet Union to San Francisco’s political and baseball history. This book gave me an opportunity to probe a period in Giants history that is hugely important and largely overlooked. Lurie, who in 1976 saved the Giants from moving to Toronto, had just turned 90 when I began the project, and I very much wanted to hear his perspective. Lurie was extremely helpful and generous with his time, and this book ultimately re-centers him a bit in Giants history.

Q: What is something you learned during research?

A: When the 1989 World Series was interrupted by an earthquake, Major League Baseball did not know quite what to do. Then-commissioner Fay Vincent proposed completing the World Series in San Diego—a detail about which I had either forgotten or never known. When Vincent proposed the idea, Lurie and San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos were flabbergasted. Agnos didn’t even have time to tell Vincent what he thought of the idea before the usually mild-mannered Lurie interjected that such a thing would happen only over “my goddamn dead body.”

Q: What’s the most memorable interview you conducted?

A: There were several. Vida Blue was very generous with his time, told great stories and, with no prompting, signed a ball for me. Bob and Connie Lurie were extremely helpful and friendly. Former executive Corey Busch spent hours with me, and answered all of my questions in great depth. John Montefusco, the Count, kept Fox News on throughout the interview, which was a little disturbing. My most memorable interview was with Will Clark, who recounted his rookie season, the 1989 NLCS and the earthquake. We did the interview in the dugout of what is now Oracle Park, which was an extraordinary experience for somebody like me, who has always loved baseball but never had much access at the big league level.




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