Candlestick Park will receive a pounding from the wrecking ball after the 49ers play a final game there on Monday night, December 23rd. It marks the end of an era. And though baseball hasn’t been played in the place since 1999, I can’t help but remember that big old garbage dump of a ballpark that left such an indelible mark on us Dodger fans. Remarkably, if it wasn’t for the Dodgers, there would have been no Candlestick and there would be no San Francisco Giants either. These two franchises that hate each other with such a passion could not exist without each other. We could argue that point incessantly, but that is the complete truth.
In 1997, Mark Allen Reese, the son of Dodger Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, produced a five part series on the Brooklyn Dodgers called “The Original America’s Team.” I loved that series and unfortunately have it on VHS tape, so I’ll need to order the series in DVD in order to watch it again. There’s some wonderful interviews with a lot of former players and Dodger administrators, many of which have since passed away. So it was perfect that Reese was able to capture so much of that history before the witnesses to it had departed this earth.
In the final episode of Reese’s series, titled “The Last Trolley,” the move of the Dodgers and Giants to California was addressed. In that segment the story is told by former Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi that Walter O’Malley was doing his best to convince Giants Owner Horace Stoneham to abandon plans to move his Giants to Minneapolis (where his Triple A ball club was located), and bring them to San Francisco instead. If you remember your history, the Midwest was seen as a very profitable place to move at that time. The Milwaukee Braves were leading the league in attendance as that mid-west city was going crazy over the MLB being in their vicinity. It was thought that Minnesota would receive the Giants with an equal fervor as well.
Bavasi recounted that O’Malley knew that the Dodgers needed another playing partner in California and San Francisco was the ideal spot for a team to partner up as a rival to Los Angeles. So the story goes that O’Malley and Stoneham met with S.F. city officials and discussed various locations to build a ballpark. There was an available spot on a jetted out part of the peninsula that was going to be quarried out by the developer. The place was known as “Candlestick Point.” So it was decided to visit this place first as O’Malley had been doing his homework and found that this was the most cost-effective piece of land for Stoneham because of the potential parking revenue that the area would generate.
They arrived on a spring day in 1957. Not a cloud was found in the sky, nor any gust of wind. It was in the mid-morning and Stoneham didn’t stick around to see what the afternoon gusts were like. Nor did he witness the incessant fog that would arrive at that location. Stoneham loved what he saw and decided right then and there that Candlestick Point was where he’d build his ballpark.
Apparently Stoneham was so sold by that first impression, that the word got out to the world press that he found the perfect San Francisco spot to build his stadium. Take a look at what Sports Illustrated wrote about the site for the new Giant’s ballpark in May, 1958:
“Overlooking San Francisco Bay at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on Candlestick Point, the new ballpark will be located in one of the relatively warm and unfoggy pockets of the city—a better spot than Seal’s Stadium.”
Had Stoneham done a little bit of homework, which would simply have required a few calls to real estate agents in the city, he would have learned that Candlestick Point was probably the worst spot in the City of San Francisco to build his ballpark. Everybody local San Franciscan knew that Candlestick was horrible when it came to weather, but then again there was something that barren piece of land had that few other spots in San Francisco could claim: room to park cars – a lot of room, in fact.
Parking lots in the 50’s and 60’s to baseball owners were considered gold mines. Parking lots to them were the TV contracts that exist to present day owners. A 10,000 space parking lot was pure money and with California leading the pack in car ownership per capita, Stoneham had to realize that Candlestick would be much more conducive to providing parking revenue than the Wharf or Golden Gate Park areas of the city.
In 1958 when construction was underway for the ballpark, it was reported that then-Giant President Chub Feeney went to check on the progress. He found that construction crews had stopped working and secured their equipment to the ground to keep the near hurricane force winds from blowing their stuff into the bay. “Does the wind always blow like this here?” he asked the construction foreman. “Nah, it gets a lot worse in a couple of hours,” he replied. Feeney knew they were in trouble then, as most games would be scheduled for around 7:00 pm and it was 5:00 pm at the time.
“I played five years in Minnesota and it never got as cold as Candlestick,” said former Dodger Ken Landreaux. Willie Mays claims the Stick cost him an average of 12 homers per year, which would have put him at over 800 on the lifetime homer list had he played in a normal ball park. It wasn’t until 1987 when Roger Craig came along to manage the team that the Giants decided to change their attitude towards their ballpark and use it as a home field advantage. Up until then, even the Giants players hated the joint.
San Francisco’s peninsula has what are known as micro-climates. I learned this first hand shortly after moving to this region in 1996 on a job transfer. My work assignment was at San Francisco airport and I moved into an apartment that was a short 5 mile drive to work. On day one I took my kids to register them in the local elementary school that was two blocks from my residence. Upon leaving it was a bright sunny day. After driving the two blocks, the weather changed to a drizzly mist. The five minute drive to work took me through drizzle, sunshine, blustery wind gusts that would knock you down, rain, fog and the ultimately sunshine again. This wasn’t an anomaly either, this happened every day because that five mile jaunt went through numerous micro-climates.
Later I found that playing in a Wednesday night softball league taught me how to play ball in the fog, mist and rain. It made me aware of such things as slippery bases, throwing wet balls, tracking pop-ups that disappeared into the fog. I remember thinking that I now knew what playing at Candlestick was like.
Attending games at Candlestick to watch the Dodgers play taught me to dress in layers. In a day game at the Stick temperatures would literally swing twenty-five to thirty degrees. I swear that this is the truth. That shade would hit your seats and the winds would pick up and you’d go from t-shirt to parka in a matter of minutes, once it got dark, that chill from the wind and fog combined with the swirling effect they had over the bay would chill you to the bone.
Real estate purchases in this region vary from place to place based on the mini climate the neighborhood experiences through history. While living in the city of San Bruno, I was in a sunny micro-climate region. My move 3 miles away to my present home in the Westborough area of South San Francisco experiences much more fog and wind that crosses through my neighborhood from a mini jet stream heading east from a canyon that runs directly from the Pacific Ocean.
Then there were the Dodger memories from that place. Some good, others bad:
- Great contests in the 60s.
- Watering down of the infield and converting it into a near swamp to keep Maury Wills from stealing.
- Roseboro/Marichal feud.
- Dodger dominance from the 60s on into the 80s.
- Battery chucking fans and Tommy Lasorda blowing kisses to them.
- Jerry Reuss no-hitting the Giants in 1980.
- Reggie Smith taking on the fans that threw stuff at him above the Dodger dugout.
- Joe Morgan 1982 heartbreak and that dreaded walk to the clubhouse for Dodger players across the field.
- Mike Marshall’s game winning homer and taunting of the Giant dugout.
- 1988 double-dip Dodger sweep where Giant fans nearly tore the place down protesting balk calls.
- The Bonds pirouette.
- Brian Johnson 1997 heartbreak.
- The Dodgers closing down the place with a victory to ruin their last game there.
I hated that place. I really did. But I can’t help remembering the days of my youth when practically the only Dodger road games that were televised were games from Candlestick Park. I remember watching a game on the tube at home with my dad, and Willie McCovey took this monstrous swing and missed. After a short pause, Vin Scully said, “You’ll feel that breeze in a minute.” Vin made the memories of the place almost palpable and they were often pleasant Dodger memories because Los Angeles dominated the rivalry for such a long period of time.
The Giants – our hated rival. We loved that they played in a dump. They belonged in a dump and they certainly had one. It almost seems wrong to see them now playing in a beautiful jewel of a ball park. Candlestick was perfect for them. Even to this day when I occasionally enter the city, I look to the east as I’m driving up 101 through Brisbane to see that ugly oval of a stadium just sitting there. Now it’ll be reduced to rubble and then residential condos will be built overlooking the bay. All I’ve got to say about that is the new residents better be prepared for skyrocketing utility bills, because it’ll take a lot of gas and electricity to keep those places warm.
I don’t know why, but for some reason the thought of that dump being imploded makes me sad. I guess it’s because another remnant of my youth is going to disappear forever. Even if it was an eyesore and the home of our hated rivals, it still was a piece of the past and some of it’s memories were great ones too. So with that I say “Farewell and Goodbye Candlestink. You’re tenants sucked as much as you did. You’ll never be forgotten.”