GIANTS HISTORY, JACK TATUM, MARTY LURIE, T.O.
I HAVE a long personal history with the Giants because I was a senior at Cal when they arrived in San Francisco. I didn’t see their opener against the Dodgers – something about going to class interfered – but I’ve seen thousands of games since.
When I went to work for the Register-Pajaronian in Watsonville that fall, I often came up with friends on off days, including the day in 1959 when Willie McCovey broke in with a 4-for-4 day.
In 1961, I covered the All-Star game at Candlestick, and my story was included next year in the “Best Sports Stories, 1961” anthology which was then published yearly by E. P. Dutton.
In 1962, the R-P editors assigned me to cover the San Francisco games of the World Series, so I drove up on the day the Giants won the final game of their playoff with the Dodgers and witnessed the mob scene in downtown San Francisco, with Market Street filled with people for miles.
After I came to The Chronicle in 1963, I met and became good friends with George Christopher, who had been the mayor who worked tirelessly to bring the Giants to San Francisco. Much of what I learned from him is in my 1997 book, “San Francisco Giants, 40 Years.”
Over and over, Christopher told me how important the Giants were to San Francisco in 1958. The 49ers had been here since 1946, but the NFL was nowhere near as popular as baseball, “The National Pastime.” It had been the No. 1 sport in the country since before the turn of the (20th) century, and San Franciscans went wild over it. The Giants drew more than a million fans, the hallmark for success then, both years in Seals Stadium, whose capacity was only about 22,000. Their first year in Candlestick, they drew almost 1.7 million.
On the streets, in the Opera House or at plays, people would listen to the game broadcasts on transistor radios, with plugs in their ears. At 49ers games, too. A loud roar was heard during a September, 1962 game because Giants announcers, relaying information from Los Angeles, had just told their listeners that the Dodgers had lost, forcing the playoff.
Major league baseball was important to San Francisco in 1958, but by the mid-‘70s, the situation was reversed: San Francisco was important to major league baseball.
The Giants weren’t drawing at Candlestick Park. In 1974 and ’75, their combined attendance was just over one million, lower figures than those which had driven Horace Steoneham out of New York in 1958. Stoneham wanted out, and he arranged a sale to Labatt’s Brewery, which planned to move the Giants to Toronto.
But, the National League did not want to leave San Francisco, which would have been doubly embarrassing because the league offices were there. At that time, the league presidents named the city where they wanted the office. Chub Feeney was the NL president and he wanted it to be in San Francisco.
So, the sale was delayed just long enough for Bob Lurie to step in, with Bud Herseth, to buy the Giants and keep them in San Francisco.
Starting in 1984, Lurie campaigned to get a new park, which the Giants obviously needed. Candlestick was a problem almost from the first pitch because its fierce winds affected the play – McCovey used to complain about peanut shells in his eyes – and made it extremely uncomfortable for fans, particularly at night games. The Giants drew reasonably well when they were in pennant contention but attendance fell off to the truly dedicated when the team fell in the standings.
Lurie’s campaign for a new park came closest in 1989 and I think would have succeeded with a plan to build a park on the present site. But when Loma Prieta hit, those pushing for the stadium went to work on earthquake relief. Those opposed made false claims that the money earmarked for earthquake relief would go to the park if the ballot measure were approved; in fact, the funds were totally separate. The measure narrowly failed.
Lurie then turned to the South Bay, but efforts in San Jose and Santa Clara were both rejected by voters. A frustrated Lurie sold the team to investors in the Tampa Bay region, who would have moved the team to St. Petersburg.
I’m giving you this history because it’s an important backdrop to what’s happening now with the Giants “territorial rights” in Santa Clara County, and as an explanation both of why they want to hold on to those rights and why other MLB owners haven’t removed them.
After Lurie’s decision, I was in frequent contact with those trying to put together a local group to buy the Giants and keep them in San Francisco: Walter Shorenstein (who didn’t talk to anybody else in the media), Peter Magowan, who became the club’s managing general partner because Shorenstein had no interest in the position, San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan, sports agent Leigh Steinberg, Larry Baer, now the president of the club. What I learned from them led me to write that the Giants could be kept in San Francisco.
Eventually, the National League scheduled a meeting in St. Louis, ostensibly to consider the Tampa Bay offer. I was assigned to cover it for The Chronicle. It was soon obvious that NL President Bill White was doing everything he could to delay consideration of the Tampa Bay bid and give the San Francisco group a chance to get its act together. The National League again did not want to lose San Francisco.
Ultimately, no vote was taken on the Tampa Bay bid, and the San Francisco group was told to negotiate a deal. On MLB’s side, the one imperative was that the Giants get a new park. On the Giants side, they insisted on territorial rights to San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. They were aware how the arrival of the A’s in Oakland had cut into the Giants fan base and they did not want that happenings with a team in San Jose or on the lower peninsula.
MLB readily agreed to that provision because they wanted a team in San Francisco, a world class city. If anybody had given other owners a choice between a team in San Francisco or one in San Jose. . . well, that was no choice then and it’s no choice now.
The Giants ultimately tapped into Silicon Valley investors heavily to build their park in China Basin, and they’re determined to keep those investors. Commissioner Bud Selig has also recently declared that territorial rights are sacred.
Lew Wolff thought he could get around that because of his friendship with Selig, but it hasn’t worked. I frankly doubt that Wolff’s plan would have worked even if he had been given permission to move to San Jose. He was planning a 34,000-seat park with ticket prices higher than the Giants. Obviously, he would have targeted Silicon Valley because the people there are the ones who could afford those prices. Would they have transferred their affections from the Giants to the A’s? Nobody can know. I do know that, though many current A’s fans started as Giants fans, the Giants still have a strong fan base in the East Bay. When they were at Candlestick, a ticket manager told me they had more season ticket holders from Alameda and Contra Costa counties than from San Francisco.
At any rate, it’s a moot issue, no matter how much huffing and puffing Wolff and the San Jose mayor do. The A’s aren’t moving to San Jose.
JACK TATUM: I don’t believe I’ve ever known an athlete who was as different than his public image as Tatum, who died at 61 yesterday.
The first time I interviewed Tatum was after he had been drafted in 1971, after his All-American career at Ohio State. He already had a reputation as a great athlete and tremendous, almost savage tackler, but in person, he was a very quiet, almost withdrawn, gentle person. He remained much the same person throughout his Raiders career.
The other surprise was Tatum’s opinion of his college coach, Woody Hayes. He loved Hayes, as did Tim Anderson, a 49ers draftee. Hayes had been high on my list of villains, but that caused me to rethink my position. I later met Hayes when he was in San Francisco for a benefit of some sort, and I liked him.
Tatum was a great player for the Raiders, very similar to Ronnie Lott with the 49ers later. He helped to revitalize a Raiders defense which had grown soft, and he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He isn’t because of the fallout from the Darryl Stingley tragedy.
I was at that game, a 1978 exhibition against the New England Patriots, and I realized quickly that Stingley had been seriously hurt by Tatum’s tackle, though I didn’t realize how seriously until later. But it was an absolutely legal tackle. Tatum was neither penalized at the time or fined or punished in any way by the NFL later, though that incident may have been a cause of a later tightening of the rules.
Tatum made it worse by participating in a book which was entitled, “They Call Me Assassin,” in which he made some unapologetic statements about that play. I’ve never known how much of that was actually Tatum and how much the exaggeration of the writer, though I suspect it was the latter. Whatever, the damage was done.
His post-career life was not a happy one. He suffered from diabetes and had his legs amputated. The overall strain on his system was probably what caused the heart attack that killed him.
But those of us who knew him remember him as a great players and gentle soul, 180 degrees from the public perception of him.
(For those of you in the area, Comcast interviewed me today about Tatum and plans to put parts of the interview on at 5, 6 and 10 p.m.)
BASEBALL ON RADIO: As I mentioned last week, radio is really the best medium for baseball because it gives room for story telling. Lon Simmons was great at that, and so was Hank Greenwald when he did Giants radio. Hank and television had a mutual hate affair. “I have the perfect face for radio,” he used to say. The flip side of Greenwald was Phil Stone, who did both radio and TV for the Giants in 1986. He was fine on TV but on radio, he had a habit of saying, “Would you look at that.” Well, no, Phil, we can’t.
There’s another type of baseball radio, too, and that’s the kind of show Marty Lurie does, now on KNBR for the Giants, before that before and after A’s games.
Marty is absolutely consumed by baseball, and he knows everything that is going on in the major leagues. He grew up as a Dodger fan in Brooklyn but then put his love of baseball on hold while he pursued a successful career as a defense attorney. Tiring of that, he decided to get back to his childhood love and started lining up advertisers for his own show, as he still does. Probably because he didn’t go directly into broadcasting, he has the passion for baseball that most of us had when we were much younger. He’s an absolute delight.
CHRIS MARTIN: When the highly-prized recruit decided to transfer from Cal, he cited “too many distractions” in the Bay Area.
Apparently, those distractions were school books. Martin will enroll at Florida, and SEC schools don’t allow such distractions for football players.
TERRELL OWENS: TO is in talks with the Cincinnati Bengals, and isn’t it delicious to think of him being in the same lineup with Chad Cincoocho and competing for the “All About Me” title.
Owens had an uneventful season with the Bills last year, or maybe it’s just that no news came out of Buffalo, which is not exactly a media hub. But he’s been creating headlines since he started with the 49ers.
It’s a shame he didn’t follow the example of Jerry Rice. Not that Rice didn’t have his little quirks. It was well known that the first 49er pass of the game was supposed to go to him, but that was hardly a problem. Overall, he was a great example because of his work ethic and his constant drive for perfection, which helped propel the team to four Super Bowl championships while he was here.
Owens, though, sought headlines for bizarre acts like dancing on the star at midfield of Cowboys stadium or taking out a Sharpie tucked into his uniform to sign an autograph.
The result: Rice will be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer. Owens is just bouncing around the league, increasingly less effective, and when he retires, the verdict will be “Good riddance.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY (NOT): Iconic. Suddenly, everything that is the slightest bit out of the ordinary is iconic. Give it a rest. . . Same with length for tall basketball players. Supposedly, that’s to take note of the fact that they have long arms, but that’s pretty much the standard for tall players. . . Velocity instead of fast for a pitch. . . .Electric, when a pitcher has a good variety of pitches.
Whatever happened to plain English?
WEBSITE DATES: I’m writing today because we’re leaving Thursday morning and tomorrow will be a busy day. I will skip the column next week. The following week, I’ll probably also write on Tuesday because I have an eye appointment on Wednesday and I know my eyes will be dilated, which takes 6-7 hours from which to recover. But starting August 18, I should be back on schedule. My Examiner columns will appear on Wednesday and Friday next week, then go back to the Tuesday-Friday schedule.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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