The news that the Giants and Dodgers would move to the West Coast for the 1958 season created shock waves in the baseball world. In San Francisco, residents were ecstatic.
Baseball was king in 1958. In the eyes of San Franciscans, getting the Giants made the city truly major league.
For two years, Mayor George Christopher had worked hard to convince Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his team to San Francisco (Stoneham’s first choice was Minneapolis), often flying to New York for secret meetings. He had an ally in Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who was ready to move his team to Los Angeles and wanted to keep his team’s natural rival close.
So, the deal was done. Baseball and San Francisco were forever changed.
The Giants were a team on the rise. They had the game’s biggest star, Willie Mays. Orlando Cepeda was a rookie in 1958, Willie McCovey would arrive in 1959, Juan Marichal in 1960.
The Giants had a very productive farm system, with Carl Hubbell in nominal charge but Jack Schwarz doing most of the work. Outfielders were especially abundant — the Alou brothers, Willie Kirkland, Jackie Brandt, Leon Wagner, Ollie Brown, among others — so many that the Giants often traded them.
“We supplied the whole National League with outfielders,” Bill Rigney would say later.
The City was in love with the Giants. People walked down the street with plugs from transistor radios in their ears, listening to the games. Performances of the opera were interrupted by cheers from an audience also listening to the games. Fans at a 49ers game erupted in loud cheers for no visible reason — turned out they had just heard the news that the Giants had forced a playoff for the pennant in 1962.
It was a tremendously exciting and talented team. Mays was the most exciting player, though it took San Franciscans some time to warm up to him. He could do it all, hitting, fielding and, especially, baserunning. He once scored when a pitch bounced off the glove of New York Mets catcher Choo Choo Coleman, perhaps six feet away.
“I could see from the angle of the pitch that it would be in the dirt, so I just started running,” Mays explained to me years later. True baseball genius.
The peak of excitement in San Francisco came in 1962, when the Giants made the World Series by winning the third game of the playoff in Los Angeles. Their plane was mobbed at the airport. In downtown San Francisco, vehicular traffic was totally blocked as fans swarmed around the Powell and Market intersection in a frenzy. Those who had been around 17 years earlier compared it to the V-J Day celebration.
The Giants lost in seven games in the World Series to the New York Yankees and neither interest nor performance quite reached that level again. As talented as that team was, it couldn’t win another pennant in the ’60s. Baseball was descending, while the NFL was rising to No. 1. The A’s arrival in 1968 split the market. Subsequently, the Giants were nearly moved to Toronto after the ’76 season and to St. Petersburg, Fla., after the ’92 season before local owners stepped in.
There have been glory periods since. The “Humm Baby” Giants of Roger Craig and Al Rosen made it to the World Series in ’89. The Dusty Baker-Barry Bonds pairing came this close to winning the Series in 2002.
But for those of us who have been around from the beginning, nothing will ever match the excitement of when the Giants moved to San Francisco.