Fifty-five years ago the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco. I was four years old and occasionally hid in our large clothes hamper to pray for Willie Mays to hit a home run. Don’t ask me why, the clothes hamper. There must be some Freudian or Jungian interpretation to be had. Perhaps I was simply near the hamper when our one and only radio/record player provided a Russ Hodges or Lon Simmons call of a previous Mays homer. In the years that followed I cured myself of the need for the clothes hamper, but not of my devotion to generations of San Francisco Giants.
My father deserves the blame or credit. He was nearly a half century older than me and had grown up in an era when baseball reigned supreme. Local high schools not only had teams, but just about every hamlet with nine or more able bodied males proudly fielded town teams. Albion’s teams at the close of the nineteenth century and the opening decade of the twentieth century were sponsored by Miles Standish and Henry Hickey. Photographs with one or both of the timberland owners and the Albion Nine still exist here and there. Those Albion clubs included several members of the Anderson family, my father’s first cousins. If you look up at the name above the Fort Bragg High School gymnasium you’ll see Archer “Andy” Anderson. Arch played for the Albion town teams as well as at Cal and semi-pro ball. Arch’s last great protêge´ at Fort Bragg High was the inimitable Vern Piver.
My father was no slouch at our national pastime either. In the mid-1920s, his left-handed bat slugged a pitch onto the roof of the old Mendocino High School. A rhubarb ensued between umpire and coaches as to whether the ball was fair or foul, but no one present had ever seen such a prodigious blow, struck by teen or adult. An historical side note: there are only a few handfuls of Mendocino Coast natives left who can say they saw Mendocino High before the hill upon which it stood was lowered for the modern structure.
My father grew up a Giants fan, with only newspaper stories from New York about the exploits of Christy Mathewson and manager John McGraw. Americans tend to forget all too fast. Matty, as Christy Mathewson was known in his day, was easily one of the two or three greatest right-handed pitchers ever. He pitched three complete game shutouts in the World Series—in a single World Series. The Giants fourth win in that Series was also a shutout, hurled by “Iron” Joe McGinnity. Basic baseball facts like that and many more intricate details about the early decades of major league and local baseball were handed down to me by my father as often as our own family’s history. Though he was sixty by the time I was a Pony league teen, dad would pitch to me on summer evenings as the grass of the Albion River bottomlands turned green to gold to tan. He still rocked and threw hard or bent off curves into his sixties, and he hurled the hardball with either hand trying to teach me to be a switch hitter like Mantle.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, the only days the Giants played at night in their early years in San Francisco, dad tuned the radio carefully in to 560 AM. One of those occasions proved to be July 2, 1963.
Next week, presented for your approval, the night of the greatest game ever pitched.