|Book Excerpt: A Tale of Three Cities, page 11-13|
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on May 21, 2009
The following is an excerpt from "A Tale of Three Cities: The 1962 Baseball Season in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco."
The relationship of the players and owners, however, was the polar opposite. Stoneham was a "real baseball fan as an owner," his close aide, Chub Feeney said. "Winning meant a lot to him and the team meant a lot to him. He was a rooter." Stoneham was known for his generosity with Giants players, whom he viewed as part of a larger family. O'Malley, with slick hair, three-piece suits, and a large paunch, looked the part of a big city bank president. Stoneham, with his rosy cheeks, thinning hair, and thick, dark glasses, was a round-faced man who resembled the comic Drew Carey. His persona was more like a regional branch manager.
Stoneham loved to drink, an occupation that coincided with watching his team. According to rumor he killed a man in a drunk-driving incident in Scottsdale, Arizona. He had been duped into accepting San Francisco, as if it was equal in value to Los Angeles. There was a sense that California was one big tropical paradise and little regard for the enormous physical disparities within its 900-mile north-south borders. Even within the Bay Area itself, temperatures varied greatly. Walnut Creek, for example, a bedroom community located over the hill past Oakland in the East Bay, could be steaming hot at 90 degrees on the same day that San Francisco was foggy and windswept at 55 degrees.
Stoneham emphasized one thing above all other criteria: He wanted parking at his new stadium. Parking, parking, parking. Neither L.A. nor San Francisco had much in the way of public transportation. San Francisco's bus service was better than L.A.'s, and a commuter train connected people between The City (its denizens used caps) and the peninsula towns of Burlingame, San Mateo, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. For the most part, however, its citizenry traversed the freeways and numerous bridges (the Golden Gate, Bay, and eventually the Richmond-San Rafael, San Mateo, Dumbarton, Carquinez, and Benicia) by car.
There was available downtown land near Powell and Market streets, which would have been an excellent spot. Located not far from where the current AT&T Park stands, it would have offered reasonable weather. Certainly there would have been wind and fog, but it would have been acceptable. Financial district foot traffic, cable cars, ferry service, municipal bus lines, the Southern Pacific train, and eventually the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) would have provided easy access. Stores, bars, and restaurants would have benefited from the nightlife and "this is the place to be" vibe that AT&T Park now provides. It was not chosen because local businesses did not want increased traffic congestion. Stoneham lacked the vision to fight for the downtown stadium; all he saw was a big parking lot. In addition, eminent domain laws would have cost The City $33 million to pay off citizens forced to leave properties.
San Francisco Mayor George Christopher saw how O'Malley had manipul-ated the gullible Stoneham. He set out to do the same thing. Christopher had a sweetheart deal with a construction magnate named Charlie Harney. Harney owned tons of regular old dirt. He needed a place to put it that would pay him for it. Within the jurisdiction of the city there were only so many places that could accommodate Harney's dirt.
They decided on nondescript Candlestick Point, sitting on a section next to San Francisco Bay that was not officially in The City. It was an unincorporated area owned by Harney. Candlestick Point was located next to the Bayshore Freeway, which connected The City with the airport, which was almost as much of a boondoggle and likewise not in The City. Stoneham was told of the Bay-
A bluff overlooked the site, which was curved away from the downtown Embarcadero area in such a way that there was absolutely no evidence of the beautiful downtown San Francisco skyline to the north, or even the mountainous peninsula to the south. It just sat there. The neighborhoods adjacent to Candlestick Point-Bayside, Hunter's Point, and Potrero Hill-were headed in the same direction as the Harlem slums where the Polo Grounds had been. Stoneham was painted a portrait of racial harmony, of new thinking in California, but, in truth, the black community of San Francisco lived in sullen isolation, well away from The City's frolicking financial district or the tony neighborhoods of St. Francis Woods, Mt. Davidson, Twin Peaks, and the Sunset.
There was no fan-friendly business within miles and miles and miles of Candlestick-just slaughterhouses, packing plants, and a few liquor stores. An eyesore for the ages, a huge crane dominating a nearby naval shipbuilding facility, blocked whatever views of the bay that there might have been. Fans exiting Highway 101 found themselves on narrow streets that quickly became traffic heavy before and after games with any kind of large attendance. Local kids threatened to vandalize cars unless money was extorted from frightened drivers. But all of this was nothing compared to the elements.
Christopher and Harney knew that Stoneham was a man who wanted to get to his drinking early. They arranged for a tour of Candlestick Point around 10:30 am. Mark Twain once said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." The best time of year there is the fall, the Indian summer months of September, October, and early November. Instead of directing Stoneham to Candlestick on one of those Mark Twain days-cold, drizzly, windy-they drove the owner out on a sunny, clear morning. All Stoneham seemed to see was room for parking. Of course, that room was still part of the bay. This was where Harney's dirt would be dumped, creating landfill and a toxicological disaster. On top of that, nobody understood much about earthquakes back then, other than that the Big One had virtually destroyed the entire city only 50-some years before that. Sure, go ahead, build a stadium on the shifting sands of loose dirt dumped into the water!
Stoneham enthusiastically endorsed the whole plan, hook, line, and sinker. Christopher and Harney just looked at each other. This was a savvy New York businessman? The West Coast rubes had pulled the dirt right over his head. Stoneham was spirited away and by 3:00 pm was in his cups. Around that time, a violent windstorm descended on Candlestick Point. It was like something out of Lawrence of Arabia, like a Biblical fog that could have killed every first-born child on the point if it had been fit for human habitation in the first place. Dust from the nearby bluffs swirled in a sea of drifting garbage wrappings. Fetid smells filled the air, but Stoneham did not see, feel, or smell it. It was cocktail hour.
Excerpt used with permission.