Giants celebrate special anniversary
Club plans big day for 50 years of California baseball
SAN FRANCISCO -- April 15, 1958 still looms large, like a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge or the majesty of a Willie Mays home run, to those who experienced it.Fifty years later, the Giants' first game in San Francisco remains special. Daryl Spencer, then the Giants' shortstop, remembers the parade. "The streets were just packed with fans," Spencer said, recalling the estimated one million spectators who lined the Financial District and Market Street to see the procession of convertible-driven players the day before the game. "We hadn't seen anything like that in New York. I think the players were hungry for some support." Katy Feeney remembers the excitement Bay Area residents felt for the Giants. When her mother arrived at her elementary school in suburban Hillsborough to pick her up to drive her to the game, she received an escort from one of the many people who wanted to cling to anybody or anything connected with the Giants. "The principal walked me out to the car," said Feeney, daughter of then-Giants general manager Chub Feeney. Orlando Cepeda, who began his Hall of Fame career on the very day that the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers began life out West, remembers the consuming thrill. "From the night before, to after the ballgame, I thought I was dreaming," Cepeda said. "As a kid, I wanted to be a baseball player. Then, I'm here playing in the big leagues against the Dodgers, who had so many great players. It was hard to describe." The Giants will commemorate the Golden Anniversary of Major League baseball in San Francisco and on the West Coast on Tuesday, with appropriate ceremonies and symbolism. In mid-morning, the Giants will unveil a bronze plaque at the corner of 16th and Bryant streets, the intersection of the club's first San Francisco home, now-demolished Seals Stadium. Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan and executive vice president Larry Baer will represent the organization. Cepeda, Mays and two other '58 Giants, infielders Jim Davenport and Ed Bressoud, will represent the team's legacy. Also in attendance will be Helen Christopher and Ethel Davies, sisters of former San Francisco mayor George Christopher, who led the city's push to bring the Giants from New York. The Giants' game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park will begin at 1:34 p.m. PT -- same as when San Francisco right-hander Ruben Gomez flung the first West Coast pitch to Gino Cimoli. A pregame ceremony will honor Horace Stoneham, the owner who moved the franchise from New York. Cepeda, who homered in that inaugural game on his way to a National League Rookie of the Year campaign, will throw a ceremonial first pitch along with Cimoli. To some extent, San Francisco's sporting reputation preceded the Giants' arrival. Johnny Antonelli, who broke into the Majors in 1948 with the then-Boston Braves, knew that San Francisco's Pacific Coast League team had a spirited following. "This was always a good baseball town," said Antonelli, who finished 16-13 for the '58 Giants.
"[Joe] DiMaggio played here years and years ago. They were always good fans."Good, and rabid. Feeney, who works in scheduling and club relations for Major League Baseball, recalled that kids would sneak transistor radios into class to listen to Giants broadcasts. And because of her association with the ballclub, she was briefly a minor celebrity among her peers.
"They thought I was cool because I moved there with the Giants," she said. "They thought the players lived with us."In a way, the composition of the Giants' roster was conducive to a fresh start in a fresh place. Rookies Cepeda, Davenport, Felipe Alou, Willie Kirkland, Leon Wagner and Bob Schmidt all played significant roles, enabling the new fans to feel a kinship with "their own" players.
"When you play for a team like that, you don't have any pressure on you," said Cepeda, who hit .312 with 25 homers and 96 RBIs that year.Behind Gomez's six-hitter, the Giants won that April 15 game, 8-0, and ultimately finished a respectable third in the NL with an 80-74 record. The marriage between San Francisco and the Giants was off to a blissful start. "The last couple of years in New York, '56 and '57, no one was coming to the ballpark and we didn't have a very good ballclub, to tell you the truth," said Spencer, whose fourth-inning homer off Don Drysdale in the April 15 game was the first in San Francisco Giant history. "To come out of Spring Training with new enthusiasm and to go through that parade and we won Opening Day -- all of a sudden we had a winning attitude that we didn't have in New York."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.