SAN FRANCISCO (CNN)-
I hate my park ….
In San Francisco ….
OK, so that’s NOT what Tony Bennett sang.
But very few do wax rhapsodic about Candlestick Park, that condemned property by the Bay. It will be host to one last scheduled sporting event this Monday night (a 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons football game) … and then, in 2014, boom goes the dynamite. It’s going to be blown to bits.
Goodbye and good riddance. Camelot, it’s not.
A sampling of zingers from baseball greats about this pretty city’s stadium throughout the years:
— “I’d quit if I had to play here” — Roger Maris
— “If I was traded to the Giants, I’d quit baseball” — Rocky Colavito
— “A toilet with the lid up” — Whitey Herzog
— “We’re lucky, we can leave, but the Giants have to stay here” — Lew Burdette
— “Candlestick was an abomination. It was a tough park to play in when it was cold, and it was always cold” — Keith Hernandez
— “We used to feel sorry for the fans, not for ourselves. At least we were moving around on the field” — Willie McCovey
— “In New York, they would have kept it full for more impact. At Candlestick, they had to drink half of it to keep warm” — Steve Garvey (after a Giants fan threw a half-full bottle of gin at him)
— “I bet I lost 200 home runs in that place” — Willie Mays
— “Dynamite” — Jack Clark (asked what could improve the park)
And from a couple of former 49ers:
— “Our home field was one of the worst places you would want to play” — Joe Montana (a few months ago)
— “It was a dump, but it was our dump” — Dwight Clark (a few days ago)
Yep, those tributes keep pouring in.
In the late 1950s, baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants decided to go west to sunny California, lock, stock and jocks. The Dodgers got the sun part. They relocated to Los Angeles. What the Giants got was the “hate California, it’s cold and it’s damp” part that guys like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra sang about.
Civic leaders in San Francisco, conscious of team owner Horace Stoneham’s yen for tens of thousands of parking spaces that he’d never had at the Polo Grounds back in New York, zeroed in on 40-plus acres owned by contractor Charles Harney at a bayside spot known as Candlestick Point. The ground-breaking began in 1958. The ever-popular righthander, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, would toss out the Giants’ ceremonial first pitch on April 12, 1960.
Nobody quite comprehended how unsuitable Candlestick Park’s conditions would be for baseball. Famed lawyer Melvin Belli roared that Candlestick came with “the bitterest winds this side of the Himalayas.” A 60-mph gust was not uncommon there. Balls hit out of the park by Mays and McCovey blew back into the park.
It wasn’t so lousy for football. For the 49ers, a new arena wasn’t paradise, but it was an upgrade from Kezar Stadium. Kezar’s place in history today is mainly as the spot where Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) put a bullet into the serial killer Scorpio (Andy Robinson) without a warrant or reading him his Miranda rights. (A moment you probably never get to see on NFL Films.)
The Niners have been at Candlestick ever since. Monday’s game marks the bitter end, unless Candlestick lands an unexpected NFL postseason contest or a farewell concert of some kind. (Paul McCartney supposedly is considering it.)
That’ll be that for a Northern California landmark of which ballplayer Jim Wohlford once said, vividly, “The only difference between Candlestick Park and San Quentin is that, at Candlestick, they let you go home at night.”
At least Alcatraz prison became a tourist attraction for a while. Candlestick, a.k.a. “The Stick,” will be reduced to rubble. Imploded. Disintegrated. Zapped off the map. They probably won’t even scatter its ashes at sea.
What was it pitcher Jim Brosnan said of this structure decades ago? Oh, yeah: “It slants down toward the Bay and before long will be under water, which is the best place for it.”
Damn, man. That’s cold.
So was the park. It made Wrigley Field feel like Miami Beach. It got so cold that at least one player, Bobby Murcer, kept his bats in the clubhouse’s sauna.
The park was usually windy and constantly wet. Montana, the famed 49er quarterback of yesteryear, recently said of Candlestick, “It could not rain for a year and you’d go in there and it’d be soaking wet. They used to call it The Quagmire.”
From 1960 to 2000, the Giants played (endured) baseball there. Then they built a new park, AT&T Park, perhaps the most beautiful one in all of ball.
From 1971 to the present, the 49ers have played (enjoyed) football there. (A nice field isn’t necessary when you win.) But they are about to move 40 miles south to Santa Clara, where they will play in a brand new place, Levi’s Stadium.
(Maybe their uniform pants could be denim.)
I suppose that I’ve set foot in Candlestick Park a good, oh, 50 times in my time. San Francisco — what a fantastic town. San Francisco’s fans — what a fantastic (mostly) bunch. San Francisco’s teams — winners, again and again.
But what will I miss about that park? Uh, not a lot.
What will I remember about it? Well, quite a bit, not that you asked.
Their final concert was there: August 29, 1966. At a press conference, the Beatles were asked how they felt about a rumor that “Day Tripper” was a song about a prostitute and “Norwegian Wood” a song about a lesbian. Paul McCartney, tongue in cheek, replied, “We were just trying to write songs about prostitutes and lesbians, that’s all.”
Preceding them on stage were the Remains, Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes. As soon as Hebb began singing his hit, “Sunny,” the audience, which rarely felt the warmth of the sun at Candlestick, began to laugh. The Beatles’ last number: “Long Tall Sally.” No one inquired if Sally was a prostitute or a lesbian, or how long or how tall.
Stu Miller, a pitcher, was said to have been “blown from the mound” by the wind during the All-Star Game played there on July 11, 1961. He was not. All he did was sway a bit from a sudden gust. But he was called for a balk. The American League team tied the score in the ninth inning, but the National League won in the 10th on hits by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente (what a trio). Miller said years later, “The way people talk, you’d think I got blown into the Bay.”
A “Croix de Candlestick” badge of honor was once distributed to fans who sat frozen solid at Giants games, risking pneumonia or worse. I was given one at the 1984 All-Star Game there. I also bought a T-shirt that read: “I Survived the All-Star Game at Candlestick Park.”
Eunice Bull, 78, was in a box seat in 1989. A former fashion designer, she always wore a straw hat with Giants trading cards pinned to it. A fan behind her complained that he couldn’t see. Ushers asked Eunice to remove her hat. Eunice said no. The ushers insisted. Lose the hat or be evicted from the park.
Eunice stood up. “OK, that’s it, read me my Miranda rights!” said she, extending her wrists in case they intended to use handcuffs. She was led out. Sixteen years later, upon her death, Eunice Bull, a season ticket holder till the end, was honored on Candlestick’s scoreboard, called “Perhaps the Giants’ Most Steadfast Fan” in the Chronicle obit’s headline, and atop her usual seat at the park, the Giants placed her hat.
THE FAN (part II)
Worst baseball movie of all time? “The Fan,” filmed at Candlestick, featured a deranged fan, played by Robert De Niro, who murdered a Giants player, kidnapped another player’s child, then disguised himself on the field as a catcher while the Giants played a game in a torrential downpour. No, it was not a comedy, at least not an intentional one.
Crazy Crab was introduced as the new Giants mascot. He was not, uh, a hit. Players mooned him, put hot ointment in his costume armpits, even turned a hose on him. Greg Minton, a pitcher, said: “Crazy Crab stood out. The fans hated him and the players hated him.”
January 10, 1982, National Football Conference championship game, 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys, winner goes to the Super Bowl: I am in the press box. Behind me, pacing back and forth, is Tex Schramm, the aptly named Cowboys team president. “Come on, babies. Come on, babies,” Tex keeps saying. His team is ahead 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but the 49ers are on the move. Montana looks for a receiver. He throws high — too high, it looks. Dwight Clark makes the catch! Touchdown, 49ers! Candlestick rocks.
October 18, 1989, with Game 3 of the World Series getting under way: Candlestick REALLY rocks. “We’re having an earth….” Al Michaels reports on live TV, although viewers can’t quite catch his final syllable. It is the Loma Prieta tremor, about to shake buildings and bridges in every direction.
Michaels does a masterful job. At one point, however, reporting that Santa Cruz was at the center of it all, 70 miles away, Michaels says: “Thank God the epicenter was far enough away from Candlestick Park so this structure remained erect.” A somewhat testy Ted Koppel responds: “Well, of course, that doesn’t do a lot for the folks in Santa Cruz.”
During a prime-time clash between the 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers on December 19, 2011, the game is interrupted by stadium power outages twice. I immediately became one of the 10 million or 20 million Americans who ad-libbed: “Now you know why they call it Candlestick.”
Where it’s flickering fast.
By Mike Downey
Editor’s note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.
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