When the San Francisco Giants win, people ask: "Are they real? How much longer can this last?"
When the Giants lose, people say: "Guess the bubble's finally burst, hey? They'll find their level now, all right."
What people don't seem to realize is that it really doesn't matter very much any more. It isn't important that the Giants finish first or a close second; and it won't hurt too much if they subside quietly into the second division.
The important thing is: the Giants have won. They've solidified their beachhead in San Francisco, broadened it, taken a firm grasp on the future. Granted, it would be even better if they were to stay in the fight for the pennant all season, but it doesn't matter. The Giants are in.
They've been the one truly exciting element in the baseball picture this spring. Their striking early success on the field saved baseball's move to California from turning into something of a sordid fiasco. Remember that the Giants, who had finished sixth the past two seasons, were not supposed to do much better than that this year. The expectation was that Los Angeles' Dodgers would give California a pennant pretender for at least another year or two and that maybe then the Giants would start moving up. But the Dodgers, as the world knows, have been a colossal flop. If the Giants had turned out as poorly as anticipated, California might well have been completely soured on major league baseball.
Instead, the Giants are in clover, with plans all set and final contracts just about ready for signing on their new 50,000-seat stadium at Candlestick Point on the bay, in the southeast corner of the city. Taxpayer suits against the contracts, which appear to be in Walter O'Malley's future in Los Angeles, are only a minor threat in San Francisco. The attorney for one group which had earlier announced plans for a suit was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle last week as saying that the suit probably would not be filed. "For one thing," he said, "the Giants' success makes it an unpopular undertaking."
Some hold that the Giants' success was also a factor in helping the Dodgers win their referendum in Los Angeles, the theory being that the Los Angeleno, no matter how disgusted he might be with financial maneuvering, political promises and the awful performance of the Dodgers, simply could not let San Francisco get away with all that glory.
What San Francisco was getting was not so much glory as it was performance, a succession of unbelievably exciting ball games. While Los Angeles sat on its hands, watching the listless Dodgers stumble through one humbling defeat after another (although they did turn on Milwaukee and rend the World Champions last week, possibly indicating a revival), San Francisco sat on the edge of its seat watching one spectacular game after another.
And it was more than just San Francisco, more than just the people watching in 23,000-seat Seals Stadium. KSFO radio broadcasts of the game are heard throughout the heavily populated San Francisco Bay area, and they are picked up and rebroad-cast by stations as far south as Fresno, as far east as Reno, as far north as Crescent City, up near the Oregon border, 300 miles away. Practically all of California north of Los Angeles was entertained by the derring-do of the Giants.
It was something to be entertained by. The pitching was too thin and the hitting was too youthful, but the heart was big and the Giants simply never were out of a ball game. (The most notable example of this, of course, was against Pittsburgh in Seals Stadium, when, trailing 11-1 going into the last half of the ninth inning, the Giants scored nine times and were denied a tie, and possibly victory, only by a great game-ending catch by Bill Mazeroski.)
The Giants had started the season in fine style in California, walloping the Dodgers, then roared eastward on a highly successful road trip. Last week they came home in first place. Their first games at home after the road trip were against Milwaukee, the first time the Braves had played in California. Originally, this series was the one everyone planned to go to because everyone wanted to see the Braves, the world champions. But now suddenly it had turned into one of baseball's beloved crucial series, a battle between the two best (for the moment) teams in the league.
Well, it turned out that the Braves won two of the three games and tumbled the Giants into second place. But if the casual reader thinks that San Francisco was disappointed, or disillusioned, or that the bubble finally did burst, or that taxpayers' suits were hurriedly refiled, do not be misled. Defeat or no defeat, this series was the artistic triumph of the San Francisco dramatic season.
For instance, in the first inning of the first game there was an easy fly ball to center field. Willie Mays stood still, waiting for the ball, punched his glove once and then again, a gesture that absolutely delights San Franciscans, and caught the ball waist-high, with the palm of his glove up, in his famous basket catch. It was an utterly simple play, but it had the Willie Mays trademark and the crowd loved it. People turned to each other, grinning, as if to say, "Yes, that's Willie."
The Giants took the lead, lost it, fell behind. In the fifth Willie came to bat with two on and nobody out. The crowd was gleeful. "Come on, Willie!" it shouted. Willie took a strike, a ball, fouled a pitch off. The crowd's confidence changed to pleading: "Willie! Come on!" Willie then popped a double down the right field line to drive in one run. An odd double play followed, leaving Willie on base by himself with two out. Orlando Cepeda grounded to Ed Mathews at third for what should have been the third out, but Mays, coming down from second, scooted across in front of the third baseman. Mathews' throw to first was wide for an error; Willie made a big turn around third; Milwaukee's first baseman, Joe Adcock, threw back to Mathews to try to nip Willie off the base; the ball shot past to the grandstand fence for a second error; Willie ambled home with the tying run.
The Giants went ahead in the sixth, but a two-run homer in the eighth put the Braves back in the lead. They were ahead 7-5 when the Giants came to bat in the ninth against Relief Pitcher Don McMahon. Mays led off with a triple. Cepeda scored Willie with a single, and Whitey Lockman followed with another single. That was the Giants' high-water mark, but they had the tying and winning runs on base at the last out. In the press box, Don Davidson, the Braves' publicity man, sighed with relief. "That's as hard as I've ever seen McMahon hit," he muttered. A San Francisco writer grinned at him: "That's what they said in Philadelphia when we blasted Dick Farrell. Can't understand it, they said."
The next day the Braves scored first. The Giants tied it up. Then Willie hit another little pop fly to right that fell in for a hit, went for two bases and made it, sliding in just under the throw. He took a big lead. The fun of Willie Mays on base is, the whole world is watching him, waiting for him to steal. When he broke for third there was a great roar. He was there almost before the pitch reached the plate, and when it bounced in the dirt and got through the catcher Willie raced on into home, sliding in safely to put the Giants ahead.
By the third inning the Giants had a 7-1 lead. "It isn't enough," a man said. He was right. The Braves got a run back in the fifth, another in the seventh, another in the eighth and three more on a home run with two out in the ninth. Thousands of spectators who were jammed in the exits waiting for the last out stayed jammed. The Giants failed to score in the ninth. In the 10th the Braves scored twice. Now, certainly, the Giants were through, but the crowd still lingered in the exits. With two out and no one on base in the Giant half of the 10th, Hank Sauer pinch-hit. Naturally, the count went to three and two, and, naturally, Sauer hit a home run. Bob Schmidt pinch-hit. He hit a home run. The score was tied again. And Willie Mays was up. "What a show," a man said, standing on his tiptoes in the exit ramp, trying to see, "What a show." Willie singled and on the first pitch stole second. He broke for third and he had it stolen, but the batter struck out to end the inning. That was the Giant high-water mark that day: the winning run at third base in the 10th inning. In the 11th inning, the Braves scored again and this time the Giants went down quietly. The crowd went home, almost relieved that the game was finally over.
Warren Spahn of the Braves had a no-hitter and a 2-0 lead into the fourth inning of the third game. Then Willie made the first hit, a single, and the Giants went on to tie the score. In the sixth Willie singled again. Spahn tried to pick him off first, failed, tried again and threw wild past the bag, and Willie raced around to third. A moment later he scored the tie-breaking run when Jablonski singled. In the eighth, inevitably it seemed, the Braves tied the score again. It remained tied through the ninth, the 10th, the 11th. Finally, in the 12th, Willie singled, Jim Finigan followed with a short double down the right field line and Mays came all the way around in an attempt to end the game. He was cut down at the plate, but Cepeda came through with a single to left to score Finigan with the winning run.
The series was over. The Giants had salvaged only one game, and they had lost first place. But the show they had put on in Seals Stadium seemed to be the only thing San Franciscans were talking about. This was their team now, win or lose. A naval officer, stationed in Oakland but heretofore a lifelong Dodger fan, said reluctantly, "I'm afraid I have to admit that I'm beginning to root for these fellows a little."
PERUCHIN AND HIS "BOADIES"
Orlando Cepeda, the 20-year-old first baseman of the Giants, pranced up to 39-year-old Hank Sauer, patted him on the head and tickled the back of his neck. Sauer glared in mock anger, but Cepeda grinned at him fondly and announced in his Spanish-accented English: "He's my boady."
Everyone is Orlando's "boady." Everyone is also "cute," which means, apparently, "smart guy," and is sometimes complimentary, sometimes not. To Coach Herman Franks, Cepeda says: "Hey. You my coach. You cute." To another Caribbean player, who was ribbing him about his English, Cepeda muttered: "Yeah. You hot dog. You think you speak better English than me. You cute. Forget it."
Last week the buoyant young Cepeda was batting .337 for the season, with 13 home runs, 37 runs scored and 38 runs batted in. Manager Bill Rigney of the Giants says: "He's the second-best 20-year-old rookie I ever saw. The other one was Willie Mays."
Cepeda was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on September 17, 1937, the son of Pedro Cepeda, who many say was the greatest of all Puerto Rican ballplayers. The father, who died in 1955, two days before Orlando's debut in organized baseball, was called Perucho. Now, in Puerto Rico, his son is known by the diminutive, Peruchin. Talking of his father last week, Orlando said, "He was no the greatest, he was one of the great players. He was the best hitter. He play till he was 45 years old. He say he tired, he going to quit. So he went three for four in his last game. When I was a kid, any place I go people say, 'There's Perucho's son.' "
He grew up in Santurce, where he lives in the off season with his mother, his brother Pedro and a cousin, also Pedro. A married sister, Asuncion, lives in New York. Of his early career Cepeda said: "I no could hit. Good fielder, but no hit. When I was 15, on 15th birthday, I had operation on my legs. I was in hospital long time, and I grew. Gained 43 pounds in two months. Hundred and seventy. Big. Before I was in hospital we had a short wall. I couldn't hit over it. But afterward, whoosh!"
Cepeda played Little League and amateur ball and finally was a benchwarmer on the great Santurce team of 1954-55 (whose star was Willie Mays) before signing with the Giants. He had three brilliant seasons in the minors and moved up to the majors this spring.
In San Francisco he lives with Ruben Gomez and his wife. Cepeda, 10 years younger, has known Gomez since he was 4. This long, close relationship was responsible for Cepeda's biggest headline, in Pittsburgh recently, when a near riot came after Gomez and Pittsburgh Manager Danny Murtaugh exchanged harsh words. Cepeda, seeing Gomez in trouble, was ready to do battle with a bat. Willie Mays saved the day by tackling Cepeda (above) and the furor died. Orlando now doesn't say much about the incident, except to protest a general innocence. It's just as well. He's far more valuable to the Giants whacking baseballs with his bat than skulls.
39-YEAR-OLD HANK SAUER'S CRASHING SLIDE MAKES PHILADELPHIA FIELDER HOP
ORLANDO CEPEDA, THE EXCITING PUERTO RICAN ROOKIE, FLIES INTO SECOND BASE
INCOMPARABLE WILLIE MAYS, HATLESS AS USUAL, PUFFS ACROSS HOME PLATE
THE ROOKIES (clockwise from lower left): Jim Davenport, 3B; Bob Schmidt, C; Willie Kirkland, RF (sent back to minors last weekend); and Orlando Cepeda, 1B.