SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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Candlestick Park is a windy, precarious foothold for any manager, but Alvin Dark, with a few anchors to windward like Willie, hopes to lead Giants into the sun


Giants have baseball's best in Willie Mays. Last year, hitting into tunnel of Candlestick wind, Mays belted 29 HRs, 103 RBIs, batted .319. Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Harvey Kuenn could take three of top five spots in NL batting race. Pitching staff had second-best team ERA in league: Rookie standout Juan Marichal (2.67); still-improving Mike McCormick (2.70); stopper Sam Jones (3.19); hard-luck Billy O'Dell (3.19); shutout leader Jack Sanford (3.82); and junk-baller Stu Miller (3.88). The six accounted for all but 13 of Giants' 79 victories last year.

Relief pitching, catching, infield defense. To compensate for league's worst bullpen, Manager Al Dark is resigned to relieving with all starters except McCormick and Marichal. Club's 1960 relief pitchers were so bad (Loes 4.89, Shipley 5.40, Maranda 4.59, Byerly 5.32) that only Loes was on spring roster this year. Light-hitting Hobie Landrith, poor-fielding Bob Schmidt provide barely adequate catching. Infield of McCovey, Blasingame, Bressoud and Davenport performed badly in field last year (last in both DPs and team fielding) and even worse at plate: combined BA of .235, with Davenport's .251 highest of four.

1959 freshman sensation Willie McCovey, only left-handed power hitter on team, must deliver if Giants are to have a chance at pennant. Club believes his dismal 1960 showing stemmed from overconfidence and resulting confusion, not from lack of big league ability. With Harvey Kuenn apparently set at third base and rookie Chuck Hiller looking like a comer at second base, the Giant infield may change rapidly from a weak spot to a strong point if Jim Davenport stays healthy (ulcers, knee trouble) and Don Blasingame regains his old class at bat and in the field.

Kuenn, obtained from Indians for unhappy Johnny Antonelli and lackadaisical Willie Kirkland, is consistent .300 hitter and reasonably adept at third, first, or in outfield. Best rookies are Catcher Tom Haller and Second Baseman Hiller. Fast-balling Sherman Jones (3.09 ERA in brief stay last season) may return after more seasoning in minors.

After two straight collapses, the Giants are now odds-on favorites for fourth place, not first. Led by old hero Alvin Dark, however, they could settle down and be yearlong contenders.


With a man on third, two outs and no score in the first inning, Manager Alvin Dark made an unpopular but significant decision. He would walk Ernie Banks, the Cubs' most dangerous hitter, intentionally. There were assorted boos and jeers from the stands, then gleeful laughter as the fourth wide pitch almost got by Catcher Hobie Landrith. There was unrest in the open-air Arizona press box, too, where shirtless sportswriters stopped checking their tans long enough to grumble, "Good Lord, it's only an exhibition game."

Exhibition or not, Dark was playing it to the hilt. In both the second and fourth innings he had Pitcher Billy O'Dell squeeze bunting and later charging away from first base on the hit-and-run. The stratagems were in keeping with Dark's determination to put new life into the Giants.

To most camp followers, Dark's appointment as manager provided a timely psychological as well as physical break with the horror of the last two years. None of his men, he says, including Willie Mays, will play more than 145 games, because "the long trips and odd hours will wear a man down if he tries to play every day." In spring camp Dark held only three intrasquad games. He also stopped his pitchers from shagging fly balls in practice ("They're never going to be outfielders"), and instead gave them special batting practice three times a week.

Dark, some have said, is on the spot as new manager of the talented but disappointing Giants.

"That's not so," said a more astute observer. "Al Dark this season has the easiest job in baseball. Bill Rigney had the Giants when everyone was expecting great things from them. They fell flat, so he was fired. Same thing with Tom Sheehan. Dark takes over a disappointing, fifth-place ball club, but a club with a good chance of moving up a notch or two. They're not going to finish any lower. And if they do better—people will say, 'Boy, that Dark did a fine job of straightening out the Giants.' Ralph Houk with the Yankees is a guy on the spot. But not Al Dark."

On or off the spot. Dark was directing with stolid, conventional care; after five innings the Giants had an 8-3 lead, and the people in the stands and the writers in the press box were beginning to look around for something a little more stimulating to watch. A foul ball sailed over the first-base stands, hit the street and bounced into an empty lot. A small boy started after it. So did a strapping teenager about twice his size. The boy got there first but he needn't have bothered: one firm word from the teen-ager, and the boy gave up the ball. A moment later a foul went over the third-base stands. The teen-ager galloped over, swooped in on a pack of younger boys and came up with the ball. "That kid has bad manners," a man said, "but great range."

The ice cream man passed the press box, looked into the radio booth and held an ice cream cone up inquiringly. The announcer shook his head sadly. "I'd love one of those," he said off mike. "But I ate one over in Scottsdale the other day, and it made a crackling noise into the microphone. We got calls from all over wondering what the hell was going on."

Horace C. Stoneham is a rare commodity in baseball—an owner who knows only one business, baseball. A shy man, Stoneham, 56, broods when team loses, turns for solace to old friends and old haunts. Horace took over club at 32 when his father died, is constantly torn between logic and loyalty. A New Yorker, he was reluctant to move team from Polo Grounds, is not yet completely at home in San Francisco. Son Charles H. (Pete) Stoneham, 32, the heir apparent, is a vice-president, but has not had too much to do with operation of club. Effervescent Charles S. (Chub) Feeney, 39, Horace's nephew, is also a VP, acts as general manager, is well liked by press, well regarded by competitors. Former pitching star Carl Hubbell, Jack Schwarz and Frank Shellenback operate club's minor league holdings.

Fences from left center to right center have been moved in 10 to 30 feet this year at Candlestick Park (42,500 capacity), and a $40,000. 40-foot redwood backdrop has been added in center field for better batting visibility. Main problem remains unsolved: the wind. First Baseman Willie McCovey complained: "Wind keeps blowing peanut shells in my eyes." Five miles south of downtown on San Francisco Bay, park can be reached by land (via Freeway) or by sea (private boat, plus half-mile hike). Stadium Club (a concession of swank Fairmont Hotel) opens in June. Planned prices: salad $1.50, steak $4.25, Giant hamburger (named for team, not size) $1.85. Club members can buy de luxe box (eight seats) for $4,000. Ushers are girls, smartly uniformed, efficient, don't expect tips. If things get out of hand. Burns detectives are on call.