A funny thing happens to the San Francisco Giants on their way out of Candlestick Park. They are followed, frequently for thousands of miles. The followers belong to an organization known as the San Francisco Giants Boosters Club of Northern California, which has a standing—at times, a leaning—membership of nearly 2,000, many of them old enough to list repeal as the single most important event in their lives. To the Giants, who this year may just for once finish higher than second, the effect is less than soothing. "You don't know whether to shoot or go blind," one of them said.
The trouble is, for all their enthusiasm, the Boosters have an adverse effect on the team. This dismaying fact began to dawn on the Giants two years ago when the Boosters followed them to Atlanta to open the season. The Giants lost three in a row. Then the Boosters went to New York for the first series there. The Giants lost three in a row. Some of the Boosters got up a private party and traveled to Houston in late June. The Giants lost—right—three in a row and, in the dugout, Captain Willie Mays and former Manager Clyde King got into a heated discussion. En masse once again, the Boosters returned to Houston for the final series there in early September. Don't ask.
In late September the Giants—accompanied by the ever-adoring Boosters—arrived in San Diego half a game in front in the National League West race. They departed from San Diego 1½ games behind and headed for Los Angeles. "Get them away from us," croaked Pitcher Mike McCormick, "before they start World War III."
This year the Boosters' luck is holding. On their latest trip to St. Louis and Chicago, they watched their heroes win one and lose five. With friends like that, who needs Los Angeles?
The Giants do not always lose in the presence of their fan club. Sometimes they get lucky, as happened in Montreal in May when they got snowed out instead. The next night, the shivering Giants went forth and helped set a Montreal record. They gave the Expos 15 runs in one game.
The impact of the Boosters is by no means limited to the regular season. Aboard a chartered 707 to Japan two years ago for a preseason exhibition series, the Boosters almost made McCormick's prophecy come true. Within 100 miles of the Siberian mainland, a well-moistened Booster appears to have switched on a transistor radio, possibly in an effort to catch the late Japanese scores. A part of the plane's navigational system was reduced to the consistency of marshmallows. Lights winked red at Omaha, MIGs scrambled over the Sea of Okhotsk and the Boosters' pilot executed a smart 180 and beat it back to Anchorage.
Allan B. Murray, a swinging 39-year-old bachelor with the face of a Campbell Soup kid, conceived the idea for the club in 1967 when he noticed how many San Franciscans chose to vacation in Phoenix in the late winter to be near their beloved Giants. Murray involved three innocent parties: a travel agency to package the tours; American Airlines to provide the transportation and assign one of its stewardesses to be known as Miss Booster; and the Giants themselves, whose attendance was falling so low they feared the Boosters might be their only customers. This year, fortunately, attendance is way up. Perhaps unfortunately, before the season ends the Boosters will have visited every city in the league except Pittsburgh. ("Blue laws," Murray explains.) Murray called Stan Musial to say the Boosters would dine in his St. Louis restaurant on Good Friday this year. "Great," said Musial. "I'll put on three extra bartenders."
Tolerance of the grape appears to have been an original article of incorporation. Rain forced the cancellation of a game during the Boosters' first spring in Phoenix. An emergency meeting was held between Giant Owner Horace Stoneham and Murray to determine how else to occupy the fans. The first suggestion—lock them in their rooms and impound all wheelchairs—was rejected in favor of transporting them 50 miles into the desert to Casa Grande, where the Giants have a minor league training camp, a hotel and bar. The Boosters were entranced. So was Jack Kane, the manager of Casa Grande. "Where'd you get this group?" he inquired admiringly of Stoneham. "They're not only older than you are but they drink more."
The first stewardess assigned by American Airlines to the role of Miss Booster, Anne Kelly, became known as Anne of the Two Hundred Days. On one occasion a Booster arrived late for an exhibition game in Phoenix, spotted Miss Kelly and asked her what the score was. Miss Kelly looked at the scoreboard, which showed, left to right, the runs, hits and errors for each team. "We're behind 231 to 0," she said sadly.
Miss Kelly lasted but one season. She was succeeded by Maureen Cassady, who on the Japan trip entered a restaurant in the Boosters' hotel to order a butterscotch sundae. "You Booster?" the waiter asked. Miss Cassady nodded. "Ah so," he said and disappeared. Shortly he returned with a pat of butter and a fifth of Scotch.
"Do not badger the players," Murray has advised busloads of Boosters. "They're human like you are." That last proposition is subject to dispute since the Boosters, in transit, have demonstrated a certain immunity to some mortal practices, such as sleep. "At five o'clock in the morning I would have shot them," said one Giant.
So how to account for the Giants' fine showing this year? "Easy," said a player. "Chloroform. They can't tell the difference." That and winning an awful lot of games at home.