Sports rivalries are generally fun for players, especially during the long major league baseball season, as they inject some often-needed energy into teams and into the season. However, the passion involved takes some top sports rivalries too far. Such was my experience for the #16 major league rated stadium of yesteryear, even though I was only part of it at the major league level for a short span.
Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, gets the second worst rating on my list of major league stadiums that I played in, as it was not a friendly place for a Los Angeles Dodger. Additionally, it was another one of the major league stadiums that had seen its day and where I did nothing remarkable, or even memorable in, so it had little chance of being high in my rankings. As mentioned in my rating of #17 rated Cleveland Municipal, the top criteria for my rankings is how I played there. Even beautiful stadiums were ugly, when not playing well in them.
It hurts though to put the stadium, where the great Willie Mays roamed the outfield, this low on the list. I can still picture the catch he made when he crashed into the wall and into Bobby Bonds at the same time, while still holding on to the ball. However, the rest of my memories of Candlestick are not good ones.
Ugliness of Top Sports Rivalries
There are sports rivalries and then there are “Sports Rivalries.” In hindsight, I guess I was fortunate and unfortunate to be part of one of the greatest rivalries in all of sport – Dodgers/ Giants. I was fortunate to have had the experience of being part of a genuine sports rivalry and what that entails, especially the feelings of the added adrenaline rush, the satisfaction of beating a rival and the extra disappointment of losing to a bitter rival. Such is the nature of sport and it provides experiences to cherish, forever. The unfortunate part is the recognition of the darker side of sport, when things go away from what sport should be about.
From the time I became a Dodger (1976), there was always a different vibe to the games when we played Giants affiliated teams. Even at the lowest levels of A ball, not to mention spring training and fall instructional league games, we learned there was more at stake against the Giants. Losing to the Giants was not acceptable for ‘any and all” Dodger teams, no matter how insignificant the game – just the way it was. At the major league level, the rivalry often went beyond a normal rivalry, with the added energy of fans and media.
The first thing that gives Dodger players a clue that Candlestick Park will not be pleasant, besides the cold wind, is the attitude of the fans towards the Dodgers. Spiteful is the word that comes to mind. Games against the Dodgers brought out the worst in them, as happens with many top sports rivalries. One night, the unthinkable happened; many of my Dodger teammates ended up in the stands, duking it out with the loyal Giant faithful. That is a story for another day, but it is my most memorable event from Candlestick Park, as we had to have a police escort after the game to simply get to our clubhouse.
Lessons learned before playing at Candlestick – Top Sports Rivalries
Dodger rookies learned three lessons before going to Candlestick Park:
Lesson 1 – Dress warm – even though it is beautiful California, it was generally cold and windy at Candlestick. Something about the way the winds swirled could not only make fly balls tough to catch, but they made a crowd of 15,000 fans sound like 70,000.
Lesson 2 – Warn any family members and friends going to the games at Candlestick, especially wives, to refrain from wearing Dodger gear and from giving any indication that they have a Dodger player for a relative or friend. Once known, the verbal abuse from the Giant fans make attending games quite uncomfortable.
Lesson 3 – Basic math – the shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but the safest distance was not that at Candlestick Park. The visitors’ clubhouse was down the right field line, with the visitors’ dugout being on the third base line. Walking directly to the clubhouse was not a good idea as one risked injury from thrown objects, or at the least, learning things about your mama that you never knew. Taking the route out around second base was most prudent.
Of course, it was probably a similar experience for Giant players, when they attended Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, but I cannot speak for that. Many unfortunate and tragic events before during and after Dodger/Giant games, in the years since I was there, prove this top sports rivalry still involves the unfortunate side of sport.
The years since my playing days have helped me appreciate top sports rivalries and have a better understanding of them. My experience of the Dodger/Giant rivalry has helped me write about the positive and negative aspects of sport, to hopefully give people an understanding of the dark side of sport, along with the good side.
A hint about the #15 rated stadium on my rankings of the major league stadiums of yesteryear – “No hitter.”