A former home team on the brink of a championshipBy
The days of baseball are quickly drawing to a close. An hour ago, I flipped my calendar to November, and forty minutes before that, Brian Wilson completed what Madison Bumgarner to bring the San Francisco Giants one win away from their first World Series since 1954 when they were New York’s third team.
As New York City baseball history goes, the Giants seem to be the forgotten team. The Brooklyn Dodgers are the lovable losers of yesteryear whose departure left a Walter O’Malley- or Robert Moses-sized hole in the heart of the Borough of Kings. The Mets are the scrappy upstarts. The Yankees reign supreme.
But the Giants — 75-year veterans of Manhattan — are an afterthought. No one waxes nostalgic at the catches made by Willie Mays in the Polo Grounds, the five World Series titles they took home, their quirky ballpark on the bluff across the river from Yankee Stadium. Three thousand miles and 43 seasons removed from their last year in New York, the Giants could win the World Series today for the first time since New York.
When the Giants left town, the final game was treated like a celebratory funeral. Milton Bracker of The Times wrote about how fans stormed the field, taking anything they could from the Polo Grounds. “The mass pursuit,” he said, “was touched off by affection, excitement, nostalgia, curiosity and annoyance at the fact the team next year will represent San Francisco.”
The Giants came to New York by way of Troy in 1883 when the upstate team folded. The National League moved the franchise to New York and called it the Gothams for a few years. By the end of the 1880s, the team had inherited the Giants moniker and were a powerhouse of the early 1900s. By the time the team left for the windier pastures of San Francisco, fans were calling for the head of the owner and for the adulation of Willie Mays. “Stay, team, stay,” said the banner in the outfield, but it was too little, too late.
Of course, attendance — and a new ballpark — were the driving factors behind the Giants’ departure. They drew just a million fans a year over the last few seasons of their stay in the Polo Grounds. New York would not grant them a new stadium, and with Minneapolis and San Francisco vying for a club, the team’s days in the Big Apple were numbered. In fact, the Giants announced their departure from New York a week before the Dodgers did, and while O’Malley and Moses engaged in a ballpark fight until the bitter end, Horace Stoneham just picked up his team and left.
Today, Giants fans still live in New York. In 2008, Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing outed himself as one on the Banter, and more recently, Corey Kilgannon tracked down some old-time Giants fans who couldn’t watch the game due to the FOX/Cablevision dispute. “A lot of us never stopped rooting for the Giants after they moved, and the loyalty has been passed down to younger generations,” 81-year-old Bill Kent, a former Polo Grounds worker and current head of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society said. “So the Giants have a big fan base in New York, but you never hear about us.”
Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps Wednesday, the Giants will grab that elusive sixth World Series title. They’ve been waiting for 56 years and two coasts to win it, and most New Yorkers won’t blink. Perhaps we should though as a team that once called our fair city home will bring a trophy to its West Coast environs years after packing up the cats and shipping west.