Richard Nixon was probably sincere when, on April 12th, 1960, he proclaimed the San Francisco Giants’ new ballpark as the “finest in America.” However, it would not be long before Candlestick Park would have as many critics as, well, Richard Nixon. In any case, this week marks the 50th anniversary of Candlestick Park’s opening, although the event has gone almost unnoticed, as the Giants themselves are more inclined to celebrate the fact that this season, their current ballpark, AT&T Park, turns ten.
One of the factors that convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move his ball-club from New York to San Francisco after the 1957 season was the promise of a new stadium, complete with plenty of parking. Stoneham was shown the projected site by San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, which was an area located in the Southeastern part of the city, a section by the bay near Candlestick Point. The land had more than enough room for both a stadium and an extensive parking lot, but it also, unbeknownst to Stoneham, happened to be just about the coldest and windiest spot in all of San Francisco. Construction began in 1958, while the newly transplanted Giants spent their first two seasons in San Francisco playing their home games in tiny Seals Stadium. A prelude to the future happened one afternoon when Giants vice president Chub Feeney paid a visit to the Candlestick construction site, and noticed debris blowing every which way. “Is it always this windy?” Feeney asked one of the workmen. The answer he received was “only between one and five.”
The major league baseball landscape was a bit different on April 12th, 1960 when the Giants hosted the St. Louis Cardinals on Opening Day. The National League was still comprised of eight teams, each playing a 154 game schedule, which meant the Giants-Cardinals game represented the first of 22 meetings between the two clubs. The combined payroll for the two squads totaled around $800,000, which today might get you Barry Zito…for a week. St Louis right-fielder Joe Cunningham became Candlestick’s first ever batter, and the 42,269 fans who filled the new park cheered when Giant’s starting pitcher Sam Jones induced him to foul out. Two batters later, Bill White got Candlestick Park’s first hit, a single to right. The bottom of the first saw Orlando Cepeda, starting in left-field that day, produce the park’s first RBI’s , as he ripped a two-run triple. San Francisco went on to win 3-1, with Jones limiting the Cards to three hits, one of those being Candlestick’s first homer, a bases empty blast by Leon Wagner in the fifth.
After winning 18 of their first 25 games, both the team and the new ballpark began to face adversity. Although the 1960 Giants set of franchise attendance record of nearly 1.7 million, fans began complaining about watching baseball while nearly freezing to death in a cold stadium. Visiting players found Candlestick Park a near nightmare, as the prevailing winds made any attempt to field a pop-up or a fly ball a fool’s mission. Despite their quick start, the Giants slowly began to sink in the standings, and 58 games into the season, manager Bill Rigney was fired, replaced by Tom Sheehan. Even with future Hall of Fame players Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal in their lineup, San Francisco would end the 1960 season in fifth place, at 79-75.
History has happened countless times at Candlestick Park over the last 50 years, much of it of course, being made by the San Francisco Forty-Niners, who have called the stadium home since 1971. Although Candlestick has never received the kind of affection afforded to the likes of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, the list of noteworthy events that took place there is quite impressive. With a resume that includes two MBL All-Star games, two World Series, three NLCS Championship series, six NFC Championships, the Beatles final concert (8-29-66) and a 7.1 on the Richter Scale earthquake, one hopes that when the place is finally torn down, Candlestick Park will at least rate a decent monument.
Note: Readers are invited to share any Candlestick Park memories in the comments section.