For many of today’s younger baseball fans, the Giants are only ever associated with San Francisco. But for many older fans, they will always remember the Giants from their East Coast days. The double exodus of the Dodgers and the Giants caused a good deal of controversy, but at the same time allowed one of the greatest sporting rivalries to continue, something for which all fans can be grateful.
Early Days at the Polo Grounds
Originating in New York in 1883, and at first known as the Gothams, the Giants moved to California in the run-up to the 1958 season, becoming the San Francisco Giants, just as the Brooklyn Dodgers became the LA Dodgers at the same juncture. During that first period in New York, the Giants won five World Series, alongside a magnificent record of 17 NL Pennants. Their home was the historic Polo Grounds, where many fierce contests were fought, the deeply-felt rivalries not only with the Dodgers but also the Yankees. The name of the Giants supplanted the Gothams when team manager praised them, with characteristic post-victory warmth, as ‘My big fellows! My Giants!’ The name stuck.
In their early years, they were one of the most powerful clubs in their division. While drops in form followed this early dominance, the turn of the twentieth century saw the Giants begin to rise to their prior stature- and beyond.
The Legend of John McGraw
One of the main reasons for the resurgence was John McGraw, who managed them for thirty years, initially as a player-manager. McGraw was responsible for three of those five NY-era World Series victories and nine of the NL Pennants. Pennant number ten, and an almost-inevitable fourth World Series followed under McGraw when he followed his managerial career with a new role: that of club owner!
The years after McGraw had their share of successes, though the war years posed difficulties. The Yankees grew as a threat, and too-often for fans, the Giants played catch-up. But the 50s showed the Giants at arguably their best; the baseball history books are thick with references to their exploits from those years, not least the Shot Heard Around the World in 1951, Bobby Thomson’s homer and the culmination of the Miracle.
Willie Mays and Moving On
Among their team roster at this time was the superlative Willie Mays, labelled by many commentators as the greatest player the game has ever known. His skills and achievements, long before the days of performance enhancement scandals, have become more remarkable with time. Mays and the wealth of talent among his team-mates allowed the club to live up to their name: they were truly Giants.
But the change from East Coast to West came, to the dismay of many. Despite the grief to fans, the move worked, and the franchise has gone from strength to strength, much as the Dodgers franchise has done. In our next blog, we will take a look at the joint history of the Giants and Dodgers on the West Coast, how their rivalry has been fought, and how both clubs are faring in the present season.
Originally published at No Halftime.