Candlestick Park leaves us with frosty memories
Giants' former home headed for the deep freeze after 54 years of operation
While watching the San Francisco 49ers spend Monday night playing the likely last game at the chilly, foggy and windy former home of the Giants, I kept thinking about one person. It wasn't either of the two Willies (Mays and McCovey) or Juan Marichal. It wasn't any of those NFL greats, ranging from Bill Walsh to Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. It wasn't even Paul, John, George or Ringo, and I see you frowning. They are likely suspects because the Beatles held their last full concert ever at Candlestick Park.
It was Jack Clark. I kept seeing the legendary film clips and the noted personalities from Candlestick's 54 years in operation for baseball, football and other events, but I kept thinking about Clark, the slugging star of those occasionally decent but mostly dreadful Giants teams I covered for the San Francisco Examiner more than three decades ago.
Here's what I kept remembering: Clark fumed like never before after a home loss for the Giants during the 1980 season. He was upset with his reeling team, and he also wasn't pleased that he was spending another summer evening at Candlestick feeling as if he were in the center of the North Pole. This was a couple of months after the top half of Mount St. Helens exploded in the state of Washington, which is why Clark declared back then, "I wish there was a small Mount St. Helens underneath this place, because it has to go."
Well, it's gone. Not completely. San Francisco city officials say Candlestick won't meet its wrecking ball for another year or so. Still, after the 49ers survived the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, the gates essentially were closed forever on a stadium that must have been in the forefront of whoever invented the phrase: the good, the bad and the ugly. I saw all three of those things involving Candlestick while working in the Bay Area. So let's get the bad and the ugly out of the way, starting with Candlestick's weather.
I bought a winter coat just for July at Candlestick. How cold was it? After heading to my car after some of those Giants night games, I always expected to find icicles on my windshield. You couldn't find a chillier place to put a ballpark in Northern California, with the winds from the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay converging in a nasty way around a nearby hill. As a result, Giants players constantly whined about their fate. They loved to discuss the contrast between their frigid surroundings and the seemingly always sunny world of the Dodgers, their archrivals in Los Angeles.
Even though Frank Robinson wasn't exactly giddy over Candlestick's numerous issues after he took over the team for the 1981 season, he urged his players to, well, shut up. He asked them to turn the place into a unique home-field advantage, and it sort of worked. The Giants went in a flash from years of mediocrity to challenging the Dodgers and the Braves down the stretch of the NL West division race in 1982 before succumbing at the end.
The Giants' promotion department also embraced the cold. Ushers gave Croix de Candlestick pins to every fan that stayed through the end of extra-inning games at night. The pins featured the Giants' "SF" along with the Latin words "veni, vidi, vixi," which means "I came, I saw and I survived."
It sort of worked, too. There was a slight attendance bump at Candlestick, and emphasize the word "slight." With the splendor of wine country to the north and Monterey to the south, only so many Northern California natives and visitors have the willingness to attend baseball games in parkas and long underwear.
Not only that, Candlestick isn't Wrigley or Fenway for coziness. Many of its seats for baseball required fans to bring a telescope as well as binoculars. Plus, when the stadium was enclosed before the 1971 NFL season for the 49ers' permanent move from across town, Candlestick lost all of its charm that resulted from a brilliant view of San Francisco Bay. Then, 29 years later, that charm returned for the Giants, but it came in the form of AT&T Park, which is now a sparkling jewel in a friendlier part of the city for weather. It also has the greatest view beyond its outfield walls of any open-air facility in sports.
All of that was the bad about Candlestick. Or was that the ugly? Actually, that was just Candlestick, which nevertheless produced much good. It was the home for Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Mays, McCovey and Marichal during much of their careers. They never complained about the cold, and if they did, they did so in whispers instead of shouts.
Remember the earthquake during the 1989 World Series? Despite multiple fatalities and injuries throughout the Bay Area, Candlestick only rattled on its solid foundation to protect those packed inside.
Then there were the brats. I remember the brats during Giants games. Only the brats at Lambeau Field for Green Bay Packers home games could rival the ones that came from those old grills at Candlestick. And the view? It always was breathtaking during baseball season while driving north on Highway 101 toward downtown San Francisco, and then looking to your right for the ballpark sitting on the Bay with seagulls flying above.
Such a sight only occurred on sun-splattered days over Candlestick.
Thus the problem.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.