Our Trips To Other Ballparks: Part 2 – Candlestick Park
by Lincoln Mitchell
April 11, 2021
Excerpted from Lincoln A. Mitchell, The Giants and Their City: Major League Baseball in San Francisco, 1976—1992. Copyright © 2021 by The Kent State University Press. Used by permission.
We continue our stories and recollections of other ballparks with this exclusive excerpt from Lincoln Mitchell’s new book! You can purchase this book here!
One of the appeals of watching a baseball game in person, if you have good seats, rather than on television is the ability to see the players up close and even to see their faces. This is less of an issue in football because the players are wearing masks anyway. Until 1957, most ballparks, such as Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and the Polo Grounds, which was home to the Giants before they moved to San Francisco, offered this intimacy. Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston, which are still in use today, also allow fans to get very close to the action on the field. Many of the newer baseball-only ballparks, like Oracle Park, Camden Yards in Baltimore, or PNC Park in Pittsburgh, do as well. Multiuse stadiums like Candlestick did not.
These problems beset all multiuse stadiums of the era, but Candlestick had an entirely different set of shortcomings that created problems for the team. San Francisco is a city of microclimates. Locals may occasionally over- state the extent to which each neighborhood has a different climate, but it is nonetheless true that the weather can vary substantially from neighborhood to neighborhood. San Franciscans have an intuitive awareness of this. All San Franciscans understand that, for example, the Outer Sunset is almost always foggier and colder than Noe Valley or the Mission, or that the Fillmore is usually warmer than the Richmond District. In general, the western part of the city is cooler than the central part of the city, while the wind is usually strongest either on top of big hills like Twin Peaks or closest to the water.
The climates of different San Francisco neighborhoods are not exactly secrets. Almost all San Franciscans know this, and dress and plan accordingly. However, Horace Stoneham was not a San Franciscan and did not immediately reject the idea of a ballpark at Candlestick Point. Candlestick Point is a small peninsula extending out into San Francisco Bay in the south- eastern corner of the city. It is part of a neighborhood known as Hunters Point, or Bayview–Hunters Point. The climate in that neighborhood is not bad. In fact, during the daytime it can be quite pleasant. Hunters Point in the afternoon is a much better place for a ball game than the Sunset, the Richmond, or even the Marina District.
Most San Franciscans were aware of this in the late 1950s when the Giants were preparing to move to San Francisco, but they were also aware that at night, the climate at Candlestick Point changes dramatically. By late afternoon, the wind, sometimes accompanied by fog, blows off the bay, driving the tempera- ture down rapidly and creating an environment that is not at all amenable to baseball. As a non–San Franciscan, Horace Stoneham would not have known this when he visited the location of his future ballpark during the daytime on his way to a luncheon welcoming him and the Giants to San Francisco. While Stoneham could be forgiven for this oversight, it is less clear why politicians, developers, or anyone else who understood San Francisco would have located a brand-new ballpark in such a dreadful location.
By the time Bob Lurie bought the Giants in 1976, Candlestick had been the Giants’ home for more than 15 years and the legend of the cold and wind was already formidable. Corey Busch recounted how at the time Lurie bought the team, there were already concerns about the ballpark: “It was clear that Candlestick Park was a mistake and it was an inhibitor to economic sustain- ability or financial sustainability of the team and the team had not really taken root in the community.” When Candlestick was initially designed the builders and architects were aware of the problem presented by the wind and cold and sought to address it through an elaborate heating system that would have warmed up the seats through pumping steam heat through pipes underneath the floors where seats were located. This was an ambitious idea, but although the heating system was built, it never worked.
When Candlestick Park was first constructed, the outfield did not have a second deck. This allowed the wind to enter the ballpark unabated, so before the 1971 season, at the time the 49ers were moving to Candlestick, the upper deck was enclosed. This may have reduced the wind, but it also created a whirlwind effect on windy nights where napkins, hot dog wrappers, occasion- ally all-star ballots, and the like would blow around the ballpark in dervish-like circles. The problem was always more acute for baseball, which is meant to be played in warmer weather, while for the 49ers the weather was never a big problem at Candlestick. Football players and fans are used to cold weather, and in San Francisco summer nights can be colder than winter nights.
Players and fans were unified in their disdain for Candlestick. Kevin Mitch- ell first played in Candlestick Park in 1986 when he was a rookie with the New York Mets. He described his initial reaction to the Giants’ home ballpark: “The first thing I thought about was how do they play in this ballpark with all this wind blowing. I could never play here. Never.”
Chris Speier played for the Giants from 1971 through early in the 1977 season and again from late 1987 through 1989 and said that “there is no question in my mind that Candlestick Park was probably the worst place to play baseball of any major-league park in the country—or out of the country. Even Montreal in April was warmer or more baseball conducive than Candlestick Park.”
Dusty Baker, who has been in baseball for more than 50 years as a player, coach, and manager with several teams, including serving in all three capacities with the Giants, was slightly more charitable in his discussion of Candlestick Park: “It was cold. It was miserable. When it was beautiful, it was beautiful, but it just wasn’t beautiful that often.” Baker also suggested that the Giants sometimes got an advantage because of their ballpark: “Most of the stars, if they had a west coast trip . . . guys wouldn’t take days off in beautiful LA. They wouldn’t take days off in San Diego. Because they would try to fatten up their average and it was beautiful, and they would take days off in San Francisco. . . I couldn’t because all my family was there watching.”
Bud Selig never played in Candlestick Park, but the longtime Milwaukee Brewers owner and later baseball commissioner described the Giants’ erst- while home in simple and unambiguous language: “It was a horrible ballpark, by the way…My first trip there was in 1964 and I was stunned at that time how bad it was. I was there with the Milwaukee Braves in the middle of summer and you froze to death. It was brutal…It was really wholly inadequate. Bob [Lurie] was absolutely right about that.”
Few Giants ever hated Candlestick Park as much as Bobby Murcer. Murcer, who died in 2008, is best known as a Yankee. He played his first games with that franchise in 1965 when he was a 19-year-old, highly touted center field prospect from Oklahoma. This led many in the New York media to call Murcer the next Mickey Mantle (Mantle also hailed from Oklahoma). Murcer never quite lived up to that, but from 1969 to 1974 he was one of the best players in the American League, hitting .285/.357/.464 while being named to four all-star teams. Murcer also ended his career with the Yankees, playing there as a pinch hitter, DH, and occasional outfielder from 1979 to 1983.
Following the 1974 season, the Giants and Yankees made one of the big- gest blockbuster trades of the era. The Giants sent Bobby Bonds, a fast and powerful outfielder who was their best player at the time, to the Yankees in exchange for Bobby Murcer—the next Willie Mays for the next Mickey Mantle. Murcer only spent two years with the Giants before being sent to the Cubs for Bill Madlock, but during those two years Murcer was generally miserable playing at Candlestick. Speier described Murcer’s view on Candlestick: “It was really funny [Murcer would say] ‘I hit three balls today at Candlestick Park that would have been homers at Yankee Stadium this place sucks, get me the hell out of here.’ It was miserable for him and most people that came here from different organizations. It was just not a place to play baseball.” Long- time Giants clubhouse man Mike Murphy described Murcer’s tenure with the Giants as dreadful for the once and future Yankee: “He was great in spring training. . . . Then he got to Candlestick. One day he says ‘Murph, I’ll pay somebody to blow up this place.’ He’d come in between innings and sit in the sauna. He says ‘I hate this city. I hate this ballpark. I hate everything.’”