“It sort of sneaks up on you, does baseball season. Warm winter weather gives way to wintry spring weather, and one day you notice that the kids in the playground at the corner have put away the basketball,” wrote columnist Herb Caen on Opening Day, April 1971. The words are true today, as a new baseball season is arriving.
Amidst tears of sadness and joy shed over Candlestick Park’s recent closing, it is worth remembering that “The ‘Stick’s” layout originated in 1971, when cramped Kezar Stadium was abandoned by the 49ers in favor of the more parking-friendly location on the city’s edge. The result: goodbye baseball-only park; hello ongoing conversion to a multi-use stadium. Candlestick’s then-new features—not attributes—were rock-hard AstroTurf, an enclosing outfield area negating visibility of the outside world, and unfinished construction in several directions resembling “a construction job deserted by the hardhats after a hot labor-management dispute,” as another San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Charles McCabe, described it.
Such a pedestrian environment does not conjure visions of high society. Yet, undeterred, socialites answered the Opening Day bell, as they had annually since the Giants’ 1958 arrival from New York. At the Fairmont’s Venetian Room, Louis Lurie, father of future Giants’ owner Robert Lurie, hosted a pre-game brunch for 200 friends, after which several reserved buses took the group to the ballpark. Another party arrived there after attending an Opening Day lunch at Trader Vic’s. A similarly affluent Hillsborough contingent arrived by station wagon and Volkswagen bus (remember those?) for pre-game tailgate picnics. Men were attired in suits, while women sported exquisitely tasteful dresses and sun hats. The women were particularly grateful for the newly installed red-and-orange plastic seats, which did not snag their hosiery as Candlestick’s wooden predecessors had for the past 11 years.
With corporate luxury suites non-existent at that time, notables sat in the highly coveted $4.50 box seats next to the Giants’ dugout, along first base. Today those seats ($26 in 2014 inflation-adjusted terms) retail at AT&T Park for $90 to $245, per the new “dynamic pricing,” and require a $15,000 to $87,500 charter seat license.
Entertainment was provided by a strolling Dixieland band, which, upon spying Ida (Mrs. Harold) Brown, serenaded her with, “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider.” Another group, The Red Garter Band, broke slightly with tradition, playing such fare as, “Baby Face” throughout the park. As McCabe sneered, this band was Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham’s idea of being “with it,” since his idea of a “rock group [was] something the seals play on out by the Great Highway.”
Overall, the crowd was, per McCabe, “an American smorgasbord,” with “Old Glory waving lazily in a slight and salubrious breeze,” and “a loving sun on shirt sleeves and bright print frocks” fashioning a gorgeous spring day. Racier female fans arrived in pants, mini-skirts, and the 1971 mod fashion statement: hot pants and high-heeled boots. A male enthusiast, identified by the Chronicle as “Al the Fan,” watched, after having conducted his own toast to Opening Day with a boilermaker at The Double Play tavern. If anyone wanted to smoke, cigarette packs were available for 55 cents.
“While construction cranes dipped and rose like giant birds” in the background, as described by Examiner columnist Wells Twombly, just-retired Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges introduced the Giants and their opponents, the San Diego Padres, followed by the Sixth Army Band’s rendition of the National Anthem. After a lady Marine led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Joseph Alioto threw out the ceremonial first pitch from his box seat.
Finally settled in, 29,847 fans were treated to watching a formidable team, featuring four future-Hall of Famers: 40-years-young centerfielder Willie Mays, first baseman Willie McCovey, and pitchers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. Right behind them was superlative outfielder Bobby Bonds, Barry’s father. The Giants prevailed 5-0 on a complete game by Perry, who assuredly used his illegal but well-cloaked spitball to silence San Diego’s bats: another successful outing by the craftiest cheater in Giants history.
As Caen summed up best that day, “. . . baseball picked the spring season for its opening. In the springtime, magically, we all become young again, and since baseball was part of our young lives, we are trapped in its nostalgic grip forever.”
Dan Van DeMortel is a member of the San Francisco chapter of Society for American Baseball Research. His writings will appear this summer in that group’s publication, The National Pastime. He lives in San Francisco and is currently writing a book on the 1971 San Francisco Giants. He welcomes feedback and baseball memories at email@example.com.