SAN FRANCISCO — So I was in the Bay Area visiting my dad over the All-Star break, and I thought I’d spend a bit of time visiting the site of the original home of the Giants when they moved to San Francisco in 1958, Seals Stadium.
Truth be told, this ballpark has been gone for more than 60 years and the only sign that baseball was once played there is a marker in the sidewalk at the corner of 16th & Bryant, which was the corner where the park entry was located:
That marker was placed in 2008, on the 50th anniversary of the Giants’ first game in San Francisco, which happened Tuesday, April 15, 1958. The Giants beat the Dodgers 8-0.
The Giants played one more year at Seals Stadium, which had a seating capacity of 25,000, before moving to Candlestick Park in 1960. That turned out to be a fiasco, as you can read in this great 2020 article by Grant Brisbee on the topic.
It was at the end of the 1959 season that the Cubs got involved in denying the Giants a National League pennant. The N.L. was fairly evenly matched all year, and from first place to last at season’s end was only 23 games (and only 16 from first to seventh). The Giants went into first place in early July, helped by Willie McCovey’s spectacular debut. McCovey batted .418/.473/.821 (28-for-67) with seven home runs in his first 18 games, and the Giants went 12-6 in those games. Eventually McCovey was named N.L. Rookie of the Year even though he played in just 52 games, batting 354/.429/.656 with 13 home runs.
With just eight games remaining in the season, the Giants were still in the top spot by two games. Their magic number to clinch the pennant was seven after they beat the Braves 13-6 on September 17.
Then disaster struck. The Giants got swept in a three-game series by the Dodgers in the last games they would ever play in Seals Stadium. But even that left the standings this way:
One game out with five games left, and the Giants headed to Wrigley Field for the first two of those five. The Cubs had contended for a while earlier in the year; as late as July 29 they were over .500 and just five games out of first place. A 12-16 August put them out of contention and they had long since been eliminated when, on a Tuesday and Wednesday in late September, just 5,442 and 4,940 came to Wrigley to see meaningful baseball — involving the visitors. (The Tribune reported that White Sox owner Bill Veeck and manager Al Lopez were in attendance for the second of those games.)
On Tuesday, September 22, the Giants led 4-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth. Cubs third baseman Al Dark — who would be the Giants’ manager two years later! — led off with a double. The next two hitters were routine fly outs.
George Altman batted next. Richard Dozer of the Tribune recapped it this way:
Rookie George Altman swung the first ax of demolition Tuesday as the Cubs’ pennant wrecking crew went to work on the crumbling baseball empire of the San Francisco Giants.
Altman hit a two run homer with two out in the ninth off “Saddest” Sam Jones, and this blast hoisted the free swinging Cubs to a 5 to 4 triumph that likened Wrigley Field to a burial plot for San Francisco’s pennant hopes.
The loss put the Giants two games out with four games remaining.
Then the Cubs did it again the next day, though this time they blew a ninth-inning lead and allowed the Giants to tie the game 8-8 on a home run by Willie Mays.
The Cubs had the winning run on third base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Altman and Lee Walls struck out. In the top of the 10th, Don Elston retired the Giants in order and Giants reliever Eddie Fisher recorded the first two outs in the last of the 10th easily, striking out Ernie Banks and former Giant Bobby Thomson.
Dozer, again, with the story:
Cal Neeman, the Cubs’ forgotten catcher, hit a 10th inning home run Wednesday and, with it, the San Francisco Giants became the National League’s forgotten pennant contender.
It was the seventh home run of a long afternoon at Wrigley Field. It gave the Cubs a 9 to 8 triumph and a two game sweep, Don Elston his second decision in 24 hours, and the Giants only a memory of what might have been.
Back-to-back games with walkoff homers for the Cubs? In THAT era? Against a pennant contender? You can only imagine the “Hey! Hey!”s of Jack Brickhouse after those Cubs wins. Sadly, no video of these games survives.
It wasn’t totally over for the Giants, despite what that article says. They were two games out with three games remaining. Had they swept their series in St. Louis while the Dodgers and Braves both lost at least two of three, they’d have wound up in a tie for first place.
The Dodgers were next to Wrigley, though, and won two of three from the Cubs, while the Braves won two of three from the last-place Phillies. Those two teams wound up in the first-place tie while the Giants lost two of three to the Cardinals and finished third. The Dodgers took two in a row in a tiebreaker series from the Braves, who were going for a third straight pennant, and defeated the White Sox in the World Series.
As noted above, the Giants never played at Seals Stadium again. It was torn down only a few weeks after the 1959 season ended and the only evidence a major league park was once there is the marker in the sidewalk. Otherwise the site is occupied by a Petco store, a Safeway supermarket, a Ross Dress for Less and several other strip-mall staples.
Tempus fugit. Here’s more on the history of Seals Stadium and what happened to the site after it was torn down.