There are a lot memories, a lot of history, being left at Candlestick Park. Willie Mays recorded his 3,000th hit at The Stick; Bill Walsh won his first NFL game and O.J. Simpson played his final game at Candlestick; a massive earthquake rocked the Bay Area and the 1989 World Series; um, Jerry Rice (enough said); and Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and the miraculous “Catch.”
These are good times in San Francisco sports history, and what sports fan doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for the glory and goosebumps that accompany Candlestick Park? The Stick is part of our collective sports past. During Monday Night Football, potentially the final game in Candlestick history, ESPN reminded us of the greatness in name and performance that now represents the hallowed ground. But don’t be fooled by the drama and romance. The truth is, Candlestick Park has long been thought of as miserable.
Candlestick Park opened in 1960. According to Jonathan Fraser Light, author of the Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball, the ballpark was named for the “tall trees and jagged rocks in the nearby area known as Candlestick Point.” The ballpark received rave reviews when it opened. Candlestick Park was touted as the first American stadium to be built entirely of reinforced concrete, and included state-of-the-art features. Fans would be treated to radiant heating under the seats and first modern baseball scoreboard.
“This will be one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time,” said then vice president Richard Nixon, who made history throwing out the first pitch.
One year later Major League Baseball hosted the All-Star Game at Candlestick, an opportunity for the entire nation to experience Candlestick, warts and all. The game was marred by reports of heat prostration — or hear exhaustion — a condition brought on by intense or prolonged exposure to heat, characterized by profuse sweating with loss of fluids and salts, pale and damp skin, rapid pulse, nausea, and dizziness, progressing to collapse. Final score: National League – 5, American League – 4, Heat exhaustion – 95 cases.
Hey, take me out to the ballgame? Sounds like fun.
In 1962, San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli — the “King of Torts” — filed a lawsuit against the Giants in an attempt to get a refund of his season tickets claiming “breach-of-warranty” and “fraudulent misrepresentation.” He accused Giants owner Horace Stoneham of not turning on the radiant heating under the seats. During the trial Belli wore a winter parka and called an Abercrombie and Fitch salesperson to testify on “outfitting arctic groups with cold weather gear.” Belli eventually won his lawsuit and was awarded $1,886.59 for his pain and suffering. The Giants responded by putting a disclaimer in their game scorecards.
The Giants finally decided enough was enough, enclosing the stadium in 1971. Architects and team owners believed the modifications would serve to accommodate the 49ers while diminishing the powerful winds during the baseball season. To no avail.
Twenty five years after Nixon called Candlestick Park one of “the most beautiful baseball parks of all time,” the Sporting News labeled The Stick “baseball’s worst ball park.”
The Giants played their final game at The Stick in September 1999, losing 8-4 to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers; coincidentally, the final out was recorded at 4:35 p.m., the same minute the final out was record at the Polo Grounds.
“When we left Candlestick in 1999 for AT&T Park, it was very much a bittersweet feeling,” said San Francisco Giants owner Larry Baer. “There are memories there that will not leave. Willie Mays patrolling center field, Juan Marichal’s high leg kick on the mound. I think people are able to separate out the wind and the conditions from the memories.”
Try and convince former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog that. “Sitting in the dugout [at Candlestick Park] is like sitting in the bottom of a toilet,” he said. “All that tissues blows in, and no one flushes it.”
Or, Dwight Clark, who experienced his greatest professional moment at Candlestick Park. “It was a dump,” he said. “But it was our dump.”