TACOMA, Wash. – In October 1954 Willie Mays, in full flight, made an over-the-shoulder catch for the New York Giants that brought the screaming crowd at the World Series game in Upper Manhattan to its feet. The legendary moment rolled the Cleveland Indians over and ushered the Giants to a brilliant sweep of the series.
As Rob Garratt writes in his new book, Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants (University of Nebraska Press, April 2017), it was a moment when the future for the New York Major League Baseball team and its fans looked bright indeed.
However, what followed was not what the team’s affable owner, Horace Stoneham, hoped for. In 1957, faced by a growing array of empty seats and a realization that the aging Polo Grounds stadium was failing to meet fans’ needs, Stoneham decided to move to San Francisco.
Over the ensuing five decades a moving and remarkable story unfolded—a story told by Garratt with the intimacy of a fan and the faithfulness of a scholar. The Giants’ topsy-turvy relationship with its new city, the later ill-fated trade of Willie Mays, and Stoneham’s final realization that he could no longer afford the team—only to see the new owners take the Giants to the top of the league once again—are portrayed over 260 highly readable pages.
Home Team presents Stoneham, who was often left in the shadow of the Dodgers’ colorful owner Walter O’Malley, as a true baseball pioneer in his willingness to sign African American and Latino players, and his recruitment of the first Japanese player in the Major Leagues. The book covers the dominant personalities of the West Coast game and shines a light on those who worked behind the scenes: the politicians, businessmen, owners, sports writers, coaches, and fans.
Garratt also digs deep into the unnerving change of culture that a sports team faces when arriving in a new city, where they have to win over ardent and demanding fans.
“After early successes with near misses at league pennants and a World Series championship, there were troubled times, both on the field and at the box office, when attendance slumped so badly that the team almost left town, not once, but twice,” Garratt writes about the team’s San Francisco experience. “These periods of ups and downs over the years were indicative of a team struggling with its connection to the city.”
From ballpark, to boardroom, to courtroom, it was an erratic road before the Giants finally made it to the point where they could legitimately lay claim to the book’s title—as the city of San Francisco’s home team.
“A good reason to read Home Team is the chance to get to know Horace Stoneham the way I did,” wrote Willie Mays for the book jacket. “He was a good friend, a hard worker, and a great man. He did a lot for me and for baseball.”
“Once you begin the journey with Garratt you won’t stop until the first pitch at PacBell Park in 2000,” Marty Lurie, the Giants pre-and-post game radio host of the Bay Area’s KNBR 680, wrote. “Home Team is a must for any baseball fan.”
Robert F. Garratt is emeritus professor of English and humanities at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. He has published books and articles on modern Irish literature, including the recent Trauma and History in the Irish Novel: The Return of the Dead. His baseball articles have appeared in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Baseball Biography Project.
Press photos of Rob Garratt and the book cover can be downloaded from pugetsound.edu/pressphotos.
Photos on page: From top right: Book cover; Willie Mays baseball card, by Bowman Gum (public domain); Rob Garratt, by Linda O'Connell
For a copy of the book or more information visit: amazon.com/Home-Team-Turbulent-History-Francisco/dp/080328683X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491936232&sr=8-1&keywords=home+team
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