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In Memoriam: Candlestick Park

“The trouble with this ball park is that they built it alongside the bay.  They should have built it under the bay.”–Roger Maris

“If I had to play here, I’d think seriously about quitting the game.”–Rocky Colovito

Candlestick in its early days.

Candlestick in its early days.

It’s no secret that Candlestick Park was not exactly loved by major league baseball players, nor by the ownership of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  But as possibly it’s last professional sporting event–last night’s 49ers-Falcons Monday Night Football game–has been played, it’s still worth noting some of the memorable events and players that graced this less-than-venerable venue.

It’s notable that Willie Mays put up some of the best offensive numbers in MLB history while playing more than half of the home games in his career there.  He battled the cold driving winds–conditions that had fans donning winter coats and blankets at times, even in mid-summer.  He became an opposite field hitter to go with the prevailing winds that on one occasion were so strong they blew a pitcher off the mound.  Names like McCovey, Marichal and  Bonds (both Bobby and Barry) also donned the SF Giants logo on this field.

As for football, there is no secret that the 49ers have wanted a new field for years, wanting more capacity and more modern amenities.  But NFL fans will remember for all times the championship exploits of  the likes of Montana, Young, Rice, Lott and Clark.

So what’s my point?  Lost in all the postmortems, let’s not forget one other brief moment in history.   Candlestick Park is where Bob Watson scored baseball’s 1 millionth run,  a story which I effectively created, and recount below.

Originally posted July 8, 2012

“In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”–Andy Warhol

Bob Watson

The date was May 4th, 1975.  The place was Candlestick Park, San Fransisco.  And the man of the hour was Bob Watson of the Houston Astros,  who scored the 1 millionth run in major league baseball history.  Watson beat Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds by four seconds in a race around the bases from opposite ends of the country.  It was one of the most exciting early-in-the-season baseball moments ever.

To this day Watson’s name, and to a lesser extent Concepcion’s, is associated with that event in baseball history.  But there was another name in the news that was connected to the story.  He was  a 24-year-old local sportscaster from Westport, CT who used a first generation, eighty dollar electronic calculator to research and originate the millionth run contest, thus scooping all the professional statisticians and baseball journalists.  He went on a media tour to promote a “guess-the-player” contest sponsored by Tootsie Roll.  His picture and name appeared in wire service stories, in Sport Magazine and in the New York Daily News.  He appeared on television and spoke at press conferences alongside the likes of Stan Musial, Ralph Branca, Mel Allen and Bowie Kuhn.  He had 15 minutes of Warholian fame.   Then came oblivion.

The 24-year old whiz kid with the calculator was, of course, me.

I was exhilarated, excited and even euphoric;  then it was over.   And for thirty-something years the memory simply faded, almost to the point that it seemed to have happened to another person in

Millionth run center

The 1,000,000th run countdown center. That’s me talking to the gathered media as Stan Musial naps in the background. Check out my 1975 hair!

another lifetime.  It became just another forgotten footnote in the deep and illustrious history of our national pastime.  After awhile, I didn’t even care, so why should anybody else?

Then something funny happened.  Straight out the blue, nearly four years ago, I received an email from Kansas City Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski.

“Are you the Mark Sackler who originated the millionth run?” he asked.  “I’m writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.  I want to include it and the events involving Davey Concepcion as an interesting sidebar to the season’s story.”

The next year, The Machine, Posnanski’s book chronicling a great season by one of the best teams in the game’s history, appeared in bookstores with a chapter on the millionth run.  After 34 years, somebody remembered.   My sister joked that I was getting another 15 minutes of fame.  My retort was that it was more like 30 seconds.

But then it happened again.  A few months ago, a gentleman named Timothy Gregg contacted me on Facebook to make the same inquiry.  Was I the millionth run originator?  Gregg, also a former sportscaster and sports promoter, now a digital media producer, was co-authoring the memoirs of Houston Astros TV commentator Bill Brown.  Of course, there would be a chapter on the millionth run in that book as well.  This time not from the Reds point of view, but the Astros.   This book–My Baseball Journeywas just recently published.  So fifteen minutes of fame is now fifteen minutes and forty-five seconds.   And counting…

If you are a baseball fan, both of these books are worthwhile.  Otherwise, stay tuned for more effluvia from my hopelessly cluttered cranium.

Comments

  1. Love it, Mark. It’s one of those ballparks that’s so disliked that it won’t be soon forgotten. It was also home to the hated Krazy Krab.That eighty dollar calculator must have been something back in the day!

  2. I also forgot to mention, it’s where the Beatles played their last concert…to an only half-full house.

  3. I remember seeing a football game there and nearly froze. Wound up leaving half way through…just wasn’t worth the pain. Nice post!

  4. Great story, which includes sort of parenthetically, one of my boyhood heroes, Stan Musial. I grew up in southwest Missouri at the time when the St. Louis Cardinals were the farthest-west team in baseball. Stan was, indeed, “The Man” then to me and my friends. Years later, I got to meet him at his restaurant, “Stan and Biggies” in St. Louis and at 45, I was just as star-struck as I would have been had I been ten years old. He was as gracious as could be and autographed a baseball for me.

    Congratulations on your continuing fifteen minutes of fame. Most people don’t even get one shot at it.

  5. Growing up in the Bay Area as a fan of the Giants and 49ers, I’ve attended so many games at “The Stick” that I can’t remember them all. But, here’s a few memories:

    My dad used to take me to Giants games in the Sixties before the stadium was enclosed. The wind would blow so hard in the springtime from left field to right field that it seemed like some eerie malevolent monster. But, the Giants were a real joy. They were one of the most talented baseball teams I’ve ever watched. Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Ray Hart, and on and on and on…

    After the stadium was enclosed, the wind would swirl around like a mischievous imp hurling mustard-stained hotdog wrappers in every direction. In the stands, you had to constantly keep your head on a swivel to avoid getting plastered with flying debris.

    The upper deck in center field was brutal! You’d get sunburned and windburned at the same time. It was kind of like being freeze-dried.

    At a game in 1989 when the 49ers blew out the Atlanta Falcons, I got the entire west end of the north end zone to verbally harass rookie kick returner Dejon Sanders. No vulgarity, but we tortured him so bad that he started running out of bounds at the 10 yard line before being tackled! We chanted, “they’re coming your way Neon… they’re coming your way… Neon… Neon… Neon…”

    And, my sincere apologies to Giants slugger Jack Clark. At one early season game in the mid-1970’s, I was behind home plate with my camera when he strolled up to bat. He had just signed a big contract worth about 1.6 million per year. Unfortunately, he was batting only about .150 at the time. Before the first pitch I said to him, “Hey Jack, your batting average is lower than the contract you just signed.” He stopped his practice swings, turned around and glared at me for the longest time. I snapped a picture. He then proceeded to strike out on three pitches. What a jerk I was! If there wasn’t a chain link fence between us, I think he would’ve run into the stands and kicked my ass!

    Farewell Candlestick, I’m going to miss you.

  6. I had a love-hate relationship with the place, but it was a part of my life for so long. I can not recall how many times I was there. Between rock concerts as a teenager, baseball games, football games and a few Fourth of July fireworks shows it all seems like one frigid blur. Candlestick Park is the only place around here where it truly felt like Christmas in July. Brr.

  7. Mark…I’m so excited that I got to meet such a celebrated personage (you, of course) face-to-face. Just regret that I failed to collect an autograph! ;o)

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