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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.

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