Memories of an Old New York Giants Baseball Fan
by Dick Wilson
I grew up in Lynbrook, a small village on Long Island, barely 15 miles from Ebbets Field and 20 miles or so from the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. You could get to these ballparks for only .15¢, .10¢ for a bus to Jamaica and .05¢ for the subway in any direction. Bleacher seats were .55¢, and general admission seats were $1.10, reserved seats $1.65 and box seats were $2.20. Peanuts, Cracker Jacks, scorecards, hot dogs, soda and ice cream sandwiches all sold for a dime. Even at those low prices not many of us could afford to go to a ball game very often. But when we did go, we picked our spots – and it was almost always a doubleheader. Twin bills were common in those days. Many were scheduled in advance. Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day saw almost all Major League teams playing doubleheaders. A rain-out invariably was made up with a double-header as soon as possible. Day/Nite doubleheaders (with separate admissions) were unheard of and only came into being much later.
By the time I was 9 years old I was a rapid Giant fan. My dad took me to the Polo Grounds as often as he could afford to, and that was not very often! But when we went it was almost always to a doubleheader. No matter how many hours the games lasted, we never left early. The only thing that mattered to me was the outcome. If the Giants won two, it was a perfect day. If they split, it was a disappointment and if they lost both games it was an unmitigated disaster. I have probably attended a total of 200 Major League baseball games and a good number of minor league games and I have never heard a fan complain about the length of a single game or the number of hours it took to play a doubleheader. All such complaints seem to come from sportswriters and broadcasters who are paid to be there. Apparently, they get sick of it after a while. I can’t say I feel sorry for them and I do wish they would stop complaining!
I was at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951 when Bobby Thompson hit the famous home run off Ralph Branca to win the pennant for the Giants. It was the most excited I have ever been in my entire life. And I was there for the opening game of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians when Willie Mays made his famous catch in the deepest part of center field. I was seated in the last seat of the top row in the upper deck of the right field stands. Willie made the catch right in front of and directly below me, and I could not see him make the catch! Suffice it to say that the Polo Grounds was not a very good place to watch a baseball game. The sight-lines were terrible. There were very few general admission seats which permitted you to see the entire field. I couldn’t see Willie make THE catch, but I saw him steal second base in the 10th inning and set the stage for the home run by Dusty Rhodes which won the game for the Giants. Willie’s catch was made just under 500 feet from home plate. The home run by Dusty Rhodes was merely a pop fly which landed just fair, slightly more than 250 feet from home plate. The Indians lamented that they were victimized by the “longest out” and the “shortest homer” and went on to lose the Series in four straight games. If Willie Mays had not made that catch, the Indians would have won that first game and might well have gone on to win the series. That’s baseball! It is wildly unpredictable and often packed with extreme suspense and high drama. There’s not another game like it!
Sad to say, I was at the Polo Grounds on a late September day in 1957 when the New York Giants played their last game prior to their departure to San Francisco. It was a very sad day, to say the least. The Giants lost the game by a big score and Willie Mays was hitless, but he received a standing ovation from the assembled Giants fans when he grounded out to second on his final at-bat. It was our way of saying a fond and sad "goodbye" to Willie and paying tribute to the greatest ballplayer any of us had ever seen, or ever expected to see.