So why do the San Francisco Giants wear orange and black?
My former colleague from the San Francisco Chronicle, Anastasia Hendrix, posed that question last week. She was generous enough to include my answer in her story in this past Sunday’s Style section.
Alas, my answer was incomplete. I knew orange and black were always there, and became dominant in the 1940s, but I didn’t know why. It’s obvious why, say, the Princeton Tigers are orange and black, and the Baltimore Orioles; they are following Mother Nature’s lead. But the Giants? (Or the Oregon State Beavers?)
Thanks to a friend who is apparently more skilled searching the Internet than I am, a new possibility has emerged. This from WikiAnswers:
Before managing the Giants, John McGraw managed a National League version of the Baltimore Orioles (not the AL Orioles of 1901, who would become the NY Yankees in 1903). When McGraw left Baltimore, along with some of his players, he also took the orange, black and white team colors to NY for the Giants.
I want to do a little more research, before accepting that explanation. I looked at several books I have about the New York Giants, and while many talk about McGraw’s defection from Baltimore – he even brought many players with him – none mention the orange. (McGraw did try out Christy Mathewson in a game in Orange, N.J., but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.) Baseball Almanac has a great page on uniforms, and includes some information on the orange and black, noting that McGraw brought orange to the Orioles’ uniforms, and black to the Giants, but doesn’t mention the melding of the colors in either city.
Baseball Almanac does cite a definitive reference, which I will need to track down: Marc Okkonen’s book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century (Sterling Publishing, 1991). Until then, hey, it’s Halloween – the whole country can celebrate the Giants in their orange and black!
UPDATE (Nov. 5, 2012): This weekend, I bought Okkonen’s book, and what a beautiful thing it is. It clarified one point: McGraw did not bring orange to the Giants from Baltimore. (McGraw did love to fiddle with uniform design, and he’s the guy who introduced the collarless uniforms now de rigeur in baseball.) In fact, the Giants did not use orange trim until 1933 – the year after McGraw retired. They won the World Series that year, and orange has remained on the uniform ever since.
Since the glory season of 2010, orange has returned to a prominence in Giants Nation not seen since the days of the double-knits in the 1970s.
It’s also worth noting that when the New York Mets were established in 1962, they took their colors from the National League predecessors who had left New York five years earlier – blue from the Brooklyn Dodgers, and orange from the Giants. (Yet the Mets new ballpark at Citi Field pays far more homage to the Dodgers, and virtually ignores Giants’ history. I guess the Giants got the last laugh this year, getting Angel Pagan from the Mets.)
My friend Steve Steinberg, who has joined me in several book events, is the co-author of a fantastic tome, “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” along with Lyle Spatz. The book last week was awarded the Seymour Medal for the year’s best baseball history book.
Steve organized our event at the Museum of the City of New York, and is a tireless and passionate student and promoter of baseball history. I have learned much from him, and am so proud of him for winning this well-deserved honor.
The book is a great source of colorful stories, not only about the Giants’ John McGraw, but also his Yankees’ counterpart Miller Huggins, and of course Huggins’ star Babe Ruth. And look closely at the cover – one of those other Giants depicted there is none other than Casey Stengel, who not only played big for the Giants in their World Series of the 1920s, but did a fair job managing the Yankees in the Fall Classic in the 1940s and 50s as well.
It’s great to see old fans of the New York Giants — the baseball Giants, who played in Gotham from 1883-1957 — get a little moment of sunshine now that the team they’ve stuck with for all these years has finally won its first World Series since 1954.
I had the pleasure of meeting about 50 of them tonight at the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society’s meeting. Steve Steinberg, co-author of “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” and I gave talks to this group, which meets occasionally in a conference room in the Church of the Mediator on 231st Street in the Bronx. Group organizer Bill Kent orders pizza, collects money, and tosses cans of soda like a vendor pitching peanuts.
I learned a lot from these guys, most notably that one legend has it that Blanche McGraw — widow of the great Giants manager John McGraw, and reportedly the very last fan to leave the Polo Grounds in 1957 — placed a curse on the team that it would never win a World Series in San Francisco. The gentleman telling the story said it may remain intact, noting the Giants clinched each playoff series on the road, in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Arlington, Texas.
I’m ready for more: Steve and I have a second New York event planned for Wednesday night, Nov. 10, at 7 pm at a really special place, the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, at 67 East 11th Street, New York, near Union Square and around the corner from the marvelous Strand bookstore.
Bergino is run by Jay Goldberg, who has built a sweet business selling artfully designed handcrafted baseballs. Steve and I will be telling stories, and selling and signing books. (I offer mine for $20, which is $5 off the cover price.) I hope to see you there!
Last week, I received something precious in my e-mail: A digital recording of the half-hour I had spent on the radio with Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo. You can listen to it here (look for the link to Mad Dog on that page), and I figure with the Giants ready to take on the Mets in New York – the city of the Giants’ birth and their greatest successes, and home base of one of their most avid fans – it would be appropriate to recount in greater detail that marvelous experience.
I have had some great radio experiences since my book was published, but none quite like the half hour I spent with Russo on “Mad Dog Radio” in New York in April. True to his nickname, Russo is a rabid Giants fan, with a deep knowledge that he can summon at a rapid rate.
Russo told me he became a Giants fan when he was eight years old. His father, a jeweler, took him to see the Giants play the Phillies in Philadelphia – this would have been around 1970 – and they went to the Giants’ hotel. “I got all of their autographs, except Willie Mays,” he told me. “Mays wouldn’t sign.”
Of such encounters, fandom begins, even for a kid on Long Island – even for someone who rose to become a kingpin of New York sports talk radio. Kudos to Russo for staying true to his team, in the face of all those Yankees and Mets fans! His Giants cred was sealed after the 2003 season, when he was still on WFAN on the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show; he went on a beautiful rant after that never-shoulda-happened loss to the Marlins, culminating in, “Just one lousy goddamn time!”
We had a spirited conversation, going through Giants history from John McGraw, through Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Leo Durocher, and through the 1960s, the Arctic years of the 1970s and ‘80s, and the return to glory with Will Clark and then Barry Bonds. We picked the 1962 Giants as the best team ever in San Francisco, although we also liked 1993 and 2002. He blamed Horace Stoneham for the failures in San Francisco; I agreed, but spread it a little wider.
We capped it off with a fantastic exercise, where Russo asked me to name my top 10 Giants of all time. With his help, our list: Mays, Christy Mathewson, Bonds, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Buck Ewing, Ott, Carl Hubbell, Orlando Cepeda (questionable only for the duration of his Giants’ tenure) and Terry. We think Tim Lincecum is heading there, but hasn’t played long enough to earn the spot.
We agreed that Willie Mays was the best Giant of all time. I pick him as best player of all time; Russo says that’s Babe Ruth, because he could pitch as well; and that Joe DiMaggio was a better hitter.
Russo was also a generous host, and allowed my wife and son into the small Sirius studio; that’s my son, Harry, in the photo with me and the Mad Dog. (Footnote to a near close-encounter: As we signed in at the Sirius studios on the 36th floor of the McGraw Hill building in midtown Manhattan, I could see that a few minutes earlier, author Kitty Kelley – touting her new book on Oprah Winfrey – had signed in on the same ledger.)
This is the weekend we’ve been waiting for. The Giants are in Los Angeles for a three-game series with the Dodgers, the first of 2010. The Dodgers are the defending division champs, but the Giants are the team in ascendancy, and I have to say, I like their chances, especially with Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito pitching games two and three, and no one on the hill for the Dodgers who looks particularly able to stop the Giants’ hot bats.
But anything can happen when these two teams meet, given the history of bad blood. I’ve got a chapter in “Giants Past and Present” devoted to the long and sometimes bloody rivalry, and I talk about it in this new video on my YouTube channel. (Please subscribe!)
I’d love to get your thoughts on some of the greatest moments in the rivalry. I personally savor Dodger-killing homers — Joe Morgan in 1982, Brian Johnson in 1997, and Barry Bonds, pirouetting at home plate the day before Johnson’s blast. How about you?