“We saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”
― Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
Unlike Kerouac—a fellow New Englander who first saw the Golden Gate from his car—my first look at San Francisco was from the air, a view I reprised last week when I again flew into this unique American metropolis.
On our glide path into San Francisco a passenger pointed out Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the 49ers and the site of Super Bowl L this past February. I looked to the horizon, past Santa Clara, towards San Jose, and thought of the Earthquakes—perhaps the most storied American professional soccer team. And then it occurred to me that, incongruously, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks were recent Stanley Cup finalists.
Mark Twain supposedly claimed that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Northern California indeed features a unique summer climate. The temperature hovered around 60 degrees, with strong winds making it feel much colder. Twain would have been better advised to spend a summer at Lake Winnipesaukee, with its balmy 80 degree July temperatures, while saving San Francisco for January.
San Francisco Giant centerfielder Willie Mays was a victim of contrary winds at Candlestick Park. The Hall-of-Famer hit 660 career home runs, but may well have surpassed Babe Ruth’s 714 had he played in AT&T Park, which opened in 2000. Obviously Barry Bonds had no trouble hitting homers at the newer venue.
Signs remain directing people to Candlestick Park, but that historic edifice was demolished last year. It’s a pity, given all the sports history made by the Giants, 49ers, and others—like the Beatles, who performed their final outdoor concert there in 1966.
Winners of the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Giants remain a premier MLB franchise—built in large part by their general manager, Concord’s Brian Sabean.
And then there are the Golden State Warriors. A local delightedly pointed out their recent signing of basketball superstar Kevin Durant. As the Warriors just set the single season NBA victory record, some feel the Warriors are already a lock for next year’s World Championship. But I pointed out that the 1968-69 Lakers were similarly projected as unbeatable after they acquired Wilt Chamberlain to team up with L.A. superstars Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. That unbeatable team fell 108-106 to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.
Russell, incidentally, was a product of the University of San Francisco, where he led the Dons to a 55-game win streak and two NCAA titles.
With Stanford University and UCal-Berkley also featuring storied college sports traditions, I wondered if the Bay Area had surpassed New England as the nation’s top sports region. But as it wasn’t until the late 1950s that big-time sports came to San Francisco, historic Boston must remain the nation’s top sports city—though maybe we could rethink that designation if San Francisco sports continue to flourish for a few more decades.
Not that San Francisco can’t claim some history. Sports bars feature plenty of photos of the DiMaggio brothers, who played early on with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. But Joe will also be remembered as a New York Yankee, and Dom as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Sorry, about that, San Francisco.
San Francisco is a friendly place, but somewhat alien to your traditional Granite Stater. Riding the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit system) meant listening to a cacophony of foreign tongues. Still it was heartening to see so many diverse peoples getting along. And I was happy that folks with purple, green, and pink hair had a safe place to be themselves.
Could I live in San Francisco, if circumstances required? Sure. It’s a special place with wonderful sports teams—and more.
But if such a move ever manifested itself, I’m sure I’d end up writing wistfully of New England. Maybe I’d even write a song, for which—with apologies to Tony Bennett—I already have a name.
“I Left My Heart…in Lake Winnipesaukee!”
What San Francisco Giant pitcher won the first National League Cy Young Award in 1967? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on July 21 include NBA player, coach, and commentator Doug Collins (1951) and—the pride of San Jose—women’s soccer star Brandi Chastain (1968).
Sportsquote “They’ll put a man on the moon before I hit a home run.” – San Francisco Giant pitcher Gaylord Perry, circa 1965. On July 20, 1969, a few hours after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Perry hit his first and only home run.
Giant pitcher Mike McCormick won the first National League Cy Young Award in 1967 with a record of 22-10. From 1956-66, only one Cy Young Award was presented. Beginning in 1967, a Cy Young Award was given to the top pitcher in each league. Boston’s Jim Lonborg was the ’67 American League winner. A Stanford grad, Lonborg was 22-9 that year.
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.