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Saying goodbye to Candlestick

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Ezra Shaw

The San Francisco Giants stopped playing baseball at Candlestick Park a long time ago. But tonight is the San Francisco 49ers' last game there, which gives everyone another chance to reflect upon the worst-situated stadium in modern American sports history. Monday morning, NPR's Tom Goldman had a nice overview. Just a snippet:

As told in Candlestick Park by Ted Atlas, the story goes that in 1957, Horace Stoneham, owner of baseball's New York Giants, was in San Francisco looking for a new home for his team.

Some local boosters took him to the spot on the shore of San Francisco Bay where Candlestick Park ultimately was built. They took him in the morning, when the winds were calm, and Stoneham liked it. He signed the deal, and building began.

But on a return visit, Stoneham went later in the day. It's said he asked a worker: "Does the wind often blow like this?"

"Yeah, every day," the worker replied. "But only in the afternoon and early evening."

In my book about baseball's greatest blunders, I've got a slightly different version of that story, in which a different high-ranking official asks a workman about the wind, and the response was, "Only between the hours of one and five."

Either way, it was incredibly windy during day games, especially. I went to Candlestick just twice. In the summer of 1998, I was there for a day game and, true to form, the wind was howling. But at least it was sunny, and not terribly unpleasant. The night before I'd been at the ballpark, and it really did feel like winter. Fortunately, I'd come prepared with a heavy wool jacket that kept me alive, if not actually comfortable. One can only imagine how many tourists showed up over the years, thinking that shirt sleeves or perhaps a light jacket would suffice. I'll bet the Giants led the league in blankets and coats sold, year in and year out.

But the decision to build the ballpark on Candlestick Point didn't just discomfort fans and players. It nearly led to the Giants leaving San Francisco. The Giants moved into Candlestick in 1960, and attendance was decent for a while. But in 1967, the Giants ranked sixth in attendance despite finishing second in the standings. In '68, they fell to seventh in attendance despite another second-place finish. And in 1971 -- by then, the A's were in Oakland and playing well -- the Giants finally finished in first place but ranked 10th in the league in attendance.

Things got worse. In 1974 and '75, the Giants drew barely half a million fans per season. Imagine that. In '75, the Giants were nearly sold to interests that would have moved the franchise to Toronto. A few years later, a move to Denver seemed likely. But somehow the Giants remained. They did draw more than two million fans in 1989, 1993, and 1999. But that was it. Three times in 40 years. By contrast, the Royals drew at least two million 11 times from 1978 through 1991. The Giants' attendance problems and near-moves weren't due solely to Candlestick. But it was a hard place to get to and a hard place to enjoy, and playing baseball there was a huge, huge mistake.

In 1960, Joe Garagiola was broadcasting a Giants-Cardinals game from Candlestick. He was outdoors, it was brutally cold, and someone asked Garagiola if he'd like a cup of hot coffee. "Never mind the coffee," Garagiola said. "Get a priest."