Since its birth in 1869, major league baseball had neglected the western part of the United States. All of their teams were either on the East Coast or in the Midwest with each team seemingly entrenched as established entities of their respective cities. That all changed in 1958 when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants packed up their bags and headed to California in search of gold. While they loved New York, they sensed that greater riches were in the Golden State. This is the story of how two rivals set aside their differences to become pioneers in baseball’s western expansion.
The Giants began in New York in 1883 and since their inception they played their home games at the Polo Grounds. The ballpark was unusually shaped as a bathtub with a very deep center field but very little space on the sides. The Giants played through the oddities and won five World Series and 17 pennants. The city of New York loved them and was especially enthralled in their rivalry with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The franchise was awash in greatness with people such as Christy Matthewson, Mel Ott and Willie Mays. One could hardly forget the indomitable manager John McGraw commanding his troops from the dugout over the course of 31 memorable years.
Behind the scenes, the Polo Grounds was aging and the neighborhood was urbanizing not to the liking of the Giants owners. Across town, the Dodgers faced a similar dilemma. They had an affectionate and strong fan base and had finally won a World Series in 1955 over the hated New York Yankees. Ebbetts Field, their home for decades was in a state of decline and the neighborhood was urbanizing in a way which was not to their owner’s liking. The Dodgers had been looking at options to build a new stadium in Brooklyn, including one which involved the world’s first indoor stadium, but could not find the political and financial backing they needed to make their dreams a reality in Brooklyn.
Since the birth of Hollywood, Los Angeles has been an extremely attractive city for franchise owners of all sports. In 1958, the city was become more indoctrinated in professional sports as the Rams had won an NFL Championship earlier in the decade and the Minneapolis Lakers would soon move to the city, bringing with them all the Hollywood pizzazz and offensive brilliance which makes any team a marketing juggernaut in the City of Angels. A team full of stars had a real shot at thriving in Los Angeles and the Dodgers had built such a team. Jackie Robinson would retire before the move but they had other stars such as Don Newcomb and Sandy Koufax. Together, these two future Hall of Fame pitchers would capture the heart of Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, San Francisco was searching for a major league team that was willing to relocate to the City by the Bay. Mayor Elmer Robinson formed a citizens committee to investigate that very possibility and in 1954 Proposition B passed, affording San Francisco a $5 million bond to be used for a new stadium in hopes of luring a team to the city. However, enticing a team to come to San Francisco was easier said than done as both the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia A’s declined their offer. Eventually, San Francisco got an assist from the Dodgers who suggested to the Giants that they move to California together
At this time there was no major league baseball team on the West Coast. If the Giants and Dodgers both migrated there, then they would be pioneers. The two bitter rivals needed each other as rivalry can bring a community together more than just an average game could. With teams still taking the train to games, this was a risk. On August 19, 1957, the Giants board of directors voted 8-1 to move the team to California. With the Dodgers having already committed to the move, New York was suddenly without two of its most beloved baseball teams, leaving them with just the Yankees.
On April 14, 1958, the Giants were welcomed into their new city with a parade that stretched from Seal’s Stadium and through Market Street into the Financial District. More than 200,000 fans gathered together to welcome their new team with open arms. Four days later, the Dodgers held a similar event with the city of Los Angeles. The two teams looked forward to many happy days with their new fan base.
Finding a Home
With the move decided, both teams needed to find a place to call home. The Dodgers found Chavez Ravine, a rural neighborhood largely populated by Mexican-American families who were forced out of their homes when the government used its power of eminent domain. The Giants found Candlestick Point, a vacant land which was mostly landfill but overlooked the beautiful and majestic San Francisco Bay. Neither stadium would be ready for the 1958 season so both teams had to find a temporary home. The Dodgers chose the Los Angeles Coliseum while the Giants chose San Francisco’s Seals Stadium.
The longtime home of the San Francisco Seals proved to be accommodating for the Giants who took over the stadium when the Seals left town. However, despite posting winning records in each of their two years in Seals Stadium, the Giants never made the playoffs while the Dodgers won the World Series in 1959. In 1960, the Giants moved into Candlestick Park and two years later the Dodgers moved into Dodger Stadium. While the Giants would close their third year in Candlestick Park by losing to the Yankees in the World Series, the Dodgers enjoyed two World Series triumphs in the next decade after opening Dodger Stadium. Despite the different paths these two teams took, each have weaved their way into the identity of their adopted cities and paved the way for baseball’s western expansion.