History of the New York Giants (NL)
- For the history of the team from 1958 onward, see History of the San Francisco Giants. For information on the franchise in general, see San Francisco Giants. For the NFL team, see New York Giants.
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The history of the New York Giants, before the franchise moved to San Francisco, lasted from 1883 to 1957. It featured five of the franchise's seven World Series wins and 17 of its 22 National League pennants. For most of that time, the Giants played home games in the Polo Grounds in the Upper Manhattan region of New York City.
Early days and the John McGraw era
Throughout the late 1870s and early 1880s, the sole major professional baseball league, the National League, had slowly withdrawn from many of the larger cities in the United States as the New York and Philadelphia ball clubs were expelled after failing to play out their full schedules in the inaugural 1876 season, the Louisville and St. Louis ball clubs folded amid a game-throwing scandal in 1877, and the Cincinnati ball club was expelled after the 1880 season for playing Sunday baseball. The expulsion of Cincinnati resulted in the formation of a new rival major league in 1882, the American Association (AA), that moved into several larger cities that had long been abandoned by the National League and threatened the survival of the organization. At the 1882 owners meeting, the National League decided to fight back by dissolving clubs in two of its smallest markets, Troy, New York, and Worcester, Massachusetts, and reentering both New York and Philadelphia with new teams. For its New York team, the owners hoped to bring in the New York Metropolitans, a minor league team established in 1880 by Manhattan tobacconist John B. Day and former pitcher Jim Mutrie that had won the Eastern Championship Association pennant in 1881. Day and Mutrie decided to enter the Mets into the AA instead, but they also created a brand new team named the New York Gothams to play in the National League.
The Gothams entered the National League for the 1883 season under manager John Clapp, with nearly half the team consisting of former members of the disbanded Troy Trojans, including future Hall of Famers Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, and Mickey Welch. Like Day's other team, the Mets, the Gothams played their home games at a site called the Polo Grounds, where the team inherited the Mets old field while Day had a new field built right next door for his AA team that was separated from the old field only by a canvas fence, an arrangement that lasted through the 1885 season, after which the Gothams took over the entire facility. In 1883 and 1884, the Gothams turned in mediocre seasons while the Mets won the 1884 AA pennant, but the Mets lost $8000 while the Gothams made money partially because the NL admission price was 50 cents to the AA's 25 cents. Day therefore decided to focus his attention on the Gothams by transferring Mets pitcher Tim Keefe, third baseman Dude Esterbrook, and manager Mutrie to the team after the 1884 season. The one-two punch of Keefe and Welch on the mound combined with the slugging of Connor and Ewing helped bring a second-place finish to the ball club in 1885, and the four remained key contributors over the next several seasons, bringing back-to-back pennants to the club in 1888 and 1889 and victories both years in an early incarnation of the World Series over the AA St. Louis Browns and Brooklyn Bridegrooms respectively. It was during this period that manager Mutrie began referring to the Gotham players as his giants, which soon became the official nickname of the team.
The Giants' original home stadium, the Polo Grounds, also dates from this early era. The first of the Polo Grounds was located north of Central Park adjacent to Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 110th and 112th Streets in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Upon eviction from the Polo Grounds after the 1888 season, the Giants moved uptown and renamed various fields the Polo Grounds which were located between 155th and 159th Streets in the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem and Washington Heights. The Giants played at the Polo Grounds until the end of the 1957 season, when they moved to San Francisco.
The Giants remained a powerhouse during the last half of the 1880s, culminating in their first league pennant in 1889. However, in 1890, nearly all of the Giants' stars jumped to the upstart Players' League, whose New York franchise was also named the Giants. The new team even built its park next door to the National League Giants' Polo Grounds. With a decimated roster, the Giants finished a distant sixth. Attendance took a nosedive, and the financial strain affected Day's tobacco business as well. The Players' League dissolved after the season, and Day sold a minority interest to the PL Giants' principal backer, Edward Talcott. As a condition of the sale, Day had to fire Mutrie as manager. Although the Giants rebounded to third in 1891, Day was forced to sell controlling interest to Talcott at the end of the season.
Four years later, Talcott sold the Giants to Andrew Freedman, a real estate developer with ties to Tammany Hall. Freedman was one of the most detested owners in baseball history, getting into heated disputes with other owners, writers and his own players. The most famous one was with star pitcher Amos Rusie. When Freedman only offered Rusie $2,500 for 1896, Rusie sat out the entire season. Attendance fell off throughout the league due to the loss of Rusie, prompting the other owners to chip in $5,000 to get him to return for 1897. Also, out of pure spite, Freedman hired former owner Day—by now a broken man—as manager for part of 1899.
In 1902, after a series of disastrous moves that left the Giants 53½ games behind, Freedman signed John McGraw as a player-manager. McGraw would go on to manage the Giants for three decades, one of the longest tenures in professional sports. That would be Freedman's last significant move as owner of the Giants; after the season he was forced to sell his interest to John T. Brush. Under McGraw, the Giants would win ten National League pennants and three World Series championships.
The Giants had already had their share of stars during its brief history at this point, such as Smiling Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, Jim O'Rourke and John Montgomery Ward, the player-lawyer who formed the renegade Players League in 1890 to protest unfair player contracts. McGraw would also cultivate his own crop of baseball heroes during his time with the Giants. Names such as Christy Mathewson, Iron Man Joe McGinnity, Bill Terry, Jim Thorpe, Mel Ott, Casey Stengel, and Red Ames are just a sample of the many players who honed their skills under McGraw.
The Giants under McGraw famously snubbed their first ever modern World Series chance in 1904—an encounter with the reigning world champion Boston Americans (now known as the "Red Sox")—because McGraw considered the new American League as little more than a minor league. His original reluctance was because the intracity rival New York Highlanders looked like they would win the AL pennant. The Highlanders lost to Boston on the last day, but the Giants stuck by their refusal. McGraw had also managed the Highlanders in their first two seasons, when they were known as the Baltimore Orioles.
The ensuing criticism resulted in Brush leading an effort to formalize the rules and format of the World Series. The Giants won the 1905 World Series over the Philadelphia Athletics, with Christy Mathewson nearly winning the Series single-handedly. It would be the last time (through the end of the 2011 season) that the Giants would best the A's in a post-season series.
The Giants then had several frustrating years. In 1908 they finished in a tie with the Chicago Cubs and had a one-game playoff at the Polo Grounds. The game was a replay of a tied game that resulted from the Merkle Boner. They lost the rematch to the Cubs, who would go on to win their second World Series. That post-season game was further darkened by a story that someone on the Giants (rumor has it that it was a club physician of the Giants) had attempted to bribe professional umpires Bill Klem and James "Jim" Johnstone. This could have been a disastrous scandal for baseball, but because both umpires were honest, they would not be bribed. The Giants did not get a close play in that game and the umpires called the plays as they saw them—with honesty. The Cubs won the pennant on their merits and the Giants lost. The story faded over time.
The Giants experienced some hard luck in the early 1910s, losing three straight World Series to the A's, the Red Sox, then the A's again. (The Giants and the A's both won pennants in 1913; two seasons later, both teams finished in last place). After losing the 1917 Series to the Chicago White Sox (the White Sox's last World Series win until 2005), the Giants played in four straight World Series in the early 1920s, winning the first two over their tenants, the Yankees, then losing to the Yankees in 1923 when Yankee Stadium opened. They also lost in 1924, when the Washington Senators won their only World Series in their history (prior to their move to Minnesota).
1930–57: Five pennants in 28 seasons
McGraw handed over the team to Bill Terry in 1932, and Terry played for and managed the Giants for ten years. During this time the Giants won three pennants, defeating the Senators in the 1933 World Series and losing to the Yankees in 1936 and 1937. Aside from Terry himself, the other stars of the era were Ott and Carl Hubbell, one of the very few pitchers in baseball history to master the screwball (along with Mathewson and Fernando Valenzuela). Known as "King Carl" and "The Meal Ticket", Hubbell gained fame during the 1934 All-Star Game, when he struck out five Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin.
Mel Ott succeeded Terry as manager in 1942, but the war years proved to be difficult for the Giants. Midway during the 1948 season Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher left the Dodgers to became manager of the Giants. This hire was not without controversy. Not only was the mid-season switch unusual, but Durocher had been accused of gambling in 1947 and subsequently suspended for the entire 1947 season by Baseball Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler. Durocher remained at the helm of the Giants through the 1955 season, and those eight years proved to be some of the most memorable for Giants fans, particularly because of the arrival of Willie Mays and arguably the two most famous plays in Giants' history.
1951: The "Shot Heard 'Round the World"
One of the more famous episodes in major league baseball history, and possibly one of the greatest moments in sports history, the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" is the name given to Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run that clinched the National League pennant for the Giants over their rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. This game was the third of a three-game playoff series resulting from one of baseball's most memorable pennant races. The Giants had been thirteen and a half games behind the league-leading Dodgers in August, but under Durocher's guidance and with the aid of a sixteen-game winning streak, caught the Dodgers to tie for the lead on the last day of the season.
Mays's catch and the 1954 Series
In game one of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds, Willie Mays made "The Catch"—a dramatic over-the-shoulder catch off a line drive by Vic Wertz to deep center field. At the time the game had been tied 2-2 in the eighth inning. With men on first and second and nobody out, an extra-base hit could have blown the game wide open, and given the Cleveland Indians the momentum to win not only Game One, but perhaps the World Series itself. Instead, Mays caught the ball 450 feet from the plate, whirled and threw the ball to the infield, keeping the lead runner—Larry Doby—from scoring.
The underdog Giants went on to sweep the series in four straight, despite the Cleveland Indians having won a then American League record 111 games that year. This was to be the Giants' last World Series victory in New York, and the last for the franchise as well until their 2010 World Series title over the Texas Rangers in 5 games. In between World Series titles, the Giants lost the World Series in 1962 to the Yankees, in 1989 to the Oakland A's, whom they defeated in their first World Series when both clubs were in the Northeast, and in 2002 to the Anaheim Angels. The 1954 World Series would also be the Giants' last appearance in the Fall Classic as the New York Giants, as the team moved to San Francisco prior to 1958 season.
Memorable Giants of the 1950s
In addition to Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays, other memorable New York Giants of the 1950s include Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, coach Herman Franks, Hall of Fame outfielder Monte Irvin, outfielder and runner-up for the 1954 NL batting championship (won by Willie Mays) Don Mueller, Hall of Fame knuckleball relief pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, starting pitchers Larry Jansen, Sal Maglie, Jim Hearn, Marv Grissom, Dave Koslo, Don Liddle, Max Lanier, Rubén Gómez and Johnny Antonelli, catcher Wes Westrum, catchers Ray Katt and Sal Yvars, shortstop Alvin Dark, third baseman Hank Thompson, first baseman Whitey Lockman, second basemen Davey Williams and Eddie Stanky, outfielder-pitcher Clint Hartung and utility men Bill Rigney, Daryl Spencer, Bobby Hofman and 1954 Series hero Dusty Rhodes, among others. In the late 1950s and after the move to San Francisco two Hall of Fame first basemen, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, joined the team.
1957: The move to California
The Giants' final three years in New York City were unmemorable. They stumbled to third place the year after their World Series win and attendance fell off precipitously. While seeking a new stadium to replace the crumbling Polo Grounds, the Giants began to contemplate a move from New York, initially considering Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which was home to their top farm team, the Minneapolis Millers. Under the rules of the time, the Giants' ownership of the Millers gave them priority rights to a major league team in the area.
At this time, the Giants were approached by San Francisco mayor George Christopher. Despite objections from shareholders such as Joan Whitney Payson, majority owner Horace Stoneham entered into negotiations with San Francisco officials around the same time that Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley was courting the city of Los Angeles. O'Malley had been told that the Dodgers would not be allowed to move to Los Angeles unless a second team moved to California as well. He pushed Stoneham toward relocation. In the summer of 1957, both the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers announced their moves to California, and the golden age of baseball in the New York area ended.
New York would remain a one-team town with the New York Yankees until 1962 when Joan Whitney Payson founded the New York Mets and brought National League baseball back to the city. Payson and M. Donald Grant, who became the Mets' chairman, had been the only Giants board members to vote against the Giants' move to California. The "NY" script on the Giants' caps and the orange on their uniforms, along with the blue background used by the Dodgers, would be adopted by the Mets.