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 23 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
The Giants began as the second baseball club founded by millionaire tobacconist John B. Day and veteran amateur baseball player Jim Mutrie. The Gothams, as the Giants were originally known, entered the National League in 1883, while their other club, the Metropolitans (the original Mets) played in the American Association. Nearly half of the original Gotham players were members of the disbanded Troy Trojans, whose place in the National League the Gothams inherited. While the Metropolitans were initially the more successful club, Day and Mutrie began moving star players to the Gothams and the team won its first National League pennant in 1888, as well as a victory over the St. Louis Browns in an early incarnation of the World Series. They repeated as champions the next year with a pennant and World Series victory over the Brooklyn Bridegrooms.
It is said that after one particularly satisfying victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, Mutrie (who was also the team's manager) stormed into the dressing room and exclaimed, "My big fellows! My giants!" From then on, the club was known as the Giants.
The Giants' original home stadium, the Polo Grounds, also dates from this early era. It was originally located north of Central Park adjacent to Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 110th and 112th Streets, in Harlem in upper Manhattan. After their eviction from that first incarnation of the Polo Grounds after the 1888 season, they moved further uptown to various fields they also named the Polo Grounds located between 155th and 159th Streets in Harlem and Washington Heights, playing in the Washington Heights Polo Grounds until the end of the 1957 season, when they moved to San Francisco.
The Giants were a powerhouse in the late 1880s, winning their first two National League Pennants and World Championships in 1888 & 1889. But nearly all of the Giants' stars jumped to the upstart Players' League, whose New York franchise was also named the Giants, in 1890. The new team even built a stadium next door to the Polo Grounds. With a decimated roster, the NL 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 in his NL Giants to the defunct 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 a 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 the Tammany Hall political machine running New York City. Freedman was one of the most detested owners in baseball history, getting into heated disputes with other owners, writers and his own players, most famously with star pitcher Amos Rusie, author of the first Giants no-hitter. When Freedman offered Rusie only $2,500 for 1896, the disgruntled hurler sat out the entire season. Attendance fell off throughout the league without Rusie, prompting the other owners to chip in $50,000 to get him to return for 1897. Freedman hired former owner Day 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 player-manager, convincing him to jump in mid-season from the Baltimore Orioles of the fledgling American League and bring with him several of his teammates. McGraw went on to manage the Giants for three decades until 1932, one of the longest and most successful tenures in professional sports. Hiring "Mr. McGraw," as his players referred to him, was one of Freedman's last significant moves as owner of the Giants, since after the 1902 season he was forced to sell his interest in the club to John T. Brush. McGraw went on to manage the Giants to nine National League pennants (in 1904-05, 1911–13, 1917 & 1921-24) and three World Series championships (in 1905 & 1921-22), with a tenth pennant and fourth world championship as owner in 1933 under his handpicked player-manager successor, Bill Terry.
The Giants already had their share of stars in the 1880s & 1890s, 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, in his three decades managing the Giants, cultivated a new crop of baseball heroes with names like Christy Mathewson, "Iron Man" Joe McGinnity, Jim Thorpe, Red Ames, Casey Stengel, Art Nehf, Edd Roush, Rogers Hornsby, Bill Terry and Mel Ott.
The Giants under McGraw famously snubbed their first modern World Series chance in 1904, refusing the invitation to play 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 and disliked its president, Ban Johnson. He also resented his Giants' new intra-city rival New York Highlanders, who almost won the pennant but lost to Boston on the last day, and stuck by his refusal to play whoever won the 1904 AL pennant. Of note, McGraw had managed the Highlanders in their first two seasons (1901–02), when they were known as the Baltimore Orioles.
The ensuing criticism resulted in Brush's taking the lead to formalize the rules and format of the World Series. The Giants won the 1905 World Series over Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, with Christy Mathewson nearly winning the series single-handedly with a still-standing record three complete-game shutouts and 27 consecutive scoreless innings in that one World Series, a feat unlikely ever to be duplicated.
The Giants then had several frustrating years. In 1908, they finished in a tie with the Chicago Cubs due to a late-season home tie game with the Cubs resulting from the Fred Merkle baserunning "boner". They lost the postseason replay of the tie game (ordered by NL president Harry Pulliam) to the Cubs (after disgruntled Giants fans had set fire to the stands the morning of the game), who would go on to win their second (consecutive, and their last for at least the next 115 years) World Series. That post-season game was further darkened by a story that someone on the Giants had attempted to bribe umpire Bill Klem. This could have been a disastrous scandal for baseball, but because Klem was honest and the Giants lost the duel between Christy Mathewson and Mordecai "Three-Fingered" Brown 4–2, it faded over time.
The Giants experienced a mixture of success and hard luck in the early 1910s, losing three straight World Series in 1911–13 to the A's, Red Sox and A's again (two seasons later, both the Giants and the A's, decimated by the short-lived Federal League signings of many of their stars, finished in eighth [last] place). After losing the 1917 Series to the Chicago White Sox (the last Chisox Series win until 2005), the Giants played in four straight World Series in the early 1920s, winning the first two over their Polo Grounds tenants, the Yankees (after winning the first two of their many pennants, led by young slugger Babe Ruth), then losing to the Yankees in 1923 after Yankee Stadium had opened that May. They also lost in 1924, when the Washington Senators won their only World Series in DC (prior to their move to Minnesota as the Twins before the 1961 season and their 1987 & 1991 Series wins there).
1930–57: Five pennants in 28 seasons
McGraw handed over the team to Bill Terry after the 1932 season, and Terry played for and managed the Giants for ten years, winning three pennants, defeating the Senators in the 1933 World Series but swept by the Yankees in consecutive fall classics, 1936 and 1937. Aside from Terry himself, the other stars of the era were slugger Mel Ott and southpaw hurler Carl Hubbell. Known as "King Carl" and "The Meal Ticket", Hubbell gained fame in the first two innings of the 1934 All-Star Game (played at the Polo Grounds) by striking out five future AL Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.
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 Leo Durocher left as Dodgers skipper to manage the Giants, not without controversy. Not only was such a midseason managerial switch unprecedented, but Durocher had been accused of gambling in 1947 and subsequently suspended for that whole season by Baseball Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler. Durocher's ensuing eight full seasons managing the Giants proved some of the most memorable for their fans, particularly because of the arrival of five-tool superstar Willie Mays, their two pennants in 1951 & 1954, their unexpected sweep of the powerful (111-43) Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series and arguably the two most famous plays in Giants history.
1951: The "Shot Heard 'Round the World"
The "Shot Heard 'Round the World," or Bobby Thomson's come-from-behind ninth-inning walk-off home run that won the National League pennant for the Giants over their bitter rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the deciding game of a three-game playoff series ending one of baseball's most memorable pennant races. The Giants had been 13 1/2 games behind the league-leading Dodgers in August, but under Durocher's guidance and with a 16-game winning streak, got hot and caught the Dodgers to tie for the lead on the next-to-last day of the season.
Mays' catch and the 1954 Series
In Game 1 of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds against the Cleveland Indians, Willie Mays made "The Catch," a dramatic over-the-shoulder catch of a fly ball by Vic Wertz after sprinting with his back to the plate on a dead run to deepest center field. At the time the game was tied 2–2 in the eighth inning, with men on first and second and nobody out. Mays caught the ball 450 ft (140 m) from the plate, whirled and threw the ball to the infield, keeping the lead runner, Larry Doby, from scoring. Although Doby took third after the catch, he was stranded there and the Giants won on Dusty Rhodes' tenth-inning pinch-hit walk-off home run with two aboard, 5-2.
The underdog Giants went on to sweep the series in four straight, despite the Indians' American League 111-43 regular season. The 1954 World Series title would be their last appearance in the World Series as the New York Giants, with the team moving to San Francisco to start the 1958 season.
New York 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: 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 Bloomington, Minnesota, 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. (But the Washington Senators wound up there as the Minnesota Twins in 1961.)
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 the 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, and so in the summer of 1957 both the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers announced their moves to California, ending the three-team golden age of baseball in New York City.
New York would remain a one-team town with the New York Yankees until 1962, when Joan Payson founded the New York Mets and brought National League baseball back to the city. Owners 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 trim on their uniforms, along with the blue background used by the Dodgers, would be adopted by the Mets, honoring their New York NL forebears with a blend of Giants orange and Dodgers blue.
- "Jim Mutrie". nyhistory.org. Retrieved September 4, 2012.