Horace Stoneham

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Horace Charles Stoneham (April 27, 1903 — January 7, 1990) was an American professional baseball executive, the principal owner of Major League Baseball's New York/San Francisco Giants from the death of his father, Charles Stoneham, in 1936 through 1976. During his ownership, the Giants won National League pennants in 1936, 1937, 1951, 1954 and 1962, a division title in 1971, and a World Series title in 1954. He was born in Newark, New Jersey.

Controversial move to San Francisco[edit]

New York baseball fans and media vilified Stoneham and Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley when they moved their clubs to California after the 1957 season. Stoneham was alarmed by a dramatic post-1954 drop-off in attendance at his team's historic ballpark, the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. Impressed by the success of the Braves after their 1953 shift from Boston to Milwaukee, Stoneham decided to move his Giants to Bloomington, Minnesota, where a stadium had just been constructed with public funds for his Triple-A farm team, the Minneapolis Millers.

When Stoneham confided his plan to O'Malley, the Dodger chief revealed that he was negotiating to move his club – the Giants' bitter rival – to Los Angeles. He suggested that Stoneham contact San Francisco mayor George Christopher and explore moving his team there to preserve the rivalry. Stoneham soon abandoned his Minnesota plan and shifted his attention, permanently, to San Francisco. In 1961, Minnesota succeeded in getting its own major-league team, the first incarnation of the Washington Senators, rechristened the Twins.

After the Giants' board approved the move to San Francisco, Stoneham was confronted by fans both angry — one sign at their last home game read: "We want Stoneham — with a rope around his neck!"[1] — and grief-stricken. Earlier, after meeting with a group of weeping youngsters who begged the team to stay, Stoneham was moved, but said: "I feel bad for the kids, I've seen lots of them at the Polo Grounds. But I haven't seen many of their fathers lately."[2] (In his book Five Seasons, Roger Angell quotes Stoneham as saying, "The last day we played [at the Polo Grounds], I couldn't go to the game. I just didn't want to see it all end.")

Writer Roger Kahn said years later, during promotional tours for his book The Era 1947–57, that the Giants' deteriorating ballpark and shrinking fan base made it necessary for Stoneham to abandon New York. He noted, however, that the Dodgers – a year removed from the 1956 pennant and two from Brooklyn's first world championship – were still profitable and O'Malley's move West was motivated by a desire for even greater riches.

The National League returned to New York in 1962, with an expansion team, the Mets.

Hands-on owner[edit]

Stoneham employed several general managers during his 40 years as owner, including Bill Terry (1938–1942), who doubled as the Giants' field manager through 1941, and Chub Feeney (1946–1969), his nephew, who later became president of the National League from 1970–1986. But Stoneham was known as a hands-on owner who was personally involved in player trades and transactions.[3]

His tenure produced three separate pennant-contending and -winning eras: the team that he inherited, the Giants of Terry, Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott (1936–1938); the Monte Irvin, Sal Maglie, Bobby Thomson and Willie Mays Giants of manager Leo Durocher (1949–1955); and the star-studded Giants of 1959–1971, during their early years in San Francisco. While the San Francisco club produced only one pennant (in 1962), one National League West Division title (1971), and no World Series triumphs, the Giants of the late 1950s and 1960s were one of the most talented assemblages in the National League. They included five Hall of Famers — Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry — and many other stars. The Giants were the first big league team to heavily scout and sign players from the Dominican Republic and brought the first Japanese player, pitcher Masanori Murakami, to the Majors in 1964.

Talented team produced one pennant[edit]

But the National League was so powerful and competitive — it had far outpaced the American League in signing African-American and Latin American players — the Giants had only one pennant to show for a decade-plus of contention. Stoneham was partially to blame for this, as he squandered the resources of his productive farm system through a series of poorly advised trades, usually for starting pitchers who could complement Marichal and Perry. He also hired as his manager from 1961–1964 Alvin Dark, who had a brilliant baseball mind but a poor relationship with at least some of his minority players. Dark was fired after the 1964 Giants fell just short in a wild, end-of-season pennant race — but, more notably, after he had made well-publicized and derogatory remarks to the press about Latin ballplayers during the season. (He later said he was misquoted.)

In 1959, Stoneham began developing a spring training facility for the San Francisco Giants at Francisco Grande, in Casa Grande, Arizona. Francisco Grande hosted its first exhibition game in 1961, where Willie Mays hit a 375-foot home run in the fourth inning. Francisco Grande, now a hotel and golf resort, still houses various memorabilia of the San Francisco Giants of the 1960s.

Struggles during the 1970s[edit]

After their initial success, Stoneham's Giants fell on hard times during the 1970s. Attendance at cold and windy Candlestick Park plummeted, and Stoneham faced financial hardship. Unlike most of his fellow owners, Stoneham had no income apart from the Giants, so the lean times on the field and at the gate hit him especially hard.

Finally, in 1976, he put the team up for sale. The Giants very nearly moved back east, to Toronto. In addition, it was briefly rumored that they were considering a return to the metropolitan New York area, perhaps to a new baseball stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. But local businessman Bob Lurie stepped in as the buyer, and the Giants remained in Northern California. Additionally, there was another unsuccessful attempt in 1992 to move the team to Tampa Bay. Both Toronto and Tampa eventually secured expansion teams.

Stoneham died at age 86 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Richman, Milt, The Associated Press, in The Second Fireside Book of Baseball. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1958, page 292]
  2. ^ The Los Angeles Times, 1999.08.19
  3. ^ Durocher, Leo, with Linn, Ed, Nice Guys Finish Last. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975, pp. 235–239

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