Chasing October | The Dodgers-Giants Pennant Race of 1962
50th Anniversary Edition
“The definitive account of the race.”
– James S. Hirsch in Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend
“There have been other historic baseball rivalries…but none can quite compare.”
– Los Angeles Times
“Plaut expertly builds the suspense and sensitively handles the interplay of personalities.”
– Publishers Weekly
From the first pitch of April until the final out in October, the 1962 Dodgers and Giants staged a furious pennant fight that was every bit the equal of the fractious feuds waged during the rivalry’s New York heyday of bench-clearing brawls.
Set in what many call “the last year of American innocence,” the 1962 National League pennant race was in a new context—a 10-team league including Houston and the Mets, a 162-game schedule, and the new Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. But it also had plenty of tradition. Names like Snider and Mays, Durocher and Dark were still in uniform 11 years after the celebrated Giants-Dodgers playoff decided by Bobby Thompson’s homer in the ninth in 1951. The move west in 1958 had not mellowed any memories—Candlestick Park and Dodger Stadium replaced the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, but the intensity of mutual dislike was the same. Add to this the uncanny resemblance of the Dodger-Giant standings going into the 1962 playoffs to that of their 1951 ranking, and you have a season-ending script that stands as one of the most memorable and amazing in the game’s history.
With updates and a new preface, this 50th Anniversary Edition of CHASING OCTOBER is a must not only for the fans of these two exciting franchises, but for any lover of baseball. In capturing the exhilarating spirit of the intense rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants, Plaut gets to the essence of baseball’s hold on the imagination.
Where Were You in ’62?
Nineteen-sixty-two is often considered “the last year of American innocence.” It is a label likely attached more for what took place the following year: the assassination of a United States president. To many, the shocking death of John F. Kennedy was the cataclysmic event which ended the soothing, if somewhat narcotizing 1950s, and dragged a shaken, stunned nation—and the world—into the uncharted cacophony of the true 1960s.
Nineteen-sixty-two was also a watershed year within the smaller world of baseball’s National League. Two freshly minted expansion teams, an enlarged schedule and the opening of the prototypical modern ballpark signaled the birth of a new era for the game. While these icons of the sport’s future were thrusting baseball forward, the season’s pennant race was a vivid reminder of one aspect of the game that would eventually be left behind.
In 1958, after more than a half-century in New York City, the Dodgers and Giants had unceremoniously departed Brooklyn and Manhattan for the West Coast. There are those who contend that it was this disruption that brought on baseball’s own loss of innocence. But the finality of that loss may have only fully registered after 1962, when the two bitter foes staged, perhaps for the last time, a pennant race that truly equaled the fervor of their New York battles. In a year when so many baseball traditions were challenged, the game’s oldest rivals successfully reenacted the drama of a bygone era. There would be other competitive Dodger-Giant races in future seasons, but after 1962, it was never the same.
For a campaign of such uncommon duration, its final result was customarily familiar. For the twentieth time in thirty-nine years, the New York Yankees became world champions. That was expected. But much that did occur in ’62 could hardly be considered “business as usual.”
Unprecedented events commenced in early January, when former Brooklyn star Jackie Robinson became the first African American player ever to be voted into the Hall of Fame. More history was made in the summer months, as longstanding big league records were broken with surprising regularity. A present-day Dodger infielder, Maury Wills, played in a record number of games and stole more bases in a season than any man before him.
At age forty-one, Milwaukee’s Warren Spahn earned victory number 327, the most ever by a left-handed pitcher. Twenty-seven-year-old Tom Cheney, a journeyman for the Washington Senators, struck out an all-time-high twenty-one batters in a game, even though it took him sixteen innings to do it. Kansas City’s Bill Fischer became baseball’s ultimate “control freak,” pitching a record 84⅓ innings without issuing a walk. At age forty-three, Pirates pitcher Diomedes Olivo debuted as the oldest rookie in major league history. And Bob Buhl of the Cubs established an unenviable mark of slugging futility for a full season by going hitless over seventy at-bats.
No dubious individual deeds could match the pathetic performance of the expansion New York Mets—losers of a record a hundred-twenty games. And no young team was more inspiring than the Los Angeles Angels, pennant contenders until mid-September and winners of eighty-six games in only their second season of existence. The Angels’ playboy pitcher, flamboyant Bo Belinsky, fired the first of the year’s five no-hitters. Another rookie, Cubs infielder Ken Hubbs, set a fielding record for second basemen, handling four-hundred-eighteen chances over seventy-eight games without an error.
Hubbs and the Cubs were led by three rotating dugout bosses, the result of a previously untried system known as the “College of Coaches.” That was the extent of managerial “movement” throughout the major leagues. For the first time in twenty years, not one manager was fired or replaced during the regular season.
While old records were seemingly shattered almost every week, baseball’s off-field business climate was calm by contrast. Ownership continued to rule the game with an iron fist. Free agency, arbitration, and billion-dollar television contracts were still years into the future. The minimum wage was seven-thousand dollars, the average major league salary twelve thousand five hundred dollars. Spring holdouts were few and player strikes nonexistent—unless you counted the aborted August work stoppage of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The issue—the Bucs’ objection to a rainout being rescheduled as a night game prior to a doubleheader the next afternoon. This was what passed for heated player-management confrontation in 1962.
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Socially, politically, and culturally, it was also a simpler time. As a people, Americans still basically believed what their leaders told them. They trusted what they read in the newspapers and what they heard on television. And why not? Unless you were poor or black, life was pretty good. No other nation in the world came close to equaling the U.S. gross national product or standard of living. Unemployment was well below six percent. Industrial production totals hit record numbers, as did capital investment for plants and equipment. New automobile orders reached a postwar high, powered by continued economic prosperity—and gasoline prices that were still only about twenty-one cents a gallon.
Such cheap fuel was also leaded fuel—a deadly energy source that belched out harmful fumes into the atmosphere. The cars’ interiors were equally unsafe —seatbelts were not required in domestic vehicles, so nobody wore them.
In fact, much of the behavior America practiced was hazardous to its health. In 1962, the first-ever public service warning about the dangers of cigarettes was aired on television, yet more than half of all Americans continued to smoke. They taxed their hearts further by consuming a diet laden with red meat and dairy products. Illegal narcotics were not the widespread problem they would eventually become, as millions of citizens turned instead to liquor as their drug of choice.
Industrial factories sustained the practice of dumping chemical waste and garbage into rivers and streams, and farmers sprayed a variety of pesticides on their crops with barely a whimper of protest from the government. It wasn’t until the November ’62 publication of Rachel Carson’s seminal book,Silent Spring, that the issue of industrial pollution was even addressed in a public forum.
Of greater concern to Americans was the threat of nuclear war. Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had worsened following 1961’s aborted American invasion attempt of communist Cuba at the Bay of Pigs —and an unsuccessful Vienna summit meeting between President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Both superpowers still regularly conducted atmospheric nuclear rests while increasing their weapons stockpile, heightening fears about the future. Such tensions contributed to troubled sleep for children who agonized through nightmares of nuclear holocaust, while also spurring the boom of an American cottage industry—the fallout shelter.
Nineteen-sixty-two proved to be the peak year for these underground havens of “safety.” In January, the Department of Civil Defense acknowledged that massive city evacuations simply could not be successful, given the brief warning time citizens would have in the event of enemy attack. The department encouraged instead the amassing of more public and private shelters. For construction firms, lumber and steel companies, and manufacturers of canned foods, cots, and storage units, Civil Defense’s official pronouncement guaranteed a healthy fiscal bottom line.
You didn’t necessarily have to be in the bomb shelter business to make money in 1962. As Americans gained more leisure time and disposable income, they turned to new products to improve their lives. Pop-top tabs on aluminum cans were invented, the better to open the first low-calorie soda ever marketed, Royal Crown’s Diet Rite Cola. Polaroid introduced new color film that developed snapshots in sixty seconds. Improved technology was making color television less expensive and more widely available. These and other modern conveniences could all be purchased at a friendly neighborhood emporium, including a brand new retail center called Kmart, which opened its first store in Garden City, Michigan.
Other technological advances contributed to national pride. In February, astronaut John Glenn struck a blow for his country in the space race by becoming the first American to orbit the earth. Further domestic fears about superior Russian satellite technology were soothed in July when AT&T’s Telstar beamed the first-ever pictures from space to television screens in the United States, Great Britain, and France. Technology was making the world smaller—even as its boundaries were changing.
Across the globe, colonies and protectorates such as Algeria, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, and Uganda broke from their mother countries to become independent nations. Standing regimes in Syria, Peru, and Yemen were toppled. But these events, while notable, did not directly relate to the sobering cold war conflicts between East and West.
One such flashpoint that did was in Southeast Asia, where the escalation of military action between communist North Vietnam and free-world-backed South Vietnam convinced the U.S. government to increase its number of American “advisers” from seven-hundred to twelve-thousand. An incident of potentially more tragic consequences occurred when Soviet nuclear warheads targeted for U.S. cities were clandestinely installed in Cuba. A tension-filled diplomatic showdown between Russia and the United States lasted for seven nerve-wracking October days before the Soviets finally agreed to dismantle their weapons. The favorable results of the Cuban Missile Crisis proved to be the greatest triumph of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, but were only a part of the personal imprint he stamped on his era.
Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the White House, and he channeled his appealing youth and energy (or “vigah,” as it sounded when spoken by the Boston-born JFK) to launch his “New Frontier.” Kennedy beckoned Americans into the service of their country, heightening their enthusiasm with the creation of the Peace Corps and other new programs that were especially appealing to his young followers.
The glamorous aura of the Kennedy family resonated just as deeply among the American people. JFK was handsome, masculine, and witty, yet was also a loving father of two spirited young children. Attractive First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy brought high-brow sophistication back to the nation’s capital and set the standard in women’s fashion. Her photogenic talents were evident in February of ’62 when Jackie guided a nationally televised tour of the White House.
The Kennedys were active patrons of the arts. They frequently hosted operas and classical performances, and held the first jazz concert ever staged at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Educators, philosophers and film stars were included among their closest friends. Blessed with wealth, power, good looks, and incalculable charisma, the Kennedys were the closest approximation to American royalty. Such deification prompted the press to label all things Kennedy as part of the reign of “Camelot.”
Even the lampooning of the Kennedy clan was viewed as an expression of affection. A popular 1962 record, The First Family, poked good-natured fun at the president and in so doing became, for many years, the best selling comedy album of all time. JFK, ever the good sport, admitted he enjoyed the performance but confessed that his alter ego, comedian Vaughn Meader, “sounded more like [brother] Teddy than me.”
In other respects, the president was still a man of an earlier time. Kennedy’s willingness to wage an aggressive cold war against communism superseded the zeal of some right-wing Republicans. On the issue of civil rights, JFK was more of a Johnny-come-lately. His support proved symbolic and superficial until events such as the ’62 Mississippi riots demanded more forceful action. Even so, it was undeniable that his beguiling personality encouraged a national spirit of vitality—a “can-do” confidence that reached its zenith in 1962.
This fresh breeze of enthusiasm inevitably carried over into 1962 mainstream art forms and culture, which had been stifled during the ’50s decade of anti-intellectualism. Andy Warhol’s startling new “Pop Art” debuted at an exhibit in New York. The Greenwich Village folk revival movement spawnedThe Free-Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, a thought provoking second (and more widely heard) album from the most politicized voice of early ’60s music.
On Broadway, the acid-tongued Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? introduced theatre audiences to language previously unheard on the New York stage. Controversial films Lolita, Lonely Are the Brave, The Manchurian Candidate, and To Kill a Mockingbird opened, while an increasing number of intellectually stimulating books were also being published. The titles included James Baldwin’sAnother Country, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy. One ’62 release that probably had the most lasting influence was Cosmopolitaneditor Helen Gurley Browns Sex and the Single Girl, her then-shocking polemic on a new code of personal conduct for the modern woman.
Despite these bursts of originality, much of the ’62 culture was still grounded in the relative safety of the decade that preceded it. Ranking among the top box-office movie hits were How the West Was Won, Walt Disney’s In Search of the Castaways, and The Music Man. Billboard’s musical Top Ten included David Rose’s orchestral rendition of “The Stripper” and “Johnny Angel,” a bathetic teen anthem from Shelley Fabares. Even 1962’s number one song was decidedly mainstream. “Stranger on the Shore,” a pop-jazz instrumental performed by an English clarinetist named Mr. Acker Bilk, sold more copies than competing singles by Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Connie Francis, or The Four Seasons.
Another loyal subject of the British Empire rose to the top of his field in ’62 when Australia’s Rod Laver became the first man to win the Grand Slam of tennis in twenty-four years. The wait for a champion was considerably shorter in the year’s main boxing event. It took barely two minutes of the first round for surly-faced challenger Sonny Liston to seize the heavyweight crown from an outgunned Floyd Patterson.
Other sports records were emphatically shattered by Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, who became the first player in NBA history to average fifty points a game, a figure helped along by Wilt’s record-setting, hundred-point performance on March 2nd in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Despite Chamberlain’s prodigious output, the rival Boston Celtics won their fourth consecutive league title. Other 1962 champions also had the ring of familiarity: Toronto’s Maple Leafs earned a tenth Stanley Cup; the Green Bay Packers took their second consecutive NFL football championship; and golfer Arnold
Palmer wore his third green jacket at the Masters.
Sports fans also witnessed the first-ever nationally televised fatality—Emile Griffith’s lethal knockout of Benny Paret during their welterweight title bout. Paret’s stunning death and virtually all live sports of l962 were broadcast primarily in black and white. Even the increasing number of households with color TVs was limited to monochrome images except in prime time, the only block in the network schedule where color programs could be found.
NBC led the pack, with color available in nearly seventy percent of its evening lineup. It wasn’t until 1962 that ABC finally broke through the broadcast color barrier with the cartoon series, The Jetsons. Virtually all CBS shows were still living in a black and white world. Despite the color void, CBS was the top-rated network, boasting such hits as Perry Mason, Red Skelton, Andy Griffith, and Candid Camera.
Westerns still rode tall in the TV saddle in ’62. Wagon Train, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke were among the highest-rated programs, while additional “oaters” Rawhide, Lawman, Maverick, and The Riflemanalso drew sizeable audiences. Domestic sitcoms maintained their popularity: Danny Thomas, My Three Sons, Dennis the Menace, and Dick Van Dyke were all top 20 programs in the ratings.
The runaway hit of 1962 was the saga of a clan of Ozark hayseeds who accidentally struck oil, got rich, then “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverleee…Hills, that is…swimmin’ pools, movie stars …” The Beverly Hillbillies debuted in late September, and within six weeks became the number one show on television, the most meteoric rise by any new program since The $64,000 Question in 1955. Audiences across America delighted in watching the homespun yokels in the Clampett family trample the ostentatious excesses of Beverly Hills, outwitting the snooty high society crowd of the most conspicuously wealthy community in the country.
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Although the basic premise of The Beverly Hillbillies was scarcely believable, the Clampetts, in their own way, followed a path that had been well traveled since the end of World War II. The urge to settle the unconquered frontier had always stirred within the souls of restless and ambitious Americans. “Go west, young man,” implored Horace Greeley a century before. After 1945, millions followed his advice and headed to California.
Much of the Golden State’s attraction emanated from its economic opportunities. Jobs were plentiful, primarily because many California industries contributed goods vital to the cold war: fuels, armaments, aerospace, shipbuilding, atomic research, automobiles. Backed by subsidies from the deep pockets of Uncle Sam, the state economy boomed, allowing workers to plunk down their earnings for a suburban dream home in seemingly no time at all.
Dreams were an essential component of the California migration, particularly in Los Angeles, home to the motion picture and television industry. Moviegoers were initially entranced by the images of “Lotus Land” on the big screen in their hometown theatres, then the little screens on their TV sets. The warm climate beckoned to those shivering in the northeast. The mountains and beaches lassoed folks bored with endless prairie flatlands. The glamor of Hollywood hooked just about everyone else.
San Francisco’s divergent, yet equally compelling appeal derived from its inherent beauty, international flavor, and high level of sophistication. Most attractive to newcomers may have been the city’s “live and let live” morality —an attitude that accepted those with different viewpoints or alternative lifestyles. Some migrants may have been “square pegs” or disenfranchised outcasts in their hometowns, but in San Francisco, they were tolerated, even welcomed.
Appropriately, the state motto is “Eureka!” which, translated from its Greek origins, means “I have found it!” For the millions who abandoned a familiar, if stagnating present for California’s propitious future, California’s official slogan was no empty promise. Whatever “it” was, newcomers by the thousands must have discovered what they were looking for. By 1962, California became, for the first time, the most populous state in the Union.
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The majority of that population lived in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. By strict definition, L.A. was not a city at all, but rather a scattered collection of individual communities linked by ubiquitous miles of serpentine highways. This was exactly the way the pioneer spirited Angelinos wanted it. As author David Rieff observed, “It was an old Los Angeles conceit, this belief in the automobile as haven in a heartless world, and of the freeways as an untrammeled frontier. Cowboys don’t ride buses. The act feels like a demotion from one’s Americanness. Traffic jams or no traffic jams, every car trip is a kind of miniature version of the fresh start that moving is felt to represent.”
By the early ’60s, there were four million cars serving seven million people, and Los Angeles was virtually the only major metro area in the United States that still did not operate a comprehensive rapid transit system. Many of these motorists drove daily to jobs in shipping, finance, or agriculture, but L.A.’s high-profile industries were tourism and show business. Graying skies filled with thickening automobile smog did not deter the multitudes who visited annually to “catch a wave,” tour a movie studio, or stargaze at celebrities.
Nightly network TV programs set in L.A. and Top 40 music extolling southern California beach bunnies were de facto free advertising for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, civic boosters who eagerly positioned the city as the mecca of leisure activity. A welcomed ally was the affluent baby boom generation growing up in southern California during the ’50s and ’60s, teenagers only too happy to perpetuate the casual images marketed by their elders.
By 1962, the surfing craze had grown from a regional California fad to a national obsession, thanks to hit records by L.A.-based acts such as Dick Dale and the Deltones, The Surfaris, Ventures, and of course, The Beach Boys. Pop culture observers Jane and Michael Stern characterized the surfing fad as a “carefree cosmology of twanging guitars, hot-rod cars, the smells of suntan lotion and sizzling cheeseburgers at an oceanside drive-in, and girls in bikinis and guys in tight white Levi’s … a fountain of eternal youth, represented by the ocean’s waves and a sun that always shone.”
Such activity only substantiated the popular notion that southern Californians sought pleasure over other humanly pursuits. It didn’t seem to matter. If good times and glamorous looks carried greatercachet than intellectual growth, so be it. Author Aldous Huxley carped disdainfully at Los Angeles when he wrote, “Thought is barred in this city of Dreadful Joy, and conversation is unknown.” Most L.A. natives, and nearly every tourist, couldn’t have cared less.
Three-hundred-thirty-seven miles to the north lay San Francisco, a city more familiar with fog, rain and brisk winds than L.A.’s perpetual sunshine and gentle breezes. The harsher northern California climate affected its populace sociologically, just as surely as southern California’s benign weather sustained the unbridled hedonism of its citizens. Like the weather, the behavior of Bay Area natives could often be construed as cool and blustery.
It wasn’t simply the chill in the air that shaped San Francisco attitudes: Here was a city that had once been leveled by earthquake, and its citizens knew another could occur at a moment’s notice. This constant fear may have partially contributed to the natives’ provincial and protective feelings toward their town. But such nurturing instincts went beyond preservation for survival’s sake alone. San Franciscans knew they were superior to Los Angeles, and truly believed their city was also the most civilized and sophisticated in the country—perhaps even the world.
Its scenic beauty was unparalleled. San Francisco was built in and around forty-two hills overlooking a breathtaking bay, the hub of the shipping industry, core of the city’s economy (along with banking and insurance). Unlike the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, the town proper was tightly confined to an area of less than forty-seven square miles, borders easily traveled by San Francisco’s indigenous cable cars or buses. Within these smaller boundaries lived people of varying nationalities, many who had settled permanently upon arriving in the West Coast’s busiest port city. Their numbers included the inhabitants of Chinatown, center of the largest Chinese settlement outside of Asia.
At one time Chinatown was bordered on Pacific and Kearny Streets by the “Barbary Coast,” a district of opium dens, whorehouses, and saloons that catered to rough-and-tumble seafarers on shore leave during the middle of the nineteenth century. Although the Barbary Coast’s heyday was brief, it set a precedent for the existence of enclaves catering to those with unquenchable prurient interests.
San Francisco’s tolerant nature also made it a haven for a variety of Bohemian movements, dating as far back as the 1840s. Writers, poets, and musicians coexisted and even thrived in the community. The San Francisco Renaissance of the 1950s begat the “Beat Generation,” disaffected youths who rejected the conventional mores of the Eisenhower era. Influenced by the writings of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, the Beats centered in the North Beach area, which, in time, became a magnet for other counterculture interests. Jazz performances became a North Beach staple. Nightclubs such as the Purple Onion and hungry i featured avant-garde comedians Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, and also popularized folk artists such as The Kingston Trio.
In 1962, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a group espousing liberal causes, officially formed in Port Huron, Michigan. They were two years behind those San Franciscans who had already made inroads on behalf of social change. As early as 1960, committed activists at the University of California-Berkeley had sown the seeds of Cal’s Free Speech Movement by disrupting House of Un-American Activities hearings at San Francisco’s City Hall.
Even a perceived moderate such as President Kennedy was not immune to radical Bay Area protests. At least two groups announced plans to picket the president’s Berkeley speech in March of ’62. They targeted their criticism at JFK’s policies on military spending, civil rights, the Bay of Pigs—even America’s accelerating commitment to Vietnam. This was happening two years before the war was officially escalated, and five years prior to the national antiwar movement. Clearly, San Francisco could stake its claim as the most liberal of American cities.
The city also led in areas of a more morbid nature. By 1962, San Francisco topped the nation in suicides, and suffered the country’s highest accident rate. San Francisco was also first in mental health patients and alcoholism. More than twice as many San Franciscans died from cirrhosis of the liver than in any other city in the country—including Los Angeles, the despised neighbors to the south.
In 1962 America, it would have been impossible to find two places as geographically close but as profoundly different as San Francisco and Los Angeles. On the map, they were cities in the same state. By all other comparisons, they were worlds apart.
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Los Angeles and San Francisco had long sustained a mutual disregard, hatred blended with a tinge of jealousy for what one town possessed that the other did not. Some, like San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, reveled in the intrastate feud. “The rivalry is a reflex built at birth. It is firmly a part of the mystique of each city—and why not? In this era of blandness verging on torpor, and conformity close to non-think, it’s fun to have an object of automatic disdain so close at hand.”
Bay Area native and Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe Cronin offered a more visceral opinion: “You can talk all you want about Brooklyn and New York, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Dallas and Fort Worth, but there are no two cities in America where the people want to beat each other’s brains out more than in San Francisco and Los Angeles.” On California’s major league baseball diamonds during 1962, Cronin was absolutely correct. The Dodgers-Giants rivalry was fought on New York turf until 1958, when the two teams moved to California. Since that time, no West Coast version of the rivalry has ever eclipsed the fervor of the ’62 hostilities.
The tightly bunched final standings at the conclusion of a feverish pennant race are one measure of verification. Attendance figures provide another: The two teams played head-to-head in twenty-one games that attracted nearly one million fans. Ratings for Dodger-Giant telecasts in both cities routinely reached seventy percent, and radio broadcasts usually grabbed three quarters of the listening audience. One Bay Area phone service providing inning-by-inning results received in excess of twenty-five-thousand calls per day in ’62.
Newspapermen in both towns reserved their most acidic barbs for the rival cities. Of the Bay Area’s liberal moralities and chilling weather, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times jeered, “San Francisco isn’t a city—it’s a no-host cocktail party. It has a nice, even climate: it’s always winter.” Noting the Giants’ past proclivities for failing in clutch situations, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner columnist Melvin Durslag issued this sarcastic recommendation: “San Franciscans [who expect a pennant] are advised to stay away from coarse foods … avoid stimulants that irritate the stomach walls … if seized by a choking feeling, lay quietly and well-covered until your physician arrives.”
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Art Rosenbaum returned the fire by perpetuating the phrase “Smodgers” (in reference to the pervasive smog that hung in the Los Angeles atmosphere), while also penning prose chiding L.A. as “a city whose women would attend the opera in leopard shirts and toreador pants if indeed they attended the opera at all.” Colleague Herb Caen tersely added, “Isn’t it nice that people who prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco live there?”
The ballplayers on both teams fed on the frenzy—and the lineage of the historic feud itself. Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres took part in the rivalry on both coasts. “It may not have matched the spirit of the New York days, but it was still a great rivalry. You always got fired up playing the Giants.” L.A. shortstop Maury Wills could feel “… definite tension in the air. It reminds me of a homecoming college football game. Each time we face San Francisco, it’s different than any other National League series.”
Established veterans from Brooklyn taught youngsters such as infielder Ron Fairly to “hate the Giants more than any other team. I’m sure that the Giants weren’t too fond of us, either—and that’s exactly the way we wanted it.” Dodger infielder Jim Gilliam regarded the Giants’ Willie Mays as “one of the best friends I ever had in my life, but there was no way we would talk to each other on the field. Not even a hello.” Nineteen-year-old L.A. rookie Joe Moeller caught on quickly, too. “Against the Giants, you just tried that much harder. Even if the Giants had been in last place, we would’ve wanted to beat them worse than the frontrunners.”
In San Francisco, the feeling was mutual. Alvin Dark, who played for the Giants in the East and managed them in the West, rejected the view that the California battles weren’t as fierce. “I don’t care where you play these games—the Dodger-Giant rivalry is always intense.” First baseman Orlando Cepeda noticed the difference during pregame batting practice. “Usually, in the batting cage, guys on other teams would come over and exchange ideas, say hi. When we played the Dodgers, we wouldn’t talk to them. Every game had a playoff atmosphere.”
Outfielder Felipe Alou regarded each series as “a special event that required a much greater level of preparation.” Slugger Willie McCovey sensed the difference even before the Giants got to the stadium.
“When you stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, you could hear the electricity. Even the skycaps at the airports were all wrapped up in the rivalry. It carried over to the hotel and finally the ballpark. The tension was always there.”
Since the early 1900s, that tension was sustained over the course of a traditional 154-game schedule, providing the Dodgers and Giants with a minimum of twenty-two guaranteed meetings every year. But in 1962, that number shrank to 18 while the overall size of the National League enlarged. The American League created two new franchises in 1961; now it was the N.L.’s turn.
This redistribution of talent created a noticeable jump in run production and a shocking regression in overall quality pitching. Seven of ten clubs finished above .500 by routinely heating up on the three remaining patsies. The on-field performances that resulted demanded sweeping revisions in baseball’s record books. Clearly, expansion had permanently reconfigured the competitive—and geographic landscape of the National League.
After a four-year absence, N.L. baseball returned to New York with the creation of the Mets. Another ballclub, the newborn Houston Colt .45’s, was also added. Eight additional games were tacked onto the schedule, a total that, at the time, designated the 1962 season as the lengthiest in National League history.
Even the extra regular-season games were not enough for Los Angeles and San Francisco to conclusively determine which team would win the pennant. A best-of-three playoff series pressed the newly expanded schedule into overtime, adding a significant chapter to the lore of the rivalry. The battle for the 1962 National League championship ranks favorably alongside the storied New York-based feuds that preceded it—and unquestionably remains the most dramatic pennant race ever staged between the Dodgers and Giants within the boundaries of California.
The good news is that this is the 50th anniversary of one of the most thrilling baseball seasons in history, involving two iconic franchises in which 162 games simply wasn’t enough. Nor were 163 or 164. The bad news is, I remember it, thanks to the great help of Plaut’s wonderful writing. If you aren’t old enough, pull up your iPad or Kindle and enjoy a magnificent journey around the bases.Charley Steiner
The classic baseball pennant races have become ancient history. That’s why David Plaut’s CHASING OCTOBER is so much fun. Nineteen-sixty-two not only provided us with some of baseball’s best drama, but it also cemented the rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers by moving it from one coast to the other.Chris Berman
More than a conventional baseball recap, [it] captures the times, showing how America was enjoying its last pennant race in a bubble of innocence, one year before the murder of John F. Kennedy…There have been other historic baseball rivalries—such as New York and Boston—but none can quite compare for vitriol.Josh Getlin
One of the most aptly titled baseball books of all: a fierce rivalry in which one team led the other by four games with seven left to play—and lost!Charles Einstein