A ‘Giants’ Celebration

Giants fans far and wide descended on Cooperstown, N.Y., in May to celebrate the team’s first World Championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

Visitors had pictures taken with the Giants’ 2010 World Series trophy and took guided tours – focused specifically on Giants memorabilia – that revealed some of the most treasured items in the Hall of Fame’s collection.

Fans learned about heroes past and present, from John McGraw, Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell to Willie Mays, Will Clark and Tim Lincecum.

“My favorite thing was seeing the glove Mays used to make his famous catch in the 1954 World Series,” said Paul Lux of San Francisco. “Of course, seeing the 2010 trophy up close and personal and having my picture taken with it was priceless.”

Lux was one of many Bay Area fans who traveled across the country for the special event. Before heading to Cooperstown, he and close friends Ron Kakiki and Bob Hamilton stopped in New York to see the Giants take on the Mets at CitiField.

“All three of us are Giant fans for 50 years-plus,” Hamilton said.

The Hall of Fame has numerous items from the 2010 World Series on display in its “Autumn Glory” exhibit. The list includes:

– Bat used by World Series MVP Edgar Renteria to hit his game-winning home run in Game 5.
– Road jersey worn by Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum in Game 5; Lincecum won two games in the Fall Classic.
– World Series batting helmet worn by Cody Ross, who scored five runs in the World Series.
– Cap worn by the Giants Madison Bumgarner in Game 4, when the rookie pitched eight shutout innings.
– Cap worn by the pitcher Matt Cain in Game 2; Cain allowed no earned runs in 21.1 postseason innings in 2010.
– Left spike worn by the Giants’ Aubrey Huff in the Series; Huff drove in eight runs in the 2010 postseason.
– Catcher’s mask and spikes worn by the Giants’ Buster Posey throughout the Series.

“We work very closely and very aggressively with teams and players to have them understand that the Hall of Fame is the ultimate destination,” said Brad Horn, the HOF’s communications director. “There are many ways to celebrate a moment. Jeff Idelson (president of the HOF) and I are on-site at baseball’s signature events, such as the World Series, to make sure that we have proper representation from the most important milestones, the most important plays that transpire during a World Series.

“Timeliness is so vital. For example, getting Tim Lincecum’s jersey as he’s coming off the field is critical because a day or two later there’s so many other people that might want to have that item. That’s the reason we do it. So fans can enjoy it. We bring it into this collection where it’s going to be cared for forever and preserved.”

More players, who spent at least part of their career with the Giants, are in the Hall of Fame than any other franchise. Some, such as Rogers Hornsby, Duke Snider and Warren Spahn, had their best years with other teams, but they also donned a Giants uniform.

“The Giants, of course, are one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball history,” said Julie Wilson, a Hall of Fame staff member. “They’ve won six world championships and 21 pennants, the first in 1888.”

On display

Some items normally kept in storage were brought out for presentation, such as an all-black Giants jersey, with a white “NY” on the sleeve, worn by Red Murray in the 1911 World Series against the Philadelphia A’s. Only 10 percent of the Hall of Fame’s vast collection is on public display at any given time.

Giants artifacts trace the club’s full history from coast to coast.

One is a decorative silver trophy bat presented to the New York Giants’ George Van Haltren by the New York Mercury newspaper in 1894, after he’d won a fan popularity contest. Another rare item, from 1895, is original sheet music of a score called the New York Giants March that celebrated the reigning world champions.

A display case contains Christy Mathewson’s wool jersey, gold watch and his own box of Checkers. He once defeated world champion checkers player Newell Banks.

Next to that is Mel Ott’s jersey, cap and an ashtray given to him by West Point cadets, along with the jersey Bill Terry wore in the 1933 All-Star Game.

The early 1950s ushered in another great period in team history, as the Giants won the ’51 pennant on Bobby Thomson’s famed “Shot Heard Round the World” and the ’54 World Series, thanks largely to a young new superstar – Willie Mays. His cap, teammate Monte Irvin’s jersey and manager Leo Durocher’s 1951 Bowman baseball card are all displayed together.

There’s even a turnstile from the old Polo Grounds in New York.

“We’re paying tribute not only to Giants history in San Francisco, but all those New York Giants fans, too,” Horn said. “It’s great to see so much love and joy for a team. It shows you how great the connection is to a fan when their team wins the World Series. It’s not just the 25 guys on a roster. It resonates with an entire nation of fans.”

Memorabilia follows the team’s move west with a display of Orlando Cepeda’s equipment, the Candlestick Park home plate that Mays crossed for his then record 1,950th career run, and handsome photos of slugger Willie McCovey and hurler Juan Marichal.

From the modern era, a Giants locker has Lincecum’s jersey; Steve Finley’s helmet from his 300th home run, making him the sixth player in history to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bases; the cap Omar Vizquel wore when breaking Luis Aparicio’s record for most games played at shortstop (2,584); spikes Barry Bonds wore to become the first player ever with 400 home runs and 400 stolen bases; and Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s 2002 World Series bat when he became the first Japanese player to play in the Series and the first to get a hit.

The Hall staged a number of fun, informative events, such as a Giants trivia contest, patterned after the television show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Contestants, picked from the audience, had to answer multiple-choice questions such as, “What year did McCovey win the Rookie of the Year Award?”

One of the toughest stumped everyone: In 1905, Christy Mathewson pitched three World Series shutouts. Who got the fourth win for the Giants? (See answers at the end of the article).

World Series Weekend
The Hall of Fame’s annual World Series tribute weekend began in 2005, the year after the Red Sox won the previous year’s Fall Classic, the team’s first since 1918.

“Securing the trophy is a starting point because obviously it’s something that every fan wants to experience and what better way to experience it than at the home of baseball in Cooperstown?” Horn said. “The Giants took great measure to work with us to bring the trophy out East. Having a two-day visit to the Hall of Fame gives Giants fans the opportunity to combine their celebration with a great history.”

The weekend has become a regular date on the Hall of Fame’s calendar. So as soon as the 2011 World Champion is determined, fans of that team can begin making plans to visit Cooperstown next spring, as well.

One of the most entertaining events fans enjoyed was a live teleconference between the Hall of Fame’s Bullpen Theater and AT&T Park in San Franciso, where a Giants staff member gave people in Cooperstown a virtual tour of the ballpark while explaining the team’s entire West Coast history. It was 11 a.m. in upstate New York, 8 a.m. in San Francisco. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, fans at the Hall of Fame could see stadium employees getting AT&T Park ready for that day’s game. It was just like being there, as cameras showed various stadium features from Willie Mays Plaza to McCovey Cove.

Ray Brown, who traveled all the way to Cooperstown for the Giants tribute weekend, has been an usher at AT&T Park since it first opened in 2000. (The ballpark was previously known as Pac Bell Park). He explained how he first became a Giants fan.

“I was a little kid in the 1950s, a TV addict,” Brown said. “Basically, I watched everything on TV. My father had come West from New York. One day he said, ‘So you’re watching a baseball game. Well, I’m a Giants fan.’

“I found out later he really wasn’t, but he wanted to bond with his son. So I said, ‘OK I’ll become a Giants fan, too. Who are they?’ ”
Two weeks later the Giants announced they were moving to San Francisco. To an 8-year-old kid, it was confirmation that yes indeed, “The universe rotates around me.

“So it was forever that I would be a Giants fan,” Brown said. “I declared my Giant fandom.”

There were highlights – pennants in 1962, ’89 and 2002, along with a handful of division titles. However, it took 52 years from 1958-2010 for the San Francisco Giants to win their first World Series.

Brown’s dedication and long-suffering, like that of so many fans, finally paid off, which helps explain why he ventured 3,000 miles to be part of the Hall of Fame weekend.

“In fact, I’m coming from Troy, N.Y., where the World Series trophy made a stop to celebrate the Giants ancestry before New York City,” Brown said.

After the 1882 season, John B. Day was awarded a franchise in New York. After buying the defunct Troy team, he put some players on his new club, the New York Gothams, which later became the Giants.

Securing items such as spikes, jerseys, bats and balls for the Hall of Fame is one of Horn’s favorite duties, especially when he sees the joy it brings fans of a particular team.

“All it takes is one great day at the ballpark for a player’s feats to be preserved in perpetuity,” he said. “Helping a player understand our mission, that’s what I enjoy the most. Helping them see that there are a million places some artifact could be. There’s only one place that it will be taken care of forever and allow every fan from every walk of life the experience to enjoy reliving that moment. That’s right here in Cooperstown.”

(Trivia question answers: McCovey ROY: 1959; 1905 World Series: Iron Joe McGinnity.)

Paul is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at paulpost@nycap.rr.com.

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