If April is the cruelest month, you wouldn’t have known it in 1958, at least not if you were a baseball fan living in California. In the thick of that month, two of Major League Baseball’s most storied teams began a new chapter of their longtime rivalry, this one opening on the West Coast to new fans, in new stadiums.
At the time, it must have seemed like everyone was coming to California. First Ricky and Lucy. Now the Dodgers and Giants.
You could have forgiven a player, a coach, a fan, or a sportswriter for misspeaking now and again, saying “New York Giants” or “Brooklyn Dodgers.” The two teams had been associated with the East Coast for almost seven decades. But now they were ours, and here they were in the flesh, on opening day, April 15, playing the first Major League Baseball game on the West Coast.
Naturally, it was a sunny spring afternoon at Seals Stadium in San Francisco’s Mission District. Seals Stadium wasn’t a new stadium. It had been built during the Great Depression for two Pacific Coast League teams, the San Francisco Seals and the Mission Reds. But it was new for the Giants, and it would serve as their home stadium for two seasons–the minor league teams having found other digs–as Candlestick Park was under construction. New bleachers had been put in to bump up the 18,600 capacity. Over 23,000 fans were in attendance.
An excited buzz filled the stadium.
The two starting pitchers were accustomed to the sunshine. For the Dodgers, it was a 6’5” 21-year-old right hander and future Hall-of-Famer from Van Nuys, CA, Don Drysdale. It was Drysdale’s third season in the majors. His greatness was still ahead of him.
Pitching for the Giants was a right hander from Arroyo, Puerto Rico, who was nine years older and five inches shorter than Drysdale, Rubén Gómez. Gómez was the first Puerto Rican player to play on a winning World Series team, when the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in 1954. In this opening day game, he would go on to become the first pitcher period to win a game on the West Coast, as the Giants clobbered the Dodgers, 8 – 0.
The starting lineups for both clubs reveal names both familiar and strange:
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Gino Cimoli CF
- Pee Wee Reese SS
- Duke Snider LF
- Gil Hodges 1B
- Charlie Neal 2B
- Dick Gray 3B
- Carl Furillo RF
- Rube Walker C
- Don Drysdale P
San Francisco Giants
- Jim Davenport 3B
- Jim King LF
- Willie Mays CF
- Willie Kirkland RF
- Orlando Cepeda 1B
- Daryl Spencer SS
- Danny O’Connell 2B
- Valmy Thomas C
- Rubén Gómez P
The game got off to a slow start, with neither team scoring in the first inning. The Dodgers threatened in the second with back-to-back singles by second baseman Charlie Neal and third baseman Dick Gray. But after a groundout to short by right fielder Carl Furillo that advanced Neal and Gray, Giants pitcher Rubén Gómez struck out Dodgers catcher Rube Walker and Drysdale.
The Giants and the Dodgers put zeros on the board in the bottom of the second and top of the third. Then, in the bottom of the third, Drysdale walked Giants second baseman Danny O’Connell and catcher Valmy Thomas. Gómez singled to load the bases. Giants third baseman Jim Davenport hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field, scoring O’Connell and allowing Thomas to advance to third. Left fielder Jim King singled to right, scoring Thomas and moving Gómez to second. But the Giants would get only the two runs in the third, as Willie Mays flew out to right and another Willie, right fielder Willie Kirkland, flew out to center. It was 2 – 0 Giants.
A strikeout, a walk, and a double-play ended the Dodgers’ chances in the top of the fourth. Giants rookie first baseman Orlando Cepeda led off the bottom of the fourth by flying out to left. That brought up the shortstop, Daryl Spencer, who launched a solo home run over the wall between left and center, making it 3 – 0 Giants. O’Connell grounded out to short. Thomas walked. A passed ball to Gómez advanced Thomas to second. Gómez then singled to right–the Giants pitcher’s second hit of the game–scoring Thomas. Davenport singled to right advancing Gómez to second.
That was it for Drysdale. He was taken out of the game after three-and-a-third innings and replaced by reliever Don Bessent. Bessent loaded the bases by walking King. Willie Mays came up and hit an infield single up the middle, scoring Gómez and Davenport. But as Mays tried to stretch his single into a double, he was thrown out at second. The Giants led 6 – 0.
The Dodgers went scoreless in the fifth. In the Giants’ half of the fifth, Kirkland flew out to center. Then Cepeda slammed a solo home run over the center field wall, making it 7 – 0 Giants. The Giants ended the inning with Spencer flying out to center and O’Connell grounding out to second.
After a scoreless sixth inning for both teams, the Dodgers brought in a pinch hitter for Bessent in the seventh. After the Dodgers failed to score yet again, Ron Negray replaced Bessent on the mound in the bottom of the seventh. Negray struck out Davenport and walked King. Mays hit his second infield single, advancing King to second. Kirkland then singled to right field, scoring King and advancing Mays to third. But as Kirkland tried to stretch his single into a double–the Giants had some aggressive base runners in 1958–he was thrown out by Dodger right fielder Furillo. Cepeda ended the inning by flying out to left. The Giants led 8 – 0.
In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers, for the last time, failed to put a run on the board. Pee Wee Reese ended the game by striking out looking, the exclamation point to an otherwise pointless game for the Dodgers.
The Giants won 8 – 0 in the their first game in San Francisco and the first Major League Baseball game on the West Coast.
Gómez pitched a complete game shutout, giving up six hits and striking out six.
Drysdale pitched three-and-a-third innings, giving up five hits and six earned runs, including a home run and three walks. He struck out only one batter.
Bessent pitched a little over two innings giving up four hits, one earned run, and one walk. He had no strikeouts.
Negray pitched two innings giving up two hits, one earned run, and three walks. He struck out one.
The headline in the San Francisco Chronicle the next day said it all: ‘We Murder the Bums.’
Interestingly enough, the very first game the Giants and Dodgers played against each other was an exhibition game in New York in 1884, in which the Giants beat the Dodgers 8 – 0.
The rivalry continues this afternoon at 1:10 PM (PDT) at Dodger Stadium.