With the Dodgers coming to AT&T Park today for the start of a three-game series against the Giants, I thought I would relate one of my favorite Dodgers-Giants rivalry stories. It took place in August of 1962, as the Dodgers and Giants played a three-game series at Candlestick Park.
The Dodgers were in first place in the National League as the series started, five games ahead of the Giants. (In 1962, there were no separate divisions in baseball, and therefore, no formal playoff series. Whichever team finished first in each league won the pennant.)
The Dodgers’ running game was a big part of their success that year. It was the year base-stealing great Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record of 96. Wills stole 104 bases.
Giants manager Alvin Dark asked the head groundskeeper at Candlestick, Matty Schwab, if there were anything he could do to help slow Wills down. Schwab had an idea. He and his son went out early the morning of the first game of the series. Sports Illustrated writer Noel Hynd describes what they did:
Working by torchlight, the Schwabs dug up and removed the topsoil where Maury Wills would take his lead off first base. Down in its place went a squishy swamp of sand, peat moss and water. Then they covered their chicanery with an inch of normal infield soil, making the 5- by 15-foot quagmire visually indistinguishable from the rest of the base path.
By the time the Dodgers took batting practice that afternoon, however, the wet, loose soil became noticeable. When Dodgers coach Leo Durocher saw it, he got down on his knees and dug through the topsoil.
“What the hell is this?” he asked.
The Dodgers brought it to the attention of the umpires, who forced the Giants’ grounds crew to remove the soil or forfeit the game. The grounds crew complied, carting out several wheelbarrows of the stuff. But instead of replacing it with the regular infield soil, they carted back the peat moss mixture and laid it down again, then watered down the area. Now the soil was looser than before, and wetter. Yet, for some reason, the umpires approved it.
Back on the field, the Dodgers started making duck calls. “What time does the tide come in?” Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly asked Alvin Dark. Dark shrugged. Fairly built an impromptu sand castle.
“What could you do?” asked Dodgers left fielder Tommy Davis. “It was their park. They were going to get away with anything.”
The swamp did its job, slowing down the Dodgers’ otherwise superior running game. At one point, center fielder Willie Davis rounded first on a base hit, slipped, and was thrown out. After arguing with the umpire, he was tossed from the game.
Wills stole no bases that game, nor did any Dodger. The Dodgers lost the game, 11-2.
Word about the incident got back to National League headquarters, and the Giants groundskeepers were ordered to remove the soil. They did so, but they watered down the base paths for the second game, and it was so wet the umpires had to halt the game and have the grounds crew sand down the infield. This just made it swampy again. The Dodgers lost the second game, 5-2, and the final game, 5-1. They left Candlestick Park just two games ahead of the Giants.
The Dodgers and Giants would go on to tie for first place that year, leading to a three-game playoff that the Giants won, sending them to the World Series. You know the rest. The Giants lost to the New York Yankees, 4 games to 3.
The Giants would have to wait another 40 years before their next World Series chance, and another 48 before winning it for the first time since moving to San Francisco.