The San Francisco Giants may have won the World Series in 2010, but a look back in time, sheds light on the team’s origins, its tenacity and a local ball game that captured the interest of Cruzans
Back in 1887, when local entrepreneur Fred Swanton—the man who would eventually inspire the idea for the Boardwalk and become mayor of Santa Cruz—heard that the Giants were coming to San Francisco, he hurried to the city and paid a call on Walter Appleton, the New York club’s advance man. “The managers of Dolphin Park offered us such liberal inducements to come here,” Appleton advised the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “that we were determined to not disappoint the people.”
It had been a banner year for Santa Cruz baseballists. The local club, led by former major leaguer Scott Hastings, had recently won the Central Coast League championship. Hastings, who had caught the best pitchers of the time, including Al Spalding, Candy Cummings and the ill-fated Jim Devlin, had passed on his knowledge of curves and drops to a strong-armed local twirler known as Reynolds.
The rookie, whose real name was John Hunolt—his parents disapproved of baseball—had overpowered opponents from Watsonville, San Juan and Salinas in the final months of the season. In spite of their success, the Santa Cruz Surf, one of the local newspapers of the day, doubted that the Santa Cruz nine, also known as the Dolphins, would measure up to the visitors.
In fact, while the Giants were on their way from New York to California for a series of exhibition games—the game with the “Santa Cruz League nine” was slated for the first Friday in December—arrangements were being made to substitute a brass howitzer for Reynolds.
LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN The Santa Cruz Dolphins in 1887. The team came close to playing the Giants, but another group of players were hand-picked to play the visiting team from the East, in a game held in Santa Cruz. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, UCSC.
“In case the ‘Giants’ get on to his pitching,” The Surf noted on Oct 18, 1887, “this will require a new ball for each throw, but expense will not be allowed to stand in the way of victory. The game will doubtless be an exciting and interesting one, and if the new battery proves a success, Santa Cruz will stand a fair chance to win.”
As their plans matured, the promoters came up with a stronger match, billed as “Gold Vs. Gotham.”
“Coming of the New York Giants,” read the headline in the Surf on Nov. 22, 1887, adding that the greatest athletic treat to Santa Cruz was this game.
“The game cannot fail to be a grand exhibition of our national game, as it will settle a question that cannot be done in San Francisco, that is, whether the New Yorks can defeat a strong picked nine of California players,” the Surf reported. “The New York Giants, with the addition of Denny, are admitted to be the strongest aggregation of ball players in the United States. The picked nine is also the strongest that could be selected from the San Francisco clubs, and each player excels in some part of the game in the League record. The great drawing card is the favorite pitcher, Van Haltren.”
After the Giants arrived in California, they played their first and second games in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. It was not exactly a doubleheader, as the California League Grounds were cleared between the morning contest with the Oakland team. The streetcars were jammed as baseball fanciers journeyed out to the ball field at the end of Haight Street, across from the new Golden Gate Park.
“The long-looked-for event has come at last,” reported the Alta California on Nov. 25, 1887. “The Giants are here. Thousands of people bent on seeing the only Kelly, the great Denny, and the only Ewing, occupied the boxes, sat upon the fences, and in fact occupied every available space. The public are guessing which of the California League clubs will give the New Yorks the hardest game.”
The morning crowd was treated to a good exhibition. Ace pitcher Tim Keefe yielded two runs in the first inning, then shut down the Haverlys (named for a local theater) while pitcher Mike Kelly led the Giants to a 9-2 win.
Keefe was in the box at the start of the second game, but soon grew arm-weary and was replaced by Kelly, famous as a catcher and outfielder. After six innings the score stood at 4 to 4, but from that point on, the Oakland club ruled the day, winning 10-4. Pitcher George Van Haltren, a California boy who had spent the summer with the Chicago White Stockings, drove in the go-ahead run.
Local reporters and bettors were jubilant.
The Alta reported that most expected to see the Giants “wipe the Greenhoods off the face of the earth, but in this they were agreeably disappointed.
“All Oakland is happy, and the public are brought to a realization that California boys can play ball a little.”
Even by today’s standards, these Giants were a first-class team. Five of the nine were voted into the Hall of Fame (Buck Ewing, Rodger Conner, Tim Keefe, Mike Kelly, John Ward). After a century, Tim Keefe holds eighth place on the list of total victories and is in the Top 25 in strikeouts.
The 1887 season had been a difficult one for pitchers. For the first time, strikes and balls were based on a strike zone. To encourage hitting, a fourth strike was added to the traditional three, and the number of balls for a “ghost hit” lowered to five. Keefe’s good control kept his bases on balls down, but he struck out 100 fewer batters and saw his ERA (Earned Run Average) balloon to over 3. Still, he had managed to win 35, while losing only 19.
Win-Win The New York Giants 1888, the year they won the World Series. They’d remain an East Coast entity until 1957—when San Francisco beckoned.
Courtesy Libary Of Congress. Photograph by George Hastings.
At 6’3” and 220 pounds, Roger Connor was the biggest of the tall players who had been given the nickname of “Giants” by manager Jim Mutrie (replacing the far less memorable “Maroons”). The first baseman was the top slugger of the 19th century. His total of 138 home runs was the record until Babe Ruth blew past him in 1921, and he also topped the list for triples. He had hit the first grand slam in National League history and was the first to clear the right field fence at the Polo Grounds, 20 feet high and more than 400 feet from home plate.
Buck Ewing was regarded as one of the best catchers in the game, although injuries had forced him to abandon the backstop position that summer. Ewing could not only hit for average and power, but he frequently stole bases, including home.
Shortstop John M. Ward, leader and spokesman of the Ball Players’ Brotherhood, was a celebrity, recently married to a Broadway actress. As a young pitcher Ward had brought a championship to the Providence Grays, and pitched the National League’s second perfect game. Ward had been one of the first players signed by the New York expansion team in 1883, but his arm soon went bad. When he abandoned the box in July of 1884, his ability as a hitter won him a spot in the outfield. Moved to shortstop the following season, he soon won acceptance as one of the best in the game.
Ward had also shown grit and ingenuity as a batsman. After being hit in the head with a pitch, he found himself reluctant to dig in at the plate. His solution was to switch from the right side to the left. To compensate for loss of power, he practiced the neglected art of bunting. The 1887 season had been his best as a hitter, and he had stolen a league-leading 111 bases.
The other visiting Giants were solid performers as well. In his first year in the major leagues, outfielder “Silent Mike” Tiernan, had hit over .300 and launched 10 home runs. Second baseman Danny Richardson was a reliable fielder and hit well in the clutch. Catcher Willard “Baby” Brown was a product of the California League, having played with Van Haltren on the champion Greenhood and Morans of 1886 before being signed by the Eastern club.
The touring Giants were missing several of their usual line-up, but the substitutes could be said to have improved the nine. Californian Jeremiah Denny was the best player on a bad team—The Indianapolis Hoosiers had finished last, but the third baseman had been among the league leaders in hitting, with 11 homers to his credit. Denny had grown up in San Francisco and won fame with local teams before John Ward recruited him for the Providence Grays in 1881.
The other replacement was Mike “the Only” Kelly, the most famous player in the country. When the San Francisco Examiner announced the arrival of the Giant Combination, he had received top billing: “MIKE IS HERE. The Beauty and the Famous New York Giants in Town.”
Eight years earlier, while visiting San Francisco with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Kelly had been recruited by Captain Anson of the White Stockings, who offered him a better contract. Together, the two had led the Chicago team to five pennants in eight seasons, contending with each other for batting titles.
Kelly and several of his teammates celebrated their successes freely and openly at saloons throughout the country. In fact, in 1886, Anson, a former drinker, and Al Spalding, president of the White Stockings, included a no-alcohol clause in the contracts of their players. When a Pinkerton detective caught Kelly drinking whiskey, cash was taken out of his pay envelope. That October, after the National League champion White Stockings were defeated in that season’s World Series by the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, Kelly demanded his release, stating that he had not “been treated exactly right.”
That winter, when the Chicago club dealt Kelly to the Boston Red Stockings, the press borrowed the nickname “$10,000 beauty” from an actress and applied it to the ball-player. It was an unheard-of transaction. Money had occasionally changed hands when a player changed clubs, but never on such a scale.
Hitting Santa Cruz
In Santa Cruz, as the “Coming Event” neared, Swanton made the rounds of the local papers, promoting the showdown between “California’s Representative Baseballists” and the visiting Giants. Theater-style notices advised Surf readers on Nov. 26:
“All the following wonderful players appear at the Dolphin Park on Friday.
Mike Kelly, the $10,000 beauty
Jerry Denny, the greatest player in the world
John M. Ward, the metropolitan favorite
Roger Connor, the powerful batsman
Billy Brown, the renowned catcher
Buck Ewing, the leading backstop
Tim Keefe, the author pitcher
Danny Richardson, the lightning 2nd base
Mike Tiernan, another great batsman
The Picked Nine—strongest that could be selected from the S.F. clubs. Van Haltren, McDonald, Shea, Lange, Blakiston from G&M, Bennett, Donahue from Haverlys, ‘Live’ Taylor, Hurley from Pioneers. The game cannot fail to be a grand exhibition of our national game.”
And then … more.
On Nov. 28, the excitement grew as the paper cheered that the visiting team would include “as fine a lot of ball players as could be put into a nine.”
Accolades were given to champion shortstop Ward, a lawyer and graduate of Harvard College who had married Helen Dauvray, the celebrated actress.
And behind the bat: Babe or “California Brown,” “Our” Jerry Denny, the champion third baseman. In the field” Kelly, the Beaneaters’ $10,000 beauty, the champion batsman and all-around player. Connor, first baseman, was a champion batter.
“Van Haltren who will pitch against the New Yorks on Dec. 3 in this city will receive $30 for his services on that occasion,” the Surf also reported. “McDonald, his catcher, will receive $25.”
Local residents knew that there was a certain risk in scheduling a ball game during the first week of December. The seasonal rains were just starting. A reporter from the Sentinel sought out the organizer of “The Big Game,” asking that if it should rain on that Friday, would the game between the New York Giants and the picked nine actually be played in town.
Swanton replied positively:
“If it should continue to rain between now and Thursday and then let up we will put a gang of men on to sweep off the water and have four wagons haul sand to the Park and scatter it over the diamond and on Friday we will have the sand swept away,” he said.”We would then sprinkle a light coating of dry sand on the diamond, which would then be in first class condition. Hurrah for the Dolphins!”
Plans were finalized by Wednesday.
“On Friday noon, via the narrow gauge, the New Yorks, together with the picked nine will arrive and stay in our city until Saturday morning, returning on the 6 o’clock broad gauge train,” the Sentinel wrote.
It rained on Wednesday … and again on Thursday before a brief item in a local paper informed the public that the big baseball game would take place on Tuesday.
After a wet weekend, the weather relented on Monday. And then … the following morning, the Giants were aboard the narrow gauge, enjoying the marvelous scenery. After checking in at the Pacific Ocean House, the visitors paraded to the ballpark, led by “Professor” George Hastings’ Band.
The Sentinel was represented, as was its rival, the Surf.
“The long-looked-for game of baseball between the New Yorks and a California picked nine came off Tuesday afternoon at the Dolphin Athletic Park, in the presence of about 1,200 people,” the Sentinel reported. “The major portion of the audience were residents of Santa Cruz, though the suburban districts were well represented. The fair sex turned out in goodly numbers, and may be said to have made up about one-fourth of the audience.”
The Sentinel’s lead also featured a telling criticism on Dec. 7, commenting on how the grounds were not in as great a condition as they could have been.
“Instead of immediately coating the wet ground with sand the sun ought to have been allowed full play on the adobe up to an hour preceding the game, and then sprinkled with the sand,” the paper noted. “As it was, the field was exceedingly slippery, and on several occasions the players were sent off their feet. A much more interesting game might have resulted if the grounds had not been so slippery and more activity displayed in base-running.”
As for the Surf, it counted 200 fewer spectators, but its account of the “Gold Vs. Gotham” encounter also blamed field conditions for the fall of the picked nine.
“The New York Giants are deserving of the name, for a finer looking body of men would be difficult to imagine,” the paper printed. “The California boys are number one ball players, but they have not been trained to play in the mud.”
The New Yorks came out with their “best men” but even from the beginning the result of the game was “foreshadowed.”
There drama began in the early innings.
The game opened with Kelly, the “$10,000 beauty,” at bat. He hit to Van, the California favorite, and went out at first.
“Ewing introduced himself by knocking the ball over the left field fence, making a home run,” the Sentinel wrote. “Connor then stepped to the plate and sent the ball sky high to far center, but Hurley after a long run caught it.”
The Surf observed that Ewing’s drive took at least one local resident by surprise. “The ball which was sent over the fence, came near paralyzing a white cow, which was peacefully grazing on the outside.”
Bottom line: the slick field added uncertainty to the play.
Tiernan got three strikes in a row, followed by two balls. After the fourth strike, the Surf wrote that McDonald dropped the ball and “in endeavoring to regain possession of the ball slipped and allowed Tiernan to get first.”
The Giants picked up two more runs in the second after Ward’s ball skipped to Lange—he slipped and failed to put it to first. A hit arrived from Richardson and the runners moved up, thanks to a sacrifice fly by Brown. And then Kelly drove in both runners after a great single to right.
Contrary to predictions, Keefe was back in the box and in shape to throw. But The Californians did not catch on to Keefe’s pitching—only two of them succeeded in reaching third base during the entire game. The star twirler, who had been compelled to “ride his charley horse” after the first exhibitions, narrowly escaped re-injury in the fourth inning when he lost his footing.
In the fifth, while trying to stretch a single into a double, Denny slid awkwardly into second and sprained his ankle. The California favorite limped through two more innings, but could not take the field in the bottom of the seventh. Trailing by three runs, the picked nine suddenly faced improved odds. Once again, the Giants defense proved equal to the task at hand.
The New Yorks played with eight men—Ewing took Denny’s place at third, leaving only a right and left fielder. The California team sent Lange to the bat—he hit to Keefe, who picked up that wild ball and sent it to right to first. Bennett flew to left and Tiernan muffed the ball—he advanced to second by Van Haltren’s base on balls, but “was caught between second and third bases and retired,” the paper noted, “in attempting to steal second Van was put out by Brown’s throw.”
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, the Californians took another shot at the two-man outfield of Kelly and Tiernan.
Then Smith hit a high one to right field, and “had not the fence stopped the ball he would have probably made a base or two more, but as it was he only reached first, there to remain while Shea was caught out on a fly to Kelly, and Borchers retired on four strikes.”
The Giants put the game out of reach in the ninth with a powerful offensive display. Every man of the eight participated in the six-run outburst.
“The New Yorks paralyzed Van Haltren in the last inning, Keefe hitting a hard fly out of the reach of Smith,” the Sentinel wrote. “Keefe stole second, went to third on Kelly’s safe hit, and scored on Connor’s hard one to the left. Kelly in going to second slid beyond the bag, and was gently tapped with the ball by Shea, who received the sphere from Van.”
Connor had safely reached second. Ewing headed to first on a dead ball. Then he stole second. Tiernan’s long hit ushered in Connor and Ewing. Tiernan attempted to reach third, but when he arrived, Lange had the ball in his hand.”
Ward followed with a grounder, which, the local paper noted, “smoked between second and third …
“Then came Richardson, who made the longest hit of the day by sending the ball over the extreme right field fence, thus sending home Ward and himself. Brown then made a two-bagger and crossed the plate on the two bagger of Keefe.”
As the picked nine took its last turn at bat, center field was still “at the mercy of those who chose to knock the ball in that direction.” With one out, there was one more thrill in store as the Sentinel wrote:
“Lange took advantage of the situation and sent the ball whirling in the aforesaid direction. The ball was admirably fielded by the great Kelly, who worked in the right field. The ball was thrown to third in great shape to cut off Lange, but Ewing failed to hold the ball.”
The opportunity to avoid a line of goose eggs passed quickly, however, on a foul pop and a grounder back to Keefe.
In a post-game interview, the losing pitcher spoke well of his opponents.
“Van Haltren said that the game was one of the finest that the Giants have played in this State. ‘The victory of the Giants,” he remarked, “was due to their batting , and our inability to hit Keefe. I never saw Keefe play so well. The game was for blood from the start.’”
Despite the final score of 9-0, the Sentinel pronounced itself satisfied. “Though uninteresting, the game was scientifically played, and the managers who secured these clubs for Santa Cruz are to be congratulated on their success in presenting to our people one of the greatest baseball combinations on the globe.”
The next morning, Mike Kelly, “the Boston Beauty” chatted about baseball and boxing with the sporting editor of the local paper.
“My visit to the coast is more for recreation and rest than anything else. In the East, the people are now having plenty of snow, while Santa Cruz is bathed in sunshine. On the field yesterday I actually became overheated.”
Fred Swanton had high hopes of a return visit. The papers were tipped off that: “The managers of the Dolphin Athletic Park have in view a game between the New York Giants and St. Louis Browns. This would be a most interesting game and one for blood.”
The champion Browns, also in California for the winter, did split a pair of exhibition games with the Giants in January, but they took place in San Francisco. The two clubs met again that October in the World Series in 1988, after the Giants won their first National League pennant.