Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review of "Home Team"

The calendar says April and we all know what that means - Opening Day is almost here!  To continue the baseball theme that has been prevalent on this blog, the next book is one on the history of the San Francisco Giants since their move west from New York.  Lots of little-known stories and some rebuking of commonly held beliefs.  Here is my review of "Home Team."

“Home Team: The Turbulent History of the San Francisco Giants” by Robert F. Garratt

Baseball, professional, history, Giants

Publish date:
April 1, 2017

264 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

When Horace Stoneham moved the New York Giants from Manhattan to San Francisco, the team’s fortunes and culture took as dramatic a change as its address did. The story of the team on the West Coast is captured in this interesting book by Robert Garratt. 

From the first time that Stoneham had the idea to move the ball club from the outdated Polo Grounds in Manhattan to the team’s success during the current decade on and off the field in AT&T Park, Garratt weaves facts and beliefs that are not quite facts into an entertaining read about the team that has often had a love-hate relationship with the fans and the city.

There are some stories that may not be as well known to a casual fan or to readers with a passing knowledge of baseball history. One of those is that the construction of Candlestick Park, while not as fraught with controversy as the construction of Dodger Stadium, had its own share of shenanigans. For example, the construction was overseen by contractor Charles Harney, who owned the land on Candlestick Point where the ballpark was built. He demanded that all plans from the architects and all construction vehicles on the site bore the name “Harney Stadium”, believing the park would be named for him.  When a fan vote gave the stadium the name “Candlestick Park” Harney ordered a work slowdown which delayed the opening of the ballpark for one year.

The years of ownership by Stoneham, which came very close to ending with the club moving to Toronto, and then later Bob Lurie, which came very close to ending with the club moving to Tampa Bay, make up the bulk of the book. They cover a wide range of topics - the results on the field, the struggles of the front office to come up with sufficient revenue, and the atrocious conditions of watching baseball at Candlestick Park.

However, once Peter Magowan became the principal owner in early 1993 and signed Barry Bonds to what was at the time the richest contract in baseball history, the team’s fortunes changed off the field as well as on it.  After suffering four defeats in five years for referendums on a new ball park under Lurie, Magowan spearheaded a successful referendum to build what is now AT&T Park. While the latter was built with private funds as opposed to using public funds in the other votes, it still represented the change in attitude of the city and public officials toward the value of the team to the city, a belief that is captured in the writing of the political process. 

Once the team moved to the new park in 2000, there is little written about the team’s history there and that was the only disappointment with the book for me. It would have been interesting to read about this author’s take on the recent run of World Series titles, the only three the team has won during its tenure in San Francisco, especially comparing the team’s riches from these to the struggles of the franchise during the 1970’s.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and informative book. It is recommended for readers who are either fans of the Giants or are interested in the history of the team.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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