In name only
Arnold Hano grew up across the street from the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants, in the same apartment building as Giants slugger Emil “Irish” Meusel. So you could say he was born into the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
And there was a time, Hano says, when the animosity between the two teams was so strong that pitchers regularly knocked down batters and runners knocked down infielders.
Once, in 1965, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal even knocked Dodgers catcher John Roseboro in the head with a bat.
That one wound up in Superior Court.
So Hano was understandably crestfallen to learn that the latest Giants-Dodgers feud -- this one between feisty Dodgers coach Larry Bowa and stubborn Giants pitcher Brad Penny -- was settled peacefully in a San Francisco hotel room last weekend.
With a handshake, not a punch.
“How utterly civilized,” Hano practically spat with disdain. “Rivalries have to have a little blood and guts.”
It’s unlikely you’ll see any of that this weekend when the Giants, trying to stay alive in the playoff chase, visit Dodger Stadium and the front-running Dodgers for the final time this season. And the prospect of continued civility saddens Hano, 87, a former New York Daily News journalist and author who has researched the rivalry in preparation for a panel discussion on the subject Monday evening at the Glendale Central Library.
“It lacks the proper cast of characters,” Hano says of the rivalry in its current form. “We don’t have Carl Furillo charging the Giant dugout to duke it out with Leo Durocher. Stuff like that just doesn’t work anymore.
“It’s a more neutral, more bland group of people. And they come and go pretty fast with free agency.”
Indeed, only 11 of the 71 players who will be in uniform this weekend grew up around the Dodgers or Giants. Ask the others about rivalries and they’re more likely to talk about the Packers and Bears, the Lakers and Celtics or the best current baseball feud, the one between the Red Sox and Yankees.
“That’s been pretty hot and heavy for a very long time,” says Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, who said playing the Red Sox left him mentally and emotionally exhausted during his 12 years with the Yankees. “Red Sox-Yankees, that’s as crazy as it gets.”
But before Red Sox-Yankees, there was Dodgers-Giants -- two teams ripe for rivalry because, while they played in the same league and same city, they couldn’t have represented neighborhoods that were more different.
The Giants were from glitzy, urbane Manhattan while the Dodgers -- the lovable bums -- were from gritty, blue-collar Brooklyn.
However, Hano says the roots of the rivalry were planted off the field, in 1900, when penny-pinching Giants owner Andrew Freedman concocted a secret plan to turn the National League into a corporation in which profits would be split, with the last-place Giants getting five times as much as the pennant-winning Dodgers.
The rest of the owners voted Freedman down and two years later he sold the team. But the rivalry remained. And grew.
“The rivalry was mainly the Dodgers being angry at the Giants,” Hano says, “and the Giants being rather above it all.”
Well, not completely. Years after Hall of Fame Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese retired, Hano cornered him at a banquet and asked about an infamous play from Reese’s rookie season when Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott -- the nice guy Durocher was referring to when he said “nice guys finish last” -- bowled him over on a routine play at second base.
“It still hurts,” Reese told him. “I wondered why he did that. He was saying ‘welcome to the rivalry.’ ”
“That,” Hano added with a sigh, “doesn’t exist anymore.”
Nor, some say, does the rivalry.
“I agree,” says award-winning author and baseball researcher Jean Hastings Ardell, who will moderate Monday’s panel.
“I wouldn’t say it’s dead. But it has definitely faded.”
One reason for that, says Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf, is the fact the competition has been a little one-sided lately. The Giants have won the season series from the Dodgers only once in the last five seasons and haven’t finished with a winning record since 2004. The Dodgers have made the playoffs three times in that span.
“Rivalries, usually the standings determine those,” said Wolf, who grew up a Giants fan in the San Fernando Valley. “I think it was more heated in the late ‘80s because the Dodgers obviously were really good and the Giants were good.
“As players we can’t look at any other team as being important to beat or dislike any team more because you have to beat everybody.”
But fans have no such problem, which is why the rivalry, if it still burns anywhere, burns in the stands.
“There will always be the fans that hate one another,” said Giants infielder Kevin Frandsen, who grew up a Giants fan in San Jose. “It will always be Northern California versus Southern California.”
“The rivalry, for the most part, is a lot more for the fans than it is for the players,” he says. “It’s fun for the fans to root for a team and actually despise a team. It’s fun to just hate them.”
But that too is fading, with consequences, Ardell says. She wonders if the current boorish climate in other arenas -- think Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards or Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) during President Obama’s address to Congress -- isn’t a result of the fading passion for some traditional sports rivalries.
“There’s something strange going on in this country with the anger and hatred I see in politics,” she says. “And I wonder if we weren’t better off when we hated the Giants or the Dodgers versus hating the liberals and the conservatives.”
Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.
Author Arnold Hano and former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter will discuss the Giants-Dodgers rivalry Monday at 7 p.m. at the Glendale Central Library auditorium. The event, sponsored by the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary, is free of charge.
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