The manager remained in the clubhouse, regaling reporters with stories from a bygone era. On the field players from both sides mingled, during batting practice, laughing, joking and recalling historic moments. Meanwhile, on the front page of the paper of record, there was a picture of a ballpark, but it wasn’t the one in the eye of the storm.
Today, Sept. 8, 2019, the Los Angeles Dodgers will host the San Francisco Giants. Sixty-two years ago to the day, Sunday, Sept. 8, 1957, the Giants were hosting the Dodgers, but the venue was the Polo Grounds. It would be the last meeting ever between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Giants were moving. That was definite. The previous month club owner Horace Stoneham made it official. The franchise of John McGraw, Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Leo Durocher, Willie Mays and many more, was picking up stakes and moving to San Francisco. While children lamented there would be no more Giants, Stoneham said not enough of their parents were attending games in the aging ballpark. Promised a new park and greener pastures, Stoneham announced he was moving west, when the season ended.
For the Dodgers, it was a little more complicated, even though their owner Walter O’Malley wanted to move west first and had to convince Stoneham he needed to join him in order to sell the National League that two clubs on the west coast would make it easier to gain approval for the move. It seemed some in the LA community were balking at giving O’Malley the moon in order to land the Dodgers. And although it was nearly a forgone conclusion the Dodgers were abandoning Brooklyn, the definitive announcement, unlike the Giants, had not been made. Maybe that’s why the New York Times chose to ignore the story in its Sunday, Sept. 8 edition.
On its front page, there was a picture of a ballpark, but it was a packed Yankee Stadium the day before, and the occasion was Cardinal Francis Spellman celebrating the 25th anniversary of his consecration as Bishop. No mention of the Giants and the Dodgers meeting for the last time within the New York City boundaries. Remarkably, there was no mention in the sports section, previewing this final meeting, just a game story that the Dodgers beat the Giants, 5-4, the day before in front of 14,009 at the Polo Grounds on Ladies Day. The story even hinted the win might place the Dodgers back in contention seven games behind first place Milwaukee with 17 games to play.
To be sure, there was live coverage of the game. Channel 11 WPIX, the Giants TV outlet would telecast the game, starting at 1:55 p.m. The Giants – with Russ Hodges, Jim Woods and Bob Delaney in the booth – would broadcast the game over their radio outlet WMCA, while Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett would be at mic side for the Dodgers over station WMGM.
With temperatures in the 70s, Don Drysdale started the game for Brooklyn, while Curt Barclay drew the starting assignment for New York. Dodgers second baseman Junior Gilliam opened the contest with a ground out to short. Sandy Amoros, who made the great catch off Yogi Berra in the seventh game of the 1955 World Series to help cement Brooklyn’s only World Championship, ended it with a ground out to second, as the Dodgers blew a 2-0 lead and lost, 3-2. In between, Willie Mays collected two hits, including his 20th triple of the season.
In the ninth inning Bobby Thomson, who hit the most famous home run in Polo Grounds’ history – the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ – entered to play left field, perhaps a sentimental move by manager Bill Rigney. Of those players who played in that game, only two are still alive, both Giants: Mays and Ozzie Virgil, whose son Ozzie also played in the big leagues. Among the broadcasters, only Scully is alive and his broadcast of that game is also the only known recording to survive this historic but under reported event. In fact, in the final inning of the final game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Scully is hyping the Dodgers television schedule on the club’s upcoming road trip.
In their broadcast, Scully and Doggett make scant reference to the game’s significance. Only at the end of the broadcast is the venerable Scully moved to comment, as Amoros steps to the plate:
“So if it is the last inning of the last game to ever be played between the Giants and the Dodgers here at the Polo Grounds, if time is gonna slam the door on this great rivalry over here, then Sandy Amoros has the privilege of being the fella with his foot in the door trying to keep it open.”
Alas, Amoros grounded out and Scully concluded his broadcast:
“The New York Giants saying good-bye to the Dodgers and vice versa here at the Polo Grounds, and the Giants win it, 3-to-2. And we would be remiss to say that it’s kind of a sad day for everybody concerned, if this will be the final game played here. Both clubs walking off and the Giants have the pleasant feeling of at least beating the Dodgers the last time this year…
“Friends, so maybe the last time we’ll be walking out of the press box here at the Polo Grounds. And you just kind of say good-bye and let it go at that. I guess everybody has his own thoughts and that’ll do it. It’s been fun. Here’s Jerry.”
As it turned out, it would not be the last time Scully exited the Polo Grounds’ press box, as he returned to broadcast LA Dodgers games for two seasons, when the Mets called the Polo Grounds home.
It took 1:53 to play the final game between the Dodgers and Giants at the “PG,” with 22,376 attending in a park that had a capacity of 56,000.
The next day there was no ignoring the final game in the New York Times, although the game did not merit front page coverage, booted by among stories one about Vice President Richard Nixon, claiming one way to reduce teen crime in New York City would be to incorporate a physical fitness program for teenagers.
The game did make the lead story in the sports section with a game story, a column by Arthur Daley and a sidebar feature on Giants manager Rigney telling stories in the clubhouse, accompanied by a picture of Rigney and Brooklyn manager Walter Alston standing side-by-side on the field before the game. Both men seemed to be wistfully looking toward the upper deck perhaps thinking what many others thought that fateful day, baseball in New York would never again be the same.