Skip to main content

The worst stadium in sports?

By Mike Downey
December 21, 2013 -- Updated 1513 GMT (2313 HKT)
General view of Candlestick Park during a Giants game in 1989. The Giants have since moved to a much nicer park.
General view of Candlestick Park during a Giants game in 1989. The Giants have since moved to a much nicer park.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Downey says there's near-universal hatred for the San Francisco stadium
  • It's cold, windy and was particularly bad for baseball, he says
  • Monday is to be the final scheduled football game at Candlestick
  • Despite a memorable history, Candlestick won't be mourned, he says

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

(CNN) -- I hate my park ....

In San Francisco ....

OK, so that's NOT what Tony Bennett sang.

But very few do wax rhapsodic about Candlestick Park, that condemned property by the Bay. It will be host to one last scheduled sporting event this Monday night (a 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons football game) ... and then, in 2014, boom goes the dynamite. It's going to be blown to bits.

Goodbye and good riddance. Camelot, it's not.

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

A sampling of zingers from baseball greats about this pretty city's stadium throughout the years:

-- "I'd quit if I had to play here" -- Roger Maris

-- "If I was traded to the Giants, I'd quit baseball" -- Rocky Colavito

-- "A toilet with the lid up" -- Whitey Herzog

-- "We're lucky, we can leave, but the Giants have to stay here" -- Lew Burdette

-- "Candlestick was an abomination. It was a tough park to play in when it was cold, and it was always cold" -- Keith Hernandez

-- "We used to feel sorry for the fans, not for ourselves. At least we were moving around on the field" -- Willie McCovey

-- "In New York, they would have kept it full for more impact. At Candlestick, they had to drink half of it to keep warm" -- Steve Garvey (after a Giants fan threw a half-full bottle of gin at him)

-- "I bet I lost 200 home runs in that place" -- Willie Mays

-- "Dynamite" -- Jack Clark (asked what could improve the park)

And from a couple of former 49ers:

-- "Our home field was one of the worst places you would want to play" -- Joe Montana (a few months ago)

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers catches a touchdown pass during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park January 12.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers catches a touchdown pass during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park January 12.

-- "It was a dump, but it was our dump" -- Dwight Clark (a few days ago)

Yep, those tributes keep pouring in.

In the late 1950s, baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants decided to go west to sunny California, lock, stock and jocks. The Dodgers got the sun part. They relocated to Los Angeles. What the Giants got was the "hate California, it's cold and it's damp" part that guys like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra sang about.

Civic leaders in San Francisco, conscious of team owner Horace Stoneham's yen for tens of thousands of parking spaces that he'd never had at the Polo Grounds back in New York, zeroed in on 40-plus acres owned by contractor Charles Harney at a bayside spot known as Candlestick Point. The ground-breaking began in 1958. The ever-popular righthander, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, would toss out the Giants' ceremonial first pitch on April 12, 1960.

Nobody quite comprehended how unsuitable Candlestick Park's conditions would be for baseball. Famed lawyer Melvin Belli roared that Candlestick came with "the bitterest winds this side of the Himalayas." A 60-mph gust was not uncommon there. Balls hit out of the park by Mays and McCovey blew back into the park.

It wasn't so lousy for football. For the 49ers, a new arena wasn't paradise, but it was an upgrade from Kezar Stadium. Kezar's place in history today is mainly as the spot where Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) put a bullet into the serial killer Scorpio (Andy Robinson) without a warrant or reading him his Miranda rights. (A moment you probably never get to see on NFL Films.)

The only difference between Candlestick Park and San Quentin is that, at Candlestick, they let you go home at night.
Jim Wohlford

The Niners have been at Candlestick ever since. Monday's game marks the bitter end, unless Candlestick lands an unexpected NFL postseason contest or a farewell concert of some kind. (Paul McCartney supposedly is considering it.)

Bleacher Report: Candlestick Park's all-time greats team

That'll be that for a Northern California landmark of which ballplayer Jim Wohlford once said, vividly, "The only difference between Candlestick Park and San Quentin is that, at Candlestick, they let you go home at night."

At least Alcatraz prison became a tourist attraction for a while. Candlestick, a.k.a. "The Stick," will be reduced to rubble. Imploded. Disintegrated. Zapped off the map. They probably won't even scatter its ashes at sea.

What was it pitcher Jim Brosnan said of this structure decades ago? Oh, yeah: "It slants down toward the Bay and before long will be under water, which is the best place for it."

Damn, man. That's cold.

So was the park. It made Wrigley Field feel like Miami Beach. It got so cold that at least one player, Bobby Murcer, kept his bats in the clubhouse's sauna.

The park was usually windy and constantly wet. Montana, the famed 49er quarterback of yesteryear, recently said of Candlestick, "It could not rain for a year and you'd go in there and it'd be soaking wet. They used to call it The Quagmire."

From 1960 to 2000, the Giants played (endured) baseball there. Then they built a new park, AT&T Park, perhaps the most beautiful one in all of ball.

From 1971 to the present, the 49ers have played (enjoyed) football there. (A nice field isn't necessary when you win.) But they are about to move 40 miles south to Santa Clara, where they will play in a brand new place, Levi's Stadium.

(Maybe their uniform pants could be denim.)

I suppose that I've set foot in Candlestick Park a good, oh, 50 times in my time. San Francisco -- what a fantastic town. San Francisco's fans -- what a fantastic (mostly) bunch. San Francisco's teams -- winners, again and again.

But what will I miss about that park? Uh, not a lot.

What will I remember about it? Well, quite a bit, not that you asked.

THE BEATLES

Their final concert was there: August 29, 1966. At a press conference, the Beatles were asked how they felt about a rumor that "Day Tripper" was a song about a prostitute and "Norwegian Wood" a song about a lesbian. Paul McCartney, tongue in cheek, replied, "We were just trying to write songs about prostitutes and lesbians, that's all."

Preceding them on stage were the Remains, Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes. As soon as Hebb began singing his hit, "Sunny," the audience, which rarely felt the warmth of the sun at Candlestick, began to laugh. The Beatles' last number: "Long Tall Sally." No one inquired if Sally was a prostitute or a lesbian, or how long or how tall.

THE BALK

Stu Miller, a pitcher, was said to have been "blown from the mound" by the wind during the All-Star Game played there on July 11, 1961. He was not. All he did was sway a bit from a sudden gust. But he was called for a balk. The American League team tied the score in the ninth inning, but the National League won in the 10th on hits by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente (what a trio). Miller said years later, "The way people talk, you'd think I got blown into the Bay."

THE MEDAL

A "Croix de Candlestick" badge of honor was once distributed to fans who sat frozen solid at Giants games, risking pneumonia or worse. I was given one at the 1984 All-Star Game there. I also bought a T-shirt that read: "I Survived the All-Star Game at Candlestick Park."

THE FAN

Eunice Bull, 78, was in a box seat in 1989. A former fashion designer, she always wore a straw hat with Giants trading cards pinned to it. A fan behind her complained that he couldn't see. Ushers asked Eunice to remove her hat. Eunice said no. The ushers insisted. Lose the hat or be evicted from the park.

Eunice stood up. "OK, that's it, read me my Miranda rights!" said she, extending her wrists in case they intended to use handcuffs. She was led out. Sixteen years later, upon her death, Eunice Bull, a season ticket holder till the end, was honored on Candlestick's scoreboard, called "Perhaps the Giants' Most Steadfast Fan" in the Chronicle obit's headline, and atop her usual seat at the park, the Giants placed her hat.

THE FAN (part II)

Worst baseball movie of all time? "The Fan," filmed at Candlestick, featured a deranged fan, played by Robert De Niro, who murdered a Giants player, kidnapped another player's child, then disguised himself on the field as a catcher while the Giants played a game in a torrential downpour. No, it was not a comedy, at least not an intentional one.

THE CRAB

Crazy Crab was introduced as the new Giants mascot. He was not, uh, a hit. Players mooned him, put hot ointment in his costume armpits, even turned a hose on him. Greg Minton, a pitcher, said: "Crazy Crab stood out. The fans hated him and the players hated him."

THE CATCH

January 10, 1982, National Football Conference championship game, 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys, winner goes to the Super Bowl: I am in the press box. Behind me, pacing back and forth, is Tex Schramm, the aptly named Cowboys team president. "Come on, babies. Come on, babies," Tex keeps saying. His team is ahead 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but the 49ers are on the move. Montana looks for a receiver. He throws high -- too high, it looks. Dwight Clark makes the catch! Touchdown, 49ers! Candlestick rocks.

THE QUAKE

October 18, 1989, with Game 3 of the World Series getting under way: Candlestick REALLY rocks. "We're having an earth...." Al Michaels reports on live TV, although viewers can't quite catch his final syllable. It is the Loma Prieta tremor, about to shake buildings and bridges in every direction.

Michaels does a masterful job. At one point, however, reporting that Santa Cruz was at the center of it all, 70 miles away, Michaels says: "Thank God the epicenter was far enough away from Candlestick Park so this structure remained erect." A somewhat testy Ted Koppel responds: "Well, of course, that doesn't do a lot for the folks in Santa Cruz."

THE BLACKOUT

During a prime-time clash between the 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers on December 19, 2011, the game is interrupted by stadium power outages twice. I immediately became one of the 10 million or 20 million Americans who ad-libbed: "Now you know why they call it Candlestick."

Where it's flickering fast.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT