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
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT