The San Francisco Giants’ trailblazing downtown digs had been christened Pacific Bell Park in 2000. But when baby bell, Pacific Bell, was vacuumed into mother ship AT&T, Big Mama rang in the park’s new name. The mostly brick stadium looms large at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, between Third and King Streets, south of Market. Carved from China Basin, the ball yard is red brick retro, yet modern-day quirky. So quirky, that Johnny Pistola’s rump and the rumps of his three mates, veritably cantilever over the San Francisco bay.
There, the four seasoned veterans boast and host, arguably the best view from any stadium seats in the big leagues. Cornered high, a Texas League pop-up from the right field foul pole, the vistas before them roll out like pure eye candy. Take in not just the playing field, but gaze upon the bay beyond, where the rocks of Alcatraz try to muscle free, where soaring seagulls reconnoiter the bare heads and backward caps of gleeful, unsuspecting tourists, where waves roll raggedly and freely, and on this particular day, where a frantic, spasmodic, struggle wore on against maverick breakers beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The floundering grad student now thought better of her leap.
At the mouth of the bay, the Golden Gate is nibbled then swallowed by ageless fog. There’s Angel Island, it seems adrift. Sausalito and Tiburon sandwich Belvedere, at the southern tip of the narrow protrusion of green and golden hills that dip north into the pirate shelter of Larkspur Landing. Shadowing the scene like sentries in the mist, is the postcard downtown skyline. The Bank of America tower and the Transamerica Pyramid swap secrets upon the lofty breezes.
Yep, elevated high and just inside the right field foul pole, the four seats felt pretty doggone fair. If you will.
“Okay, Dad, thanks for helping me set up. You score the assist, but I’ll take it from here. The last thing I need tonight is a color man, eh-eh.” The kid flipped on his shiny, high-end quality microphone. “Welcome ladies and gentlemen, Vin Hodges here, your man to turn to for tonight’s action. And you can bet Old Red, my counterpart Vin Scully in the broadcast booth to my left, will vouch for that, eh-eh.
“So welcome one and all, it’s a balmy summer night beside the ‘Frisco bay. By that I mean, the outfield thermometer has nudged off its high point, 55 degrees. Eh, eh, eh. Mid-summer in ’Frisco. Dontcha know?”
“Frisco?” moaned Izzy Dean. “Only a tourist or someone from Southern Californicate would ever call The City, ‘Frisco.’”
“Yep, it’s a dandy weekend to visit the ballpark. Messersmith, on the hill tonight, is long out of hibernation. The Rocket takes the mound tomorrow evening. Tonight, Barry Bonds strikes for infamy.”
“Strikes for infamy? Young Vin Hodges sure swings for the fences,” assessed Sammy. “Andy Messersmith is every bit of 67 years old and Clemens still throws a flame, but Bonds was infamous before young Vin was conceived. Still, for a youngster he sounds sharp enough.”
“Sharp? Sharp as a porpoise snout, I’d say," chimed The Pistol.
Jewel Goldman had worked in Hawaii. Bobby G had worked in Hawaii. Jewel Goldman still enjoyed a fine rapport with Bobby’s media buddy there, Dana Boudin The Money Machine. Likewise, she got on well with Dana’s son Boomer, who had taken over the family radio stations when Dad Dana qualified for the PGA Seniors Tour.
Bobby G had become the self-proclaimed "hottest salesman on the entire friggin’ west coast," only because Dana Boudin had called in an old favor. Bobby had been on the run when Dana called in that chit with his pal in San Francisco. That would be Bobby G’s employer and benefactor, The Big Dawg, Dawg Radio owner Fast Eddie Mason.
Jewel had been Vice President for media at the patrician ad agency Dewey Sellum & Howe. Above Bishop Street, ensconced in a chrome and glass tower that anchored Fort Street Mall, twenty-one floors above the sidewalks of downtown Honolulu, she had controlled by far, the largest advertising budget in the 50th State. Women in that position are often referred to as "media queens." But that overwhelming power is more likely than not, underwhelmed by the notoriously modest salaries the queens pulled down. Sales was the way to go. Jewel had seen it clearly. Then management.
An ambitious lass who was far from ambivalent about the money she concluded her talents commanded, Jewel Goldman had seized the offer to cross the sea to the new Bay Area TV sports leader. A stout percentage of Dewey Sellum’s budget had been placed on the leading sports TV station in Honolulu, whose jewel, if you will, was University of Hawaii baseball. When San Francisco’s KFAN-TV won the rights to broadcast the Giants, Derek Dakine, the general manager of that Hawaii station, was recruited to come to S. F. to prepare KFAN to broadcast prime time sports. Jewel Goldman had successfully pitched Dakine to come along to program and market the station and specifically to promote the array of promotional festivities tied to Giants telecasts. If she had known that Kuni Noyori was inside the ballpark that night, Jewel would have glowed like a postcard moon over Waikiki beach.
Sammy the Seat’s whistles? She had just blown in from the Islands. Bumper the radio guy had been asked to escort this newly arrived cousin of his friend and co-worker to what everyone assumed was her first baseball game. She was very tall for a Japanese-Hawaiian. She had borrowed cousin Ming’s Eddie Bauer vest that squared elegantly right where her vermillion Versace jeans began an elegant downward sliding spiral. Her sculptured body folded at her trim waist into seat 121. This was when Sammy the Seat suddenly rose. Metaphorically speaking.
“Yowsa!" he blurted. "Check the legs! Whoa, check the whole package! This gal ought to be a professional model!” Yep. They say the great ones can call their shots. Sammy had called it. Kuni Noyori indeed had been a top tier fashion model. Before getting her big TV break.
Andy Messersmith finished his warm-up pitches, pulled on his blue windbreaker then strode toward the Dodger dugout. He had unretired fifteen years earlier, then went on to break so many records that his agent had dubbed him the Secretariat of the diamond. Fire baller Roger Clemens had unretired so many times that tomorrow he would gun for a landmark 800th career win.
“Thanks for tuning me in. Glad to have you back.” Vin Hodges’ anxiety was heated. He was warming up his imaginary fans.
“Tuning? Tuning?” Oldster Bumper Morgan and youngster Vin Hodges radiated on different wavelengths.
“Don’t touch that dial,” the broadcast progeny intoned. “You’re sure to hear Barry make history tonight.”
“Touch that dial? Ten to one the kid has never seen a dial," Bumper whispered to himself and into the ether of hotdogs and popcorn. "Much less touched one."
Bumper Morgan had been The Dawg’s Top Dawg for three years (a virtual lifetime for many a vagabond deejay). He manned the controls and ran out long leashes of music every weekday morning. Now, he peeked past the seat handles of Phil Sage and Johnny Pistola to admire Vinny’s gear. “Dang," he let slip, "the lad is spitting into a high-end Senheiser mic while working the sliders of a broadcast-quality Gates board.” Bumper didn’t realize that this time, he had spoken aloud. Kuni Noyori had heard him, shook her lush raven hair so slightly, then whispered almost inaudibly: “Dear Bumpersan could use a tall glass of ice wine right now to chill out.”
“Make mine a steaming sake,” smiled Phil Sage.
The deejay’s given name was not Bumper Morgan. Benjamin Dover bounced into this world in 1962. The name had repelled the baby’s father. Alas, Benjamin was dad’s dad-in-law’s name. Mom fondly called her firstborn “Benjie,” which repelled Benjamin. But the real repellent stung him in 1967 when his kindergarten teacher roll-called him: “Ben Dover.” Suddenly, “Benjie” felt just fine.
But it wasn’t fine for his first program director at Nashville Hot 99. When dealt his first full-time gig, he was christened "Bumper Morgan." To this day, he wondered about the origin of his on-air moniker. But not all that often. Nashville Hot 99 was the first of eleven radio stations Bumper was to work at before number twelve landed him in San Francisco as morning driver for The Dawg. (We won’t get into the brutal, parallel saga that befell his doomed sister, Eileen Dover)
"We’re back on the air live from AT&T Park. Thanks for your endearing support for our sponsors. After all, where would I be without them... without you?" Young Vin Hodges had settled in.
"And just think," beamed a proud Merrill Hodges to no one in particular, "my son is here today because of a microphone I fashioned from the black handle of a 1962 Hillerich & Bradsby 34-inch Maury Wills model two-tone bat."
Izzy Dean came alive. "Wills? 1962! It was ’62 when Maury Wills broke the record for steals in one season. Counting the playoffs, Wills played in a record 165 games that season. Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers even way back then, said at the end of the season, ’Maury Wills is so tired his hair is tired.’"
"Baseball aside," Phil had to remind Izzy for the umpteenth time that in 1962, a couple-few other modest occurrences outside the realm of sport had risen to the fore: "An infant organization called the Peace Corp challenged conditions in Africa, the Supreme Court ruled against school prayer, James Meredith and the National Guard entered the University of Mississippi and Jackie Robinson became the first ’Negro’ inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame."
"And Elvis rocked Seattle’s brand new Space Needle that year, too." With that, The Pistol had surprised and impressed Phil Sage. But no way he would ever say so. Ever.
"Know something?" Sammy played his trump. "Elvis often had left the building, because throughout his career, he never, ever sang an encore."
"Still, his shows were longer than the Beatles last concert in ’62 at Candlestick. A dozen songs in all of twenty minutes."
"Eleven songs in twenty-two minutes, yes, Mister Pistol. But the Mop Heads played their final show in 1966!" (Don’t even try to get a shred of ’62 trivia past a now fired up Izzy Dean)
"Some fans claimed that they knew it would be the Fab Four’s final concert," said Sammy, who had witnessed that infamous night armrest in armrest with Izzy, "when John Lennon brought a camera on stage and began taking pictures."
"It was nothing short of a zoo that night. I feared for my life," exaggerated Izzy.
"Multiple gunshot wounds of left shoulder and chest... left lung and left subclavian artery; external and internal hemorrhage. Shock."
"One of the fans there that night, Phil?" clucked Sammy.
"John Lennon’s death certificate."
“As all my fans know,” Vin intoned, “Barry stands on a precipice heretofore never conceived.”
“Precipice? Heretofore?" The youngster had Phil smiling with approval.
“Six-bit words spout from the mouth of a two-bit child.” Sammy smiled too.
“Remarkably," young Vin Hodges rolled along, "old number 25 cracked precisely 100 homers each of the past four seasons, do you believe it? So Bonds came out of spring training this year needing just 38 dingers to reach the magic 4-digit number. He’s launched thirty-six so far this season, so ‘ol Barry needs just a pair now, to club round tripper number one thousand.”
The Baseball Hall of Fame had offered ten million dollars to the fan lucky enough to wind up with the historic 1,000th home run ball. But Barry Bonds long had his own plan for where his historic home run ball should wind up.
It felt like at least six bits rattling ’round his pockets. Sammy the Seat was shaking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. While tuning Bumper Morgan in and out, Kuni Noyori had been anxiously shifting in her seat.
It was Kuni’s third day acclimating to the Bay Area. She was bunking with cousin Ming who was mythic in Chinatown for her otherworldly prowess playing mahjong. And, Ming was receptionist for Dawg Radio. Kuni and Ming were cousins in the Hawaiian sense, that is, a friendship so fast that each felt like an extended family member. The two had grown up together a pop fly from Obamaville in Kaneohe, on the windward side of Oahu, then went on to become homecoming royalty at Kailua High before Ming migrated to San Francisco. Kuni had stayed on in Hawaii where she had modeled extensively for Liberty House then Nieman-Marcus, before landing the nightly news anchor chair at Japanese language television station KZRO, TV Ten Zero, licensed to Pearl Harbor.
This weekend, Cousin Ming (with Mom riding shotgun) had driven down Highway 101 to Oxnard to square off in the U. S. mahjong regional finals. That’s why Ming had asked Bumper Morgan to pinch hit for her in the Dawg seats.
Kuni sat poised like every bit the model, hard upon squirming Sammy the Seat at the tail end of row 12 in right field. All seats in this row were painted black. Phil and The Pistol’s rumps balanced the rumps of fans seated right below. Their row 11 was painted orange. The row in front of them was black and so on and so forth because those were the Giants’ colors. The pair of seats in front of Phil and Johnny Pistola were also Dawg season ticket seats. Somebody with some tie to The Dawg would soon slide into 101 and 102. Next row down, seats 91 and 92 did not belong to The Dawg. Oddly, on this electrifying night, that pair of seats sat empty, too. Mostly.
For this special night, six different pairs of fans had tried to hijack the two vacant (and deaf-mute) orange seats two rows beneath Phil and Johnny Pistola. But security had quickly booted each of the scallywaggers from seats 91 and 92 while the ushers speculated as to who actually held the valuable tickets and where in heck they might be. They ignored a rookie usher who had speculated that it might be Spike Lee. "Or Jack Nicholson might be stalled in Friday gridlock on the Bayshore Freeway."
Actually, it was different star of sorts who was stuck there. The Town car driver had just wheeled him and his daughter onto the Bayshore at the Foster City onramp. The driver lamely joked that he’d prefer to be writhing in a dentist’s chair rather than breathing the ubiquitous car and diesel exhaust. The gentleman in the back seat could have told him a thing or two about writhing. Instead he said, "mind rolling up your window? How’s the a/c work in this hired rig?"
"A Giant welcome to Giants’ great Felipe Alou, toeing the rubber, ready to throw tonight’s ceremonial first pitch."
"Clutch hitter, ’ol Felipe," said Izzy Dean, ol’ number 23."
“Why look, if it isn’t old number 23. Same number Bobby Thompson wore when he lined the Shot Heard Round the World in 1951.” His dad’s assist impacted young Vin Hodges not at all. The kid had listened to replays of the call more than a jillion times. The Shot Heard Round the World was the radio call of Bobby Thompson’s improbable, historic, walk-off 3-run homer with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth, propelling the Giants to the pennant that year in a historic playoff win over the Dodgers.
“’The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!’ Boy, he sure called it. Spot on! But what do you expect from a Hall of Fame radio icon like Russ Hodges!?” Johnny Pistola’s unexpected, drawling, exacting reenactment of Hodges’ call of the Shot Heard Round the World genuinely impressed Phil Sage. But no way he would ever admit to it. Ever.
“People forget,” said Izzy, “the Giants won thirty-seven of their last forty-four games to tie the Dodgers then beat them in that playoff.”
“People forget,” added Phil Sage, “right after that thirty-seventh win, the Giants players had to sit around a radio in their clubhouse to listen to the Dodgers win their last game of the season... in twelve innings... to force that playoff.”
“People forget,” said Sammy. “The Giants started a rookie that year that many San Franciscans will argue was the best to ever play the game.”
“People forget,” whispered Mr. Hodges to his progeny protégé. “Willie Mays was a rookie that year. No Willie. No pennant.”
“Okay!” The umps are taking their positions,” exclaimed Vin Hodges. “Let’s play ball!”
“Play ball,” cried the home plate umpire.
Fanny was skipping back up for refills when she overheard the boys buzzing about Willie Mays. She paused to whisper to Phil, "my pal at The Chronicle told me that when the Giants won the pennant in 1962, the circulation manager asked the news editor about the headline if the Giants went on to win the World Series.
“’WE WIN!’ white on black," answered the editor.
“How big a headline?” The manager asked.
“Same size as ’FIDEL DEAD!’”
Had Izzy Dean overheard that 1962 nugget, he would have added that soon enough that autumn, Cuba would make the front page but the headline would not read, "Fidel Dead."
"There’s so much pride involved... somehow we feel all the bad breaks or mistakes will be forgiven by the fans if we beat the Dodgers.”
Phil turned. “Who said that?”
"I did," said Izzy Dean. "But Willie Mays said it first.”
“Back to his old teammate, back to Alou,” said Phil Sage. “One night, Giants manager Alvin Dark intentionally sent each of his two brothers up to pinch hit ahead of him. Never see that again in major league baseball, three brothers coming to bat consecutively. Oh, by the by, tonight’s bonus question: what were the first names of the Alou brothers?”
“One was named ‘Felipe!’” Yep, tough to get one past Johnny Pistola.
“Manny,” said Sammy. “Manny, Moe, and Felipe.”
“Try Matty, Felipe and Jesus,” declared Izzy.
“Jesuu Christu! Let’s play ball!” cried The Pistol.
"Giddeeyup. Next Thursday, Petaluma 4-H Club Night here at AT&T. Get here early you young broncos, you’ll have fun till the cows roam home.”
On her way back down, cupcake pan balanced like a platter on the snout of a circus elephant, Fanny asked, “Phil, are you aware that all American professional sports are descended from games of combat except one?” She straightened a leg, bowed with lowered tray, breathed a Catskill comedian’s pause… “Rodeo.”
Phil said he’d have to think on that.