Monday night, for all intents and purposes, is light’s out for a candle that definitely has blown in the wind.
Yes, we prepare to say goodbye to Candlestick Park.
Home of The Catch. Of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Of Mays and McCovey, Will the Thrill and Barry Bonds.
Where Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first ball in the first game played there, April 12, 1960.
Where Stu Miller was legendarily blown off the pitcher’s mound during an All-Star Game on July 11, 1961, by one of the merciless gusts that blew evilly off the bay and across the concrete. Miller today says “blown off the mound” is hyperbole, that he merely flinched when a mighty wind buffeted him as he attempted to pitch to Rocky Colavito.
Nevertheless, after the game, New York Times baseball writer Arthur Daley penned an immortal line about Candlestick: “Whatever it is, it isn’t a major league ballpark.”
Where The Beatles played their final live concert Aug. 29, 1966 — and where for decades, fans wandered forlornly around the concrete-and-cold structure that was old when it was new, in its final baseball years.
Yes, history was made here — dramatically so at 5:04 p.m. Oct. 17, just before the third game of the 1989 World Series, when the Loma Prieta earthquake that devastated parts of Santa Cruz County thundered beneath the ballpark.
But it didn’t crumble.
Of course, what Bay Area natives always knew was while the weather was inevitably cold, foggy and windy in the baseball summer; it was often warm and sunny in the fall — football season.
So when the San Francisco 49ers made their move from old Kezar Stadium in 1971, television viewers around the country were shown gorgous vistas of San Francisco Bay and the city, bathed in the blue skies and ocean reflections that are familiar in these parts in October and November.
OK, it could get rainy, too, and the field could quickly turn to slop, but we prefer to remember Candlestick in its best moments. Why pine for the Croix de Candlestick, a pin handed out to diehard fans who braved extra-inning games in brutally cold conditions, or for Crazy Crab, the team mascot supposed to divert attention from the desolaton of dirty restrooms, drunken fans and desultory food, much less the dreary weather and dank stadium?
The city spent millions of dollars to try and make the structure on Candlestick Point more hospitable, but nothing much worked. In the mid-1970s, the Giants’ owner, Horace Stoneham, tried to sell the team to a group in Toronto. Fortunately, San Franciscan Bob Lurie bought the team from the Stoneham family and kept it at … The ’Stick.
But even Lurie had his limits. Frustrated from trying to get the city to build a better ballpark downtown, he came close in 1992 to moving the team, this time to Tampa, Fla. Once again, the candle was not snuffed out; rescue came as the team was sold again to an ownership group that began the path toward the hugely succesful franchise of today.
Changes came. The stadium would get renamed for coporate sponsors, though who remembers any of those appellations today? The 49ers would win five Super Bowl titles while calling Candlestick home. The Giants, alas, would not win their first World Series since moving to the West Coast in 1958 until 2010, when they were playing in their splendid downtown park, which opened in 2000. They would repeat in 2012.
The 49ers, back among pro football’s elite after years in the losing wilderness, will play what is almost certainly the final game at the old stadium, against the Atlanta Falcons, a team mired in its own misery this season.
After that the team moves to its own shining new stadium — in Santa Clara.
Bad neighborhood. Bad location. Bad weather. But great and unforgettable memories.
Only at The ’Stick.