In 1958, the New York Giants left New York and their fans behind and became the San Francisco Giants. They had played in the Polo Grounds in New York City since June 28, 1911. The Giants, who now play in A T & T Park, located on Willie Mays Plaza, have won the World Series three of the last five years, the first times since 1954 when they won it while still playing at the Polo Grounds.
Larry Baer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Giants, brought the World Series Trophy to New York City on January 24, to, as Chris Haft said on MLB.com, ‘share the glory of the 2014 World Series triumph with fans in the franchise’s original home.’ Along with the trophy, Baer brought one of the greatest players of all time, Willie Mays, and one of the Giants newest stars, 24 year old second baseman Joe Panik.
The trio attended a dinner put on by the New York Giants Preservation Society and the New York Giants Baseball Nostalgia Society where the trophy and, more importantly, Willie Mays, was put on display.
Mays, the Say Hey Kid, was from all reports the centerpiece of the evening. For members of these two groups of people, who have kept the Giants alive in New York after being deserted by them over 66 years ago, The Giants will always be the New York Giants and Willie Mays will always be the greatest player of all time.
Why wouldn’t he be? After making his debut in 1951, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and leading the Giants to the pennant in the dramatic playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers won by Bobby Thompson’s ‘shot heard round the world’ only to lose to the Yankees in the World Series, he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War and missed most of 1952 and all of 1953.
Returning to the Giants in 1954, all he did was hit .345 with 41 homers and 110 RBI’s while the Giants were winning the National League pennant and beating the Cleveland Indians in the Series 4-0. In that series he made what has been called one of the greatest catches of all time when he ran down a long shot off the bat of Vic Wertz deep in the Polo Grounds 455 foot center field and made an over the head basket catch to save two runs and the game.
Also, in 1954, he won the batting title, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player and Major League Player of the Year. He was named to the All Star team every year from 1954 to 1973 and was MVP in the All Star Game in 1963 and 1968. He won the NL MVP Award again in 1965. He led the National League in homers in 1955 with 51, 1962 with 49, 1964 with 47 and 1965 with 52.
In addition to his hitting, he led the league in stolen bases from 1956-1959 with 40, 38, 31 and 27 thefts. From 1957-1968, he won the Gold Glove as the best fielding center fielder.
In his career, he hit 660 home runs and had a total of 3,283 base hits. His first home run, on May 29, 1951, came after he had gone hitless in his first 12 major league at bats and was hit off the great Warren Spahn, the Boston Braves Hall of Fame lefty.
He moved with the Giants to San Francisco in 1958 and was with them until 1972 when he was traded back to New York where he was with the Mets his last year and a half in the majors.
Willie was born in Westfield, Alabama, on May 6, 1931, and made his debut at the age of 20 years and 19 days. He was elected by an almost unanimous vote to the Hall of Fame in 1979.
The visit to New York included a stop at Finnerty’s Sports Bar where this year’s World Series trophy was put on display. The Giants have brought the trophy there each of the three years they have won it in the last five years. The stop was part of a tour around the country which will end at Scottsdale Park in Arizona, where the Giants play their Spring Training games, on March 27.
They also visited Public School 46, in New York, which is at the site of the old Polo Grounds. The Polo Grounds, which has been torn down, and which cost $300,000. to build, was opened in 1911. The Giants, Yankees, Mets and football Giants and Jets all played there at one time or another.
Joe Panik, the Giants sensational rookie second baseman, who started last year in the AAA Pacific Coast League and who is from Yonkers, NY, accompanied Mays and Baer on the New York visit. Panik, after being brought up from AAA ,hit .305 in 73 games and was a major part of the 2014 Giants World Series win.
Those loyal fans who have kept the spirit of the New York Giants alive in New York were rewarded with the opportunity to see their hero and the World Series trophy and Joe Panik, who was a Minor Leaguer a year ago, has to have had one of the greatest experiences of his young life, accompanying the legend that is Willie Mays to the place where he began his major league career.