Sports Collectors Digest: SF Giants Oral History

By Marty Appel

With the publishing industry entering rough seas during our nation’s recession, (let me know when we can start calling it Great Depression II), many authors of marginally mainstream books are finding happiness in the world of self-publishing. Books that might sell less than 10,000 copies, or command advances of less than $20,000 are being passed over in the hope that fewer books, but more “sure-things” will be the way to go.

That bit of news got me thinking about one of the first self-published baseball books I ever encountered, a very nice 10×8 softcover called SF Giants: An Oral History, by Mike Mandel.

As the title suggests, it was an oral history of the Giants, which included most of the players from their inaugural season, 1958, plus an array of futures like Bobby Bonds, Jack Clark, Vida Blue and Chris Speier. Hearing in their own words the birth of a franchise in what had long been a Pacific Coast League stronghold makes for great reading. A number of those players have passed on and with the 50th anniversary of the team’s move to the west coast having just passed, it was great fun to pick up the book again and read the reflections of Bill Rigney, Johnny Antonelli, Hank Sauer, Daryl Spencer, Jim Davenport, Felipe Alou, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Whitey Lockman et al.

The book came out in 1979 and cost $9.95. 6,000 copies were printed and sold.

“I made a little money with it,” says Mandel, now a Boston resident. “But to hear Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons talk about it on the radio was the best part.”

Mandel was 27 when he started it, and he did all of the interviews in person. A press pass enabled him to capture what he could at Candlestick Park in 1977 and 1978, and then he hit the road with his tape recorder, going around the country and into Latin America. For Cepeda, he had to do the interview at a Federal prison camp in Florida, where the Baby Bull was a guest after a marijuana smuggling charge.

“I’m actually an artist by profession,” says Mandel. “I liked Studs Terkel’s books and as an artist I thought that it didn’t matter what the subject matter might be, but that an artist would approach the project with a more open ended attitude. Of course, I was a Giants fan since I was eight, in 1958, so I grew up with the team in SF.

“Chronicle Books was interested, but they wanted to design it in a more commercial way. I had many experiences publishing my own artist books, so I was happy to do it myself.”

Mandel considered Rigney to be his best interview. “He could tell a story better than anyone,” he says. “But John Curtis could talk about baseball with the perspective of a philosopher. He was the last one in the book and among the best.”

There are some non-players in the book. The sportswriters Harry Jupiter, Bob Stevens and Charles Einstein; farm director Jack Schwarz (“We came out here in ’57 with a real larder full of prospects just waiting to be unveiled”), head groundskeeper Matty Schwab, and equipment manager Eddie Logan, whose father handled the Giants and Yankees back to the John McGraw and Babe Ruth days.

“I had Horace Stoneham but I accidentally recorded over his interview with Jesus Alou,” Mandel adds, speaking of the Giants owner, the man who moved the team west. “I tried to interview him again, but he refused. I think he knew he screwed up by talking to me the first time. He was pretty drunk and told me all kinds of stuff full of racial slurs, and it would have been the interview of the book.”

As for interviews missed, Mandel writes in his introduction, “I am sorry I was unable to make the portrait of {Willie} Mays. His absence leaves the work forever incomplete.”

Alas, Mike tried. With considerable help from a Giants PR man and an AP photographer, he went to Mays’ house by appointment, but Willie didn’t show up. On a second attempt, he refused to talk without being paid.

“I understood his money issues from his past and how he was used by people, so I didn’t take it personally. But obviously, I would have loved to have had him in there. McCovey, Marichal and Cepeda were all approachable.”

Not many teams have been the subjects of oral histories, but ironically, a second one on the Giants came along in 1998, this one, including Mays. Willie spent two hours with author Steve Bitker in his home, obviously more mellow, but also on better terms with Giants management than Mandel found him 20 years earlier when he was on the Mets payroll. And Mays is terrific in this sit-down, talking of his sadness of leaving New York, how Candlestick robbed him of home runs, and his trade to the Mets. “…you could feel that the fans wanted their own ballplayer. .And I guess they chose Cepeda. It didn’t bother me,” he said of his reception in 1958.

This book included only the ’58 team, and is called The Original San Francisco Giants, and published by Sports Publishing, Inc. The interviews remain fascinating, some with the benefit of an extra two decades of reflection. For real Giant fans, both books are important. For me, I loved the self-published adventure experienced by Mandel, and continue to admire what a great job he did in delivering this fine book for all fans.

Wish he had gotten Willie though. And so does he.