The 1962 San Francisco Giants and Willie McCovey’s Liner vs. the Yankees

During the Giants’ last summer in Candlestick Park, the San Francisco Chronicle looked back on a set of 10 “Candlestick Classics”: highlights from the 40 years of baseball at the ‘Stick. Henry Schulman wrote about the moment when the Giants came closest to winning a World Series there:

If only Willie McCovey had scorched his line drive off Ralph Terry 5 feet more to the left, or 5 feet higher, the San Francisco Giants would own a World Series championship.

Alas, after 40 years, they’re still trying, for McCovey’s line drive with runners on second and third died in the glove of New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, who took a step to his left before snaring it.

For a microsecond, a crowd of 43,948 who filled Candlestick Park for Game 7 of the 1962 World Series thought their Giants would be champs. But Richardson’s ninth-inning catch made champions of the Yankees for the second straight year. By the time the fans had come to grips with what happened, the Pinstripers were celebrating on a diamond that would not host another World Series game for 27 years.

“It was an instant thing, a bam-bam type of play,” recalled Tom Haller, who caught that game for the Giants. “A bunch of us jumped up like, ‘There it is,’ then sat down because it was over.

“It was one of those split-second things. ‘Yeah! No!’ ”

An unseasonal torrent of rain washed out the World Series for three straight days, forcing the teams to travel to Modesto for workouts. Like the earthquake that would delay the 1989 World Series by 10 days, the 1962 rain delay took some steam out of the Giants.

“We should have won the World Series,” said Mays, as recounted in Glenn Dickey’s “San Francisco Giants: 40 years.” “We had just as good a team as the Yankees. We had the pitching and we felt we had the better team, but when we had to go to Modesto to work out, it was kind of a letdown.”

But the Giants won Game 6 5-2, thanks to a 3-for-4 day by Orlando Cepeda.

The rainstorm allowed the teams to reshuffle their pitching rotations because everyone was rested. In Game 7, the Yankees went with Game 5 winner Terry, while the Giants countered with Game 2 winner Sanford.

It was one of the best pitching wars in Series history. While Terry carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and a two-hit shutout into the ninth, Sanford was almost as good. The Yankees pushed a run across in the fifth on singles by Bill Skowron and Clete Boyer, a walk to Terry and a double-play grounder by Tony Kubek.

When Terry took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, clutching that 1-0 lead, the 23-game winner first had to face pinch-hitter Matty Alou, who bunted his way aboard. Brother Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller struck out, bringing Mays to the plate as the Giants’ chance to stay alive.

Mays was not an instant hit with San Francisco when the Giants first moved west, but the city warmed to him in 1962 as he led the National League in batting, runs and homers. His late-season heroics brought more adulation, and a big hit here would plant in bedrock his place in San Francisco baseball lore.

Mays had one thought as he stepped in: “I was thinking home run.”

Mays did not hit a home run, but did line a ball down the right-field line. At that instant, three divergent factors — the recent rains, a crucial decision by third-base coach Whitey Lockman and Roger Maris’ underappreciated defensive abilities — converged to rob the Giants of at least a tie in Game 7 and very possibly a championship.

The rains had moistened the grass at Candlestick enough to let Maris reach Mays’ drive before it skittered into the corner. As Lockman saw Maris retrieve the ball and throw, he held Alou at third base, a decision that many old-timers still second-guess.

Had Mays been running, the choice would have been different.

“If it had been Willie Mays running, he’d have run over the catcher if he’d had to score,” Giants manager Alvin Dark said. “There would have been a terrific collision at home plate.”

Lockman did not want the World Series to end with the tying run thrown out at home and the great McCovey standing in the on-deck circle. McCovey would have his chance. With the fleet Mays at second, surely any base hit into the outfield would have scored two. If not, Cepeda was on deck behind McCovey.

The decisive pitch was a hard fastball, inside. McCovey did what he was supposed to do. He crushed the ball, but right at Richardson. Game, World Series and season over.

Haller said nobody on the team questioned Lockman’s decision.

“That’s what’s so great about baseball,” he said. “I’ve got a highlight film of that World Series. The way they edited that film, you would say it’s a good thing Alou didn’t get sent. But had you been given a full picture of the play looking from above, there might have been some second-guessing.

“We held our heads high after that,” Haller said. “Even though we didn’t win the World Series, we played well, and we had hopes of winning a lot more pennants.”

A picture of McCovey in the clubhouse afterward:

You can look at some of the other “Candlestick Classics” here, here, and here, as well as the story of how Will Clark brought the Giants into the 1989 World Series.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 6:40 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just for accuracy’s sake, Willie Mays did not lead the league in “batting” in ’62. Tommie Davis of the Dosgers did at .346. Mays wasn’t close.

  2. Mays was also second in runs scored, tied with Maury Wills with 130-Frank Robinson led with 134. He did lead in homers, with 49.

  3. I recall the play also , but I also recall a song by Danny Kaye in which he put to music during the Series, , the Hiller, Haller combination. It was rather catchy but I can’t recall the words. Maybe google will help.

  4. It does exist, yes; I looked. The record’s on Youtube, or you can check out the lyrics at Baseball-Almanac.

  5. […] since 1954.  Love Lincecum (a new Warren Spahn?), Renteria rules.  No McCovey/Richardson hardest-hit ball of all time moment (at least as I saw it on TV).  I’ve always […]

  6. People sometimes forget the catch by Tom Tresh on Willie Mays. The next batter up, McCovey hit a triple. He would have been on third with one out and one run scored. The Tresh catch was one of the best in World Series history, but does not get the recognition it deserves.

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