Life lessons from a classic baseball rivalry: Giants vs. Bums, father vs. son

Editor’s Note: With the Major League Baseball playoffs dominating the headlines and baseball fans divided on which teams will make it to the World Series, here’s a reflection of a classic playoff -- past and present -- between two of the game’s iconic franchises … and a family tradition rattled one fateful night nearly 60 years ago.
The first baseball game I ever watched on TV was played out on the small black-and-white screen of our family’s trusty Zenith in Rockville, Md. It was sometime during supper hour on October 3, 1962 -- the date of the final game of a dramatic, best-of-three showdown between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Outside our modest home in suburban Washington, D.C., the world was on edge, with Dave Scheiber, an award-winning journalist and longtime baseball fansimmering tensions between the United States and Soviet Union about to boil over two weeks later into the Cuban Missile Crisis. Inside our home, tensions were running high, too. An impending crisis of my own making was about to unfold, an event that has become a thing of family lore through the generations.

Now to set the scene: The winner of this series would clinch the National League pennant and advance to the World Series against the arch-rival New York Yankees. And the mounting anxiety at home was palpable. As a kid, I wasn’t tuned into what was filling my dad with growing angst -- that he was a native New Yorker who would ride the subway to the Polo Grounds as a kid in the 1930s to watch his beloved New York Giants, and who took part in a spontaneous celebration on a Manhattan sidewalk in 1951 at the news of Bobby Thomson’s shot-heard-round-the-world when the Giants beat the Dodgers in another post-season tiebreaker for the pennant.

The truth is, the significance of the 1962 series, following a tie for first place at the end of the 162-game season, was completely lost on my 8-year-old self. But this week, 59 years later, with the Giants and Dodgers battling in the National League Divisional Series, my mind has wandered back to that landmark clash. 

Though the Giants-Dodgers series in ’62 wasn’t technically a playoff -- Major League Baseball recorded the three games for posterity as an extension of the regular season -- it was, in the eyes of history, a post-season series. And that makes this NLDS series the first time these two rivals, who bolted from New York in 1957 as West Coast pioneers, have met in a post-season setting since that memorable night in 1962.

Of course, the night was memorable for me due to reasons that had nothing to do with the actual game.

I had started the day, prior to heading off to school, watching a popular Washington-area kids TV show, Ranger Hal. What I remember from that morning’s episode was that Ranger Hal and his cast of puppets led by a rabbit named Oswald had done a little musical number that mentioned the Brooklyn Bums -- the Dodgers’ nickname from their Ebbets Field days. In retrospect, the Ranger was offering a topical bit tied to the critical Giants-Dodgers series. But all that stuck in my brain was “Bums” and the fun tune that regaled the Dodgers, a team that would otherwise have not registered a blip with me.

My only real allegiance to a baseball team at this stage was to the lowly, expansion Washington Senators. My dad had taken me to a few games at old D.C. Stadium (later renamed RFK Stadium), and I recall being riveted by the sight of the vast expanse of immaculate green grass beneath the bright stadium lights. Now, on that fateful day, months later, I’d returned home from school as a second-grader around 3 p.m. -- ahead of the 4 p.m. start to the game in the East. And at some point, after I ate an early dinner, I joined my dad, who was seated in the little den that housed our family’s lone TV. Looking back, I can imagine the pride he must have felt sharing this father-son moment, passing his undying love for the team of his childhood on to me -- even with his stomach in knots as the Dodgers rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning.

I’m not precisely sure what moved me to utter the words that came out of my mouth around that critical juncture. “I’m rooting for the Bums,” I declared unapologetically. I liked the name I’d heard that morning on TV. And I was ready to proclaim myself a fan of my new-found favorite team.

To fully grasp what transpired in the seconds that ensued, you should understand that all who knew my dad, who passed away in 2014, regarded him as an even-keeled, kind, voice of reason. He was the city manager of Rockville who’d help guide it to All-American City status; and later the longtime Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, known for calming tempers among competing local government officials -- and a man called a “consummate diplomat” by Washingtonian magazine in naming him a Washingtonian of the Year in 1974.

“We root for the Giants in this family,” I remember him sternly responding.

Through the haze of time, I recall standing my single-digit ground. And what I said next was something akin to a bold, unwavering declaration inspired by my TV pal, Ranger Hal: “I like the Bums.”

There’s no dispute about what followed, since I have two sisters who were eyewitnesses. Completely out of character, my dad barked, “Well, then you can go right to bed.”

I admit that his verdict may sound harsh all these years later. But sports fandom can make even the most reasonable of people do things they may regret. I didn’t argue his call and remember heading to bed dutifully several hours early -- unaware the Giants later struck back with four runs in the top of the ninth at Dodger Stadium to win 6-4 and clinch the pennant.

The following morning, I’m glad to report that cooler heads prevailed -- no doubt spurred by my mom giving my dad an earful after hearing what happened after the fact. My dad apologized. I renounced my fleeting support of the Bums and, by connection, the Dodgers. And within days, I was a full-fledged fan of the San Francisco Giants -- properly deflated when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson made a leaping snag of a screaming Willie McCovey liner to end a potential game-winning Giants rally and secure the World Series win for New York.

You can’t say I wasn’t a fast learner. And it didn’t take long for me to become a full-fledged baseball and sports nut, poring through the Washington Post sports section every morning -- and 15 years later working for the Post at the front end of a career writing about sports for the St. Petersburg Times, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, and in several books.

My fealty to the Giants has faded over the years, living in Florida for so long and becoming more allied with the hometown Tampa Bay Rays. But for this series, San Francisco vs. LA 2021, there’s no question who I’m rooting for. This one’s for you, dad … I like the Giants.

Dave Scheiber is a longtime journalist and freelance writer based in the Tampa Bay Area. Scheiber is the winner of numerous large-circulation national writing honors, including a first place in the National Headliner Award for sports features and the Associated Press Sports Editors’ first place for best feature, as well as co-author of six books.
 
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