The idea for this article came to me a few weeks ago when I was watching the Giants-Dodgers series with my kids. My four-year old daughter asked, “Why do we hate the Dodgers so much?” My son informed her, “Because they are the bad guys.” (Okay, so I am training them well…but that will be another article). My son’s answer was good enough for her but it made me stop to think. Here I am, a life-long Giants fan and I don’t really know why we hate the Dodgers or what started the rivalry to begin with. Then I began to wonder, how many other fans out there have one team in particular that they love to hate but don’t know what is behind the rivalry? So, I posed the question to a group of die-hard fans and guess what I discovered? I am not alone; almost everyone has a team that they love to hate but very few people know all of the reasons why. This article will attempt to examine and explain one of baseball’s fiercest rivalries.
The Dodgers and the Giants rivalry can be traced back to their New York days when the Giants played in Manhattan and the Dodgers played in Brooklyn, which at the time were separate cities. Brooklyn was the fifth largest city in the USA but was in the shadow of Manhattan and Broadway. Even though the Polo Grounds were not in an upscale section of town, the Manhattan socialites that followed the Giants were said to have looked down upon the Dodgers and their fans. The Giants’ fans rode to the games at the Polo Grounds in their expensive clothes and carriages, while the players paraded through town wearing their uniforms. Dodger fans felt as if they were taunting them. In truth, there was no visitor clubhouse so the Giants were forced to arrive in uniform.
The Dodgers’ fans from Brooklyn consisted mostly of hard-working immigrants who seemed to feel that the Giants’ fans were flaunting their wealth and position. As a matter of fact the Dodgers name is actually a derogatory term given to Brooklynites who were called Trolley Dodgers by Manhattanites.
And then there is baseball. In the early years the Giants were very successful having five World Series victories out of fourteen attempts, while the Dodgers were merely one and eight in series play. In the very first meeting between the two teams (1889 Championship), the Giants defeated the Bridegrooms (as they were called in those days) six games to three. In game four there was a dispute over a bad call and as they say, the rest is history.
For players and fans alike, the Giant-Dodger rivalry was war. There were fewer teams in the early days of baseball so the Giants and the Dodgers, who played against each other twenty-two times per season had quite a few meaningful games – that is, games that meant the NL championship for one or the other of them. Then when Leo Durocher, who managed the Dodgers from 1938-1945, made his move to the Giants’ organization in 1948 it certainly only added fuel to the fire.
These two teams have definitely had their share of controversies. One of the most renowned being the dramatic ending of the 1951 pennant race and the playoff finale with Bobby Thomson’s ninth inning home run now referred to as “the shot heard ‘round the world”. Allegations arose that Thomson had stolen signs and to this day most Dodger fans cringe when they hear re-plays of Russ Hodge’s famous home run call.
Emotions between the Giants and the Dodgers ran so high that Jackie Robinson, when traded from Brooklyn to New York after the 1956 season, chose to retire instead of reporting to the Giants.
Then in 1957 Dodger owner Walter O’Malley convinced the Giants to join them in the move west in order to continue the rivalry. In the 1958 season opener, the Giants beat the Dodgers, 8-0 but perhaps even more significantly, they beat the Dodgers 16 out of 22 times that year, keeping the rivalry alive.
So, what perpetuates the rivalry now? Part of it is still due to being in rival cities; there is a natural rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles (Northern and Southern California). San Francisco is filled with business people, and entrepreneurial types that perceive themselves to be above the blue-collar, surfer types in Los Angeles. Los Angeles, in the past, has wanted to secede from the state of California to become its own state. Northern Californians are bitter because their water is piped south. It is a battle of geography, economics, culture, as well as politics.
And then there is baseball. Since moving west in 1958 the Giants have had limited post-season success, they have not won a World Series while the Dodgers have won five.
The media also may have done a lot to keep the rivalry going because in the 1960’s the only baseball games that were televised in the Los Angeles area were as expected, Dodgers-Giants games. So, nine times a year the Dodgers’ fans watched these teams battle it out on the field. And I do mean battle.
In 1962 The Giants narrowly defeated the Dodgers in a three game playoff to win the NL pennant and reach the World Series for the first time since they moved west. Of course, there is also more controversy; the Dodgers accused the Giants of wetting down the field at Candlestick Park in order to prevent Maury Wills from stealing bases.
Again in the midst of a pennant race in 1965, Giants’ pitcher, Juan Marichal knocked down Maury Wills and Ron Fairly with brush back pitches. When Marichal came to the plate in the third inning the Dodgers pitcher, Sandy Koufax didn’t try to retaliate, but catcher, John Roseboro, did. When returning the ball to the pitcher’s mound Roseboro threw it extremely close to Marichal’s face. After the second of Roseboro's throws came too close to Marichal he struck Roseboro on the head with his bat, opening up a wound that required 14 stitches and in the process started a brawl that lasted 14 minutes.
In 1993, at the end of September with only four games left in the season, the Giants were tied with Atlanta for the division title. Who else would the Giants have to face in those last four games but the Dodgers, who had nothing to lose? (The Braves had it easier as they were playing the Rockies) Naturally, both the Giants and the Braves won the first three games. And on the last day of the season the Dodgers beat the Giants, knocking them out of the playoffs and finally extracting revenge for 1982 when the Giants knocked them out of the playoffs.
In 2001 when Barry Bonds hit home run number 500 against the Dodgers they were displeased that the game was halted for a lengthy on field celebration. Later the same year when the Dodgers visited Pacific Bell Park the Giants wanted to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of “the shot heard ‘round the world.” Of course, the Dodgers wanted no part in it (and who could blame them?) but it was more fodder for the media thus fueling the rivalry even more.
Over one hundred years later, fans still take this rivalry seriously. Chants of “Beat LA” can be heard around San Francisco – even when the Giants are playing another team. Some fans travel from as far as New York to watch these teams battle it out on the field. There is an inexplicable spirit and intensity at these games that you can actually feel; everyone finds themselves becoming a part of it. To the fans it doesn’t even seem to matter if their team is having a bad season, as long as they beat the other – at all costs. That is what this rivalry is all about.
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