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February 13, 2014

Giants-Dodgers rivalry entertains

Cooperstown Crier

---- — One of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports is the Giants and Dodgers. These two proud franchises have been going at it for well over 100 years. First it was New York vs. Brooklyn. Now it’s San Francisco vs. Los Angeles. There’s no love lost between them. Victories over each other are sweeter than those over any other team. Even when they’re not going head-to-head it feels good when their arch-rival loses. If you’re a Giants’ fan, hating the Dodgers is a way of life (and vice versa).

I grew up a Giants’ fan. In the 1960s it was Mays, McCovey, and Marichal, with a few other Hall of Famer caliber players thrown in. I discovered early in life that the Dodgers were a special opponent. For one thing I knew that the two teams had transplanted to the West Coast at the same time. They always seemed to be battling for the pennant every season both before and after they left New York. It didn’t hurt that the only games televised in the Bay Area were when the Giants played in LA.

The teams were different in their first decade on the West Coast. It was the Giants’ offense against the Dodgers’ defense. The Giants had power hitters throughout their lineup. The Dodgers relied on speed and pitching. San Francisco’s Willie Mays and Willie McCovey were home run hitters extraordinaire while Los Angeles maintained the awesome 1-2 pitching punch of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and speed demons Maury Wills and Willie Davis.

The other difference, galling to Giants’ fans, is that the Dodgers won pennants and World Series while the Giants didn’t. The Dodgers took home world championships in 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988, and were in four other World Series. In their first 52 seasons in San Francisco the Giants had three World Series appearances and exactly zero world titles. Dodger fans were never hesitant to rub it in.

During all those years the only thing Giant fans could celebrate is denying the Dodgers. They spoiled their parties in 1962, 1971, and 1982 but the Dodgers returned the favor in 1993. The Giants often came close to winning the pennant but were usually the brides’ maid. The bottom line is that the Dodgers knew how to get over the hump and the Giants didn’t.

All that changed in 2010 when the Giants got hot at the end of the season and brought home their first World Series title. The victory parade drew 1.5 million delirious Giants’ fans who basked in a title that was over 50 years in the making. While the Dodgers floundered to regain their magic the Giants seemingly used mirrors to somehow win the title again in 2012.

I was reminded of the rivalry because of a recently published book by Joe Konte, “The Rivalry Heard ‘Round the World: The Dodgers-Giants Feud from Coast to Coast.”   Konte tells how the rivalry developed in New York and expounds on it after the teams moved west. He delves into statistics too much and is loath to criticize anyone but does provide an excellent overview of the intensity of the rivalry.

Konte gives a good summary of the teams’ growing distain for each other during their years in New York. It was sad to see the end of their playing days in Manhattan and Brooklyn, especially the demise of the Dodgers’ legendary Ebbets Field. There are still people in Brooklyn who have never gotten over losing the Dodgers.

The author also gives a good feel for the way S.F. and L.A. embraced the teams when they first moved west. There was something nostalgic about their temporary ballparks, Seals Stadium and the L.A. Coliseum, where the teams first played after moving west. When their new stadiums were ready Los Angeles unveiled the beautifully designed Chavez Ravine while the Giants ended up in a dump called Candlestick Park (where else could you find Arctic conditions in August?). Thank goodness they ended up in the gorgeous AT&T Park in the year 2000.

Konte presents all the basic information well enough. It’s just that he ignores the “elephant in the room” too often. He does not spend enough time on Barry Bonds’ negative effects on the team, or the number of horrible trades and signings by Giants’ general manager Brian Sabean before gaining redemption in 2010.

He also doesn’t go into enough depth about the corrosive effect that Frank McCourt had on the Dodgers during his ownership. Los Angeles was the standard bearer for success but that hit rock bottom during the McCourt era. Fans disappeared in droves. It wasn’t until recently that a fresh ownership group took over to give the team new life.

I can relate to the book because I’m a part of the rivalry. I know what it’s like to “hate” the Dodgers. I had to deal with obnoxious Dodger fans in college who constantly reminded me and fellow Giants denizens that their team was superior and drew five times as many fans to their ballpark. It also seemed like every time I saw a Giants-Dodgers game the Giants would blow a lead in the 9th inning. I even saw the Giants get no-hit!

But it’s amazing what two titles in three years will do. Now it’s our turn to rub it in about championships and higher attendance. The Dodgers seemed to have regained their footing so it’s like old times again. Konte’s book, despite its flaws, provides an insight to what makes the rivalry so great and is something all baseball fans can appreciate. 

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at