This article was written by John D. Hibner
This article was published in the 1989 Baseball Research Journal
On September 15, 1957, the San Francisco Seals played their last home game. The news had broken that the major-league Giants would be replacing them in 1958, but no one was celebrating on this particular afternoon. Instead, San Franciscans were reminiscing about the fifty-five-year history of Seals baseball – a history complete with stars like Lefty O’Doul, Willie Kamm, Vince, Dominic, and Joe DiMaggio, and a tradition of colorful and plentiful crowds at Seals Stadium, where a minor-league attendance record of 670,560 was set in 1946 that lasted thirty-six seasons.
There was no getting around it: September 15 would be a wake. But in typical San Francisco style, Seal supporters made it a “joyous wake.”
Before the last date of the season, scheduled for September 15, the Seals had won the pennant. They played the Sacramento Solons in a doubleheader that day before a good crowd of 15,484. Governor and Mrs. Goodwin Knight were honored, and many described it as a “joyous wake and a lot of fun.” Both teams went through the motions in the first game, and nobody really cared who won. Then the second game started and the fun began.
The fans were surprised when Seals manager Joe (Flash) Gordon started the second game at his familiar old position of second base. At first, Sacramento Manager Tommy Heath protested to the umpires, claiming that Gordon wasn’t on the official roster. Soon Heath withdrew his protest by announcing over the loudspeaker: “With him at second, we can’t lose.” The Solons scored four runs in the first off little Albie Pearson, now hurling, though he was the Seals starting centerfielder. But the Seals came right back in the bottom of the first inning to get two runs back.
As the Solons came to bat in the top of the second, Gordon took the mound, with Pearson moving to second base. Gordon threw a strike, but Umpire Chris Pelekoudas called “ball one.” Gordon raced off the mound, ranting and raving about the call. Pelekoudas responded that maybe Gordon could do better at calling balls and strikes himself. Where upon the umpire took off his jacket, grabbed Gordon’s glove, and walked to the mound.
Gordon went behind the plate, and Pelekoudas fired a ball right over. “Slow-wow-ball,” yelled Gordon. One pitch was enough, and each went back to his normal position. Sacramento scored three runs and took a 7-2 lead.
Pearson played five different positions that day and was the losing pitcher. He allowed four runs on two hits, walked four men, and served up a home run ball. But for the last six or seven innings the stadium was a big party. Fans filtered down to the field for a handshake or autograph. As often as not there were more or less than nine men on a side. Everyone wanted to laugh about the proceedings, but there was still some sadness in the air soon an era would come to an end.
A very emotional event occurred late in the game, with the Solons ahead 13-6. First baseman Sal Taormina went to the public-address system and spoke about “Cap” Wright, a Seals coach who was dying of cancer. Donations would be accepted, he said, and each player had already donated a day’s pay to the cause.
The game was stopped, and all the members of both teams, still in spikes, climbed the stadium stairs and passed their caps. After twenty minutes, PA announcer Jack Rice called out over the louderspeaker: “Has everyone been reached out there?”
“No!” the crowd shouted back. “No!”
The managers and players continued circulating. Among them were some local worthies: Grady Hatton, Marty Keough, Ken Aspromonte. Eddie (Pumpsie) Green, Leo Kiely, Leo Righetti, trainer Leo (Doc) Hughes, Coach Riverboat Smith, and of course Gordon, Heath, and Pearson.
Approximately $7,000 was raised for the ailing coach, a substantial fund, but more important a very symbolic gesture from the fans. The players then went back to the diamond to finish up the seven-inning game. The Seals went into the bottom of the seventh behind 14-6, and did manage to score one run. A pop foul ball ended the game, and an era of baseball history in the “City” had come to an end.
The 15,484 fans stood and applauded the team for at least five minutes.
On April 18, 1958, the San Francisco Giants opened the first regular season against the new team in Southern California – the Los Angeles Dodgers. They played in the Memorial Coliseum, which had been converted into a baseball facility at the cost of $300,000. A crowd of 78,672 saw the game – and saw the Dodgers defeat the Giants 6-5.
A new era in San Francisco baseball had begun. But no one will ever forget the Seals. Especially the way they left.