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Among the former Giants participating in the “first pitch” ceremony before the first game of the World Series on Wednesday night were Monte Irvin, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry.
I grew up a Giants fan. I know those names. Cases can be made for honoring each of them — cases that reflect the myriad charms of baseball and recall the various sorts of stories, happy and not, that accrue to any team that’s been around as long as the Giants have.
Irvin played 10 years for Newark in the Negro Leagues before becoming the first black member of the Giants in July of 1949. He’s the only one of the honorees old enough to have been robbed of part of his Major League career by baseball’s color line. In 1954, Irvin was a critical part of the most recent Giants team to have won the World Series.
McCovey, who played for the Giants for 19 years, was robbed too. He lost the hit that would have won the 1962 World Series when Satan, cackling, temporarily possessed Yankees’ second baseman Bobby Richardson and snatched McCovey’s line drive out of the air, and I will hear no other interpretation of that hideous event, which broke the heart of a 14-year-old boy: me.
Cepeda, unencumbered by the New York connection, was embraced unconditionally by San Francisco fans. He hit a ton and played with glorious enthusiasm. After he retired, he was mixed up in an ambitious, albeit clumsy, transaction involving 165 pounds of marijuana, but that was in another decade, and besides the smoke has cleared. So Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame, which is as it should be.
One of the two pitchers among the old men on the mound Wednesday was Perry, who has cheerfully acknowledged throwing baseballs and carrying all manner of contraband (though not marijuana, perhaps because the stems and seeds would have slipped off the ball on the way to the plate and left a trail), thus tipping off the umpires, as well as the feds.
The other pitcher was Marichal, nicknamed “the Dominican Dandy,” because he was. Marichal distinguished himself by winning 243 games over 16 years, and by hitting former Dodgers catcher John Roseboro in the side of the head with a bat after Roseboro had nicked Marichal’s ear with a ball he said he was just trying to return to Sandy Koufax.
During the brawl that ensued, Willie Mays rushed from the Giants dugout, cradled Roseboro’s bleeding head on his chest and cried, “Johnny, Johnny, I’m so sorry.” Or so the story has it.
Mays was scheduled to join his fellow Giants for that first pitch Wednesday night, but he was ill, and as a sad result, the otherwise bright occasion lacked the greatest of them all.
This program aired on October 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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