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.
Monte Irvin played ten 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, Irvine was a critical part of the most recent Giants team to have won the World Series.
Willie McCovey, who played for the Giants for nineteen 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 fourteen year old boy named me.
Orlando 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 a hundred sixty five pounds of marijuana, but that was in another decade and besides the smoke has cleared, so Orlando 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 on Wednesday was Gaylord Perry, who has cheerfully acknowledged throwing baseballs 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 Juan Marichal, nicknamed “the Dominican Dandy,” because he was. Marichal distinguished himself by winning two hundred forty three games over sixteen 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 on Wednesday night, but he was ill, as a sad result of which the otherwise bright occasion lacked the greatest of them all.