The Los Angeles Dodgers travelled 383 miles North this week to take on the San Francisco Giants and add another page to, what I believe is, the best rivalry in team sports. I know that worldwide you’ll argue Australia’s Wallabies versus New Zealand’s All Blacks (hall of fame nicknames for sure) in rugby is better. Or India against Pakistan in cricket (can one billion fans be wrong?) and Real Madrid vs Barcelona in soccer (uh excuse me football) are more compelling but I’m talking domestically and, as a lifelong Giants fan, sticking to my guns. I grew up in Reno, Nevada and despite the fact that the bay area, just a few hours away, also had the A’s, 49ers, and Raiders the baseball Giants were my favorite team. I loved them as a kid, love them to this day and that’s the only reason I need to hate the Dodgers.
I’m ready for the dissenting voices. “What about Yankees/Red Sox?” you cry. An ESPN creation, I counter. I mean sure there is some intensity there but how much of a rivalry can it really be when, during an 86 year stretch, one of the teams won 26 championships and the other won exactly NONE.
“Give me Michigan/Ohio State,” echoes from another corner of the room. Another storied contender for sure, but wasn’t it only really good between 1969 and 1978 when Woody battled Bo?
“Carolina/Duke!” screams someone. “Packers/Bears!” yells someone else. Good ones again but, in my opinion, not up to Giants/Dodgers snuff. I have already admitted to being both a lifelong San Francisco Giants and baseball fan and because of that, or maybe in spite of it, allow me to make my case.
For any team vs team confrontation to rise to the level of a true rivalry I believe it has to have history. Check.
The Brooklyn Dodgers first met the New York Giants on May 3rd, 1890 at Washington Park. Since then, and including last night, they have played 2,412 games against each other. The rivalry, born in New York, travelled across the country in 1957 when Walter O’Malley moved his “Brooklyn Bums” to Southern California. Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham followed his counterpart west, like Lord Baltimore chasing Butch and Sundance, settling in the city by the bay and turning what was once a cross-city rivalry into a cross-state one.
Over the course of this amazing 125-year tussle the Giants, as a franchise, have won 10,468 baseball games (the most in history) while the Dodgers can claim 10,166 victories (third all-time). In 2005 the Giants became the first MLB team to win 10,000 games thanks to a 4-3 victory over, wait for it… the Dodgers.
Both teams have to be consistently competitive. Check again.
The Giants have won the National League pennant 23 times, the Dodgers 21 and NY/San Francisco has been crowned World Champion 8 times (the last in 2014) while Brooklyn/LA has worn the crown 6 different years (the last in 1988).
Since 1901 the two teams have played more head-to-head confrontations than any other two franchises. They have battled for pennants (National League and National League West) on dozens of occasions. Perhaps the most famous of those championship fights, and some say in all of baseball, happened in 1951. That year the Dodgers held a seemingly insurmountable 13 and a half game lead as late as August 11. But the lead was anything but insurmountable for the Giants and their outstanding rookie, Willie Mays. By the end of September the, 13 and a half game lead was gone and the two teams ended up tied atop the standings, forcing a three game playoff for the pennant. NY won the first game, Brooklyn the second which all lead to Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world” home run in the ninth inning of the deciding game.
Both teams, and their fan bases, have to hate each other. Check, check and double check.
Dodger great Jackie Robinson reportedly decided to retire from baseball rather than play for his arch rivals after being traded to the Giants in 1956. Willie Mays returned the favor refusing to sign with LA at the end of the 1972 season and instead was traded to the New York Mets.
In 1965, while batting, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal thought Dodger catcher John Roseboro was throwing the ball back to Sandy Koufax too close to Marichal’s head. In fact it’s said, one Roseboro throw back to the mound actually caught a piece of the Giants hurler’s right ear. Instead of asking for time and then asking Roseboro for an explanation, Marichal simply stepped back and bashed the Dodgers catcher over the head with his bat. To say benches emptied would be an understatement.
Giants and Dodgers fan know spring has arrived when chants of “Beat LA” and “Giants Suck” ring out at ball parks in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Northern Californians think Southern Californians are smug, self-absorbed and shallow. Sothern Californians think their Northern counterparts are “crusty”, disagreeable and pompous. For the most part neither wants anything to do with the other.
In the middle of an outstanding, 13 year, career the great Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser took the field as a Giant for 34 games in 1998. As a Giants fan I held my nose for every one of his appearances as he won 11, lost 10 and then went back to LA. Jeff Kent, Juan Uribe and Brian Wilson (among many others) were Giants before they were Dodgers. I loved them in Orange and Black, loathed them in Dodger Blue. I would however be remiss if I didn’t mention the ONE redeeming thing about the Los Angeles team… They have the best broadcaster in all of baseball, the inimitable Vin Scully
I have colleagues (who I like and respect), dear friends who I love (one is my daughter’s Godfather) and family members (a nephew who can be forgiven because he was born and raised in LA) who are Dodgers fans. They will mean one thing to me for 346 days this year and something entirely different the 19 days the Giants and Dodgers meet on the field (not including the post season). Speaking of the post season we Giants fans can take a great deal of solace in the fact that no matter how well the dreaded Dodgers do in the first 162 games, they’ll fail miserably, then exit stage left unceremoniously, when the games decide who wears World Series rings.
So as far as I’m concerned you can keep your Yankees/Red Sox, Wolverines/Buckeyes, Packers/Bears, Blue Devils/Tar Heels and all the rest. For my money the Giants/Dodgers rivalry is the best in American team sports.