SPORTS

Tale of two cities

The World Series sparks a bitter rivalry

RAE CORELLI October 23 1989
SPORTS

Tale of two cities

The World Series sparks a bitter rivalry

RAE CORELLI October 23 1989

Tale of two cities

SPORTS

The World Series sparks a bitter rivalry

One day shortly before the opening of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, a television interviewer asked Mayor Arthur Agnos of San Francisco whether he planned to bet Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson on the outcome. Agnos replied that he did not because “there’s nothing in Oakland I want.” Although Agnos later said that he had been only kidding, Wilson was clearly not amused—and he sent an angry note to his counterpart across San Francisco Bay. When Agnos received the note, he phoned Wilson’s office—but the Oakland mayor refused to return the call. “I was too upset,” he said. “I’ve never said anything to try to diminish San Francisco.” Then, a reporter asked him if he would bet Agnos on the series. Replied Wilson: “I know what I’ll do—I’ll have a plastic foot made he can put in his mouth.”

The exchanges were symbolic of the historic and often-heated rivalry between the two cities at opposite ends of the nine-mile-long Bay bridge. Those passions are largely the product of San Francisco’s self-indulgent view of itself as the worldly centre of American West Coast culture and sophisticated living. What that attitude has given industrial, blue-collar Oakland over the years is an inferiority complex and a defensive hostility towards its neighbor. Dave Newhouse, sports columnist for the Oakland Tribune, wrote recently:

“We’re the ugly sister. We’ve been called the Buffalo of the West, and it hurts.”

But, for Oakland, revenge may be just around the corner, because the Athletics, who won the American League pennant by beating the Toronto Blue Jays four games to one, were favored to take the best-of-seven World Series as well. That prospect encouraged Oakland supporters to venture some disparaging remarks about San Francisco’s 60,000-seat Candlestick Park without fear of retaliation. The Giants’ home field overlooking the bay is notorious for its cold weather, fog and gales—a combination that has often hurt attendance,

while the 55,000-seat Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, its playing field 28 feet belowground and sheltered by high walls, is ranked among the best of the 26 major-league parks. Giants fan David Clark recalled that, during the 1978

season, “there were so few people that everybody got a foul ball.”

Oakland also has the edge in fan behavior. Candlestick security chief George Costa says that San Francisco fans, despite the city’s selfimage of gentility, are “the worst-behaved in the major leagues.” Last year, said Costa, the windblown stands witnessed a fight in nearly every inning, and during the 1989 season,

police ejected more than 800 unruly fans. Oakland spectators, on the other hand, attend mostly in family groups and even cheer wellexecuted plays by opposing teams. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle commented that Oakland supporters arrive by public transit and wait for the so-called Wave to start, while Giants backers show up on motorcycles and wait for the fights to start.

But Oakland may have more going for it than decorous fans. For decades, it struggled along as a kind of sweaty, industrial and shipping appendage to San Francisco, its school system sliding towards bankruptcy and its black ghettos prowled by drug dealers. Councilman Leo Basile told Maclean ’s that the city of 350,000, its downtown now largely restored, “is finally gaining a skyline.” Most of the manufacturing firms that gave Oakland its working-class character have moved away, and the economy is becoming steadily more service-oriented. Said Basile: “We have suffered because of the image of our beautiful stepsister across the bay. It is our turn now.”

That was the sentiment of the Athletics, who lost the 1988 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And although published polls favored Oakland to win, they also showed that a majority of respondents would have liked to have seen the San Francisco team emerge victorious—probably, said analysts, because the Giants had not been in a World Series since 1962 and had not won since 1954, when they were still playing at the Polo Grounds in New York City. While a regional playoff may have dampened enthusiasm for the Series across the continent, it did not reduce the local demand for tickets. One San Francisco restaurant owner bought a newspaper ad offering two box seats for each game, together with dinner for two, for $22,500 and, at last report, had turned down $20,250. The tickets had a face value of less than $1,150.

Meanwhile, mayors Wilson and Agnos agreed on one thing: the mayor of the losing city will act as host at a home game next season a. to several hundred children from z the winning city. Wilson also sug| gested that the winning mayor s spend a weekend at the home of the losing mayor. That proposal was still being reviewed, because some officials thought that it should be the other way around. Meantime, Oakland’s Basile said that the Series would be another step towards co-operation between the cities by the Bay. Co-operation between the mayors may be another matter.

ANNE GREGOR

RAE CORELLI with ANNE GREGOR in Los Angeles and correspondents’ reports