Labor Day ’73 lives forever

Monday,  Sept. 5

SAN DIEGO — Fully aware that this has nothing to do with the Giants’  present-day issues, I’m compelled by the calendar to share this reminiscence.

Baseball on Labor Day always shall mean one thing for me: Sept. 3, 1973. The Giants beat the Dodgers, 11-8, overcoming an 8-1 deficit. This game reinforced some basic baseball truths — how momentum can be so fickle and inexorable; why leaving a ballgame early is never a good idea; and how the improbable can become commonplace when the Giants and Dodgers meet.

Moreover, it was simply an unforgettable game.

The Dodgers, who led the National League West by one game over Cincinnati at the time, led 8-1 after five innings. This prompted an older couple to gather their blankets (I should have mentioned that the scene was Candlestick Park) and head for the parking lot. Asked by a neighbor (apparently I was sitting amid a flock of season-ticket holders) why they were leaving so soon, the departing gentleman simply shook his head in disgust.

I wonder how those two felt a few hours later.

The Giants had only three hits through six innings — OK, I looked it up on baseball-reference.com — but roused themselves to score six runs in the seventh inning. That, I recall without fact-checking. I don’t remember much about the particulars of the rally, which included two-run singles by Dave Rader and Tito Fuentes (thanks again, baseball-reference). I do remember that though the Giants still trailed, 8-7, I was absolutely convinced that they’d proceed to win.

The ninth inning validated my belief. After striking out Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Dave Kingman in a perfect eighth, Dodgers reliever Pete Richert walked Gary Thomasson to open the ninth. Baseball-reference says that the next two hitters, Rader and Mike Sadek, recorded sacrifice bunts and reached base safely. My memory tells me that the Dodgers botched both plays, but detailing how this happened would require deeper research.

The Dodgers summoned their best reliever, left-hander Jim Brewer, to face Bobby Bonds, the Giants’ best player and quite possibly the finest in the entire NL at that  juncture. Though the bases were loaded with nobody out, the Dodgers seemed to have a decent shot of escaping the threat. Brewer’s formidable screwball made him tough on right-handed batters as well as against lefties.

But when Bonds performed at the height of his skill, nothing else mattered.

He drove a pitch to left field but hit it so high that I figured it was just a fly ball. Watching Bill Buckner stand helplessly at the fence as the ball disappeared into the seats told me otherwise. Giants fans in the relatively sparse audience of 15,279 — those who remained present, that is — were euphoric. The Giants never seriously threatened the Dodgers or Reds in the division race through the rest of the season. But, for one night, their followers felt as if the team had reached the World Series.

Bonds and the Giants thus issued an essential reminder: Never, ever give up.

Maybe this recollection isn’t so irrelevant after all.

Chris Haft

25 Comments

I just read your article on MLB.com about the BIG win San Fran had over San Diego . What a load of crap. Please read what you write! ” the ease the giants won over the last place padres”. And you made the article seem like they just beat the one of the all time Yankees team. Just report the facts, second place team with no hitting or hope beat a dog of a team . I guess both teams are dogs , but please , you are fooling no one.

Who poured sour milk in your cereal, Joe?

Giants suck. , stop pretending they are still on race after beating last place team

Joe, does the initial “D” stand for “downer”?

I remember watching this game on television and also giving up after the score was 8-1 and hustling back to watch the finale after learning that it was 8-7 in the 9th.

I remember the 9th inning plays that loaded the bases — they were both “sacrifice/fielders choices”. That is to say, on each occasion, the bunt was laid down and on each occasion, the Dodgers threw too late to the lead base (second base after the first bunt and third base after the second bunt) to get the lead runner.

On the first bunt, the runner slid into 2nd safely but then overslid the bag. He just barely scrambled back safely afterward.

I remember knowing how strikeout-prone Bobby Bonds was and hoping that he avoid striking out and hit a sacrifice fly to tie the score. A strikeout would have set the wheels in motion for a possible game-ending double play. That game-winning grand slame came after Bonds fouled off several pitches, I remember that too.

How the heck do you remember all this? Quite impressive.

Love this! I experienced a game where the Giants were behind, we left early (Dad didn’t like to have to deal with the traffic), and we got to hear them come back and win it on the radio on the drive home. I have never left a game early since then. And I still haven’t given up on my boys. You never know what can happen (that is part of the fun!).

I hope you forgave your Dad!

2011 giants are no 2007phillies. Kung Fu panda is the fattest singles hitter in baseball. They had an unbelievable year last year. It was more of the exception then the rule.

You’re right about the difference between the ’07 Phillies and this year’s Giants. But if the players choose to use the ’07 Phils as a source of motivation … well, whatever gets you through the night.

Actually, I remember this quite well, partly because I tape-recorded Bill Thompson off KSFO radio as well as Curt Gowdy off television. Those 2 bunt plays in the 9th were both a matter of the Dodgers throwing to second base, just not in time: “Not in time, not in time, not in time” was Bill Thompson’s call on the second one.

–Ed Oswalt

So that’s what it was — throws to second! Thanks, Ed

I totally agree, as long as we have a shot, you can’t give up.

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! – Commander Peter Taggart

Am stalling on paying for my post-season strips, though…

Chris, your inspirational Labor Day post is looking better all the time . . . five out with ten to play! I was gonna comment on it earlier, thanking you for the true baseball fan’s look at these sorts of situations, but I thought . . . you know, considering this particular situation (the Giants playing so poorly, losing to the likes of the Astros and the Cubs), that’s just fantasy. Well, it might STILL be fantasy, but I bet the Diamondbacks are, as Duane Kuiper just said, hearing a few footsteps. I’m SO HAPPY that they’re making a run and not just folding! They could have easily done that.

So it’s still wildly improbable, but hey . . . I’m up for a miracle! Here’s my one question — how about Nate Schierholz making a recovery and replacing Ross in the outfield for these last ten games. Apparently WIlson is going to be activated tomorrow — how about Nate?

This reply is quite a bit late now, Joe … sorry. But just think: If the Giants had won just another couple-three more games, they’d still be playing!

I remember one of the television anouncers asking the other one how do you keep your interest or how do you make it interesting when the Dodgers were up 8 to 1. I don’t remember his response but his comment was brought back up later when the giants took the final lead in the game. Now that’s karma.

As Joaquin Andujar supposedly said, you can sum up baseball in one word: youneverknow!

I just came across this post. I remember watching that game as a kid. It was Chuck Connors, actor and ex-Dodger, who was serving as a guest color commentator who asked his booth-mates “What do you do when the game is over this early.” I don’t recall the responses, but the remark annoyed me. I do remember well Bobby Bonds’ grand slam. He and the Willies are the reason I became a Giants fan.

You’re right. I’ll always remember the rampant euphoria.

I agree. The rampant euphoria following the game was intoxicating.

I remember that game in ’73 very well… Chuck Connors’ actual words were…”What do you do in a game like this?”, when his beloved Dodgers were up on the hometown Giants 8-1 in the seventh inning. The Giants then scored 6 runs in the bottom of the seventh to cut the lead to 8-7 and then won it on Bonds’ slam in the bottom of the ninth. Absolutely one of the most amazing comebacks of all time….and how sweet it was that Connors had to eat those words for a midnight snack!

On a side note, that same season, on May 1st against Pittsburgh, the Giants were trailing 7-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and came all the way back to win 8-7…the winning runs coming on a base-loaded 3-run double by…you guessed it….Bobby Bonds. Earlier in the inning, a guy named Chris Arnold had cut the lead to 7-5 with a pinch-hit grand slam. Now those Giants could hit!!

“The Rifleman” was a tad awry with his aim, wasn’t he?

In 1973, I was 13 and living in Fresno where my father was a sports broadcaster. He knew Lon Simmons, and one day (which happened to be Labor Day), we were invited to sit in the KSFO broadcast booth during the game. It was the only time I had the privilege of doing so. As I watched the game and the announcers calling the game in front of me, I could turn to my left and see through a glass partition the “Monday Night Baseball” crew broadcasting for NBC. There was Curt Gowdy and his celebrity guest Chuck Connors just a few feet away, and with all of this going on, as a kid it was difficult to decide where to focus my attention. I could not help but look over at the booth next to me, probably more than I should have because Mr. Connors turned to me at one point with the look of someone way beyond irritated. I later learned that he had dropped the f-bomb during the broadcast. Is there any possibility my frequent curiosity (alright – accessive gawking) at what was going on in his direction contributed to his “slip of the tongue”, therefore making a slight contribution to baseball broadcasting history? I know that theory is far-fetched, but you never know. Oh yea, the Giants-Dodgers game. Absolutely one of the best Giants games I ever saw, and I still remember after Bonds hit the Grand Slam, the heavy downpour of seat cushions from many of the fans throwing them in the air.

Awesome memory of yours!

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