A Moment In Time – 4/15/58

This particular “Moment In Time” is actually one of the seminal moments in the history of the game. Tuesday, April 15, 1958, at Seals Stadium in San Francisco, at 1:34 pm, Ruben Gomez of the Giants fires one to Gino Cimoli of the Dodgers as Valmy Thomas frames the pitch, and major league baseball in California (and the western United States) is born.

Gomez in 1958

Ruben Gomez was a long time Giant and one of the earliest latino pitching stars in the majors, going 17-9 in his second season in 1954, and being the first Puerto Rican player to win a World Series game and eventually the first to win a ring, in the New York Giants’ final championship season. He was chosen by manager Bill Rigney to start this first game on the west coast not only because of his superb screwball, but also because he was right-handed, as the Dodgers were righty-heavy with Hodges, Furillo and even Cimoli. It would be Gomez’s first Opening Day, and although he pitched a complete game gem as SF defeated LA 8-o, it would also be his last. Gomez would have a subpar year for the Giants in ’58, and his decline from there was rapid – he was traded to the Phillies in ’59, sporting an E.R.A. over 6, then a spot reliever by 1960, and on to the Mexican League by 1963.

1958 Topps card

Regardless, Gomez would always carry the honor of being the first winning pitcher on the west coast, but had some help that day by fellow countrymen – Valmy Thomas, catching due to an injury by first-stringer Bob Schmidt late in spring-training, was also born in Puerto Rico, although was in fact the first major league player from the Virgin Islands, where he was raised and returned to after his baseball career. Thomas followed Gomez to Philadelphia in 1959 as a part-time catcher, and was out of baseball by 1962.

This first game also featured a 20-year-old rookie making his major league debut, with 13 assists at first base, not to mention a home run that day – another Puerto Rican fellow by the name of Orlando Cepeda.

Cimoli in 1958

As for Gino Cimoli, he was home. He was born in San Francisco, was a star at local Galileo High School, and was purposely inserted at the top of the lineup by manager Walter Alston since he was a local legend and the only native San Franciscan on either roster. In fact, Cimoli had a knack for being in the right place at the right time – he bookended Brooklyn’s final season in 1957 by hitting a game-winning homer off Philadelphia’s Robin Roberts in the 12th inning of the season opener, then scored the Dodgers’ final run in Brooklyn in the last game at Ebbets Field, and their final run of the final game as well, in Philly, both in late September. And after his Dodger days, for good measure, as a Pirate he pinch-hit for Elroy Face to lead off the bottom of the 8th of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, igniting the improbable 5-run rally to pull ahead of the Yankees and eventually win the World Series an inning later. Unfortunately, Cimoli’s historic at-bat this day was less dramatic: he struck out.

Cimoli’s return to his west coast roots would be less than triumphant, and after his average slipped almost 50 points for the Los Angeles version of the Dodgers, was traded to St. Louis in 1959. He would kick around the NL for while, before experiencing a short resurgence with the Kansas City A’s in 1962-1963, retiring in 1965.

Cimoli would return to San Francisco after his playing days and live in the greater SF area for the rest of his life – and become a Giants fan, of the San Francisco variety.

Say Hey, one that got away?

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that “You can’t go home again”, and that was largely true for Willie Mays in 1972. That year, the prodigal son was traded to the New York Mets in May as his career was winding down, back to the city where it all began. Willie would not return to the City By The Bay until July 21-23, 1972.

The crowd certainly missed old Willie, cheering every time he made an appearance, and he didn’t disappoint, hitting a 2-run HR (and the eventual game-winner) in Friday night’s game. But while the fans loved it, the Giants may have taken offense, as shown below.

Willie didn’t start on Sat., but pinch-hit in the 8th with runners on and the game tied, 1-1, and he walked. On Sun., he played the whole game and had 4 plate appearances. The photos below are from an at-bat either on Sat. or Sun., since they were taken during the day, most likely on Sunday, in which a purpose pitch would’ve been a less risky proposition.

A clear message? Or just one that got away? It could be either one, but check out the second photo, where S.F. catcher Doug Rader barely moved his body to corral what would’ve otherwise been a ball way outside. Personally, I think that leaves little doubt as to the intention of the pitch. Of course, back then, it was part of the game, not like today – think of Albert Pujols being drilled in his first at-bat against the Cardinals, whenever that would be. A full-scale riot would ensue, or at least a bench-clearer for the ages.

So even though the fans were still 100% behind him, and Willie still lived only a few miles away, with California “SAY HEY” license plates on his car in the parking lot, between the lines it’s still all in the uniform; and, whether the above pitch was in anger or not, it was pretty clear going forward that that plate at Candlestick Park was no longer…home.