Candlestick Park's history filled with ups and downs 

click to enlarge The lights will go out on Candlestick Park, which has seen its fair share of history since it opened in 1960, after the 49ers' 2013 season. - KIRBY LEE/USA TODAY SPORTS FILE PHOTO
  • Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports file photo
  • The lights will go out on Candlestick Park, which has seen its fair share of history since it opened in 1960, after the 49ers' 2013 season.

Candlestick Park has been called a lot of different things over the course of its 53-year history.

"Windlestick," "Candlestink" and "Cave of the Winds" are just a few of its nicknames. In 1995, it was renamed "3Com Park," and in 2004, it became known as "Monster Park," leading to additional monikers, like "Dot-com Park," "Commercial-stick Park" and "Candle3Monsterstick."

Richard Nixon called the stadium "one of the most beautiful baseball parks of all time" and the San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Stevens referred to it as the "Taj Majal of games."

But once its blown up after the 49ers' upcoming season — which kicks off Sept. 8 — most people will remember the stadium that hosted two Major League Baseball All-Star Games, two World Series and the last-ever Beatles concert by one simple name: "The 'Stick."

Candlestick Park opened on April 12, 1960, the first of the modern stadiums constructed entirely out of reinforced concrete. But with winds swirling in from San Francisco Bay — blowing in to left-center and out toward the right-field line — the honeymoon ended soon after the ribbon was cut.

"Candlestick is just in a terrible spot — at the end of a wind tunnel," long-time Bay Area sports writer and former S.F. Examiner columnist Art Spander said. "But where else did they have to go?"

When the Giants moved to The City in 1958, they were promised a new stadium with 10,000 parking spots and Candlestick Point was the only viable option. No one expected gusty winds and chilly summer nights.

The ungodly conditions may have thwarted Willie Mays from breaking Babe Ruth's home run record as he readjusted his swing to avoid hitting straight into the wind.

"Mays once told me that as soon as he tried to hit the ball in batting practice he realized that right-handed hitters couldn't hit it out," said Examiner columnist Glenn Dickey, who has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963.

Willie McCovey, on the other hand, benefited from being able to pull the ball into the wind as a left-handed hitter.

"Unlike a lot people, I really enjoyed playing there," McCovey said. "I played more games there than anybody, I hit more home runs there than anybody — I have all those memories."

McCovey said he preferred the cool weather at Candlestick to the scorching temperatures on the East Coast and the Giants learned to use the stadium's nuances to their advantage.

He said the wind also robbed him of several homers that blew foul, including a shot in the ninth inning of the Giants' notorious 16-inning game with the Milwaukee Braves in 1963.

"That game should have ended in the ninth on that ball down the line," he said.

In 1971, the 49ers moved in and a second deck was added to outfield bleachers, enclosing the stadium completely. Instead of blocking the wind, though, the renovation caused the wind to swirl, creating headaches for outfielders chasing down fly balls and kickers trying to knock down game-winning field goals.

But Candlestick Park proved to be a pleasant environment for taking in football games. The games are held in the afternoon and during the fall months, which produce the year's best weather.

"People really like it for football," Dickey said. "It was a serious upgrade from Kezar."

During football season, it was often rainy, the turf was slippery and for the first few months, they played on the Giants' dirt infield. But former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Guy McIntyre said the 49ers used it to their advantage.

"You loved it, you hated it and you made the most of it," McIntyre said.

The most memorable moment at Candlestick Park came on Jan. 10, 1982, when Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone for what will forever be remembered as "The Catch."

Prior to that moment, the 49ers were a franchise that was notorious for not being able to win the big game, but after "The Catch" the team won five Super Bowls in 13 years.

"An hour after the game, I'm still in the locker room and [Bill] Walsh comes up to me and says, 'you can stop writing that we can't win the big one,'" Spander said.

For all of its faults, the stadium came through when everything was on the line.

Had the stadium been constructed another 100-feet to the north, Bayview Hill may have blocked some of the wind, but the structure would been sitting on fill rather than solid land.

Fortunately, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit before Game 1 of the 1989 World Series, the stadium stood tall.

"We knocked everything about Candlestick — the weather, the design," Spander said. "But when it was critical, everything held up."

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Paul Gackle

Paul Gackle

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