Dodgers-Giants rancor a rite of passage

When push comes to shove, the Dodgers-Giants rivalry is most definitely battle-tested. AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

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Some lines are just not to be crossed. The political process has its steadfast party lines, the labor world has its contentious picket lines and the corporate sector features unyielding company lines. But no delineation is more polarizing than the line in the sand that runs between Los Angeles and San Francisco, separating the Dodgers and the Giants.

The two teams will renew their timeless rivalry April 13 at Dodger Stadium, and the battle lines have long since been drawn. With these teams -- and their fans -- there's no crossing over.

"Part of being a Dodger fan is disliking the Giants," said Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper, a former San Francisco second baseman. "And if you are a Giant fan, when you start a family, you raise your kids not to like the Dodgers."

Former Dodgers outfielder Jay Johnstone agreed.

"The rivalry is simple," Johnstone said. "The Dodgers hate the Giants, and the Giants hate the Dodgers."

Consider: It long has been thought Jackie Robinson opted to retire after the 1956 season rather than accept a trade that would have sent him from the Dodgers to the Giants.

Slugger Dave Kingman said learning to dislike the Dodgers was a rite of passage for players in the Giants' organization.

"It was engrained in you as soon as you came up [to the big leagues]," said Kingman, who wore a Giants uniform in the early 1970s. "It was such an intense rivalry. We were always getting into fights. Guys would throw at each other, and the benches would empty."

That same hostility exists even when the real Dodgers and Giants aren't involved.

During Little League Day festivities at San Francisco's AT&T Park, the locals are known to unmercifully rain down boos on kids who play for teams called the Dodgers. A similar scene can be observed in Los Angeles when Little League teams known as the Giants march into Dodger Stadium.

"I don't think the Little Leagues in Northern California should even have a team called the Dodgers, and the Little Leagues in Southern California should not have a team called the Giants," Kuiper said. "Those kids get booed so badly that I say just do away with them altogether."

If the Dodgers-Giants rivalry is so fierce that it can inspire laid-back Californians up and down the coast to treat the children of their friends and neighbors with the kind of venom typically reserved for disgraced CEOs, how much fury burns within the actual participants?

"It was war," former Dodger Maury Wills once told the Los Angeles Times. "It was life and death."

The roots of all that hatred go back to New York City during the late 19th century, when the Giants played on a promontory in Manhattan known as Coogan's Bluff while the Dodgers called Brooklyn home. The Brooklyn Bridge had opened in 1883, and its completion ensured that games on either side of the East River were heavily populated with fans from both teams. The close proximity stoked the antagonism between the teams -- and their fans -- and the nation's largest city proved to be too small for the Dodgers and the Giants to coexist peacefully.

The conflict was fomented in New York in 1951, when rookie Willie Mays helped the Giants make up a 13 -game deficit to the Dodgers, forcing a three-game playoff to determine the National League champion. After the teams split the first two playoff contests, Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run in the rubber game sent the Giants to the World Series and left a permanent scar on the psyche of Dodgers fans, ratcheting up the animosity forever.

Russ Hodges achieved broadcasting immortality when, after Thomson's home run, he repeatedly shouted, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" More than a half-century later, the call remains music to the ears of Giants fans and nails on chalkboard to Dodgers fans.

"I can't hear that call enough," Kuiper said. "And, I'm sure Vin Scully would never want to hear it again."

Both teams pulled up stakes for California in 1958. They abandoned their New York roots, but there was no escaping the bitter history they shared. It soon became apparent that the country's third-largest state wouldn't be big enough to ease tensions, either.

Eight years after Thomson's homer completed the "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff," the Dodgers repaid the favor by making up a three-game September deficit to the Giants during the rivalry's second season on the West Coast. The Dodgers then defeated the Milwaukee Braves in a playoff and went on to win the 1959 World Series over the Chicago White Sox.