Baseball in San Francisco enjoys a rich history although not one of success with no World Series victories to call its own. 52 years of baseball in San Francisco and while there have been many faces of the franchise, there is no doubt that Mays, Bonds and now Lincecum for the forseeable future will be the legacy names depending upon the generation you call yours.
I think the Barry Bonds era is officially over. He’s pretty much forgotten as Tim (“The Freak”) Lincecum has captured the imagination and how holds the torch for the San Francisco baseball community. And while many not have lived long enough to know it, while Barry was so long the face of the community, he really didn’t capture the imagination of San Francisco as much as Willie (“The Say Hey Kid”) Mays and Tim Lincecum have done. He stood on a pedastal while Willie and Tim have personalities that reflect the San Francisco of their times. Although I was only 5 years old when Willie Mays handed me his autographed baseball while I handed him some steaks as we stood in the freezer of my grandfather’s butcher shop, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Willie moved to San Francisco and the City was electrified by this young “African-American” who had enthusisam and personality that transcended racial barriers. Willie Mays, along with my grandfather, a Chinese butcher, who through some luck had come into some money were still in a racially divided society despite the liberalness of San Francisco in the early ’60s. My grandfather, was unable to purchase a home outside of the Chinatown community. My grandfather had earned some money from the sale of his butcher shop to the City of San Francisco so they could build what would eventually become the current Moscone Convention Center.
At the same time Willie Mays was refuted the ability to purchase a home and later chased out of his neighborhood. Then mayor, George Christopher, a Greek man who embraced civil rights, took both men in at separate times and they became friends. My grandfather was eventually introduced by the mayor to another Greek man, John Vrahos, who helped my grandfather to become one of the first Asian homeowners in the ritzy suburb of Menlo Park which ironically today is heavily populated by the Asian community despite small print on most land deeds which still state that the property should not be sold to a person of color.
Although my grandfather died almost a decade ago, when I see Willie Mays today, he still greets me and calls me “Phil’s grandson”. I never got to ask my grandfather but in many ways I feel like Willie might have been his first black acquaintance and the for Willie, my grandfather might have been his first Asian acquaintance.
Tonight I watched my son sit mesmerized in front of the television as he watched Tim Lincecum mow down the Houston Astros. Lincecum’s long hair is being copied by children all over San Francisco’s Little League fields such that you can barely tell the boys from the girls. More importantly he is relating to a new generation of fans. Walking his dog around the city with his girlfriend, Lincecum looks like any 20-something on the street. His dimunitive size for a baseball player allows him to mesh in with the tourists and not call much attention to himself.
What is happening in San Francisco with Lincecum is truly unique. Mays is undoubtedly the best player that ever played the game and those who grewup watching him were lucky. With 2 Cy Youngs in his first 3 years, Lincecum is definitely one of the brightest stars in the game and I hope my child will some day look back and see how lucky he was to have grown up a Giants fan idolizing a future Hall of Famer.