The Rivalry Heard 'Round the World: An Interview with Joe Konte

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The Rivalry Heard 'Round the World: An Interview with Joe Konte

Red Sox versus Yankees. Cardinals versus Cubs. Cowboys versus Redskins. Duke versus North Carolina. The list of great rivalries in American sports is endless. And many would consider Dodgers versus Giants the best of them all.

I can't say I disagree. As a diehard Dodgers fan born and raised in San Francisco, my lifelong sports fandom has been...interesting. 

And anyone else who has lived and died with one of these powerhouse franchises, whether it be well after they moved to the West Coast, or through the entire process of leaving New York, can identify with me.

Through all the on-field brawls, fan violence, controversies and tight pennant races, the Dodgers and Giants have never disappointed to bring an extra element of suspense to each and every baseball season. 

Joe Konte has tracked the progress of the rivalry through research and devoted fanaticism and recently published The Rivalry Heard 'Round the World. Joe, who took hundreds of individual three-plus hour trips at the San Francisco Public Library to dive into research for this book, attended his first Dodgers vs. Giants game in 1958 and never looked back.

Joe was kind enough to speak to me about the book, the rivalry and his thoughts on everything Dodgers versus Giants. From an on-field, pregame, cow-milking competition in 1966 to the infamous Juan Marichal bat incident, Joe has an endless knowledge of the greatest rivalry in sports history.

 

Jeremy Dorn: Let's dive right into it—is the Dodgers versus Giants rivalry the single greatest rivalry in American sports history?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Joe Konte: It's the only real great rivalry that spans the entire country. And it goes back to 1858 when organized ball was just starting. Did you know the 1858 All-Star series was made up of the best players just from Brooklyn and New York? The fact that it started so deep and then came out here to the West Coast and we’ve still seen so many great and crazy moments makes it so unique and special. There's just something about this rivalry. 

 

JD: Was there one rivalry moment that you appreciated more after doing your research?

JKIt was one of the most tumultuous moments of the rivalry's history: Marichal versus Roseboro. We all know that story, but I was foggy on how it came to be, so one of the most interesting things going into it was the game-by-game buildup. Don Drysdale had made target practice of Giants batters, and earlier in the season there was a verbal war between Drysdale and Marichal that built up to the iconic incident. 

 

JD: Who are the most fiery players you came across in your research for each franchise as far as hatred for the other team goes? 

JKJohn "The Count" Montefusco was special in that way. He said he had “hatred for all things Dodgers." I covered how Drysdale was the poster boy for the rivalry in the early years of the West Coast because he was known to throw at batters. But the one guy who really stands out is Tommy Lasorda because he had this legendary problem with the Giants fans. There are a number of quotes over the years from him saying the Giants fans were the worst fans in baseball. And they made a case for themselves by throwing beer into the dugout and at Lasorda on his walks from the clubhouse in Candlestick to the dugouts. In the 1951 season though, the Dodgers tried to hold a "Willie Mays" appreciation night before his career ended which started with a nice Mays tribute and ended with Dodgers fans getting mad about a bad call in the ninth inning. So even the one time the Dodgers tried to have a nice night in an appreciated player's honor, it turned out bad.

 

JD: What motivated you to write this book?

JK: I went to my first Dodgers vs. Giants game in 1958. My father was a fan, and we watched together, so I learned about the rivalry from an early age. The combination of being a big baseball fan from San Francisco and following the rivalry over the years, plus working as a sports editor all these years gave me a really good knowledge of the topic. I had a lot of interest in it, but felt I needed more to do a book, so I dove into over 900 games of history. 

 

JD: Nine hundred games? That's dedication!

JKSince moving to the West Coast, the Giants and Dodgers have played nearly 1,000 games against each other. Actually, they will play their 1,000th game together next season. I went over every game, every box score and every summary because if I skipped one, I felt I'd miss out. 

 

JD: Wow. I'm guessing the head-to-head rivalry is pretty even in terms of wins?

JKSince the first National League game against each other in 1890, they've played 2,375 games, and San Francisco has a 27-game lead (1,201-1,174). The Giants kind of dominated the years in New York, and then the script was flipped when the teams moved to California. 

 

JD: So tell me more about the research process. Did you uncover any moments that nobody knows about?

JK: The heart of the research was going to the San Francisco Main Library's microfilm room where they have newspapers going back as far as possible. I pulled up individual sports pages and looked through all the numbers and game stories one by one. It was a labor of love, but you have to do the research to pick up the best stuff and compile it in some way and look for a scene of every season. Then I just tried to weave it all together. The thoroughness of the research was needed to tell the story. But by thinking that deep, I found out all sorts of things, like this gem: In 1966, the Dodgers and Giants held a cow-milking contest in the on-deck circle before a game to salute the dairy industry. 

 

JD: I wish they still did things like that before games! So, let's talk about a more sensitive topic. Based on your research, has the fan mentality changed at these rivalry games? Given all the postgame incidents over the few years?

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

JKWell, Candlestick Park was definitely revving up the rivalry in terms of fan participation because it was a very edgy place—it was cold, there was virtually no security and there was lots of booze. Fights there were a normal thing. They were expected. The bleachers at Dodgers vs. Giants games [at Candlestick] were sold out, and by the fifth inning, only half the people were left because cops had to eject people for fighting and drinking. I see a huge difference at AT&T with more security and a more family-friendly atmosphere. Things really unraveled in Los Angeles with Brian Stow in 2011 and the McCourt family running the team into the ground. But right now, it's much cleaner in both environments. 

 

JD: Did you see anything that serious in years past while researching?

JKAlcohol has something to do with it spilling over after the games. But the weapons make it incredibly serious. They didn't really have those back in the day. Even the Stow incident was very violent still [without weapons]. It was beyond a normal brawl. The violence and the availability of weapons did seem to have been stepped up. But, for example, a fan in the 1930s killed another fan after a postgame argument at a bar. So it's hard to say what is old and what is current. 

 

JD: How can this issue be fixed? Any ideas?

JKYou think about these incidents—Stow of course, and the Dodgers fan getting fatally stabbed after a game at AT&T this season—and it's interesting how logos and colors still trigger the mono-a-mono reaction. It's almost acceptable once those colors are in the street after a game. You wouldn't hit a normal person in the street, but just the team colors makes it "okay." The sad part is none of it is really happening in the stadiums themselves these days. The ballparks are kind of like fortresses, but once you leave the park and are walking back to your cars, it gets dangerous. I wouldn’t walk down streets of San Francisco in Dodger garb at night. A fan should have the right to do that, but there are too many people on the fringe out there. When you're two or three blocks from the park, you might as well be a mile away. Two-three blocks from the park you might as well be a mile from the park. I think 2012 was the most pivotal year of rivalry since 1958 because the Giants got really good and suddenly they set a bar so high for themselves that the Dodgers' new ownership did whatever it takes to win, and now there’s a mono-a-mono thing with the organizations, not just the fans. If they have a year where they’re both strong in September, I think the passion and tension will bring out even more security and even more worry for people in opposing gear.

 

JD: A Giants versus Dodgers divisional race would be good for baseball again. The Dodgers will go into the 2014 season as the NL West favorites, but the Giants should be better. Can you forecast the pennant race between the two for next season?

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JKIt's hard to believe Los Angeles won't be a factor. Certainly next year and for the short-term future. And one reason is because right now, if the Dodgers make a bad decision on a player, they can write the millions off. If the Giants spend money on Hunter Pence and he doesn't work out, they can't bring a new guy in the same way the Dodgers can. Also, the Dodgers can be active in the international market with Yasiel Puig, Alexander Guerrero, etc. The Giants lack of success this year could have been injuries, a World Series hangover or something else. They have to deal with left field and their rotation, but the lineup is pretty good, and it's hard to believe the Giants management will stand pat at this point. The Dodgers kind of ruined San Francisco's whole business plan last year. I think the Giants were surprised because they thought the NL West was a winnable division with 88 victories. You'd think the Giants will put more money into it than they have already to stay on pace. Either way, it would be a lot of fun if the 1,000th game they played on the West Coast was in a pennant race. 

 

You can follow Joe Konte on Twitter @JoeKonte and his blog www.JoeKonte.com. For a copy of the book, visit Joe's website.


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