This Week in Sports History: Maury Wills vs. Schwab’s Swamp

In August of 1962, Maury Wills was on a mission. The Dodgers infielder was stealing bases at a scorching pace, leading LA into first place in the National League with one month of regular season remaining.

Perhaps the only catcher in the league who could have potentially slowed Wills down was teammate John Roseboro, who was best known for his stellar defense and that time San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal bashed him over the skull with a bat.

By the way, do you know what Juan Marichal’s punishment was for SMASHING A BLACK DUDE’S HEAD WITH A BASEBALL BAT, TWICE?? An 8 game suspension (2 starts for a pitcher) and a whopping $1,750 fine (about $14k today). 

If Juan Marichal had taken a Louisville Slugger upside Whitey Ford’s gourd, team ownership would’ve lynched him in the left field bullpen during the 7th inning stretch.

Anywho, the ‘62 Dodgers built their offense around Wills’ base-running mastery; he would get on base, steal second, steal third, then a bunt or a lazy fly ball would get him across home plate. Legendary pitchers Sandy Kaufax and Don Drysdale would shut the opposing lineup down, and LA rode this formula into the NL’s catbird seat.

As the Giants prepared to host the Dodgers for a critical 3 game series in Candlestick Park, LA was five games ahead of San Francisco in the NL standings. Giants manager Alvin Dark knew the team needed a miracle to slow down Wills, so he scheduled a secret meeting with head groundskeeper Matty Schwab.

Much to Dark’s pleasant surprise, Schwab already had an idea that might’ve been just terrible enough to work. His pitch was simple: if the Giants grounds crew could turn the area around first base into a goddamned marsh, Schwab explained to Dark, the Dodgers baserunners wouldn’t be able to get the takeoff needed to steal bases.

The rest of the league had been trying to stop the Dodgers with better defensive catching and futile pick-off moves, but what if the only way to stop them was to never let them get started? How could Wills and the rest of the LA roster take advantage of their speed if first base was surrounded by 75 square feet of Uncle Ricky’s quicksand?

So the night before the series started, Schwab and his son Jerry snuck into the stadium and worked by torchlight to dig up topsoil in a 5’ x 15’ square foot area around first base. They replaced the normal soil with a mixture of sand, peat moss, water and chewing gum that had been chewed so long it started turning into that liquidy shit. After filling it back up with the swampy mixture, the Schwabs sprinkled handfuls of the original topsoil to cover their mush.

When the two teams arrived for warmups the following day, everything looked normal to the naked eye. But after a couple rounds of batting practice, the wet spot, much like a hardon at the dentist, had become VERY obvious. Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly literally built a sandcastle to make a point to the umpires, and after several complaints, the head ump ordered Schwab & Co. to cut the malarkey and put some real, God-fearin’ American dirt out there.

So they proceeded to dig up the algae puree and throw it into wheelbarrows – but instead of actually replacing it with the original dirt, they threw the same buckets of shit scum back onto the field, making it even sloshier than before.  After Jerry gave the goop one final watering, the field conditions were even worse than before umpire intervention. 

At this point, Schwab’s crew had wasted so much time the umpires grew impatient and wanted to start the game as soon as possible.  So the head ump quarter-assedly inspected the “repairs” without noticing the new first base reservoir, and immediately ordered the boys to “Play ball!”. (In the umpires’ defense, it was 1962 so they probably wanted to hurry home to ignore their wives and children)

The trick worked, as no Dodgers player stole a base, and the Giants crushed them 11-2. At one point, fleet-footed center fielder Willie Davis rounded first base after a hit, slipped in the sludgepuddle, and the Giants easily threw him out at first while he was still making a slime-angel. The Dodgers were furious, and it wasn’t long before the league office caught word of Schwab’s schwamp.

Major League Baseball stepped in and forced Schwabb’s crew to replace the entire area with the correct topsoil before the second game of the series. Even with the mud-butt removed, the field was still so wet that players couldn’t maintain their footing well enough to get a lead. With their main threat halted, the Dodgers failed to muster a single win and the Giants cut LA’s lead to 2 games.

By the end of the season, the Giants tied up the standings and were set to meet the Dodgers for a tie breaker series to determine the NL champion. With the stakes higher than ever, the Giants knew all eyes were going to be on the in-ground pool formerly known as first base. 

The league office even sent a letter to the team, mentioning Schwab by name, to “put them on notice”. However, the letter didn’t warn of any punishment or give specific instructions on what exactly they needed to do differently.

Still, in a playoff series for most of the marbles on primetime TV (the winner would go on to the World Series), there would certainly be no way to pull off another wetland shenanigan. Especially not after Major League Baseball sent a warning on company letterhead. No way, that is, unless you had Matty Fuckin’ Schwab.

Schwab planned to replicate the exact plan that worked the first time, but the head umpire for the playoff series, Jocko Conlan, anticipated some Schwabbery and flew in early to monitor the field. Since Conlan anointed himself as official pond-patrol, Schwab’s crew wasn’t allowed to do any digging. 

Conlan’s cockblocking was merely an inconvenience; Schwab had a plan B that didn’t require shovels. They proceeded to dump sand all over the infield and told Conlan the field was ready. After a thorough inspection, Conlan determined the infield was too dry and demanded Schwab to have someone water it down. 

 “Ok, Jerry,” Schwab told his son, “go make a lake!” 

Giants fans began to fill the stadium early, hoping to see the Belichick of the Bog in action. Schwab and his crew had become local legends after word got out of their impact on the last Dodgers series. So as Jerry Schwab hosed down the dunes like a drunken soy farmer, the home crowd began to cheer his every move.  

Conlan finally rushed Jerry to stop him, but the damage was done. The Dogers once again failed to get their offense rolling thanks to the flooded sand trap, and the Giants stole the critical game one 8-0.

San Francisco would go on to win the Dodgers series in game three before losing to the Yankees in the World Series. Wills, meanwhile, had set the new stolen bases record and was named league MVP.

Nearly 60 years later, nobody remembers who won the ‘62 World Series. Maury Wills stolen base record (along with every other base-running accomplishment) was overshadowed by Rickey Henderson’s exploits in the 80’s . But the legend of the Schwabs will live on forever in Giants vs. Dodgers lore.

Oh, the Sixties. A bygone era when a father and son could enjoy the simple pleasures of fucking over a black man in broad daylight while the officials looked away, management nodded in approval, and the audience roared in jubilation. Wait… goddammit.

Categories: Sports History

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