Fifty Years Ago, the San Francisco Giants Made Long-Lost Films

The footage, meant to help Mays, McCovey, and the rest of the team fix on-field flaws, has never been found. But the student behind the camera had a hell of a summer at the ‘Stick.

Willie McCovey stretches for the throw. Candlestick Park in the 1960s. Photo: Dave Glass/Creative Commons.

As San Francisco went through the upheavals of the 1960s, one constant across the decade was the star power of its baseball team.

The roster was stacked with future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, and many other solid players, and they and their fans drew fuel from the rivalry with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Animosity between the teams carried over from their days in Manhattan and Brooklyn; their mutual move west in 1958 helped cement California’s north-south rivalry.

Across the decade, the Giants topped the National League just once, in 1962, and came within a few fingernails’ length of beating the New York Yankees in the World Series. McCovey’s ninth-inning line drive with two men on base found Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson’s glove in the decisive Game 7. The frozen moment meant anguish for all Giants fans, especially one in Santa Rosa who had an eternally youthful alter-ego with a very old soul.

In 1965 and 1966, the Dodgers squeaked by the Giants to take the pennant, and that had the Giants scrambling to regain an edge. They didn’t have hyberbaric oxygen chambers or sports psychologists or gluten-free paleo yet, so they turned to something now taken for granted: breaking down video of their players to find flaws and suggest improvements.

Except back then, it wasn’t video. It was film. Someone had to shoot the film, then edit the film. Lots and lots of film. Every at-bat by a Giants batter and every pitch by a Giants pitcher at every single home game.

In 1968, fifty years ago, the Giants hired a film student by the name of Murray Mintz. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and rooted for the Cleveland Indians, but he was above all a baseball fan. Mintz was finishing up his degree at San Francisco State University (back then it was still a college), knew how to keep a camera steady and splice film in the editing room. He also had long hair and a handlebar mustache; equipment manager Eddie Logan called him Rembrandt and the nickname stuck all summer.

Mintz was at Candlestick Park for nearly every home game in 1968, stationed behind a Bolex 16-millimeter camera the Giants owned. When he wasn’t filming games or editing reels — two weeks of game film per player, so a reel would say “McCovey, May 15 to May 31” and such — Mintz had spare time, and he would wander in and out of the clubhouse, which was quiet in those days, no music. A jacuzzi bubbled in one corner, and someone was frequently on a massage table getting a rubdown. “It was interesting, I wish I had the tools we had today. I could have made a hell of documentary being in that clubhouse. No non-disclosures. I would just rap with the players.”

Mintz, who now lives in Guatemala but visits the city occasionally, was struck by the players’ tendencies to self-segregate, 20 years after Jackie Robinson integrated the game. “I say that because the white ballplayers hung out together, the Hispanic ballplayers hung out together and would speak Spanish. The superstars would often be by themselves; they had to have in their contract some clause about having to sign baseballs. They were constantly sitting there, signing, signing, signing.

“When I think about it now, occasionally some player from another team would come in to talk to Willie [Mays]. I remember standing in front of Willie’s locker and Henry Aaron is there. Willie introduces me to Henry. And I’m thinking now, ‘Schmuck, you should have had them sign a baseball.’”

While America seethed all summer, baseball was far from overheated. It was the Year of the Pitcher, with hitters so throttled that when the season ended, the powers-that-be lowered the pitching mound to take away some of the defensive advantage.

The Giants’ decade-long frustration found its personification in future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. “Just as the Giants had great years throughout the ’60s yet only won one pennant, Marichal was the winningest pitcher of the decade and never won the Cy Young,” notes Dan Fost, author of Giants Past and Present. Behind the camera, Mintz was witness to Marichal’s greatest year.

Mighty Marichal: Pitchers these days rarely reach 200 innings, let alone 300. Source: Baseball Reference.

In the clubhouse, Mintz probably bumped into another future Hall of Famer without any inkling; in 1968 Bobby Bonds was was a rookie, and it’s likely that a four-year-old Barry Lamar was running around. Willie Mays was Barry’s godfather.

Mintz says he never made friends, more like a fly on the wall. But they didn’t ignore him. Reserve outfielder Dave Marshall was one of the friendliest.

“I talked to Mays often and to McCovey once in a while. We’d just bullshit about what was going on. It was ‘Hey Rembrandt, come over here,’ Rembrandt this, Rembrandt that.”

Coaches Larry Jansen and Hank Sauer reviewed highlights with the players in Mintz’s darkened editing room, where the Giants had set up a state-of-the-art motion-analysis projector. “With a normal rear projector, if you stopped the film, it would burn in the gate. This projector was built in such a way you could speed it up and slow it down, you could look at a shot, break it down second by second.”

He isn’t sure if his film clips ever helped fix anything like, say, a hitch in third baseman Jim Ray Hart’s powerful right-handed swing or a flaw in lefty Mike McCormick’s throwing pitching motion. (McCormick was struggling in 1968 after a Cy Young season in 1967, his first in San Francisco.)

But Mintz recalls a session with Sauer and Mays. “I remember clearly when Sauer was looking at the film, he would see Willie was doing something with his foot or ankle, it was turned a little differently. Three months earlier it was different. Then he could say, ‘Willie, you were moving your foot but you weren’t doing this before.’ He would look for movement.”

The Frisc reached out to several former Giants directly and indirectly. Gaylord Perry was apologetic but didn’t remember Rembrandt or his films. Through a team representative, Willie McCovey said the name Rembrandt rang a bell, but he couldn’t remember details — not even the afternoon when Mintz got T-boned by a truck on 3rd Street on his drive to the park. His Volkswagen Beetle nearly rolled over, but tipped back and managed to stay upright. He was stunned but mainly unscathed; the first person on the scene was McCovey, and Mintz remembers Stretch poking his head through the passenger window. “Rembrandt? You all right?”

Unfortunately, there are no films left, at least none that the team archivist can locate. Mintz isn’t surprised. At the time, “it never had any value except at the moment. It would have value now.”

It wasn’t game film. It was more like a series of ghostly outtakes, obsessively focused on the player, singular and tightly cropped. The batter tenses, the ball arrives from out of frame, the batter swings, and the ball flies out of the frame. Or the batter doesn’t swing. Repeat and then repeat. The same for pitchers. There was no sound, either, making the reels more akin to Eadweard Muybridge’s proto-cinema moving images than SportsCenter highlights.

Forty years on, hearing the names of legends can still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and not just for diehard Giants fans. “I have a friend who just spent months with Juan Marichal in the Dominican Republic working on a screenplay,” Mintz says. “Everywhere he goes, people light up. He said it was like hanging out with God.”

In 1968, the last year of baseball’s simple one-tier post-season (the World Series and nothing else), the Giants came in a distant second to the St. Louis Cardinals. But they finished well ahead of the Dodgers.

Alex Lash is the editor in chief of the Frisc. You can always take him out to the ballgame.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Eadweard Muybridge’s first name.