When the Giants Came to Buck Shaw Stadium

Bronco Bench Foundation honorees include a “golden age” of SCU baseball teams

Giants of Buck Shaw
The 1970 Broncos took on the big guys to the North—the San Francisco Giants. / Courtesy SCU Archives

Fifty-six years ago, Santa Clara’s baseball team kicked off a regional rivalry many fans still recall with awe—when the Giants came to Buck Shaw Stadium.

The occasion marked another first for the SCU heroes of the diamond, whose appearance a year before in the 1962 College World Series Finals featured a roster of five future Major League Baseball players.

Santa Clara pitchers Joe Pupo and Rick Troedon talk with Phoenix Giants coach Jim Davenport. / Courtesy SCU Archives

Led by legendary coaches John “Paddy” Cottrell, then Sal Taormina—the winningest men’s baseball coach in SCU history—the teams from 1962–1972 represent for many a golden age of SCU men’s baseball.

On Saturday, May 18, they were among the honorees at the Bronco Bench Foundation’s Seventh Annual Red & White Hall of Fame Celebration.

It was Horace Stoneham, the New York Giants owner who stunned baseball in 1957 when he agreed to relocate his team to San Francisco, who helped broker the Broncos-Giants matchup.

As a member of Santa Clara’s Board of Regents, Stoneham in 1962 got the sign-off for a pro-am exhibition game at Santa Clara’s brand new stadium.

Dan Korbel ’63, an SCU pitcher, remembers Coach Cottrell breaking the big news to the team at a student retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the fall of’62.

“He was excited,” the retired James Lick High School teacher recalls. “What an opportunity. The chance to play against the Giants—a team that good!”

But SCU’s line-up was “pretty darn good” too, he says.

The match may have been a welcome distraction for both teams after heartbreaking losses in their respective 1962 World Series: SCU falling to the University of Michigan 5-4 after a marathon 15 innings; the Giants’ would-be victory upended by the New York Yankees in the seventh game, one of the most closely contested World Series in MLB history.

5tb Box2 Baseball 1963 Giants V Sc Ticket
A ticket to watch the San Francisco Giants take on the Santa Clara Broncos. / Courtesy SCU Archives

Fortunately, Korbel says, the buzz among the Broncos players and around campus leading up to the game was loud enough to offset some of the players’ anxiety.

“We were definitely respectful of their talent, but it was also kind of like, ‘Well, let’s see what happens,’” Korbel remembers.

After all, they would be facing future Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda, among other powerhouse sluggers.

Yet with his pitching arm injured, Korbel could only work the game as a first base coach. Standing beside Cepeda was thrilling, he says, but there wasn’t much chit-chat between the two. The SCU senior was keeping an eye on his own team’s batters and baserunners—several of them happily advancing after wild balls thrown by Giants pitchers.

“It was exciting to see how we stacked up,” says Korbel. “And the thing about baseball is, there’s a lot of luck involved.”

Assisted by the stellar pitching of Nelson Briles ’65, Larry Loughlin ’67, and “fireballer” Pete Magrini ’66, the Broncos prevailed the afternoon of May 13, 1963. In a stunning upset before a crowd of 8,000 wildly cheering SCU fans, they beat the Giants, 6-4. “They weren’t Don Drysdale or Sandy Koufax,” wrote one newspaper reporter who covered the game. “But they were pretty good for college boys.”

A San Jose Mercury front page photo of Willie Mays swinging at the third strike by Magrini remains a treasured keepsake for many teammates.

Willie Mays at Buck Shaw Stadium. / Courtesy SCU Archives

‘We beat the Giants!’

Former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery, SCU ’67, M.A. ’70, can still picture the scene. Just a month shy of graduating from Bellarmine College Prep, he jumped at the chance when a friend asked if he’d like to join him at the inaugural game.

“It was a beautiful day. I was a Giants fan, and my hero was Juan Marichal,” recalls McEnery, though Marichal did not pitch that game. “Santa Clara had a great team there. And we beat the Giants!”

Stoneham’s notion was a success: In 1964, the exhibition game crowd swelled to 11,255, forcing the University to build temporary stands in the right and center fields to accommodate fans, according to media reports.

For years, the annual match was so popular that some schools would close down for the day so kids could attend. The Broncos would beat the Giants a few more times before their last encounter with San Francisco in 1980.

Awestruck, and a bit arrogant

Rusty Weekes ’71, executive director of the Bronco Bench Foundation, played left field on the 1970 team that also defeated the Giants.

“In a naive way, we were a little arrogant,” Weekes recalls. “We were a little bit awestruck, but we thought we were pretty good. And that was part of our charm, really,” he says with a chuckle. “You were kind of taken aback by how good these guys were, but by the third inning, it was, ‘Hey, this is a baseball game. We’ve got six innings left, let’s go!’”

It wasn’t the first time the SCU men’s baseball team had played against the pros and won, he says. In 1914, the Broncos trounced the Chicago White Sox, 7-0; in 1917 they outlasted the Chicago Cubs, 4-1.

Yet Weekes and other ballplayers say the bond between the players and those two coaches during the decade of 1962 to 1972—a period when he says baseball was “the wow sport” at SCU—was always tied to the dream of winning the College World Series.

“To say you were the best (college) baseball players— that’s what you wanted to be able to do,” recalls SCU relief pitcher Joe Pupo, ’72.

Not only would a College World Series victory set a precedent for Santa Clara, it also promised an opportunity for ambitious players like Pupo to catch to an MLB scout’s eye.

The Spokane native had almost joined the pros right out of high school, after the Kansas City Royals drafted him in the 17th round. But he had also received a baseball scholarship to SCU, and something the Royals could never offer: protection from the Vietnam War draft.

“I took the student deferment and went to college on a four-year full ride,” says Pupo. By the end of his junior year, however, he took a chance and signed with the Baltimore Orioles. One month into his minor league training in South Dakota, his pitching shoulder gave out, ending his baseball career.

“I’m out of school, I’ve lost my scholarship, the Vietnam War is going on, and I’m going to get drafted. I didn’t know what to do,” says Pupo.

Coach Taormina had an answer for the former star pitcher, known for his long hair and beaded necklaces. Taormina gave him a call.

“He says, ‘You’re coming back to college. You’re going to graduate, and I’m going to make you go through it. So get back down here,’” recalls Pupo, who got a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and went on to a successful management career in the beverage industry.

“I’ll never forget the guy for doing that,” he says.

Relying on raw talent

For Pupo, the Giants games were always a spectacle, but he took them seriously.

“The only thing you relied on was your talent,” he says, recalling his encounters with a string of Giants batters, including “Dirty Al” Gallagher, ’67, a former SCU ballplayer who once had a 25-game hitting streak.

And he’ll never forget Giants manager Charlie Fox strolling up to him in the SCU training room before the 1971 game with a bit of unsolicited grooming advice.

“You know what?” Fox told the pitcher. “You need to get your hair cut!”

For Terry Adami ’70, a Bronco Bench Foundation trustee and former SCU baseball pitcher, the games against the Giants were nerve-wracking, at first. But then his “starry-eyed enthusiasm” took over, and he got Gallagher to pop out at third, in 1970. SCU won that game 8-7.

The same year witnessed another highlight for Adami when he closed a 12-inning victory against San Jose State, after which a beer-soaked SCU football team rushed the field, cheering and hoisting Adami on their shoulders.

Looking back, the East Bay financial advisor says his years on the SCU men’s baseball team taught him some important lessons: about the value of persistence, about pride over hard-fought victories, about the loyalty of many teammates who became lifelong friends.

“Some of these guys,” quips Adami, “will be my pallbearers.’’ 

The Seventh Annual Red & White Celebration will honor Bronco Bench Foundation benefactors, select senior student-athletes, the 2019 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees, and the 1962-72 men’s baseball teams. For more information, go to mysantaclara.scu.edu/events/BBF/RedWhite

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