The punk rock scene of the Dead Kennedys, the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone and the shocking successful season that saved the Giants from leaving San Francisco; these events and more are essential to understanding the complex San Francisco we know today.
Lincoln Mitchell, author of “San Francisco Year Zero: Political Upheaval, Punk Rock and a Third-Place Baseball Team” explored the ties between the history of rock, politics and baseball in his new book to a crowd in Pasadena this past weekend.
“1978 in San Francisco, for everyone else’s mind, is Jonestown and the assassinations,” Mitchell said. “All the writings on that leaves out a big piece of what was important if you were actually living there, especially if you were a kid as I was. The stories of Milk, Moscone and Jonestown are told by the boomers and they leave out a lot that felt important to me.”
Mitchell’s expertise on baseball and his experience as a political science teacher come together to reflect and expand upon threads of history that are usually overlooked. Mitchell’s new book largely focuses on the year 1978, which he frames as the real start of San Francisco; this is also the time Mitchell grew up in. His experience builds a new perspective for readers of the book to learn about local influences on the culture of San Francisco.
The rock scene information is where Mitchell felt pressure to take extra precaution to do a thorough investigation.
“I know a lot about baseball, I have always had a fascination with the game,” Mitchell said. “Punk is the least I know about. Getting all the information was the hardest and most important part of this book. I know I had to get everything right or people would want to beat me up. All three areas I’m writing about, people really know the subject and they want to be sure you have every fact right.”
Having a deep love for San Francisco and baseball made Mitchell want to show how it was like to grow up in this critical time.
“I wanted to tell a story that was more than this laundry list of weird things that happened in San Francisco,” Mitchell said. “So to build an argument that I thought made sense that brought in different strands was a big challenge.”
The book event was put on by The Baseball Reliquary and the Allendale Branch Library. Terry Cannon, the Executive Director of The Baseball Reliquary, also moderated discussion.
“I’m really interested in history and this time period the book focuses on is great to look at from a history perspective,” Cannon said. “This is a new release and even though it’s focused on San Francisco rather than Los Angeles, we had a good turnout.“
Following the discussion of Mitchell’s book, Cannon opened up the floor for the audience and welcomed questions. Many of the audience members engaged in this part, with most questions being about politics and baseball. Many baseball fans from online baseball groups attended, coming specifically to support Mitchell.
“I see this a lot where in that year, 1978, so many people in the Bay Area became Giants fans,” John Machino said. “The A’s had really been the team in the early ’70s and was the first team that I loved as a very small kid. Seeing it from the perspective of this book, even the title ‘Year Zero,’ there’s a reason why that year was so magical. Even though baseball seems peripheral to the rest of the discussion, there was so much negative in San Francisco at the time, there was changes from free clinics to, you know, heroin addicts on the street and other really negative difficult things. Then another negative thing was well now the baseball team is leaving. So when they stayed and had a great year was a really important moment that galvanized a lot of youth and gave us a lot to cheer for. Especially in the wake of all these assassinations.”
You can purchase Mitchell’s new book starting November 7 here.