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San Francisco Baseball Associates, L.P. is the company that owns the San Francisco Giants, one of the most storied and successful teams in the history of baseball. Over nearly 125 years of history, they won 20 National League pennants and five World Series championships. The fabled players who have worn Giants colors include Willie Mays, John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, Willie McCovey, Mel Ott, Bill Terry, Juan Marichal, and Frank Robinson. The team has also enjoyed a fair share of controversy over the years, particularly in relation to its decision to leave New York in the 1950s and its subsequent threats to abandon San Francisco. Long cursed to playing in one of the worst ballparks in the history of baseball, as the new century began the Giants moved into a sparkling new stadium that was christened in 2002 by their appearance in the World Series.
Giants' Golden Age: 1880-1960s
The San Francisco Giants trace their lineage back to a professional baseball team founded in Troy New York in the mid-1800s. In 1883, team co-owner John B. Day moved the organization to New York City. Nicknamed the "New York Gothams," the transplanted team was New York's first major league baseball team and began playing at the Polo Grounds. When Jim Mutrie, co-owner along with Day as well as the team's first great manager, began affectionately referring to the players as "my giants," the press and fans also adopted the name, and in 1885 the team was officially renamed.
The Giants were one of the most successful baseball teams anywhere, both financially and competitively. At the turn of the century, an outlaw league drove up player salaries, and the team was sold to Edward Talcott, who turned around and resold it a few years later to Andrew Freedman. By the time Freedman sold the team in 1902, he had hired the manager who for the next 30 years would be synonymous with the team: John J. McGraw. During the 30 years of McGraw's leadership, the Giants won seven pennants and three world championships. Freedman had sold the Giants to John Brush, who renovated the Polo Grounds, hired quality players, and made the team one of the finest in the game. Brush died suddenly in 1912. His family squabbled for years over the ownership of the Giants until in 1919 Charles A. Stoneham took over the team.
The Giants were entering their golden age. With McGraw at the helm and Stoneham spending freely for the best players in baseball, the Giants won four consecutive pennants from 1921 to 1924, including two world championships in 1921 and 1922. However, the Giants were already playing in the shadow of their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees, then featuring the home run heroics of Babe Ruth. During the 1930s and 1940s, despite occasional pennants, the team began its inexorable slide toward the second division. By the end of World War II, even the Brooklyn Dodgers, once the perennial cellar-dweller of the Senior Circuit, were outdrawing the Giants. By the early 1950s, the Giants had the worst attendance of the three New York City baseball teams.
Meanwhile, San Francisco had been trying without success to get a major league team since the 1930s. It was clear San Francisco could support major league baseball--in 1946 its minor league team, the Seals, was drawing bigger crowds than some major league clubs. Anxious for a big league team, in 1954 the city's voters approved a bond measure for building a new stadium. The New York Giants seemed like the least likely candidate for a move west--the team was enjoying its last hurrah in New York City, beating the Cleveland Indians in the World Series that year. A year later, though, Horace Stoneham, who had inherited the team from his father, was looking to leave New York. Despite pennants in 1951 and 1955, Giants attendance continued to lag far behind that of the Yankees and Dodgers. By 1957, it had the worst attendance in the National League and the second-worst in the majors, a situation attributable in part to New York's three-team market, the decrepit condition of the Polo Grounds, and the decline of the neighborhood in which the stadium was located.
After trying in vain to interest the New York city fathers in building the team a new home, Stoneham made up his mind to leave New York. It was a time when major league baseball was on the move. Teams had left Boston, St. Louis, and Philadelphia for greener pastures--but all resettled east of the continental divide. The first to set his sights on the West Coast was Walter O'Malley, who announced in 1956 that he intended to move his Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. The entire National League realized that it would make more financial sense to have more than one team on the West Coast. Stoneham entered discussions with San Francisco's mayor, George Christopher. By May 1957, Christopher was convinced that baseball would be profitable in San Francisco and that the city would vote to construct a stadium that met the club's specifications. Stoneham agreed to the move. A complicated deal saw the Giants trade their Minneapolis AAA franchise to the Boston Red Sox for the Seals franchise and the rights to baseball in San Francisco. When Stoneham announced the move, some Giants fans in New York protested. In general, the Giants' move did not cause the outpouring of dismay and bitterness that the Dodgers' move occasioned.
The Giants played their first game in San Francisco on October 15, 1958, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-0. The first two seasons were played in Seals Stadium, the city's old minor league park. In 1958, the city began construction of a much larger stadium on the southern edge of the city next to San Francisco Bay, building on land donated to the city by a local construction magnate on the condition that his company be allowed to build the structure. Construction was rushed into after only perfunctory site studies had been conducted--Stoneham and Mayor Christopher agreed to the site after a single visit at ten o'clock in the morning, when the weather was balmy and pleasant. After construction was well underway, however, the Giants' general manager made an inspection in the early afternoon. Surprised at the heavy winds howling around the half-finished building, he asked one of the workers, "Is it always like this?" "No, it doesn't start blowing like this until about one o'clock."
The new stadium, Candlestick Park, opened on April 12, 1960. By the end of its first season, it was clear to everyone that San Francisco had made a terrible mistake. The powerful, swirling, icy cold winds that blew at the time when most games were being played turned routine pop-ups into home runs, made every fly ball an adventure for fielders, and caused spectators to shiver in their seats. At the first All-Star Game in San Francisco, a pitcher balked when the wind literally blew him off the mound in the middle of his delivery. The Giants installed heating for patrons in reserved seats, but it proved woefully inadequate. One disgusted season ticket holder, who claimed he missed much of each game because he had to leave his seat to get warm, sued the club and won the price of his ticket back. In 1972, stands were extended to enclose the outfield in an attempt to cut down the wind. It only made conditions worse. Over the next four decades the park would be the bane of baseball in San Francisco, despised equally by players and fans.
Problems in the 1970s-80s
Despite their disappointing new ballpark, the Giants were one of the most exciting teams of the 1960s. Sporting a line-up which over the course of the decade included the likes of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal. The Giants went to the World Series in 1961, won the Western Division title in 1971, and were contenders in 1959, 1964-66, and 1969. Starting in 1968, however, the Giants attendance was cut almost in half when an exciting Kansas City Athletics relocated to Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco. By then, the Giants were usually out of National League contention. By the end of the 1975 season, Giants attendance was once again the worst in the National League. Exasperated, Horace Stoneham threatened to move the team back to the East Coast to Hackensack, New Jersey. He was entertaining offers for the team, one from a Japanese consortium and another from the Toronto, Canada-based Labatt Breweries, Ltd. In 1976, he accepted the Canadian's $13.25 million bid, sweetened by an extra $5.25 million to pay for any legal costs involved in breaking the lease at Candlestick when the team moved to Toronto.
George Moscone, the new mayor of San Francisco, fearful his administration would start with the loss of the city's baseball team, set out to find local investors interested in making a counteroffer. Bob Lurie, one of the Giants' directors, along with Bob Short and a group of other investors, put up $8 million for the team. Among the group's conditions was the renegotiation of the lease on Candlestick Park and the elimination of a 50 cent city tax on baseball tickets. The National League wanted baseball to stay in San Francisco and approved the sale to the local group. By 1978, after two years of internal conflict among the owners, Bob Lurie assumed sole ownership of the team.
The new owner took chances with the team and worked to build a winning club. It hired Frank Robinson as the National League's first black manager from 1981 until 1984. However, the front office's efforts did not alter the fundamental difficulty under which the team labored--that Candlestick Park was the most unpleasant park in major league baseball. Making matters worse, the Giants continued by and large to field losing teams. Fans stayed away. In 1984, the team had its worst finish since arriving in California. Lurie confronted his failing bottom line and decided to sell. The renewed prospect that the city might lose the Giants set the mayor and board of supervisors to work to find a way to save the team. It was clear to all involved that the main liability was Candlestick. Various stadium proposals were developed: doming Candlestick, sharing the Oakland Coliseum with the Oakland A's, building a new downtown stadium, even developing a floating stadium on the waters of the bay.
Whatever solution was implemented, it seemed obvious at the time that such a stadium project could only be realized with public monies. However, if San Franciscans wanted to keep the Giants, they did not want to do it by spending their tax dollars on a new ballpark. In November 1989, a proposal to build a new park downtown was rejected by more than 11,000 votes. In reaction, owner Lurie told the San Francisco Chronicle he would move the team to "anyplace that wants us." Two years later, a much improved Giants team--still in San Francisco--won the National League pennant. As it headed for the World Series with Bay Area rival Oakland, a new ballpark initiative for a stadium on the downtown waterfront was on the ballot. Voter support for the measure seemed overwhelmingly strong leading up to the election. Then, as game three of the World Series was starting, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. Abruptly rebuilding devastated areas of San Francisco assumed much higher priority than replacing the stadium that survived the quake. The measure was defeated by a razor thin margin of less than 1,800 votes.
Turmoil and a New Ballpark in the 1990s
Although Bob Lurie was desperate to find a way out of Candlestick, Major League Baseball was committed to keeping the Giants near San Francisco if not in the city. It would only give Lurie the go ahead to look for a new location in the Bay Area. His attempts to move the team to areas south of San Francisco twice failed, first in 1990, when Santa Clara County voted down a stadium measure, and again in January 1992, when voters in the city of San Jose rejected another stadium proposal. In the wake of the San Jose defeat, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent told Lurie he could move wherever he could find a buyer for the team. "I do not like teams moving," Vincent told the San Francisco Chronicle, "but in San Francisco, something has to be done. We cannot continue with Candlestick."
Lurie acted quickly. In August 1992, he announced that he had come to an agreement to sell to a group of investors in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Florida, area for $115 million. Although a Stanford University professor, J. Irving Grousbeck, announced that the team would be losing $10 million within two years if it stayed in Candlestick Park, San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan interested a consortium of local businesspeople, including Safeway grocery chain CEO and former Giants director Peter Magowan, which made an offer for the Giants. The group contacted National League president Bill White just before the League met to vote on the Florida offer. White, an ex-Giant himself, was deeply committed to seeing the Giants remain in San Francisco. On September 8, 1992, although Bob Lurie's agreement with the Florida group looked like a done deal, White announced he would allow the San Franciscans to enter a competitive bid. They offered $100 million for the team, an offer Lurie accepted and the National League approved. The embittered Florida group threatened a lawsuit which was headed off when the National League gave them an expansion team in 1993.
While the sale was in the offing, the Giants had completed the most valuable free agent signing in major league history when it offered Barry Bonds a six-year contract worth $43.7 million. When the National League held its fall meeting without putting the Giants sale on its agenda, though, outgoing owner Lurie refused to sign Bonds's contract, fearing he could be held responsible for paying Bonds. The League finally approved the sale in January 1993, after which Bonds was signed. He was one of the dominant players in the National League for rest of the decade and led the Giants to a pennant in 2002 and a division championship in 1997.
Once the sale went through, Peter Magowan quickly emerged as the senior partner who would be responsible for decision-making on the club. In March 1993, Magowan resigned as the CEO of the Safeway Inc. grocery store chain to devote himself full-time to running the Giants. He announced an effort to attract even more investors willing to put up at least $1 million to $5 million in order to pay of the loan taken out when the team was purchased. More crucially, he put his experience in retailing to work turning the Giants' business around. He improved the food and the service at Candlestick, lowered the price of tickets, and insisted that trash be collected before it could be caught in the park's gusty winds and blown onto the playing field. He added more day games to the schedule. By the middle of the 1993 season, the results were being felt. Giants attendance was increasing despite Candlestick. The millionth fan of 1993 entered the park in early June, the earliest point in the season that this had occurred in club history. Attendance was not hurt by the fact that the Giants were thick in the pennant race until the last week of the season. The Giants under Magowan also worked hard to improve their image in the community. They sponsored the first AIDS awareness day in the major leagues, a Junior Giants Baseball League for inner-city kids, and a Roberto Clemente Latin American League targeted at Latino youth. The team also made players part of the outreach effort requiring them to take part in community events.
Despite the turnaround in the Giants' fortune, the club's owners never lost sight of the need to replace Candlestick Park. When the team changed hands, Mayor Frank Jordan had promised to do everything in his power to build a new park in time for the 1997 season, and to do it without public funds. It took longer than promised, but in December 1995 a proposal was announced to build a new 42,000-seat, baseball-only stadium in downtown San Francisco. Fifty-five percent of the costs would be paid from park operations. The rest was to come from the sale of the stadium's name, advertising, luxury boxes, and "permanent" rights to about 12,000 premium seats. The funding proposal cut to the heart of public objections to a new park in San Francisco. In March 1996, voters approved the measure by a two-thirds majority.
The go-ahead to build Pacific Bell Park, as the new stadium was named, sent the value of the Giants soaring. In November 1998, the estimated worth of the Giants was almost $200 million, nearly twice what was paid for the team. The appreciation in value came as a surprise to some. A handful of the original investors, including real estate tycoon Walter Shorenstein and securities broker Charles Schwab, sold out within the first couple years. Peter Magowan, on the other hand, had quietly doubled his holdings to 15 percent. Prospects for the future looked rosy as well. In 2000, when Pacific Bell Park finally opened, Magowan predicted that it would double Giants revenues to about $120 million a year. The intimate park somehow captured the beauty of the city. Fans sitting in seats in the infield had a view of San Francisco Bay. Spectators in the outfield had the nearby skyline of San Francisco spread out before them. In addition, there was the game on the field as well. The Giants played super baseball in Pac Bell Park. They ended 2000 with a division title and missed by just two games in 2001. In 2002, the team made it all the way to the World Series.
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