Larry Baer will never forget the reaction of one of his fellow investors when it was revealed that his group had successfully purchased the San Francisco Giants back in January 1993.
“He said, ‘The good news is we own the team. The bad news is we own the team,’” Baer says. “We’re losing $15 million a year and there is no prospect for a new stadium. A ballot initiative from the previous owner to build a new stadium had been voted down four times. So that’s what we walked into.”
It seemed like a daunting challenge, but Baer and his group had already come further than many thought they would get. On Aug. 7, 1992, a story appeared in a San Francisco newspaper announcing that the Giants would be relocating to Tampa, Florida.
“This wasn’t speculation,” Baer says. “The Giants were sold. There was a signed purchase agreement.”
The deal wouldn’t be official, however, until the other owners in the National League approved it. And in November 1992, they rejected the deal by a vote of 9-4. Bob Lurie could still sell the team, but he couldn’t move it to Tampa.
There was an opening and Baer’s team took it, putting together a group to buy the Giants and keep the team in San Francisco.
The path from those chaotic times to a gleaming new ballpark that has spawned a renaissance in a rundown part of downtown San Francisco and a baseball team that has won three of the last six World Series titles is nothing short of remarkable.
The journey was perfectly captured by Brian Sabean, the architect of those championship teams who has since been elevated to the role of executive vice president.
“We were sitting at the city hall ceremony after one of the World Series parades and Brian leans over to me,” Baer says. “He’s a serious guy, a very tough, hard-boiled baseball guy. He saw a million people out in the crowd and he says to me, ‘This isn’t about winning baseball games. This is about making memories for people.’ That captures our culture. Whether you’re the assistant in stadium operations or in the marketing department or you’re Buster Posey behind the plate on the field, you can have a hand in the success.”
Change the conversation
Baer is a fourth-generation San Franciscan who had spent time working for the Giants after college, but was now entrenched at CBS Television in New York.
The man who would be his primary business partner in the Giants deal was Peter Magowan, who in the early 1990s was chairman and CEO at Safeway Inc., one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains.
“I wasn’t looking to come out here and be involved with the team and run it, but I was looking for the team of my childhood to not be relocated,” Baer says. “Peter was a Giants fan and saw what happened in New York when the Giants left to come to San Francisco. So we put together this group.”
The deal to move the team to Florida was for $118 million. Baer and Magowan put together a $100 million deal that would keep the Giants in the Bay Area.
“We thought that would be enough to be in the background,” Baer says. “It was a group that was willing to retain the team in San Francisco in the face of this offer to move it to Tampa.”