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Sale of Giants in '92 paved way for renaissance

Sale of Giants in '92 paved way for renaissance

Sale of Giants in '92 paved way for renaissance
SAN FRANCISCO -- Anniversaries can simply mark the passage of time. Or they can symbolize something deeper.

Come Saturday, 20 years will have passed since owners of National League franchises voted to approve the sale of the San Francisco Giants to an investor group led by Peter Magowan. This was a dramatic event, since Giants owner Bob Lurie had agreed to sell the team to a group that would move it to Tampa-St. Petersburg. Favoring franchise stability, Major League Baseball gave Magowan and his loyalists -- including Larry Baer, now the club's president and chief executive officer -- just enough time to engineer a competitive offer that would keep the Giants in the City by the Bay.

Now look at the Giants. They've won two World Series in three years. They've sold out 165 consecutive regular-season games at AT&T Park -- the replacement for Candlestick Park, the Giants' previous home, which they needed for the franchise to survive. By any measure, they've established themselves as a model organization.

The 20-year mark of the Giants' renaissance isn't just a round number. Given the team's success, this is an anniversary that resonates. Following is a list of 20 steps that brought the Giants from where they were in 1992 to the lofty perch they occupy today.

1. Motivation
Obviously, nothing would have been possible without the agreement to keep the team in San Francisco. But it was the drive behind the Magowan-led purchase that started it all. Magowan grew up in New York rooting for the Giants and still keenly felt the "devastation" that resulted when they and the Dodgers moved to California following the 1957 season. Having moved to San Francisco and maintained his allegiance to the Giants, Magowan had served on the club's board of directors for 11 years when he resigned to try to keep the team in place. "It was a painful sort of thing to do," Magowan said recently. "But I felt, and Larry Baer felt, that it was something we had to do."

2. Barry Bonds
Signing Bonds, who had won two of the previous three NL Most Valuable Player Awards, helped the Giants immeasurably. He didn't hoist the Giants from a 72-90 finish in 1992 to 103-59 in 1993 all by himself. But as the best player in the game, his impact was undeniable. The six-year, $43.75 million contract the Giants gave Bonds seemed exorbitant at the time. In retrospect, it was a bargain.

3. Dusty Baker
Soliciting an avalanche of advice after taking over the Giants, Magowan said that he repeatedly heard, "Whatever you do, hire an experienced manager." He responded by hiring Baker, whose managerial experience was limited to an Arizona Fall League stint with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Baker proceeded to win 840 games with the Giants, more than any other manager since the club moved to San Francisco in 1958. He also was elected NL Manager of the Year three times with the Giants. Moreover, his relentlessly positive style hastened the franchise's rebirth. "We couldn't have had a better person than Dusty Baker as manager for that period of time," Baer said. "He helped redefine baseball and this franchise in San Francisco."

4. 1993
The Giants reintroduced themselves to San Francisco with a wildly successful season, though they finished second in the NL West, one game behind Atlanta. Their 103 wins was a franchise-best for a 162-game campaign (they also won 103 in 1962, but that included two victories in a three-game playoff with the Dodgers). Bonds took home the NL MVP Award with a stupendous year (.336 batting average, 46 homers, 123 RBIs), John Burkett and Bill Swift won 22 and 21 games, respectively, and a record 2,606,354 flocked to Candlestick. The Giants conveyed the sense to fans that they weren't just happy to be here.

5. Brian Sabean
Sabean spent four years as an assistant general manager and player personnel director before ascending to the GM role at the end of the 1996 season. According to Magowan, then-GM Bob Quinn willingly stepped down so the Giants could keep Sabean in the organization. "I was concerned that we would lose Brian, because he was so good," Magowan said. Sabean's current status as the Major Leagues' longest-tenured GM, the club's 1,392-1,199 record under his watch and the latest round of ring-sizing speak for themselves.

6. Continuity
Sabean's presence reflects the stability of the Giants' leadership. In the last 20 years, they have had two general managers, three field managers (Baker, Felipe Alou and Bruce Bochy), three chief executive officers (Magowan, Bill Neukom and Baer) and essentially the same core ownership group, though some shareholders have come and gone. Similar stability can be seen within Sabean's group of top assistants and Bochy's coaching staff. This maintains the Giants' overall consistency in approach and philosophy and sharpens the organization's focus.

7. Tolerating Candlestick
Giants management wasn't content to cruise until a new ballpark could be built. Following the example of the Cleveland Indians, who assembled a perennial contender as they prepared to move into Jacobs Field in 1994, the Giants posted a 265-222 record from 1997-99, their final three years at Candlestick. That span featured a NL West title in 1997, which made the Giants the fourth team to win its division after finishing last in the prior season.

8. Campaign strategy
The Giants' four failed attempts to convince voters to approve a publicly-financed ballpark were easy to interpret. Magowan and the club could win at the ballot box only if the Giants vowed to pay for their own home. "Our research showed that 75 percent of the fans wanted the Giants to be in a different ballpark than Candlestick," Baer said. "But 75 percent of the voters were not willing to pay for one. So our only route was to do it privately." Support from Mayor Willie Brown helped the Giants' cause and contrasted starkly with previous elections, when various local politicians opposed ballpark measures. "Yes on B" passed by a 2-to-1 margin in 1996.

9. The '97 season
The ballpark initiative had been passed, but, as mentioned above, fans needed to know that the Giants were trying. That proof came in the form of the '97 division title, the team's first postseason berth since 1989. "The fans had hope that not only could there be a better tomorrow, but also that we could create an exciting today," Baer said. The season's signature moment was Brian Johnson's 12th-inning homer that beat the Dodgers in a crucial September game.

10. Having it both ways
The Giants faced looming skepticism. No team, it was said, could privately finance a ballpark and have enough money left to build a winning club. The Giants still pay approximately $20 million annually in debt service. But the momentum the ballclub generated from its final years at Candlestick, combined with the investors' faith in the front office, proved essential. San Francisco averaged 95 wins per year in its first five seasons at the new park.

11. Eternal bliss
The skeptics wouldn't be silenced easily. They said that the honeymoon between the Giants and their fans would end. Said Magowan, "People would say, 'This is a football town. It's not a baseball town. You're never going to fill up the park. You're still going to have 18,000 people on a Monday night against the Expos.'" Thirteen years have passed; the Giants have exceeded three million in home paid attendance in all but two of those years.

12. Homegrown building block
During Bonds' heyday, the Giants parted with multiple Draft picks as compensation for signing free agents who ideally would complement the slugging left fielder. They did retain the 25th pick in the opening round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, which they used to select right-hander Matt Cain from Houston High School in Germantown, Tenn. Cain proved to be not only a significant pick, but also a symbolic one: In the same year that the Bonds era crested with the club's only World Series appearance of his tenure, the Giants took the initial step toward their next Fall Classic trip by obtaining their future pitching ace.

13. The next leader
The Giants took another step toward their current success by hiring Bruce Bochy to succeed Alou as manager following the 2006 season. San Francisco finished 143-181 in Bochy's first two years with the club; since then, San Francisco has reeled off four consecutive winning seasons. Baer recalled Bochy's interview with him and Magowan for the Giants' job: "What I saw then is what you see now: an understated, low-ego but confident baseball man. He was and is somebody that is always thinking about the greater good, meaning the team. And he's incredibly fair in the way he goes about doing it."

14. Three in a row
From 2006-08, the Giants' first-round Draft selections were, in order, right-hander Tim Lincecum, left-hander Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey. Each has become a pillar of the franchise. No other team drafted a succession of first-rounders during that stretch who have made a similar, immediate impact. The only possible exception are the Tampa Bay Rays, who selected third baseman Evan Longoria and left-hander David Price in 2006-07.

15. More on Lincecum
Though Lincecum faces an uncertain future as a potential free agent after next season, he's already firmly established as one of the most important performers in Giants history. His first year with the Giants coincided with Bonds' last; fans already were seeking a new "face of the franchise" even while Bonds remained an active player. Lincecum provided that face, along with hope for the future. He fulfilled that promise with his two NL Cy Young Awards and an outstanding 2010 postseason. His dominant relief efforts in last month's postseason illuminated his aura while reviving fans' (and maybe even a few teammates') faith in him.

16. More on Posey
Now it's Posey's turn to serve as the unofficial face of the franchise. More importantly, Posey has emerged as an everyday presence in the lineup while helping the organization prove that its Minor League system can develop more than just pitchers. It's no coincidence that the Giants won the World Series in each of Posey's two full seasons with them (the extensive left leg injuries he sustained last year sidelined him after May 25). He's that influential.

17. In the background
Veterans such as Bengie Molina, Matt Morris, Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia and Randy Johnson won no World Series rings with the Giants (actually, Molina picked one up in 2010, though he didn't finish the season with San Francisco). But their influence on younger players was unmistakable. Johnson, a future Hall of Famer who won his 300th game in a Giants uniform, was particularly helpful. While most veterans helped less-experienced players cope with adversity, Johnson advised Lincecum and a handful of others about handling success, which can be more challenging.

18. Absence of panic
This has been evident for years. When it became plain in 2005 that Bonds' injuries would sideline him for an extended period, first baseman J.T. Snow said, "What are we supposed to do? Cancel the season?" The faces in the clubhouse have changed, but that attitude remains. Relatively little seems to bother the Giants. That partly explained their division-winning surge past San Diego down the stretch in 2010, as well as the aplomb they displayed this year while weathering Brian Wilson's season-ending elbow injury and left fielder Melky Cabrera's suspension. Those victories in six consecutive elimination games in last month's postseason were no fluke.

19. Preserving the pitching
Sabean's decision last offseason to retain as much of the pitching staff as possible ensured the Giants' success. Cain signed a six-year contract, Bumgarner received a five-year package, and Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Javier Lopez each got two-year deals. In Cain's case, he would have entered this offseason as a free agent, which would have created anxiety within the Giants' inner sanctum.

20. You out there
The Giants truly appreciate the energy and enthusiasm of the AT&T Park patrons. "They bring it every night," Vogelsong said. The fans' sophistication rose to unprecedented heights in Game 1 of the World Series vs. the Tigers. Watching for lapses from Detroit ace Justin Verlander like sharks wait for blood, they buzzed when Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones visited the mound (immediately before Pablo Sandoval hit his second of three homers). Then they roared when Danny Worth batted for Verlander in the fifth inning.

Moreover, the sellout streak is nothing short of remarkable.

"Without their support," Magowan said of the fans, "we never could have had the success that we had."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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