If anybody can trace the arc of the Giants franchise, it's Larry Baer. The club's president and chief executive officer grew up in San Francisco rooting for the Giants as they quickly established themselves with a superstar-laden roster following their move from New York in 1958. Baer contributed heavily to efforts that prevented the Giants from moving and was instrumental in the push to build AT&T Park. In recognition of Presidents Day, Baer recently answered questions from MLB.com.
MLB.com: This is the time of year for unbridled optimism; what fuels your optimism about the Giants as Spring Training begins?
Baer: What fuels my optimism is the collective connection between our fans and the team, that we have a very special relationship here: two World Series championships in the last four years and 246 consecutive [home] sellouts and running. I think there's a very special connection between the club and our fans and I think they boost each other.
MLB.com: As rough as last year was, you didn't hear a whole lot of booing at the park. Do you feel like you've created a fan base that's trusting, for want of a better word?
Baer: My view is that the fans understand what we're trying to do and that's all you can ask for. We're trying to give them a road map, and things happen. It's not a perfect science. Whether it's injuries or performance or how the ball might bounce, things do happen. I think the fans have been really great about understanding that. While we try to cover every eventuality, that's hard to do. If the fans can understand your road map, they'll stick with you. If they don't understand your road map, I think there's a problem.
MLB.com: What factors do you think will be crucial to the team's success as this season develops?
Baer: If we can get the starting pitchers to do what they've done in the recent past -- we're not talking about 10 years ago; we're talking about within the last couple of years -- I think we'll be OK.
MLB.com: You said that the player payroll has increased. Nevertheless, in past years, the club has had the flexibility to take on more salary at the Trade Deadline, if it means adding a player or two. Do you anticipate having this luxury again, if it's necessary?
Baer: Every year, the player payroll goes up a little bit; if warranted, we'll add to payroll in midseason. But it may not be worth it. Last year it wasn't worth it. We could afford it, but we didn't want to give up our future. When you make a deal at the Deadline, it's not just money, it's money and prospects. And we didn't want to give up prospects.
MLB.com: How are ticket sales going?
Baer: Very strong. Season ticket sales and overall ticket sales are right where they were last year. So we think we have the potential of having another sold-out season or close to it. We feel very blessed about that, but we know we have to earn it and we know we have to perform. Even if we're doing well with ticket sales, we have a lot of goals here, and a big goal is getting back to the World Series.
MLB.com: Pretty soon, Commissioner Bud Selig will step down. What are some of the qualities that Major League Baseball will seek in his successor, do you think?
Baer: I think baseball needs to have a successor who can bring people together the way this Commissioner has -- bring together the owners, bring together the fans, bring together all the constituencies, be accessible to the media, be responsive to the players' needs and issues and the players' union. ... Also, somebody who has a vision for the future to grow the game in some key areas. Grow the game in lower-income neighborhoods, grow the game internationally and grow the game with young people.
MLB.com: This appears to be a transitional phase in baseball, with expanded replay and proposals emphasizing player safety. Do you see all that as good for the game?
Yes. I think that we're really current; we're trying to get out in front of things. Something that's close to us, of course, is the catcher rule on blocking home plate, which is still being hammered out but there will be something. You don't want to be in reaction mode; you want to be proactive. And I'm very proud of the industry to be able to be pretty proactive on a lot of levels.