With the death yesterday of Peter Magowan, a principal member of the SF Giants ownership group, the story of how the Giants franchise was prevented from moving to Florida in 1992 is being referenced as a cornerstone of Magowan’s legacy.
What’s incredible about that story is just how close the Giants came to being moved to Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg, and how Magowan’s efforts to keep the team almost fell apart at the last minute.
But St. Petersburg wasn’t the first potential relocation destination for the Giants…
Toronto or Bust
Eighteen years after relocating from New York City to San Francisco in 1958, the Giants were a franchise in decline, both professionally and fiscally, and its future in the Bay Area looked tenuous.
Sure enough, in 1975 Giants owner Horace Stoneham quietly cut a deal with the Labatt Brewing Company to sell the team for $8 million. The Labatt group intended to move the Giants to Toronto.
But not so fast. SF Mayor George Moscone immediately went to court and won an injunction against Stoneham’s sale of the team.
Then Moscone convinced San Francisco businessman Bob Lurie to quickly put together a local ownership group and make a bid to keep the team in San Francisco.
Lurie’s group anted up the required $8 million and the deal was quickly approved by the National League, ensuring the Giants remained in San Francisco.
The next large elephant sitting in the middle of the Giants’ story was Candlestick Park. Run down, windy and home to a lackluster team with diminishing attendance, the Park was not a money-maker.
Bob Lurie knew he could not sustain ownership without a new baseball stadium.
Unfortunately, San Francisco voters rejected stadium replacement measures in 1987 and 1989. Three other proposals to relocate the team to either Santa Clara or San Jose were summarily rejected by South Bay voters.
St. Petersburg or Bust
Which left Bob Lurie one last move. In 1992 he announced that he would be selling the Giants for $115 million to a Tampa-St. Petersburg ownership group led by Vince Naimoli.
The investment group’s plan was for the Giants to open the 1993 season at the 43,000-seat Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg.
The National League briefly held up the sale, buying time for a local ownership group to step up. The Tampa group screamed foul, and vowed to take everyone associated with the delay to court.
Up stepped Safeway supermarket chain CEO Peter Magowan, determined to create an investor group to buy Bob Lurie out and keep the Giants in San Francisco.
Magowan had grown up in New York watching the Giants play at the Polo Grounds in Harlem. And his passion for his team never faded.
Magowan scrambled to find viable investors, and he managed to sign on sixteen fellow millionaires– but it just wasn’t enough money to compete with Tampa’s offer.
Larry Baer, formerly part of the Giants front office, was now working as an executive for CBS in New York City. A former classmate of Baer’s was a staffer in Mayor’s Office and he contacted Baer with a desperate plea for help.
Baer went into action. He found millionaire George Shinn of North Carolina, who joined the group with a $20 million stake that would put them over the top and also make Shinn the team’s principal owner.
Then with just days to go to make their bid, Shinn made it clear to his fellow investors that the first thing he wanted to do as principal owner would be to sell off all the team’s most valuable assets.
And just like that, things soured and Shinn was off the owners’ roster.
Now it was Magowan who again stepped up and got all the other members of his buy-out group to dig deeper. They presented a $95 million offer to Bob Laurie and waited for the National League to decide.
The League formally rejected the Tampa Bay offer on November 11, 1992. Then on January 12, 1993, NL owners voted unanimously to approve the Giants’ sale to Magowan’s group for $100 million.
China Basin or Bust
Hitting the ground running, and with the dynamic Larry Baer at his side, Magowan immediately set out to have a privately funded, classic baseball stadium built in San Francisco’s China Basin neighborhood.
At the same time they also focused on building a competitive, championship team and devising strategies to firmly establish the Giants as a financially successful MLB franchise.
All of which, by the way, Magowan and Baer did.
Long before he passed away on Sunday January 27th, the San Francisco Giants already had a guardian angel.
Peter Magowan, 1942-2019.