A History-Making Ride from 1958 to 2011: San Francisco’s World Champion Giants

Frank M. Jordan
Former Mayor, San Francisco

As a native son of San Francisco, during my teenage years I was a loyal fan of the San Francisco Seals. I had the immense pleasure of watching them win their last Pacific Coast League pennant in 1957, just before they moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Then heaven descended on the Bay. The New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and the beloved Seals became an outlying minor-league affiliate.

Today, the exhilaration, excitement, and high emotion of our Giants winning their first World Series have slowly settled. The afterglow of a wonderful roaring fire, brilliant flames that leapt in a glorious fireplace. Only the embers remain — still bringing warmth, immense satisfaction, and enduring comfort. The actuality of winning our city’s very first World Series is, for me, an exquisite climax of a fan’s life.

Way back in 1958 (can 52 years really have passed?), welcoming the Giants to San Francisco, embracing them, was immediate and intense for all of us. Suddenly, magically, we were a Major League city! For all of San Francisco’s diverse magnetism, we became a draw for the greats of baseball. Among those that most excited me to watch besides Willie Mays, were Warren Spahn, Milwaukee Braves; Frank Robinson, Cincinnati Reds; Stan Musial, St. Louis Cardinals; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs ; Richie Ashburn, Philadelphia Phillies; Bill Mazeroski, Pittsburg Pirates; and Don Drysdale, Los Angeles Dodgers. There were many many more.

For their first three years as San Franciscans, the Giants’ played their home games at Seals Stadium at 16th and Bryant Streets in the Mission District. They – we – were awaiting the completion of Candlestick Park. It was a beautiful time to be a baseball fan in San Francisco.

Then, in 1962, urban ecstasy! The Giants were in their first World Series – in our new ballpark, Candlestick! We faced the New York Yankees – confident, powerful, Easterners in pinstripes.

In a very personal irony, I joined them. I was now a young San Francisco police officer. I shall never forget a moment of it. I was assigned to protect two Yankee players from anonymous threats of physical harm: Third baseman Tony Kubek and Second baseman Bobby Richardson. I never left their sides while traveling to and from the Del Webb Townhouse to Candlestick Park. The Townhouse was a large hotel and apartment complex located at 8th & Market Sts., owned by New York Yankee co-owner Del Webb who was also a real estate developer. The entire Yankee team was housed within the complex. The other co-owner was Dan Topping, a wealthy businessman with tin mining interests.

So, a passionate Giants fan, here I am in the Yankees’ dressing room observing Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Ralph Terry, among other team mates, preparing to do battle with our beloved Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Jack Sanford, the Alou Brothers, and others.

The 1962 World Series was a classic battle between two excellent teams with future hall of fame members on both sides. During each home game, I was assigned right next to the Yankee’s dugout for security purposes. The first two games in San Francisco resulted in one victory for each team. Game 3 went to the Yankees by a score of 3 to 2. Game 4, a Giants victory was a classic for two reasons; Giants pitcher Don Larsen who won in relief, pitched a perfect game in a previous World Series for the Yankees exactly 6 years before to the day. It still stands as the only perfect game ever pitched in a World Series. Giants second baseman Chuck Hiller also made history by hitting the first grand slam home run ever by a National League team in a World Series. Games 5 & 6 resulted in a victory for each team. The table was now set for a classic final seventh game.

The tension in Candlestick Park was thermonuclear.
In the bottom of the 9th inning, the Yankees were leading 1-0 with two outs. Our Matty Alou was on 3rd base and Willie Mays on 2nd. The Giants were one base hit away from winning the World Series. Fans were on their feet cheering their lungs out. Willie McCovey hit a solid line drive towards right field – to a location that would normally be a sure base hit. Bobby Richardson (of all people) was playing out of position in what the Yankees called “The Willie McCovey Shift”. He was at a perfect point near the edge of the outfield to catch the ball – and he did. That crashed our dream of a World Series championship.

Tragedy! But I was a cop. On duty. I swallowed my agony and, shortly after the game, drove Yankees Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek to San Francisco International Airport. They were joyously celebrating in the back seat while I was depressed and heartbroken at the wheel, trying to maintain my composure all the way to the airport. Not a happy day. Not a pleasant memory. Their final, kind comment to me was: “remember, the Giants are champions too.” It was a small consolation since the biggest trophy was now leaving for New York City.

Then, with San Francisco suffering relentlessly painful deprivation, 27 years passed. I worked hard and was rewarded. I became police chief of San Francisco. Baseball endured. So did the Giants, who, in 1989, rose again to a World Series. They faced the Oakland A’s, across otherwise peaceful waters. We engaged in “the Bay Bridge Series” – a Pacific Coast riposte to New York’s notoriously interminable “Subway Series.”

I had the pleasure of working closely with baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent and his major league baseball security team. The first two games were in Oakland, with strong pitching performances by the A’s Dave Stewart and Mike Moore. There was excellent support from relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Oakland led, two games to none.

The third game, as every fan knows, was scheduled to be played at home — Candlestick Park. What happened next is etched in stone. The date was October 17, 1989. The scheduled starting time was 5:35 pm. At exactly 5:04 pm, I was on the field walking towards the seat occupied by Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Suddenly the ground shook. Earthquake! A jolting, rolling motion. The impact on the diamond was not as severe as that felt higher up in the stands. My immediate reaction was to blurt to Commissioner Vincent – “I believe we just had an earthquake. Hopefully, it will shake up the Giants into action for Game 3”. At that moment, I was not aware of the amplitude of the quake — or the extent of damage occurring throughout San Francisco and the East Bay. If I had been, I would never have said what I did.

Quickly, I was advised by members of the Police Mobile Command Staff at Candlestick Park of the widespread damage; I immediately left by escort to take charge of my responsibilities at the Emergency Command Center on Turk Street near the Western Addition.

For the next ten days, the people of San Francisco courageously and calmly pulled our city together, giving moving mutual cooperation and helpful assistance to neighborhoods most severely affected. I was inspired by their generosity and compassion. The immense community spirit of San Francisco was alive and well for the entire world to witness. The earthquake resulted in 63 deaths, hundreds of personal injuries and billions of dollars in property damage including two major freeways in San Francisco and the East Bay.

To his credit, Commissioner Vincent relied on the judgment of city officials, including police and fire emergency services, to determine a safe date to resume the World Series. Our personal friendship developed strongly during this critical time. It would become even more important in just a few more years.

Ten days after the quake of 1989, on October 27, the World Series resumed with the same two, now well-rested, Oakland A’s pitchers. They won games 3 and 4. Our Giants were swept in four games. One more maddening World Series loss for San Francisco.

Four years passed. In 1993, now mayor of San Francisco. I was confronted with the possible sale of the Giants. Owner Bob Lurie had lost three ballot measures in his attempt to build a new ballpark, two in San Francisco and one in San Jose. As a newly elected mayor, I was advised that I would not have an opportunity to keep the Giants in our city. In fact, Bob Lurie stated he had already sold the team to an investment group in St. Petersburg, Florida, for $115 million. He further declared that a St. Petersburg ballpark was already in place and thousands of season tickets were in the process of being sold.

Defying outside advice, I immediately announced I would do everything within my power to keep the Giants in San Francisco.

City Attorney Louise Renne counseled me that we had a legal right to contest the sale, since the Giants ownership was then under an existing contract with the City of San Francisco. Fortunately for us, the city had received no legal written notice prior to the actual sale. I was now in a position to delay the process pending further legal clarification. A legal delay also gave me time to aggressively pursue other investors who might purchase the Giants franchise and keep the team in San Francisco.

Three prominent San Francisco businessmen answered my original call – Dan Geller, Walter Shorenstein, and Richard Goldman. We knew we needed a minimum of $100 million. We also knew Candlestick Park was inadequate and needed to be replaced. The facility had been built in the early 1960’s and later converted to a multi-use stadium to accommodate the San Francisco 49ers professional football team. A new ballpark for our Giants would also have to be a high priority if there was any possibility of saving the team. We were well aware that many of the fans were complaining about bone chilling cold nights and swirling winds which affected attendance and reduced revenue for Giants owner Bob Lurie.

Other investors were desperately needed. Irving Grousbeck, a wealthy Silicon Valley venture capitalist expressed interest in being a principal partner — but quickly stepped aside after a financial audit indicated the Giants were losing approximately $7 million per year.

My next possible investor was George Shinn, a North Carolina businessman who owned a professional basketball team, the NBA Charlotte Hornets. Shinn’s visits to San Francisco were closely followed by the local press. We visited Candlestick Park during baseball games where loyal Giants fans openly received him as a possible savior of the team. He held press conferences that included Walter Shorenstein, Richard Goldman, Dan Geller, a well-known sports attorney, Leigh Steinberg, and me, while he was evaluating the possibility of joining our local investment team as a principal partner.

Throughout this process, I continued to seek more local investment partners, adding Don Fisher and Charles Schwab, to our impressive list. I contacted Fisher, founder of the Gap clothing industry, through his cell phone while he was mountain climbing in Germany. I told him I needed $7 or $8 million from each investor to reach our goal. Without hesitation, Don agreed to participate; he added “I will be in Europe for another two weeks, just contact my son John for follow-up.”

I knew all the original prominent local investors were proud of San Francisco – as home and as a city of global recognition and respect. Each in his own professional way added to this image. They knew that in order to maintain its status as an urban giant, a city’s professional sports teams must stand tall. That is an important element of the fabric of any major community. So each local investor saw a first priority in maintaining San Francisco’s world-class status.

A secondary goal was solving the Giants’ $7 million annual deficit. As the local investor team expanded, they decided George Shinn was not a good fit. He wanted to trade some high profile players and possibly change the team colors. On a positive note, I am thankful Shinn helped our cause in one very important way; he bought us precious time to add more local investors — including Peter Magowan, who was later selected to be the Managing General Partner, Robert Sockolov, Real Estate Developer, and Larry Nibbi, Nibbi Brothers Construction.

During our critical local investment team phase, a citizens “Save Our Giants Campaign” was established through the Mayor’s office. Hundreds of volunteers were recruited to create neighborhood rallies, hang “Save Our Giants” banners, initiate press conferences, and distribute thousands of postcards. The postcards were to be filled out by loyal Giants fans and mailed to Commissioner Vincent’s office expressing support. Some of the most active leaders were: my press secretary, Staci Slaughter; Janan New, Executive Director San Francisco Apartments Association; my son, Frank Jordan Jr.; Ed Moose, a popular San Francisco restaurateur; Walter Johnson, San Francisco Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer; Louise Bea, wife of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, Carlos Bea — the list goes on and on. I greatly appreciated their energetic and effective outpouring of public support. Each and every individual was important to our cause.

With a very impressive investment team now in place, I flew to New York and met with Commissioner Vincent. While renewing our friendship from the 1989 World Series, I emphasized strongly how important our San Francisco Giants were to our city.

I asked him to visit San Francisco and personally meet some of the potential investors. I informed him that their combined assets exceeded $10 billion, knowing full well no other baseball franchise could make that claim. Commissioner Vincent accepted my offer.

A short time later, back in San Francisco, we all were in Walter Shorenstein’s office. Richard Goldman also was there. The commissioner listened intently and was obviously impressed by our local investment team possibilities. Immediately after the meeting, he attended a “Save Our Giants” campaign rally at Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Hundreds of people greeted him warmly and expressed their loyalty to the Giants. Before leaving the city, he told us that we had his support — but I knew much more work had to be done. We still had to convince National League President Bill White, as well as a majority of National League team owners, to agree.

A meeting was arranged with White in New York during the early part of 1993 attended by Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, an executive at CBS in New York at that time. I made myself immediately available in New York City to answer any concerns that White might have regarding the City of San Francisco’s position or my personal support as Mayor. Bill White was informed of both the City of San Francisco’s and the new investment team’s commitment to build a new ballpark — on city land but privately financed. In fact, the site had already been selected, on waterfront property in the South of Market area. Bill White was assured a bond measure would be aggressively pursued.

At the earliest opportunity, two important points would have to be convincingly expressed to National League franchise owners:
1) If an existing major league team (San Francisco Giants) were moved to a new expansion venue, only the owner would benefit from the sale. If the Giants stayed in San Francisco with well respected, financially potent investors, and a new expansion team in created in Florida, every national league owner would benefit (estimates were for approximately $8 to $10 million).
2) If the San Francisco Giants were moved away from the Bay Area, a #4 media market would be lost. By moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, the media market would drop to approximately #19.
The bottom line: Less money for owners and operations across the entire National League.

A short time later, I received splendidly fine news: During a National League owners’ meeting via telephone conference call, a majority of owners voted to keep the Giants in San Francisco. We had dodged the bullet. The rest is history. To his credit, Giants owner Bob Lurie, in spirit of cooperation, invested the final amount to reach our goal of $100 million. The transaction was now a reality. It is also interesting to note, as compensation, major league baseball granted the St. Petersburg investors group an expansion franchise, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

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A Day To Remember at San Francisco City Hall.
From left to right: Richard Goldman (initial investor), Walter Johnson (S.F. Labor Council), Mayor Frank Jordan, Frank Jordan Jr. (holding champagne bottle), Walter Shorenstein (initial investor). Photo courtesy of San Jose Mercury News

A ballot measure to build a new ballpark was offered in the fall of 1996, the same year I left the Mayor’s office. Fortunately, for all Giant’s fans, the measure passed. Groundbreaking commenced on December 11th, 1997. It was a proud day for all of us in attendance on opening day, March 31st, 2000.

The Giants have a 66 year lease on a 12.5 acre ballpark site, paying $1.2 million in rent annually to the S.F. Port Commission. Today, AT&T Park stands as an excellent example of a public/private partnership, e.g., the city provides the land and the Giants investors build the ballpark. The entire investment team, led by Peter Magowan and Larry Baer, deserve credit for turning our dream of a new ballpark into reality.

In 2002, secure in San Francisco, our Giants once again had battled their way up to a World Series. We faced a neighbor again: The Anaheim Angels. The series was exhilarating for the first five games. We were again in a position to win it all — the series was tied 3 to 3. It couldn’t get closer! And then, in our latest agony, we watched the World Championship slip away in another seventh game. The baseball gods, it seemed, were still against us.

Then, eight years passed. The tide finally turned.

Throughout the 2010 season, new CEO Bill Neukom and President Larry Baer, General Manager Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy had worked their magic. There were many player changes from the start of spring training to the last out in game five of the World Series. Our lovable bunch of so-called castoffs and misfits, coupled with an overpowering youthful pitching staff and a sensational young rookie catcher, Buster Posey, turned the baseball world upside down and inside out.

Only one declaration I know captures the essence of our 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” I cannot adequately express my ecstatic feelings regarding the 2010 San Francisco baseball team.

Beyond that, and over all, my Giants experience has been a wonderful, satisfying, stressful, and exhilarating personal rollercoaster ride. It has made me both humble and grateful. Every Giant fan can be proud of our World Champions as they anticipate defending their crown in AT&T Park, one of the most beautiful baseball parks in America. Not many people have had the privilege to personally participate in baseball history for over half a century. I would not have missed it for the world!

I will continue to cherish and savor our Giants’ tremendous accomplishment in 2010. However, spring training in the warm Arizona sun has come to a close and the excitement of Opening Day is rapidly approaching. Bay area baseball fans know, the year 2011 will be different from all past seasons. Our San Francisco Giants for the very first time will be defending World Champions.
It is a great feeling to finally be standing at the top of the mountain. Hopefully, the boys of summer will continue to keep the dream alive.

Play ball!

March 30, 2011

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Posted in Baseball, Giants, History, San Francisco, Sports | Tagged | 56 Comments