As the Giants mourn the passing of longtime owner and No. 1 fan Peter Magowan, a couple of things must be said.
One: Peter Magowan turned the Giants from an also-ran team in one of the league’s worst parks, into one of Major League Baseball’s most glamorous franchises.
Two: Peter Magowan turned a town that only talked 49ers, into a baseball town.
That, sports fans, is a hell of a legacy.
Of course, it wasn’t single-handed. Magowan and his band of investors in 1992 — Walter Shorenstein, Don Fisher, Harmon Burns, among others, and, yes, Larry Baer — were helped in their purchase of the Giants by National League owners who wanted the Giants to stay in San Francisco. MLB wanted the Giants to stay, too. Powerful forces aided Magowan and the investors.
But when Magowan got the team, something different happened.
A man who loved baseball — actually loved the game; not just winning, not just money, but THE GAME OF BASEBALL — was in charge.
And everything flowed from that.
I had the honor of writing the Giants’ official 50-year history book and in the process, Baer told me that Magowan was such a seam-head, he would send Baer single-spaced, typewritten previews of his ideas for the 25-man roster each spring. Baer would know it was time for Scottsdale when “Peter’s Previews” would arrive.
It wasn’t just that Magowan and his crew culled the votes and the private money to build Pacific Bell Park. That was a miracle in itself, in a town rife with so many special interests.
It was that once Magowan got the votes and private money, he built a cathedral. Pacific Bell Park (its name when it opened in 2000) was like Magowan’s personal painting. He’s the one who demanded the classic architecture, the 40,000-seat capacity, the bricks, the green seats, the 421-foot outfield fence to pay tribute to the Polo Grounds of his youth.
He’s the one who envisioned baseball fans streaming off street cars and walking through San Francisco to get to the yard.
That he executed that vision meant the Giants would draw 3 million fans almost annually. They never did that once at Candlestick, which had a bigger capacity. That the Giants drew that number of fans meant the Giants had unimaginably large revenue streams, and also one of the best atmospheres in MLB.
Suddenly, the same way fans talked about Fenway Park and Wrigley Field . . . they talked about Pacific Bell Park.
The Giants??? A glamour franchise??? What in the name of seam-ridden AstroTurf was happening???
And the byproduct of the park was a team and ownership committed to the game, not the bottom line. And that led to hiring important people, like Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy, and Dick Tidrow, who drafted Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, and John Barr, who drafted Buster Posey.
That led to 2010.
And a parade.
And Magowan in a convertible, waving through confetti.
Because life is complicated, he was no longer the managing general partner. His affiliation with Barry Bonds, the daring signing that, quite frankly, was half the reason the Giants had a fan base passionate enough to buy in to Pac Bell Park, ultimately led to Magowan’s ouster.
Like I said, life gets complicated.
But then 2012 happened.
And another parade.
And Magowan again, waving through confetti.
And then 2014 happened.
You know the drill.
And in the process, San Francisco became a baseball town.
Hats everywhere. Passionate fans. Game day becoming an event. KNBR shows talking Giants baseball, constantly.
Sure, of course, the 49ers have their forever sway here. They were the originals, back in 1946. But somewhere in the roots of this Giants renaissance was the ghost of old Seals Stadium, and generations of San Franciscans and their descendants who heard tales of Lefty O’Doul and 16th and Bryant.
Baseball, so rooted in The City’s history, was back leading the parade.
All because of the life of Peter Magowan.
He died last Sunday, but he had to know that his life was one of the most important lives in the history of San Francisco, in the last 50 years. The City tilts toward China Basin now. The Warriors are moving in. UCSF/Benioff hospital is changing the world.
And Opening Day at the ball park on 3rd and King is just over two months away.
We’ll save you a seat, Peter.