Larry Baer has been a Giants owner since 1993, meaning he’s now seen the two longest work stoppages in baseball history.
The 2021 lockout hardly compares to the strike of 1994-95, though, as management and the players union reached a deal on Thursday to avoid missing any games.
Baer, speaking to local media via Zoom, expressed gratitude that the lockout has been resolved, predicted the Giants will be “aggressive” in roster building and addressed the fans.
“Obviously a good day for the industry,” Baer said. “I’ve got to say, this has been, personally, a very painful period. It’s been tough on a lot of levels.”
Baer said not being able to communicate with players during the lockout has been “tough” for him. Like many organizations, Giants’ management has close relationships with the team, he said.
Baer added it’s time for the industry to focus on how to grow the popularity of the sport, particularly with younger fans.
A lockout that bled into the season and cost MLB games could have been irredeemable to some fans. And many fans blamed the owners as public sentiment grew cold toward the league in the winter.
The league imposed a “defensive” lockout in December, then waited 43 days to make an offer to the MLBPA. Commissioner Rob Manfred said incorrectly that owning a baseball team is less lucrative than the stock market.
Baer’s group bought the franchise for $100 million in 1993. It’s now worth an estimated $3.2 billion — a 3,000% increase.
“The way we’ve approached it is — this is a civic asset,” Baer said. “Obviously it’s also a business, so we have to be able to hit bottom lines and things, but we don’t approach things from a financial standpoint as the driver for, you know, the complete measure of success. Our focus is delivering quality, championship baseball as much as possible and being involved in the community…And if fans were upset with owners, so be it. I can empathize. We’re trying to come out of a pandemic. There was a lockout when Omicron was hitting. I think we have empathy for it and it’s certainly forgiven if fans were upset with either party or everyone.”
Baer said casting blame to either side is irrelevant to him. But there are still some important misconceptions to clear up and trust to build.
One narrative that gained steam was that owners may not care about missed games in April, given that it’s traditionally the month that generates the least box office revenue.
“I can’t speak for every owner,” Baer said. “I can speak for the Giants. That was a very painful thing. The notion of missing one game in April, let alone many games in the month. We were never in that mode at all. Our fans, we feel we have almost a fiduciary responsibility and trust with the fans.”
The other concept Baer wanted to address was the idea that the league didn’t need to lock the players out. While technically true, trying to hammer out a deal without a lockout could have increased the likelihood of a player strike similar to 1994-95 that led to lost games.
The Giants are set to open their season at Oracle Park on April 8 against the Marlins. Their first spring training game is currently scheduled for March 18. Baer hasn’t seen an official schedule, but said it’s possible that spring training games are added on the back-end (though the previously scheduled Bay Bridge Series has been canceled). As for the regular season, rescheduled games will come in the form of nine-inning double-headers, potentially extending the season by a few days and by playing on select off-days.
In order to avoid missed games, the league and union had to strike a deal on Thursday. Included in the new collective bargaining agreement is the universal designated hitter, a draft lottery, an increased minimum salary and a reformed luxury tax.
The postseason field has also been increased from 10 teams to 12. Baer is in favor of the expansion, arguing baseball will be more relevant, in more cities, for more of the year.
The most immediate change will be the resumption of league activity. All major league transactions have been frozen since the lockout began on Dec. 1. The Giants filled some, but not all of their needs before the deadline — re-signing Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani while adding Alex Cobb — but still have lots of work to do.
SF’s current payroll is roughly $112 million — well shy of the newly bragging $230 million luxury tax threshold. As soon as the league ratifies the new CBA, which is seen as a formality, an unprecedented migration of players could start rapidly.
What that looks like for the Giants will be evident as soon as tonight.
“I think we are primed to be out there, obviously, in the market,” Baer said. “That doesn’t mean it’s through free agency. I mean, we’ve had a lot of success with finding players and making trades. But I think, like most teams, we’re going to be pretty aggressive. This is going to be a flurry. A frenzy period.”