Baseball's Giants Are Orphans of Bay Area

Oddball stadium is victim, villain in long-running sports soap opera - a letter from San Francisco

`OPERA in English makes about as much sense as baseball in Italian," wrote the noted curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, to which cynics in this town have added " ... or in Candlestick Park."

San Francisco baseball great Lefty O'Doul once called the tire-shaped stadium by the Bay "the most absurd place for a ballpark I've ever seen."

This city is once again in a funk over its baseball team and the "cold," "windy," "ill-conceived," "poorly-lit," "hard-to-access" stadium that has kept enough crowds away to sink the team in red ink. Baseball lovers say there are too many night games with too much wind that makes the ball do too many unnatural things - not to mention making crowds uncomfortable.

In mid-June, Giants owner Bob Lurie announced he has no choice but to put the team on the market. Financial World Magazine says the team lost $4.4 million in 1991 and is worth $16 million less than the Oakland Athletics across the bay. They assessed the Giants as worth $99 million, just under the $106 million a group of Japanese investors agreed to pay for the Seattle Mariners - a sale which has brought criticism that the country is selling its soul.

Now the debate from Mission Hill to Chinatown is whether or not San Francisco is selling its soul.

"San Francisco is a major-league city in so many ways [that] it doesn't need a baseball team to help it look that way," says Stephen Kawa, an assistant to City Supervisor Tom Hsieh. "People don't care that much [about keeping the Giants]."

He cites evidence from four recent ballot initiatives in which residents said "no" to providing public funds to build a new stadium in a better location downtown. After three such rejections in San Francisco, San Jose voters also gave a thumbs down in early June.

"Nobody wants to build a stadium for someone who is already one of the richest men in America [Mr. Lurie]," says Glenn Schwartz, sports editor of the San Francisco Examiner. He says Lurie has been crying "wolf" for 10 years, setting deadlines and ultimatums to lay the groundwork for more public funding.

"People want the Giants to stay here," says Eric Reid, a lifelong Giants fan who lives on Jamestown Road, behind the stadium. "They just feel the team should pull its own weight like they do in other cities."

If the team does leave, the Bay Area will be America's largest metropolitan region without two big-league teams. Since coming here three decades ago, the Giants have brought the World Series here twice, most recently in 1989 for the "Bay Bridge Series" with the Oakland A's, which was halted by the earthquake.

San Francisco's new mayor, Frank Jordan, has jumped in - too late for most critics - to seek investors in a last-ditch effort to either build a new stadium or purchase the club outright. After meeting with downtown office magnate Walter Shorenstein, Mayor Jordan told reporters, "There is a sense of urgency. ... I am in a very delicate, competitive race with other cities...."

At press time, no nibbles have surfaced, though Corey Busch, Giants vice president, is trying to put together a consortium of his own. Busch says the team will listen to serious offers by San Francisco investors but will not under any circumstances participate in any more ballot measures. The team has pledged to leave Candlestick Park before the 1995 season.

Meanwhile, ubiquitous polls continue as front-page news, the most recent saying "60 percent in S.F. Want Giants to Stay."

To Marcelo Cibrian, who works at the Pinch Hit Club just blocks from Candlestick, that means 40 percent don't care because San Francisco has become a football town. "We get standing room only in here during football games, but baseball just doesn't attract a crowd," he says.

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