The construction of AT&T Park a.k.a. Giants Stadium did not rely on any government financing or public bonds. However, if not for Barry Bonds and his decision to come to San Francisco in 1993 this ballpark would probably not exist today.
Let’s not forget that in the year 1992 the San Francisco Giants signed a memorandum of agreement to sell the team to a Tampa Bay group that would move the team to Florida. Giants owner Bob Lurie made this shocking decision after four ballot measures seeking public financing for a new stadium failed and private financing efforts were unsuccessful. I remember being at a game once when the buzz in the crowd was that financier George Shinn was in attendance and he might be interested in buying the Giants and keeping them in San Francisco. There was even a sign that night that read “Shinn Happens”.
Well, Giants fans really felt like Shinn during these times when a move seemed imminent and getting a baseball only stadium for the Giants seemed impossible. It’s startling today to think that no local buyers emerged in 1991 or before and that Bob Lurie decided to sell the team to the Tampa Bay group for $110 million.
Flash forward to the year 2000, when the Giants unveiled their new San Francisco stadium with its short right field fence, giving a power hitting lefty the chance to get a ‘Splash Hit’. The picture above is of Bonds hitting a ball into what would someday be called McCovey Cove as ground broke for the new ballpark.
How did this stadium finally get done at this time, after years of failed attempts and inactivity? People like Peter Magowan really helped and I’m sure the dot com boom didn’t hurt. But there is no person or event more responsible than Barry Bonds.
It is fitting that Bonds arrived in San Francisco the year after that sale to Tampa Bay fell through. He brought exactly what San Francisco baseball needed: swagger, excitement, and wins.
When Bonds chose the Giants in free agency he was the biggest name in baseball and the most famous free agent the Giants had ever signed. He already had won two MVP’s with the Pirates and he brought a superstar quality that the Giants had not had since Willie McCovey.
Whatever Bonds did was national news, and as soon as Bonds signed, the interest level and national TV exposure for the Giants spiked. This excitement surely helped galvanize the investors who came together to buy the Giants and privately finance the new stadium.
Can you name the most famous free agent the Giants signed before Bonds? Rennie Stennett? You see, the big name free agents did not want to play in windy freezing Candlestick. On the flip side, Bonds loved the Giants and his family history with the team. He chose the Giants and Candlestick when every team in baseball was laying out the red carpet for him, a decision that, looking back now, was a crucial tipping point in the history of the team.
Bonds brought a lot more than hype and a super star swagger, as the team immediately improved upon his arrival. The year before Bonds arrived in 1992 they had a record of 72-90. In 1993 their record improved to 103-59, a stunning change. Bonds won his third MVP that season, a total that exceeded all the MVP’s won by Giants in their entire history in San Francisco.
A historical snapshot also shows a shift in performance on the field. In the 10 year period before Bonds’ arrival, from 1982-1992, the Giants had a record of 787-833 and a winning percentage of 48%. Going back another 10 years, from 1972-1992, the Giants record was 1,552-1633 and still that same winning percentage of 48%. Contrast this to the ten years after Bonds arrived, when from 1992-2002 their record improved to 840-715 and their winning percentage increased to 54%. This success continued into the 20 year vantage point, when from 1992-2012 their winning percentage was 53% and their record 1685-14
I’m not saying that Bonds single handedly created the new stadium for the Giants or won all those games. But when Bonds decided to come play in Candlestick for a team that had been sold to Tampa Bay just the previous year, he made a giant difference both on and off the field.
So however you may feel about Barry Bonds, when you enjoy the Giants in their sparkling stadium by the bay, you might want to ask yourself if it would even exist had Bonds not chosen the Giants in 1993.