At 2:40 of an otherwise balmy afternoon last week at San Francisco's Candlestick Park, a typically capricious gust of wind caught a stray hot dog wrapper near first base and transported it aloft on a voyage that would have done Phileas Fogg proud. As if jet-propelled, the wrapper shot to a height of a hundred feet above home plate—where Giants slugger Will Clark stood, as usual, oblivious to all but the opposing pitcher, in this case Zane Smith of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Then, dipping on occasion almost to ground level, the wrapper sailed to left-field at breathtaking speed. Just when it looked as if it might join fellow paper discards pinioned to the fence at the 365-foot sign, it took off once more and fluttered majestically over the rim of the stadium to whatever freedom a loose hot dog wrapper may reasonably expect in a hostile environment.
If only it were that easy for Bob Lurie to get out of Candlestick Park. Lurie, the mild-mannered owner of the Giants, has been trying with singular unsuccess to escape that wind-whipped edifice virtually from the day he bought the team in the spring of 1976. And he'll try again at the polls on Tuesday, June 2. Three times before, Lurie has gone to voters, pleading with them to spend money to build him a spiffy new ballyard somewhere, anywhere away from Candlestick Point. Each time, they have turned him down, although never emphatically enough to deter him permanently from his mission.
A proposal in 1987 to build a new park near downtown San Francisco failed by 11,440 votes of 181,450 cast. In '89, with his team a National League pennant winner, Lurie looked like a good bet to prevail at the polls. But the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled Candlestick moments before Game 3 of the World Series and caused billions of dollars in damage to the Bay Area. All at once, financing a new playpen for the Giants seemed to many voters a trivial expenditure, and that November the measure went down to defeat, if by only 2,054 votes of 173,646 cast.
To the horror of hidebound San Franciscans, a bloodied but unbowed Lurie next turned south to Santa Clara. However, he lost again in a 1990 countywide election, this time by 3,491 votes of 272,537 cast. Still he saw a ray of hope in that referendum, for at least one city, the county seat, San Jose, voted for him 86,628 to 86,013.
So now he's up for the fourth time, with Measure G on Tuesday's California primary ballot, asking voters, in San Jose only this time, to approve a new stadium on the city's northern periphery that would cost, what with roads and site preparation, at least $265 million. This fourth time at bat in the electoral ball game, Lurie insists, will be his last, and who can blame him? The Giants, wrote San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist C.W. Nevius recently, "have run more often than Harold Stassen. Unfortunately they have about the same record of success."
Lurie has not been without political allies in his seemingly fruitless quest, and this time, in San Jose mayor Susan Hammer, he has one with uncommon zeal and resourcefulness. Hammer collared Lurie at a 1990 postelection party in San Jose's Le Baron Hotel shortly after he had gotten the news that he'd been rejected by the citizens of Santa Clara County. She urged him not to despair, which was a rather bold thing for her to say, because Hammer had no idea at the time whether she had won her mayoral bid—and wouldn't know until three days later, when the last of the absentee ballots were finally tabulated.
Acquiring the Giants for her city would be a top priority of her administration, she told Lurie. And true to her word, she repeated that pledge to constituents in her State of the City address in January 1991. Many of those constituents, she says now, considered her "nuts" for taking a shot with a proven loser. Lurie was impressed, and he and the mayor soon began, as it were, hammering out the details of a new ballpark deal.
Hammer envisions a major league franchise delivering to San Jose somewhere between $50 million and $150 million a year in economic benefits, but that's not all. She asserts that the Giants will also bring her city the recognition she feels it has earned as a big league metropolis. "The best-kept secret in the country," says Hammer, is that San Jose, with a 1992 population of 803,000, not only is larger than San Francisco by 75,000 people but also is the third-largest city in the nation's largest state—behind only Los Angeles and San Diego—and the 11th largest in the country. It also is the self-proclaimed "capital of Silicon Valley," situated among the world's largest concentration of high-tech computer corporations. "And yet," says Hammer, "everyone thinks of us as being small," or even, as the Santa Clara County weekly, Metro, recently deplored, "suburban."
For many of its 215 years, San Jose was small. At the turn of the century, when San Francisco, 50 miles to the north, was already a major international player, San Jose had 21,500 residents, most of them farm people By 1950 the city had grown to 95,290, and then with new industry and finally the high-tech crowd, it underwent a population explosion that left its small-city downtown looking as if it belonged somewhere else. Central San Jose looks no more metropolitan than, say, Terre Haute, Ind. Yet the fringes of the city are, as the local boosters like to say, "the center of the high-tech universe."
Hammer, who was a city councilwoman for 10 years before her '90 run for mayor, describes her current job as "darned fun." Indeed, for all of San Jose's growth, its politics exude a certain small-town innocence, particularly when compared with the Byzantine goings-on up in San Francisco, where a police chief can be fired 45 days after he's appointed, as Richard Hongisto was in mid-May, and a mayor, Frank Jordan, can hear recall noises muffling the echoes of his inauguration speech.