The Giants are coming! The news was received in the Tampa Bay area with jubilation. On Aug. 7 a five-man consortium announced that it had reached an agreement to buy the San Francisco Giants for $111 million and that it hoped to move the team to the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg in time for next season. Phone lines at an office set up to handle pledges for season tickets were knocked out by the deluge of calls. On Aug. 8 The Tampa Tribune published overnight a special 20-page section devoted to the Giants and had more demand from advertisers than the section could accommodate. Radio station WFLA aired two Giant games, on Aug. 8 and 9, and a driver on his way to a department store with bootleg T-shirts emblazoned with TAMPA BAY LOVES THE GIANTS had his entire cargo heisted off the back of his truck by frenzied fans.
The Giants are leaving! In the San Francisco Bay Area, the news was met with resignation. When the club returned on Aug. 10 for its first home game since the announcement, 14,691 fans turned out at Candlestick Park, the second-smallest crowd in the majors that night. On the dank, wind-whipped field, the color guard was nearly lifted aloft as it gamely clutched its flagpoles before the game. Occasionally a halfhearted cheer—Say hey, Fay, make them stay—wafted through the stands. The headline in the San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 11 read: DEPARTING TEAM BEATS ASTROS 4-1.
While it is not yet certain that the sale of the Giants will receive baseball's requisite approval—commissioner Fay Vincent, the eight-man ownership committee and 10 teams in the National League and a majority of the American League owners all must give their O.K.—the first franchise relocation since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972 seems more than likely. At an owners' meeting in June, after noting the financial losses of Giant owner Bob Lurie and the shortcomings of Candlestick Park, Vincent said that the team met his criteria for moving. And a straw poll in the Aug. 16 edition of the San Francisco Examiner indicated that 11 of 12 National League owners and 12 of 14 American League owners would approve the sale.
"One thing going for the deal is that everyone likes Bob Lurie a lot," says Philadelphia Phillie owner Bill Giles. "If he makes an appeal to everyone, he'll probably get enough votes."
The deal is a good bet to go through if Lurie receives no other offers for the Giants. One erstwhile white knight, H. Irving Grousbeck, cofounder of Continental Cablevision in Boston, examined the club's books last week and then rode off into the sunset after declaring that the Giants were looking at annual losses in San Francisco of $10 million beginning in 1994. Berkeley-based sports agent Leigh Steinberg has cobbled together a group of investors that includes George Shinn. owner of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, but at week's end the syndicate had not presented a counteroffer. ""Under the white-wine, Brie-cheese, hot-tub image of the Bay Area, there's a passionate group of sports fans," says Steinberg, "and you'll see them come to the fore."
Whatever the outcome, the saga of the Giants is not a tale of two cities but of four.
On six previous occasions, dating back to 1984, investors in the Tampa Bay area took their cuts at landing a major league team and whiffed every time. Even before a single owner expressed a desire to move his team to Tampa-St. Petersburg, the 43,000-seat Suncoast Dome was under construction. Pinellas County lawmakers had approved the expenditure of $85 million in public funds for the stadium, which meant that no referendum was required. (The cost has since swelled to $138 million.) During the last four years, both the Chicago White Sox and the Seattle Mariners have flirted with occupying the stadium, and only a last-minute collapse of financing knocked Tampa-St. Pete out of the running for one of the two 1993 expansion teams, which were awarded to Denver and Miami. The five million folks within a 100-mile radius of the Dome want baseball: Some 20,000 of them have standing $50 pledges for season tickets.
Past failures may help Tampa-St. Pete land the Giants. First, because the area has been rebuffed so many times, it will have the sentimental support of some major league owners. And experience with the financial difficulties encountered by previous investment groups has made Tampa-area boosters savvy. Major League Baseball requires the prospective buyer of a team to have at least 60% of the purchase price available in cash. Jack Critchfield, the head of a civic committee dedicated to securing a team, has made sure that that requirement is being met this time. "The money is there," says Critchfield of the consortium, which is headed by Vincent Naimoli, CEO of Tampa-based Anchor Industries, Inc. In addition, the potential owners have a written promise from Lurie that he will not sell the Giants to anyone else until baseball renders its verdict on the deal.
Having the Giants in the Tampa Bay area might also smooth Vincent's efforts to realign the National League, a move the Chicago Cubs are fighting—successfully so far—in court. Last month Vincent announced that the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals would leave the Eastern Division for the West and that the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves would join the East. The Cubs sued to remain in the East partly because the change would result in more West Coast games for them. That, in turn, would mean fewer TV viewers in Chicago and points east for the games being aired late at night on WGN, the superstation owned by the Cubs' parent, the Tribune Company. But should the Giants go to St. Petersburg (they would probably join the East, while the Reds would stay in the West), only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres would remain in the Pacific time zone, and the Cubs could play a maximum of 20 games on the West Coast—only two more than they do now.