Lurie did not like Candlestick Park. At all. With rising costs and dramatically increased player salaries, he figured his break-even point was 1.8 million in attendance, a figure he has approached only once, in 1978. His underlings estimate that owning the Giants has cost Lurie upward of $20 million. Although his teams have never finished higher than third, and the A's, under the ownership of the progressive Haas family ( Levi Strauss & Co.), have offered stiff competition, Lurie has blamed his misfortune on the ballpark. The Giants players, he says, have hated playing there—a notable whiner being the since-departed Jack Clark—and his efforts to improve the team have been thwarted because players on other teams don't want to play there. And, of course, fans don't want to watch bad teams play games there. Lurie says he's done the best he can with the bad hand dealt him. Under the wizardry of vice-president Pat Gallagher the team has promoted itself with zeal and ingenuity. One of Gallagher's more inspired gimmicks was awarding the Croix de Candlestick for "loyalty and devotion above and beyond the call of fandom" to those hardies who survived extra-inning night games. Another of his gimmicks was the short-lived Crazy Crab, a parody of other teams' mascots. Last year, when the team played mostly day games at home, Gallagher's advertising depicted sunbathers in the seats. But the Giants lost 100 games and drew only 818,697. What Lurie wants now is a new ballpark.
In 1979, seeking some clout at city hall, he hired as his administrative assistant the then 29-year-old Corey Busch, who had worked for a time as mayor Moscone's press secretary. Busch is now the Giants' vice-president of administration, and his job is to get a ballpark. He's had rocky going so far. In '83 Lurie and Busch got mayor Dianne Feinstein to back a proposed domed stadium downtown. The plan died a year later. In September of '84, Feinstein suggested a ballpark near the airport. Nothing came of it. In October of '84, Lurie announced that the Giants were for sale and that he would try to find a buyer who would keep the team in San Francisco. In February of '85, Feinstein proposed putting a dome on Candlestick. In April of '85, Lurie took the Giants off the market, reiterating, however, that he wanted out of Candlestick, domed or otherwise. In May of '85 a plan for a ballpark-hotel complex near the Bay Bridge was unveiled. In September the plan fell through. In October, Lurie announced that the Giants would play the next three years at the Oakland Coliseum, sharing it with the A's until a new stadium in San Francisco could be built. This apparently came as news to the A's, the Oakland Coliseum Commission and the city of Oakland. Permission denied.
Last season Busch and new Giants general manager Al Rosen were spotted in Denver, supposedly working on a bizarre plan to house the team there temporarily. This, understandably, got nowhere. In January of this year Lurie backed off from his earlier threat to vacate Candlestick and said the team would play there another season. In May, Feinstein announced plans to build a stadium at Seventh and Townsend streets, not quite downtown, but nearer to the heart of the city than Candlestick. In July this plan collapsed. Lurie says now the Giants will stay in Candlestick at least through 1987, describing the Seventh and Town-send planning setback as merely "a detour.... I haven't given up by any means." Hope obviously remains for the site.
Candlestick, in the meantime, is undergoing a $30 million refurbishment, which includes more seats and the installation of luxury boxes, all of which will mainly benefit the 49ers. The Giants now seem to be second-class citizens there. But the baseball team is going great guns this year. Gallagher's slogan for the season is "You gotta like these kids," and the fans do. Attendance is up nearly 500,000 over this time last year and, at the current pace, will approach, if not surpass, Lurie's break-even figure. New manager Roger Craig forbids any complaints from his players about the park, so the only gripes registered so far have—shades of the Willie Mays days—come from the opposition. The Giants have been the talk of the town all summer.
This good fortune, in one way, works against Lurie. His critics, former mayor Christopher among them, now gleefully point out that, see, it wasn't the ballpark after all, but the ball club that was causing all the problems. "Other cities do not continually blame their stadiums for the weather that Providence has thrust upon them," Christopher has said. Put a good team on the field and people will watch, even if it plays in a meat locker. So who needs a new ballpark if there are crowds at the old one? "Last year's igloo is this year's Hawaiian resort," says Gray.
It's all relative, says Busch, the political strategist. These are merely, so to speak, fair-weather fans. They won't be back if the Giants start losing. The team needs an attractive home to keep people coming in good times and bad. "Ours is the second-highest increase in baseball, next to Cleveland's," says Busch. "But we are still 17th overall of 26 teams in attendance. What's wrong? Quite frankly, it's the ballpark. What we hope to do now is work with the mayor to put together a package for a new stadium, something very specific that we can put on the ballot. Let's put it this way: Bob is a man of infinite patience, but he can't afford to wait forever."
And so Candlestick Park stands out there by the Bay, a monument to haste and need. On a clear day you can see forever. Then the Hawk flies in and you can see Stu Miller, wafting, like a leaf, out to sea.