After the 1992 season, it looked like the San Francisco Giants were headed to Tampa Bay, leaving the Oakland A's as the lone team in the Bay Area.
Then, on January 12, 1993, Peter McGowan and a group of investors purchased the team from Bob Lurie and vowed to keep the Giants in San Francisco. McGowan's first big move was to sign free-agent left fielder Barry Bonds, the godson of Giants Hall of Fame legend Willie Mays, to a record-breaking contract.
Less than a decade later, propelled by the stardom of Bonds on the field, McGowan helped bring a privately financed, waterfront, downtown ballpark that is now the crown jewel of baseball to San Francisco.
The Giants' move out of Candlestick Park—a sprawling, concrete football stadium that the team attempted to convert into some semblance of a baseball park when the 49ers weren't using it—into AT&T Park has turned the franchise from a fledgling organization on the brink of moving into the game's model franchise.
The model ballpark has helped to create the model organization. The Giants have won two World Series titles playing in AT&T Park during the last three seasons after winning none in their first 52 years since coming west from New York.
The team has increased payroll from $53 million when the stadium first opened in 2000 to upwards of $140 million next season. Of course, winning increases revenue more than a new stadium, but building a classical baseball stadium with modern amenities like corporate suites certainly hasn't hurt revenue streams, either.
Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City have more history packed inside of them than recently built AT&T Park, and those are all beautiful ballparks as well. However, in terms of pure aesthetics, AT&T Park is now the best stadium in Major League Baseball.
Camden Yards in Baltimore, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Coors Field in Colorado all have a similar classical architectural design to AT&T Park. PNC Park is also a waterfront ballpark that stands on the banks of the Allegheny River.
However, the Giants' waterfront ballpark was the first baseball stadium built without public financing since the Dodgers opened Dodger Stadium at Chavez Ravine in 1962, though the Giants still managed to get a few governmental goodies out of the deal.
That fact adds to the allure of the stadium, especially when compared to the shady dealings of the Miami Marlins, whose publicly financed stadium has led to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Marlins' fleecing of the taxpayers in Miami-Dade County isn't going to help matters for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's, the two Major League Baseball franchises that haven't yet cashed in on the boom of new stadium construction over the past few decades.
Alas, the Rays are stuck in their lease until 2027, and the A's are being blocked from their desired move to San Jose in an ongoing, contentious battle with the Giants, who were granted territorial rights to Santa Clara County by the A's in 1992.
AT&T Park is the game's most beautiful stadium, and the Giants are the reigning World Series Champions for the second time in three years. Twenty years ago, none of that seemed possible for this franchise, at least not in San Francisco.
Next year, the Giants will attempt to defend their title playing under the bright lights of AT&T Park, surrounded by the Bay and the skyscrapers of the city. The 49ers are good again, but San Francisco is now a baseball town, at least according to Giants general manager Brian Sabean.
Sabean said, “As we all know, for the right reasons in the past football had a foothold in the town. And the 49ers certainly had their run. And maybe this is ours.” (h/t San Jose Mercury News)
AT&T Park helped the Giants build a winner, and it helped turn San Francisco into a true baseball town once again. Having the most beautiful stadium in the game to go with the best team is a pretty remarkable combination.