Baer (right) inherits a complex situation
What does the ascension of Larry (Laurence M.) Baer to the San Francisco Giants' corner office mean for the franchise? Its chances to return to the playoffs in 2012? Locking up Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum to long-term deals?
Hard to say. The Lowell High School and UC Berkeley graduate has, in certain respects, been hiding in plain sight for many of his two-plus decades as a Giants employee.
Named the club's executive vice president in 1992, Baer was credited with putting together virtually every element of the AT&T (then called Pacific Bell) Park project: voter approval, financing, architectural design, construction. Everything.
Yet Baer largely lived in the shadow of the highly visible then-managing partner Peter Magowan as well as William Neukom, Magowan's short-lived successor.
Magowan, Neukom, and other distractions—like Barry Bonds—kept Baer and most everything else off center stage until the Giants' recent resurrection, climaxing in the 2010 World Series title.
Baer has never been a lightning rod for fan frustration; in fact, the media has generally lauded him.
As the new top boss, that might change.
Meanwhile, there are at least a few clues to Baer's plans. Here are four things we might expect from the Giants' new CEO.
Baer extended Sabean and Bochy through 2013 with a 2014 club option
This week's contract extensions for G.M. Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy—both now are signed through 2013 with club options for 2014—eliminated any doubt about whether Baer was happy with his personnel and field bosses.
Baer could have allowed either or both to serve out the final year of their prior contracts, then evaluate things at season's end.
Instead, the new CEO locked up MLB's (now) longest-tenured G.M./field manager tandem for another two years.
Two possible interpretations:
1. Baer isn't going to rock the boat just yet. By extending Sabean and Bochy only one additional year, he keeps them on a relatively short leash.
2. Sabean and Bochy were both brought here under Baer's watch (Sabean in 1996, Bochy in 2007). No way was he going to repudiate those decisions in his first official act as CEO.
Baer: keeping the pitching intact is priority #1
In a recent video message to fans, Baer offered these bombshells:
1. Locking up the club's core pitching trumps all else.
2. Improving the offense will also get some attention.
3. The budget won't grow much, perhaps to $130 million.
Oh, he also mentioned something about ensuring that the sun continues to rise in the East.
It's hard to know how to interpret Baer's thoughts. Consider this, from his briefing with reporters after Sabean and Bochy's extensions were announced:
"We certainly like the results under Bruce and Brian’s leadership and we want to continue that,” Baer said. “Different organizations have different imprints. We’re stable, we have continuity, for our fans to understand that and know that is a positive.”
Cynics may wonder about how Baer could characterize this as both a positive and continuity, given the Giants' 86-76 season saw dubious mid-season additions (Orlando Cabrera for those who don't remember) and debatable deployment of the club's prized young talent.
Well, there was that 2010 World Series title...
Baer evidently attributed 2011's failures to injuries, bad luck and under-performance, not poor personnel moves or questionable managerial judgment. Not sure how encouraging that will be to even slightly skeptical fans.
Larry Baer's first job after graduating from UC Berkeley?
- The club's Wall of Fame
- Player bobbleheads
- Ethnic Nights at AT&T Park
- Alumni bobbleheads
- On-field events prior to every home game
- Giraffes, pandas
- And yes, bobbleheads
There's obviously far more than that to the Giants' on and off-field marketing, which is the point: Larry Baer is a consummate marketer. And, he's heavily focused on and invested in the Giants' image.
So expect ever-more creative revenue-generating events at AT&T Park (an important part of the club's revenue stream), and every imaginable excuse for a bobblehead.
For anyone who recalls what it was like to attend a Giants game at Candlestick Park, the fan experience at AT&T Park is transforming.
It's entertaining, and a testament to the Giants' (and Larry Baer's) marketing brilliance.
Baer and the rest of the Giants' marketing infrastructure, led by Mario Alioto, deserve due credit for continually refining the AT&T Park fan experience.
Selling out every single home game a year ago—real sellouts, not just on paper—especially as the club was falling out of contention in mid-September was a remarkable feat.
Not to put too sour a point on this, but keeping the turnstiles moving at AT&T is essential to the Giants' long-term financial viability, especially given the club's continued stadium debt.
Given all that, Baer's marketing acumen (the guy could have run a circus) should never be underestimated. Or undervalued.