SAN FRANCISCO — In the world of professional sports, owners are just thought of as the rich folks who sit in the seats closest to the field with money to pay the players. There are a few celebrities fans acknowledge such as the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones or the late Jerry Buss who controlled the Lakers.
The San Francisco Giants honored their former owner Bob Lurie who ran the team from 1976-1992 with a plaque on the Wall of Fame outside Oracle Park before last Saturday's game vs. the Atlanta Braves. But Lurie was more than just a figurehead who signed the paychecks. Former Giants' employees say he was more of a father figure and that everyone in the organization from players to concession workers were treated equally with the utmost respect and appreciation.
Lurie was the man who saved the Giants from a possible move to Toronto following the 1975 season and bought the franchise from longtime owner Horace Stoneham for eight million dollars. To put it in perspective, that amount would be equivalent to what a utility player makes in 2021. During Lurie's tenure, he resurrected an organization that had fallen on hard times. In a short span between 1972-1975, Stoneham was forced to trade away Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Bobby Bonds, Gary Mathews, and Garry Maddox.
When Lurie took the reins, one of the first moves he made was to bring back Bill Rigney, the first manager of the team from 1958-1960. Then in 1977, Lurie brought back McCovey who won the Comeback Player of the Year award. And in 1978, a blockbuster trade landed Vida Blue from the A's and the orange and black were in contention for the playoffs until the final weeks of the season. And the most significant move was to hire Frank Robinson, who was the first black manager in the National League.
Throughout the 1980's, Lurie tried to escape the cavernous and dilapidated Candlestick Park for a more suitable location for baseball. One of the sites chosen is where the team currently resides at 3rd and King. In fact, Lurie was quite the visionary with the future waterfront site even nicknaming home runs hit into the water as "splashers" Today of course, they're affectionately known as "splash hits".
There were four failed ballot measures including one in 1989 just weeks after the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake that lost by just 1,800 votes. After years of losing money, Lurie sold his ownership stake in the team to a group in Tampa Bay in 1992 and it appeared the Giants would be permanently moving to the other Bay Area. At the 11th hour, a group of local investors led by Peter Magowan bought the team from Lurie for $100 million.
29 years later, it's all fond memories now. Introductory speeches were given by Team President Larry Baer, former President Corey Busch, former mayor Art Agnos, and Giants chairman Greg Johnson. Finally, it was time for the man of the hour to say a few words and they were said with good humor.
"Those are probably the best speeches I've ever heard in my life, '' Lurie said with a chuckle. "I certainly want to thank all the speakers and their kind words. Actually Connie (my wife) whispered in my ear, 'the way some of this sounds, it's like you're dead.' So anyhow, after Connie and after my daughter Dana, being involved with the Giants for 17 years on a daily basis was just an unbelievable fabulous experience. Yes there were some disappointments but it was exciting. It was just something everyday, win or lose. You suffered through the losses and you were delighted with the wins.
"We had some success. In 1987 we were in the playoffs and in 1989 we were in the wonderful World Series. However, in going through an experience like I did, there's always a loss that stands out and that loss was in '89 to the wonderful, sort of wonderful Oakland A's four to nothing.... I've almost recovered."
While the Magowan group now gets the much deserved credit for the Giants' beautiful ballpark and three World Series championships, that unique working environment under Lurie's reign was something very special.
"It was really like a family working for Bob Lurie," said Robin Carr, a public relations executive who worked for the Giants from 1985-1995. "I did experience a transition from the Lurie's to the Magowan ownership group. And that was all cool but with having Bob Lurie and Connie, they had a great family so they understood what family meant. And they extended that to the front office.
"It wasn't just the front office and players being separated, we were all together. I was basically an administrative assistant for awhile before I got promoted but I was a lowly type secretary yet I was considered part of the family with Will Clark and the Lurie family, and (then team President) Corey Busch, and Pat Gallagher, Mario Alioto, etc. They flew us to the playoffs in Chicago in 1989, the whole front office, it was great! He's just a wonderful guy."
Carr also shared a story about Connie that happened on the day of the 1989 Earthquake, just before the start of Game 3 of the World Series.
"She's one of my favorite people," Carr said. "She was one of the premier hostesses of parties back in the day and when the earthquake hit in '89 she had set up this party tent as one does when you're in the World Series and she was running down the ramp, everyone is panicking and she sees me...'Robin! should we still have the party?' It took me about a quasi second to say yes. She was so happy.
"We went to the tent in the parking lot and had the party because there really wasn't anything else to do so it wasn't a horrible suggestion. People that had tiny televisions were watching earthquake coverage but the way she wanted to take care of everybody that night because there was so much traffic and there wasn't anywhere to go. It wasn't so much a party in that sense of the word but it was a place to go and relax and have some food and some drink and she was just the best hostess. Connie is a San Jose State Spartan and so am I. She does a lot for that school and I just really appreciate her."
Another prominent employee during the Lurie era was Pat Gallagher who was with the Giants from 1976 through 2009. He was hired as the Giants marketing director and he helped come up with some wacky promotions. The most famous was the Croix de Candlestick button, a souvenir orange button the size of a dollar coin given to those hearty (or crazy) Giants fans that would endure an extra-innings night game.
And the other was 'Crazy Crab', the first anti-mascot.
"Bob Lurie, he showed a real lack of judgment in allowing us to do some of the promotional things that we did," Gallagher said. "I mean, the Croix de Candlestick...I mean what other owner would actually allow you to make fun of his ballpark. And Crazy Crab, a mascot that people would hate? I mean who else would do that. It would never happen today but Bob just totally got it, he had a sense of humor about it and he was incredibly supportive all the way through. And look, Bob got involved with the Giants when nobody else wanted to. What he paid for the Giants to keep them from going to Toronto is what you would pay a backup shortstop now, and that's for the whole franchise!"
"It was almost like a mom and pop business in a way," Gallagher said. "It was sort of doing things by the seat of your pants. Baseball didn't really do the kinds of promotions that they do now and I got a chance to help start some of that stuff and got to survive to tell about it. There's no other sport that has a history like baseball does so I'd like to see baseball be a little less corporate and a little more fun."
And one of the most popular athletes for playing baseball on both sides of the Bay is lefty Vida Blue who was part of a blockbuster trade bringing Blue from the A's to the Giants on March 15, 1978 for seven players and cash. While Blue didn't have a familial relationship with Oakland's bombastic owner Charlie Finley, it was quite the oppostive with Lurie.
"On a personal basis, he was there for me at a low time in my life when things were going bad," said Blue who had battled cocaine addiction. But at age 35, he returned to the Giants in 1985 after a two-year stint with the Royals in 1982-1983. "He gave me a second chance at my career and I came back and played another two years and I'll always be indebted to him for that."
The Giants were mostly an afterthought when they played at Candlestick. That has definitely changed since moving to 24 Willie Mays Plaza in 2000 where the team has drawn three million fans or more in 17 of the 22 seasons at China Basin. Much of that current success has to be attributed to Lurie.
"We were giving him credit for saving the Giants and keeping them in San Francisco prior to the new stadium being built," Blue said. "He was there for 17 years and look what we have today...Oracle Park."
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