Former Giants owner Peter Magowan dies

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Peter Magowan, the man who formed and led the ownership group that saved major league baseball in the City of the San Francisco, died of cancer yesterday at the age of 76.

While the Giants are now one of the most financially successful teams in Major League Baseball, that was not always the case. Indeed, due to poor revenues and attendance and an inability to get out of the less-than-ideal Candlestick Park, by 1992 it looked as though the team would abandon San Francisco altogether. The team’s then-owner, Bob Lurie, had a deal in place to move to the then-new and then-vacant ballpark in St. Petersburg that would later be named Tropicana Field. Magowan, a lifelong Giants fan who made his fortune as the chairman and CEO of Safeway grocery stores, stepped in and purchased the team from Lurie for $100 million, keeping the team in San Francisco. He was just getting started.

Before the paperwork was even complete on the purchase of the team, Magowan made two moves that would go a long way toward reshaping Giants baseball. He signed free agent outfielder Barry Bonds to a then-tremendous six-year, $43.5 million deal. He also hired Dusty Baker as the team’s new manager. Bonds, the 1992 MVP with the Pirates, won his second straight MVP Award in his first season in San Francisco and Baker led the team to 103 wins, a 31-win improvement over the previous year’s record. The team’s fortunes would ebb and flow for the remainder of the decade, but the success of 1993 and Bonds’ star power sparked newfound enthusiasm for the team.

That enthusiasm would eventually lead to a new home for the team when Magowan put together a plan to build the first privately-funded major league ballpark in decades. Pacific Bell Park, which would later be named SBC Park, AT&T Park and is now known as Oracle Park, opened on San Francisco’s waterfront in 2000. It was and remains one of the most gorgeous ballparks in the game, and has been filled to or near capacity for most Giants games for nearly two decades now. The Giants made the playoffs four times in Magowan’s 16-years as owner, including winning the 2002 National League pennant. He stepped down as chairman in 2008, but the ownership group he formed continues to run the team to this day. The Giants, of course, won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

Magowan’s accomplishments extended beyond the game on the field. Among other charitable and community outreach initiatives, at his direction the Giants became the first professional sports team to dedicate an annual game to combat AIDS/HIV, launching “Until There’s A Cure Day” in 1994. He likewise helped the Giants reconnect with a rich franchise history that was often neglected under previous ownership, bringing, among others, Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry into the organization as ambassadors and special advisors. In one of his last acts as an active owner he established the Giants Wall of Fame. He himself will be added to that Wall of Fame in a ceremony next month.

Magowan is survived by wife Debby, five children and 12 grandchildren. His family issued the following statement upon his passing:

“Our family lost a great man today. We all know how much Peter loved his Giants and San Francisco, and he had that same love and passion for his family. He was so proud of his children and grandchildren, and we will forever cherish the memories we made together.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement as well:

“During a tenuous period for the franchise, Peter stepped up and led the group that purchased the Giants and kept them in San Francisco. With groundbreaking vision, he then guided the effort that resulted in a ballpark that became a landmark for the city. In his 16 seasons of leadership, Peter oversaw a winning, civic-minded ballclub that represented the spirit of San Francisco. The foundation created under his direction helped make the Giants the model club they remain today.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.