SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants love to celebrate anniversaries. No team is better at staging pregame ceremonies to have Hall of Famers tip their caps. In 2012, for instance, the Giants officially celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World Series team and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Series team.
Both those teams, you will recall, came close but didn't win the trophy. Doesn't matter. The Giants are delighted to salute them, anyway.
So it is interesting to note that, as we sit on the happy cusp of the Giants' second World Series appearance in the past three years, there remains one ultimately happy 2012 anniversary that has not been celebrated at all:
This autumn marks 20 years since the Giants nearly left San Francisco after they played what was believed to be their last game ever in Northern California. It occurred on Sept. 27, 1992, after team owner Bob Lurie agreed to sell the Giants to a Florida group that planned to relocate the franchise to the Tampa Bay area. They were presumed gone.
I covered that game. I quoted Giants manager Roger Craig speaking about outfielder Darren Lewis, who was the team's final batter of the game.
"One day, his grandkids will talk about it, that he made the last out at Candlestick," Craig said.
Yes, that's how gloomy and non-hopeful the mood was at the time. And the situation continued to founder over the following days. Twenty years ago this week, former Safeway
Among those very aware of that anniversary: Larry Baer, the team's current chief executive officer. Twenty years ago, he was assisting Magowan in chasing down and tackling potential financial backers, small and large.
"Yeah, I have been thinking about that anniversary," Baer said in the wake of Monday's pennant clincher at AT&T Park. "I've thought about it a lot."
Among those very unaware of that anniversary: Almost everybody under 30 years old, including most of the Giants' current players. Even pitcher Barry Zito, 34, has the vaguest memory of that time period.
"I was a kid in San Diego at the time and a Padres fan," said Zito, who will start Game 1 on Wednesday. "I wasn't really aware of everything going on up here. But when I signed with the Giants and talked to some of the front office people, they told me all about what happened."
The story is worth revisiting this week, with fans packing AT&T Park for baseball's biggest games and every third person on the street wearing a Giants cap or shirt. What if the 1992 saga had turned out differently? What would be happening at China Basin today? And would those people be going capless and shirtless? If the Giants had indeed left, how much would we miss all this?
To this day, it is unclear exactly how close the Giants were to truly leaving. As soon as Lurie announced his deal with the Florida group in late summer, Major League Baseball and the National League erected an unofficial stop sign. Bill White, the N.L. president, was dispatched to the Bay Area with the assigned mission of finding new owners that would agree not to move the team.
There were several false starts as White kept striking out in his quest. Meanwhile, the Giants played that supposedly final game at the 'Stick. A crowd of 45,630 showed up to watch a 3-2 loss to Cincinnati. One woman carried a sign: "DON'T TAMPA WITH OUR GIANTS." Some 10,000 fans bought seats but never attended, thinking that those tickets would become collectors' items. Following the final pitch, players stepped on the field and waved goodbye to chants of: "STAY! STAY!"
In the home locker room afterward, first baseman Will Clark was asked if he was feeling any nostalgia about the scene.
"How can there be nostalgia when no one knows what's going on?" Clark barked in typical diplomatic fashion.
As it turned out, there was indeed something going on. Magowan and Baer were scouring the provinces -- and the private club dining rooms -- to romance prospective investors.
"We had to convince people that we would figure it all out," Baer said. "They would ask what we were going to do about the stadium. And we had no bloody idea how we were going to deal with it. So we just had to tell people: Trust us."
Eventually, the sales pitch took. On Nov. 10, National League owners officially rejected the Tampa Bay offer to Lurie. On Nov. 21, sales terms from Lurie to the Magowan group were finalized. In early December, the new Giants owners signed Barry Bonds to a free-agent contract and hired Dusty Baker as manager. On Dec. 16, a rally was held at Union Square to mark the "saving" of the franchise for San Francisco.
"There was such a community commitment by the ownership group," Baer said. "They came at it the right way, stuck with it through some lean years."
You know the rest. The Magowan/Baer ownership persuaded San Francisco politicos and voters to support a new ballpark that was largely privately financed. The venue was wildly successful. The team reached one World Series, then another -- and now yet another. The Giants have gripped the Bay Area's attention and have become one of baseball's top-tier franchises, using their internal MLB influence to stifle (so far) the A's quest for a San Jose ballpark.
Twenty years ago, who would have thought? If it's not worth a wild party, the milestone is certainly worth commemorating.
That might happen, in a fashion. Each year, the two dozen or so "principal partners" of the Giants make one trip with the team. Next year, Baer said almost impishly, the tentative agenda calls for a flight to Tampa Bay for some interleague games. You know, to unofficially celebrate the anniversary of what almost was.
And these days, for sure, Baer no longer is begging for investors.
"We're not taking any more," he said Monday night in a clubhouse smelling of champagne.