KNBR, the AM radio station carrying Giants baseball games, had raised $20,000 toward the construction of a new downtown stadium. The board of supervisors, reluctant to commit to such a project, asked if they couldn't use the money to renovate Candlestick Park.
"That," replied KNBR personality Ron Lyons, "would be like putting lipstick on a pig."
Thursday, one more committee met for a few more inconclusive hours, trying to find the secret to saving baseball in San Francisco. Even this latest intervention by National League President Chub Feeney and league owners from Philadelphia, San Diego and Los Angeles appeared to bring no immediate solution for the bayside stadium whose winds and weather have become an American legend.
Deputy Mayor James Lazarus, fighting to keep the Giants from moving to San Jose, Denver or even Washington, D.C., does not deny reports that some big league stars are so chilled by Candlestick they have contract clauses forbidding their being traded to San Francisco. But he insists the Giants could make a living here if they won more games.
Baseball enthusiasts in several other U.S. cities think otherwise, and see the Giants as the most likely candidate for relocation to a baseball-starved community in the next three years. Considering its combined record on the field and at the box office, it is the weakest team in baseball, but that only fans the passions of optimistic cities like Denver, Tampa and Washington.
Washington area fans appear to have little to concern themselves here. Despite its place near the top of every list of cities due to get baseball, Washington is in no apparent danger of getting the Giants.
When he announced plans to try to sell the team a year ago, Giants owner Bob Lurie said he would not sell to Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke because Cooke did not plan to keep the Giants here. A Giants spokesman said Thursday that is still Lurie's position.
Lazarus noted that the San Francisco city attorney has already sent letters to Denver and San Jose threatening a major lawsuit if they try to encourage the Giants to break their Candlestick lease. If someone from Washington makes a serious effort to take the team, "we'll send them the same letter," Lazarus said.
Denver got a letter even though Lurie insisted he only wanted to play in Mile High Stadium three years while a new stadium was built here. Dean Bonham, assistant executive director of the Denver Baseball Commission, said his group was willing to listen to the Giants proposal three weeks ago, but nothing had come of it since and Denver still wants a permanent team.
Lurie has declared his team will not play another season at Candlestick, but a replacement stadium remains little more than a few strokes of an architect's pencil.
Developer Peter Stocker has proposed a 45,000-seat stadium, with adjoining shopping-office-hotel complex, on a bayside plot two miles south of Fisherman's Wharf and just north of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. He is pursuing options on the land, but the city has refused any financial help, so it must be a relatively low-cost operation -- meaning no domed stadium to shield fans from the cold.
Lazarus defends the proposed site as much less windy than Candlestick. Giants spokesman Duffy Jennings agrees that no place so near downtown could be as bad as the point jutting into the bay at the city's southern edge where the current stadium sits, mostly empty in the summer. Candlestick has inadequate parking, poor freeway connections, poor bus connections and a cutting breeze that makes night games -- the great profit center of late 20th century baseball -- a torture.
Still, Candlestick earned the city $280,000 in lease payments from the Giants in the last year and $400,000 in baseball parking fees. Lazarus said the city also benefits from the publicity the team brings. "Aunt Betty out in Iowa might see a game on TV and say, 'Let's go to San Francisco next summer,' " he said, explaining why Mayor Dianne Feinstein's administration will not let the Giants go without a bruising court fight.
Feinstein was flexible enough to endorse Lurie's recent proposal to share the Oakland Coliseum with the American League Oakland A's until a new downtown stadium could be built, but Oakland's mayor and city council and the A's management said no. The arrangement could have bled attendance from the A's, whose new lease includes attendance incentive clauses, and some A's officials appear convinced it is not in their interest to help keep their competitor in what might be only a one-team market.
"It's a game of chicken," Lazarus said. "The last team here will be the team that succeeds." One or the other of the teams would have moved out long ago, he said, if it wasn't for the fact that Lurie, who has a long-time real estate business here, and the A's owners have deep personal ties to the community and do not want to be blamed for losing a team.
Bill Dwyer, the KNBR general manager whose staff produced the "pass the buck" fundraiser for a new stadium, argues that two teams can survive in the Bay Area, given a better stadium for the Giants and a pennant race or two.
Lazarus said the city now waits for the Giants to make the next move, preferably some kind of deal with Stocker for a new, privately-built stadium. The city is proceeding with a renovation of Candlestick to boost football attendance -- already very healthy with the Super Bowl champion 49ers.
Lazarus, the mayor's baseball troubleshooter, said he did not know that Lurie was meeting with Feeney and the owners committee until he read it in the papers. The meeting at Candlestick ended late Thursday with nothing more than a Giants statement that future meetings are expected.
Today, Lurie and Feinstein met at his San Francisco office in an atmosphere of secrecy so intense that Giants officials first denied such a meeting was scheduled. Afterwards, Feinstein would only say that she and Lurie "wanted to keep each other informed."