The San Francisco Giants survived two coronavirus-plagued seasons economically, but in the end, they couldn’t survive the Los Angeles Dodgers, who defeated them 2-1 Thursday night in the National League Division Series finale, a Game 5 for the ages that fittingly came down to the last pitch.
Though fans left disappointed, the foundation of the club remains solid. Oracle Park, the site of the classic game, is paid off. Across McCovey Cove are the skeletal structures of the first phase of the Mission Rock mixed-use retail, park and housing project that will cost $3 billion to construct, and is expected to keep the Giants financially viable for generations to come.
No question, like every team in Major League Baseball since COVID shut down the sport for four months in 2020, the Giants have lost money.
“We were fortunate that we’ve had a good run in the last decade,” club president Larry Baer told Sportico before the Giants’ season came to an end. “It’s been a financially strong organization. We lost money like everybody else, but we didn’t have much debt and had a good underpinning.”
By Sportico’s own recent valuations, the Giants are worth $3.49 billion, fifth in MLB.
Baer didn’t want to be specific about the operational losses, but every MLB team lost in the $100 million range or more playing without fans in ballparks during last year’s abbreviated 60-game season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said the clubs had to collectively borrow $8.3 billion, and the sport suffered about $3 billion in operational losses.
This year, the losses won’t be as significant, but every team had to play at limited capacity until COVID protocols were lifted by their local municipalities. The Giants had access to cash.
“We were able to access a lot of different ways to support the losses,” Baer said. “We’ve had a very good plan, and we’ve been able to draw from various forms of capital.”
Even still, the Giants were hard hit at Oracle, where they averaged a 12th-in-MLB 20,074 people at 81 home games. Compare that with the 33,429 they averaged in 2019, pre-COVID, and a sold-out season of 41,588 in 2014, the last year they won the World Series in a string of three that began in 2010.
The Giants didn’t play a game at maximum capacity in the 42,000-seat ballpark until June 25.
“I think you’ve got to throw out average attendance for the year. How can you compare apples with kumquats?” Baer told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time.
There were a lot of reasons for it—from the lack of public transportation available after night games, to a limit on parking, to COVID restrictions, to season ticket holders rolling over their seats to 2022. The Giants drew 7,390 for their first home game of the season on April 9. Their re-opener on June 25 drew 36,928.
The late-night public transportation is back, and fans were at full capacity for the three games they played at home in this NLDS, drawing 42,275 Thursday night for the finale.
“It’s been a two-year thing for 2020 and 2021,” Baer said. “We’re hoping that 2022 comes pretty much back to normal. We have some make-good tickets still that season ticket holders have carried over, but they were able to roll some of those into the postseason, and that helped.”
The fact that the postseason is over so suddenly for the Giants doesn’t make matters any easier. The Dodgers headed out to Atlanta where the defending World Series champions will open the best-of-seven NL Championship Series Saturday night.
It’s a rematch of last year’s NLCS in the Globe Life Field bubble, where the Dodgers came back from a two-game deficit to win in seven on their way to the championship.
The Giants, having won the NL West this season by a game over the Dodgers with a club-record 107 wins, would’ve hosted the first two games of the NLCS this weekend had they made it.
Instead, the Dodgers scored the winning run in the top of the ninth on a Cody Bellinger single and held on behind Max Scherzer, making a rare relief appearance in the bottom of the inning. Scherzer and Trae Turner were acquired in a July 30 trade deadline deal with the Washington Nationals, and in the end obtaining Scherzer made all the difference.
The season ended for the Giants on a questionable check-swing strikeout by Wilmer Flores with the tying run on first base.
“It’s pretty frustrating to have a game like this end like that, but there are other reasons we didn’t win the game,” manager Gabe Kapler said afterward. “That was just the last call of the game.”
A possible eight more home games for the Giants through the NLCS and the World Series evaporated on that pitch. The Giants won 109 games, including the playoffs, and are done for the season while teams with 95, 92 and 88 wins are playing on.
The Boston Red Sox open the American League Championship Series at Houston against the Astros on Friday night.
The Dodgers have 110 wins thus far and played the Giants evenly, splitting the 24 games they played against each other in 2021.
Yet, as the Wild Card winner, they can only have home-field advantage if they ascend to the World Series when the teams are re-seeded.
For the Giants, it’s a disappointing end to a season in which no one predicted their accomplishments.
“There’s an appreciation among the players and staff for a job very well done,” Kapler said. “We’ve had an incredibly successful season that at the very end… just came up a tiny bit short.”
There are pending decisions to be made as far as baseball operations are concerned, including picking up a $22 million option on catcher Buster Posey and trying to re-sign pending free agent Brandon Belt, who missed the series with a broken left thumb courtesy of being hit by an inside pitch.
When they exercise Posey’s contract, the Giants will have three players left on the roster making big money next season, including third baseman Evan Longoria at $19.7 million and shortstop Brandon Crawford at $16 million. The rest of the roster is either under control, arbitration eligible or signed to moderate contracts.
There will be plenty of flexibility and money to spend.
If there’s any doubt, across the way is the prospect of the Mission Rock development, which will take a decade to complete. The Giants have partnered with developer Tishman Speyer to bring the project to fruition.
“That’s VISA’s world headquarters you’re looking at,” said Baer, pointing to high-rise construction beyond the right-field brick wall and across the Cove. “There are now four buildings under construction: two residential towers and two office towers. It’s exciting. It’s going to help diversify and strengthen us.”
It took 20 years for two Giants ownership groups to build Oracle Park, which has undergone multiple corporate name changes and improvements, and finally opened in 2000 at a cost of $357 million, privately funded by the Giants.
The club paid off a 20-year, $170 million loan on the building three years early in 2017. It’s now free and clear. By then the planning and permitting process was well under way for Mission Rock.
By any stretch of the imagination, the future looks bright.
“We’ve done well,” Baer said. “The project is not an incredible lightning bolt of financial strength, but it’s a good piece to the overall mix.”