I'm not a Peter Magowan fan, though I am grateful he kept the Giants in San Francisco, signed Barry Bonds and built the amazing ballpark at Willie Mays Plaza (I forget what we're supposed to call it now.) Still, I was shocked that the San Francisco Chronicle story on his retirement didn't even mention the biggest blight on Magowan's record besides the Bonds steroids scandal: running Dusty Baker out of town in 2002, right after the Giants' heart-breaking seven-game World Series loss, their first Series appearance since 1989 –- and one that will almost certainly be their last for a long time.
In Baker's 10 years with the Giants, the team had 7 winning seasons, and went to the post-season three times (plus a 103-win season that didn’t get them to the playoffs in 1993, as well as a one-game playoff for the NLWest championship they lost to the Cubs in 1998). In the Giants' five full seasons since Baker left they went to the playoffs only once, and they're well on their way to their fourth losing season in a row. But sadly, Magowan's case against Baker in 2002 ounded mainly like envy, when I interviewed him that season: Baker got too much credit for the team's success, he insisted, and the management and ownership group didn't get enough.
"I don't think, as an organization, we get anywhere near the credit that we should for the things that we've done," Magowan told me. "And one of them is put consistently good teams on the field. I mean, it's all very well to cite Dusty. And I'm not trying to take anything at all away from Dusty. But when we look at his Manager of the Year awards, I think in part they reflect an organization of the year type award. I'm just a little resentful. I think the players haven't gotten the credit they should have. [General Manager] Brian Sabean hasn't gotten credit for the moves he's made. And I think the ownership should be credited for doing what was required in terms of raising the payroll, to say nothing of the environment we've created here which allows us to have the payroll we do." He continued: "I resent some of this, because I'm the guy that rehired him back in 1996, when we were in last place."
As I noted at the time, Magowan seemed to live in a zero-sum game of love and respect, where whatever went to Baker didn't go to him. But after Baker departed, and the team slid into mediocrity and then beyond, respect for Magowan went down, not up. I’m one of his toughest critics, but even I feel a little sorry for Magowan that he's retiring on this note, with three straight losing seasons and the cloud of the Mitchell Report hanging over his legacy.
Is it an accident that female baseball writers have been more likely to mention Baker in their Magowan-retirement stories? Gwen Knapp and Ann Killion did; the Giants' great Henry Schulman and Ray Ratto, and many others at other papers, failed to. I'm sure it's at least partly because Baker made female sportswriters (including myself, an amateur and a fan writing about the culture and business of baseball, not the play by play) welcome in a male clubhouse. He was the outsider's insider; he never forgot where he came from, he saw himself in the vendors, the groundskeepers, the clubhouse attendants and anxious female writers, and made us all welcome. (Just before pressing "publish" I Googled Baker-Magowan again and found this smart Magowan balance sheet by Ron Agostino of the Modesto Bee that mentions Baker, and another Baker lament in an excellent column by Carl Steward. So I'm less sure about the gender division on this point, but what I said about Baker's generosity to female writers still stands.)
I live in a fantasy world where the post-Magowan ownership group will lure Dusty Baker back to San Francisco (from Cinncinnati) , and we'll go on like we were before, mostly winning and when we lose, losing with a stirring Baker-told team narrative and incomparable team spirit. Of course, Baker's under contract with the Reds, the Giants are committed to Bruce Bochy, and Magowan's not gone yet, so nothing can happen right now, but that's when dreams are dreamiest.
P.S. I watched Barry Zito take his eight straight loss tonight. Hard to watch. He'd thrown about 90 pitches in the 3rd inning. It was close, 3-1, but still a heartbreaker. I'm 3-3 this season, which is pretty good given that the team is 17-27.