Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Six Questions And Five-ish Answers On Larry Baer And The Giants

Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP)

The San Francisco Giants put forth a statement Monday morning which declared that the team’s CEO, Larry Baer, is voluntarily taking “personal time away” from his job CEO-ing the baseball team as a result of being caught on video pulling his wife Pam off a chair in a public venue over a dispute over a cell phone, or the information provided therein.

This leads to a number of questions, at least in the heads of people who wrestle with these things.

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1. Is this or is this not merely an optic to react to the awful optic of Friday? Would any of these decisions been made had not someone from the Phone Army caught him in the act? Is the incident punishable if it isn’t visible?

2. If you’re the one suspending yourself, do you get to decide when the suspension is over? And who’s going to object if you do?

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3. And who defines “stepping away”? Is this complete involvement? Barred from any property in which the team or its business is done? Can he not take calls from employees or sponsors, and if he does, is he required to decline any contact? What if a team investor needs his input, or muscle, on some burning issue?

4. Does Major League Baseball have a role here, and if so, what are the chances that Rob Manfred will bollix it up the way Roger Goodell could be expected to do?

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5. Can the Giants’ entire ownership structure be headed for some serious dumpster-fireage given the fact that the single largest shareholder, Charles Johnson, had made political donations to Black Americans For The President’s Agenda, which issued a racist ad Johnson claimed to know nothing about?

6. And finally, is this really the story we should be focusing on given the nature of domestic violence in America?

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Let’s take the last of these first. Whatever issues are at play here aren’t a matter of corporate oversight, let alone public braying. As has been pointed out often in many venues, including this very site, domestic violence is massively more complicated than most people comprehend, and a self-imposed suspension has next to nothing to do any of it. As putative human beings, we can hope for healing, and we can hold our kneejerkery on the topic, but much beyond that point is neither helpful nor edifying.

But in the small slice of this pie graph that we do get to comment upon, let’s review the other questions.

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1. Of course none of this would be happening if there weren’t video. In the new world order, it’s not what you do, it’s what people can catch you doing. No stretching is required to reach that conclusion, and no post-workout cooldown once you have.

2. Here’s a sticky bit. Unless Baer’s decision to step down was actually not voluntary, presumably he can declare himself fit for work when he decides he can. Presumably the 86-year-old Johnson, as the largest single shareholder, could whip enough voting stock to keep Baer out if he so chose, but Baer has been Johnson’s faithful frontman/on-site representative since he bought up enough stock after the deaths of his business partner Harmon Burns and then Burns’s wife Sue in 2009. In addition, Johnson, who lives in Florida, has been a very hands-off and publicity-averse owner just as the Burnses were, so much so that many folks regard Baer as the actual owner when he holds only a single-digit slice of stock. Indeed Baer, who until last week was considered very fond of the spotlight, served Johnson and the Burnses well by doing something they didn’t ever want to do—something few owners want to do, if truth be told, for obvious accountability reasons. So barring a very unlikely palace coup which would destabilize the baseball business, Baer can pretty much decide when he’s okay to come back.

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3. Baer can be as involved as he wants to be as long as Johnson doesn’t mind, so we’re basically left taking him and the other owner/partners at their word. Bosses do find their own level of involvement, so this could be a measure of Baer’s off-site on-site control. Unless someone is tasked with locking down his access to the levers of power, the nature and limits of Baer’s walkaway are entirely his creation.

4. No. Rob Manfred didn’t mandate the suspension, and neither can nor will step in at all unless the other 29 owners think at some point that the Giants are imploding as a corporate and money-making engine. That’s the only reason Donald Sterling got forced out by the other NBA owners, and we are a very long way away from that.

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Now the weird one.

5. The Giants have been through an extraordinary amount of corporate turmoil this off-season. The baseball side has been an orderly shift of power to new baseball ops head Farhan Zaidi, but between Johnson, Baer and the realization that their poker-table money pile wasn’t good enough for Bryce Harper, it has been a lousy winter for the team of the first half of this decade. The Giants’ ownership structure hasn’t had a majority owner since Bob Lurie sold the team in frustration in 1992, but it managed to largely exude stability through the erection of a new stadium on the power of bank loans, the Barry Bonds era and all the money and controversy that created, the three World Series wins and now the subsequent implosion.

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If we take Baer’s suspension as a real and actionable thing that he intends to honor both in word and deed, the Giants are now without their two most important corporate heads while they sport a brand-new baseball operations department that is not yet fully rebuilt, and an on-field product with which most people have little regard. These were going to be lean times for this bayside ATM anyway. Now they could be full-on-chaotic for the first time in about 35 years. Were it not for the reasons why this all went so sideways, it might be fun to see how they figure it out. Now we don’t even know who’s got the power to figure it out.


Ray Ratto thinks owners are the least-understood part of sports because most other people think they’re the least interesting part of sports. The hopeless fools.

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