Thom Loverro: San Francisco's loss could have led to area's gain

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Photo - Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
The San Francisco Giants had a deal in place in 1992 to relocate before Peter McGowan bought the team and put a plan together to finance AT&T Park.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP The San Francisco Giants had a deal in place in 1992 to relocate before Peter McGowan bought the team and put a plan together to finance AT&T Park.
Sports,MLB,Thom Loverro

One of the side stories of the 2012 baseball playoffs has been the passionate fans on display at sold-out AT&T Park in San Francisco, considered one of the jewel ballparks in the game.

But if Giants owners had their way 20 years ago, there would be no more San Francisco Giants, as they had in deal signed to move the team to St. Petersburg, Fla.

If that had happened, it would have set off a chain of events that would have dramatically changed the future of baseball in Washington.

If the Giants moved to St. Petersburg, baseball could have arrived in this region seven years earlier -- but in Northern Virginia, not the District.

In August 1992, St. Petersburg investors signed an agreement with then-Giants owner Bob Lurie to buy the team and move it to St. Petersburg for the 1993 season.

Six months later, in a last-ditch effort, San Francisco businessman Peter McGowan bought the Giants and put a plan in place for the privately financed ballpark that is now AT&T Park -- after four previous publicly financed stadium proposals failed.

If no white knight came forward, though, the Giants move to St. Petersburg would have taken the Tampa Bay area out of the expansion bidding in 1994 -- and most likely moved Northern Virginia into position for one of those expansion franchises.

In 1994, baseball looked to expand by two franchises. Owners were looking for additional revenue -- nearly $300 million in expansion fees and television revenue -- particularly during the atmosphere that engulfed the game during the baseball strike that year.

Washington had failed three years earlier in its expansion bid, with franchises awarded to Miami and Denver. Owners did not see the District as a real player at the time, but businessman Bill Collins impressed them with a presentation of Northern Virginia as a possible location.

Ultimately, at the West Palm Beach, Fla., meetings in March 1995, owners awarded the two expansion franchises to Phoenix and St. Petersburg. But they were so enamored with the Northern Virginia market that several owners brought up the possibility to expand to three teams, awarding the third to Northern Virginia.

Boston Red Sox chairman John Harrington had gone as far as telling Sen. John Warner that Northern Virginia was in play as a possible third expansion team.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos balked at the proposal, and there was not enough support to change their plans so quickly to add a third team. But one of the reasons why some owners were eager to put a team in Northern Virginia was in part to punish Angelos, following his refusal to go along with their plan to field replacement players during the strike.

If St. Petersburg is out of the picture, owners would have likely awarded the franchise to Northern Virginia to start play in 1998 -- seven years before the Montreal Expos relocated to the District.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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