SAN FRANCISCO — Despite their first division title in 16 years and record attendance at home games, the San Francisco Giants are threatening to leave a lot of broken hearts in San Francisco.
Giant owner Bob Lurie still maintains that he will move the team to another city unless a new stadium is built close to downtown. Lurie said, as he has been saying for years, that the move is necessary to boost attendance and escape Candlestick Park's chilly winds.
The park is located on Candlestick Point, where cold winds whip in off San Francisco Bay. The weather and the stadium's inaccessibility to public transit have long been subjects of complaint.
Now, though, it is up to the voters. San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein put the stadium question on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election. The measure, known as Proposition W, asks voters if a baseball park should be built at a site on the south side of downtown "at no cost to the city."
Opposition from neighborhood and environmental groups makes passage of Proposition W far from certain. Opponents say a new stadium would snarl traffic and force game-goers to park on already crowded side streets.
Money is also an issue. Spokesmen for the Giants and the city admit that a privately financed stadium approved under the terms of Proposition W might still need as much as $10 million to $20 million in city subsidies.
Some fans at last Friday night's game against the Atlanta Braves said they don't need a new stadium.
"It's a waste of money," said Lynn Miana of Cupertino, a Giant fan for 10 years.
Don Brouchoud, standing next to Miana in a concession stand line, agreed. "This is a fine stadium," he said. Brouchoud, a fan for 15 years, said that Candlestick is 20 minutes closer to his Redwood City home than the proposed downtown park.
Other fans questioned management's reasoning that a new stadium would draw bigger crowds.
"All it takes is a winning team to draw fans," said Mike Chance, 21, of San Jose. Chance said that Lurie should not "give up on the team now that they're winning."
But Giant management maintains that the team needs a either a new stadium or a new city. The club's Candlestick Park contract expires in 1994.
"If Proposition W fails, then it is the end of the issue in San Francisco," said Giant executive Corey Busch. "The issue isn't, 'Do we stay at Candlestick or do we move downtown?' The issue is, 'Do we move downtown or do we leave San Francisco?' "
Fans and city officials have reason to take seriously the threat that the Giants will leave. Other cities trying to lure professional baseball clubs into vacant stadiums, and one, St. Petersburg, Fla., is building a $66-million stadium in the hopes of attracting a team.
Deputy mayor Jim Lazarus said that having the Giants in San Francisco contributes anywhere from $60 million to $90 million a year to the city's economy.
Although attendence hit a franchise high of 1,917,863 this season, management says the team is still just breaking even. And the Giants still draw fewer spectators than many other franchises.
The Minnesota Twins, who just won their first division title since 1970, drew more than 2 million fans to the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis this season. With about 2.2 million residents, the population of the Minneapolis metropolitan area is less than half that of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Even though the Bay Area is a two-team market, shared with the American League's Oakland Athletics, Lurie said that the Giants would have a crack at 2 million fans a year with a more convenient and less windy stadium downtown.
Don Cassidy, sales manager for the Twins, said the all-weather security of having a domed stadium and its convenient location downtown helped to boost ticket sales.
Last Friday night, as paper swirled in the Candlestick winds and spectators huddled in down jackets and scarfs, a few fans admitted that they might go to more games if the Giants played at a warmer park. But others were proud of Candlestick's rugged conditions.
"There's nothing like coming to Candlestick, dealing with the cold and watching the Giants," said Ruben Volta, 20, of Cupertino after catching a foul ball off the bat of Giant center fielder Eddie Milner. "I've had a cold for a week and I'm here now," Volta said.
If the Giants do leave San Francisco, the Oakland A's might win the eyes, if not the hearts, of many Giant fans.
"I'd go to the A's games," said Cindy Potter, 29, of San Jose. "I wouldn't become an A's fan."