Black Sunday: The day the Giants almost moved to Tampa Bay
Posted on January 20, 2011
CLICK HERE TO SEE BIGGER VERSION: Bay Area press photographers (Eric Risberg, Fred Larson, Mary F. Calvert, Nick Lammers, Ben Margot, Jose Luis Villegas, Robert Hanashiro, Dr. Bruce, Jon McNally, Mickey Pfleger, Olga Shalygin, John Green, Otto Greule, Tak Kuno, Andy Kuno, Eugene Louie, Terry Schmitt, John Burgess, Annie Wells, Jason Grow, David Yee, Kevin Rice, Vern Fisher, and others) pose for a picture at home plate before the San Francisco Giants game against the Cincinnati Reds at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California on September 27, 1992. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
The summer of 1992 seems like so long ago. Sure, it was 18 1/2 years ago, but it seems even longer as I look back on what has happened in my life since then. In 1992 I was a 27-year-old unemployed photographer trying to make a go of it as a freelancer. I was one year removed from the best staff job I will ever have at The National Sports Daily. Since The National had folded in 1991 I was kicking around cashing rainbow-colored checks and stringing for the Associated Press for $80 a game and keeping all my negatives.
By August of 1992 my unemployment was running out. I had no leads on any full-time employment at a Bay Area newspaper. Friends were telling me I might have to move out of the area to get a job. There was no way I would accept defeat and leave. Something good was due to happen. Right? Wrong. The awful news that rocked my world broke in early August. A group of investors from the Tampa Bay area of Florida announced that they had signed a memorandum of agreement to buy the Giants and move them from San Francisco to St. Petersburg in time for the 1993 season. This was not good news for me both as a fan and a photographer.
Since I lived in an area with two Major League Baseball teams it had always been my dream to make a living shooting baseball in both Oakland and San Francisco. We had a great situation with both leagues in town and tons of day games. In the era when we had to shoot slide film for the quality day games were a must, and I really wanted to take advantage of the situation as I grew older and learned to become a better photographer. With so many trading card companies out there dishing out big day rates I desperately wanted to join my more experienced friends in making a living going to the ballpark every day. If the Giants were to leave town this would crush my dream.
Even more important, as a lifelong Giants fan I was a basket case when I first heard the news of the move. I can still remember hearing the news around noon time on the local television news while I was in my bedroom in a house in Newark, California that I rented with two friends. I was devastated and did not leave my room all day. How could this happen? There was no way they could let this happen. Who was they? I had no idea, but deep in my heart I knew that the city or the league or someone would stop this move before it happened. As the calendar moved into late September it appeared that I was wrong. The Giants were moving and nothing was going to stop them.
Suddenly the date of Sunday, September 27, 1992 became very important. This was the date of the final home game on the Giants schedule. It was also going to be the final game they ever played in San Francisco, at fabled Candlestick Park. I knew I had to be there, and I had to document the day on as much Fujichrome RDP as I could fit into my Domke bag. If this was the last Giants game I ever shot in San Francisco I was gonna go down swinging. I got there before 9am because I wanted to shoot some stadium overalls of the empty park in the early morning light. The first two photographers I remember seeing were Eric Risberg from the Associated Press and Robert Hanashiro from USA TODAY. It was such a gorgeous day. The Cincinnati Reds were in town for this meaningless game on the National League schedule, but the stands would be filled with a sellout crowd on hand to witness history. Or was it a wake?
Some parts of this day seem like they just happened yesterday. Other parts are a blur. I did not shoot much game action. What was the point? The Giants were leaving town. I remember that I shot the game from the great inside first base spot at Candlestick. This was on the first base side of home plate looking up the third base line shooting from behind the backstop with not net in the way. It was a great spot to see the entire field. It was also a great place to shoot wide angle stuff from, like the image of Will Clark below.
After shooting a few innings on the field I went upstairs and walked around the entire stadium in the upper deck shooting stadium overalls showing the sellout crowd cramming into The Stick for one final Giants game. It was a bizarre, festive atmosphere at the park. I remember the huge crowd of people rooting for a Giants win, but I do not remember any crazy incidents involving fans running onto the field or anything like that. It was fun to be able to shoot this event for myself. I wanted to shoot everything I could on my own terms and was happy to be roaming around the park with my Canon F-1 and a pocket full of chrome.
By the time the game ended I was emotionally exhausted. The Giants were really moving. Fans waited around watching the grounds crew tear up the pitching mound with pick axes in order to get the field ready for a 49er game the following Sunday. I sat down on the grass behind home plate and cried. I could not believe this was happening. Of course, a few months later the miracle happened an a local group of investors stepped up the the plate to buy the Giants and keep the team in San Francisco. The Giants organization was revitalized and the club had a great season in 1993, which also happened to be the first year I really started to get good freelance assignments shooting big league hard ball for Sports Illustrated and other clients. Fast forward to the past 2010 season and the Giants celebrated their first decade in their gorgeous new ballpark and finally won a World Series for San Francisco, their first. I am actually doing what I always wanted to do. I am still working as a freelancer covering the great game of baseball.
Before I wrap this up I have to talk about the fun picture of all the Bay Area photographers at the top of this blog post. Giants team photographer Martha Jane Stanton and I gathered all the photographers we could find before the game and shot a few frames of them near home plate. The more time marches on the better this picture gets. 1992 was a year when the Bay Area newspaper scene was still going strong and there were so many great photojournalists covering news here in town. Look at the names and faces in this picture (click on the image to see a big version of it). So many terrific stories have been told over the years by this talented group of shooters. It has truly been an honor to work in the Bay Area with these people for the past 20 years. Who knows, if the Giants would have moved to Tampa Bay back in 1992 I might have been working someplace else for the past 18 1/2 years. Man am I glad that did not happen!