Don't Shoot the Messenger When Athletes Reject San Francisco
Blame city leaders for players avoiding SF, not Fox News
It’s my Part 2 of, “San Francisco is falling off as a free agent destination”…
It’s also a week where we see a lot of HoS topics popping back into the news. In late October I wrote that, yes, it really does seem like San Francisco’s decline is hindering the Giants’ pursuit of baseball free agents. I said “San Francisco’s decline,” because a lot of other people in my industry apparently blame “propaganda” or “perception.” I believe this to be a coping mechanism rather than digestion of reality, considering what baseball players are: People who regularly visit San Francisco, plus almost every other major city in America.
On Tuesday, in the aftermath of the Giants failing to get Shohei Ohtani, Bay Area Baseball God Buster Posey and current member of the San Francisco Giants ownership group confirmed to the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly that, yes, the city’s state has become a barrier.
“Something I think is noteworthy, something that unfortunately keeps popping up from players and even the players’ wives is there’s a bit of an uneasiness with the city itself, as far as the state of the city, with crime, with drugs,” Posey said. “Whether that’s all completely fair or not, perception is reality. It’s a frustrating cycle, I think, and not just with baseball. Baseball is secondary to life and the important things in life. But as far as a free-agent pursuit goes, I have seen that it does affect things.”
And yes, Posey said, it affected the Ohtani pursuit.
This has become a big enough story that even TMZ picked it up. Posey continued:
Posey made it clear that Ohtani never said or did anything to express concerns about San Francisco. But within his camp, “there was some reservation with the state of the city right now.” Two offseasons ago, similar reservations were a factor that steered former Hiroshima Carp star outfielder Seiya Suzuki away from the Giants to sign with the Chicago Cubs.
Without painting too broad a brush, the cultural expectations for cleanliness among Japanese players in particular, and perhaps a greater preference for urban living as opposed to renting a 3,500-square-foot house in a leafy suburb like Lafayette or Blackhawk, could make those negative perceptions of San Francisco a significant impediment in the recruitment of those players. It could be a factor the Giants are also working to overcome as they are in the final stages of an aggressive competition with most of the big-market franchises for Orix Buffaloes ace right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
To that end, Posey, whose family of six moved back to the Bay Area after a year in suburban Atlanta, wanted to send a message:
“We love this area,” Posey said. “Our kids have been raised in this area minus a year in Georgia. This is home for us and we have a deep bond with the Bay Area. I’m not going to pretend I know more than I do about what the turnaround is going to look like, but things sometimes can happen quicker than we think. COVID is a perfect example of that where it affected a lot of things. And I think it can happen in the opposite direction in a positive way as well.”
Posey’s career brought long awaited World Series titles to the Giants, and he is beloved locally. I vividly remember the day he arrived at the cafe in my suburb and how it was an event. I would assume that young free agents ask Posey where he lives and why it’s not in SF proper. I would think that, despite his role in Giants ownership, he can’t lie to them. At the moment I write this, the drive from Posey’s town to Oracle Park is 45 minutes, due to Bay Bridge traffic.
Heavyweight baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal added more context, ever so carefully, when talking on the Foul Territory TV program:
The Giants problem from everything we’ve heard and from everything Buster Posey told (Andrew) Baggarly of The Athletic last night, they’ve got a geography problem, or a city problem — I guess I would say. Players, for whatever reason, have a negative perception of San Francisco right now. Not all players, of course. Jung Ho Lee didn’t have one, but they’re running into this; Posey said that.
There’s local media anger over this, aimed at an abstract culprit: SF-hating conservative media. To be clear, conservative media did pick this story up, because it obviously helps validate their critique of how liberals govern an especially Blue city. This then triggers a tribal response from urban liberals, some of them local sports journos, who dismiss the critique as a lie. But what if…the right wingers have a point here, even if they exaggerate the problem for effect? Can that possibility be interfaced with?
NBC Authentic host Cole Kuiper seems to think the baseball players are mostly under the sway of “anti-SF propaganda”:
Apologies to Kuiper, whom I don’t know, but I find this perspective to be nuts. When I used to travel around the United States for work, going city to city, my impression of those places was based on…my impression of those places. On the ground, in person experience is more powerful than any television portrayal. In the NBA you’d often hear people musing about how they thought a city was X, but actually, having been there, it’s really like Y. For instance, many NBA players are excited to swing through Phoenix because of the Scottsdale party scene. Do you think they grew up watching media depictions of just how fun it is in a desert region once reputed to be highly conservative? No, they arrive in Phoenix, like what they see and oftentimes, buy a second house there.
In the NBA, you’re rarely getting a long look at a town. Baseball players, however, sometimes spend as many as four or five nights in a city for a regular season series. The longer stretches spent in a location factors into why baseball players sometimes “successfully” have secret families, but that’s a different topic for a different day. I’m familiar with the trope of rural Fox News watchers believing that San Francisco is a horror movie, based purely on depiction, but MLB stars visit the place and know many people who’ve visited the place. Given their income, they also have access to all the city has to offer. They just don’t appear to like what they’re seeing, out there in real life.
Formerly flame throwing Noah Syndergaard posted a photo he took of a street person, in full fentanyl lean, exposing his hunched-over ass, with a caption that read, “Great team win now let’s get out of this place!” You can dislike that he did it, but it’s a reaction to his visit, as opposed to something he happened to hear on TV.
And with that, I express disagreement with my guy Steve Berman, who, incidentally, is the best at covering the Bay Area’s sports radio scene.
I can’t speak to whether Chicago stopped being a bogeyman. Steve is correct that SF has become something of an archetype, similar to how Boston became the enduring stand in for “place you cite when joking about a racist city.” Here’s what he misses, I’d argue: San Francisco is roughly 47 square miles. That’s too small an area to have shit on the street.
Chicago is 228 square miles, and the Cubs play in a pristine North Side neighborhood, far from the persistent violence that plagues other parts of the city. The White Sox, of course, play on the South Side, which has issues, but they’re not a big time franchise on the level of the Cubs. The point is, there’s a lot of Chicago in Chicago, and you can get around much of Cook County without bridge tolls. San Francisco is not so easy to get in and out of, plus its most frequented areas have the most property theft.
As mentioned here, Alex Rodriguez had 500K of items robbed from his vehicle right outside the ballpark. The St. Regis in downtown San Francisco, where a lot of visiting sports teams stay, is a quick stroll from a Target that got rid of its self checkout kiosks on Tuesday, due to rampant theft. It’s also right by the flagship San Francisco Nordstrom, where I, incidentally, got the suit for my wedding. That store has been shuttered, with crime cited as a major factor. This Nordstrom was in the iconic Westfield Mall, which was abandoned by its owners this year, with crime cited as a reason. As written up before here, SF saw tens of thousands of car break-ins in 2023, with only double digit arrests. Is it not reasonable to avoid this place, beautiful as it is, if you have other options? Personally, if I can work anywhere, I’d prefer it be in a place where I can park my car and not have it broken into.
San Francisco has fewer homicides than other major cities, but, increasingly over the last decade, its dysfunction is visible to almost any visitor, let alone a worker who’s there frequently. The problem isn’t one of “perception.” It’s one of reality. The city doesn’t enforce the most basic rules, and so people do meth and take dumps on the street. When Evan Turner tells Andre Iguodala, “I love the Bay my G, but, they break into cars nonstop. The homeless population is OD,” I don’t think he’s auditioning for a role on conservative radio. This is just what’s visible and discussed in communities that travel to places.
In conclusion, if free agents are citing this as a reason, it should be a civic wakeup call. Sure, I get that the Giants have never been great at getting free agents — Barry Bonds aside — but this particular explanation is getting louder, and you’re not seeing it refuted by people in the know.
Are the Giants making excuses for an old problem? Is San Francisco’s concerning state downstream of the work-from-home revolution? These are considerations, but the reality of diminishment can’t be avoided. The city has never looked worse and that’s on the people running it.
During the pandemic, pitcher Sean Doolittle said something that was well-received by many journalists. He was averse to the MLB season starting up again, due to America’s shortcomings in safeguarding against Covid. He might have been overly cautious, but there’s a general truth in his summarizing quote:
Sports are like the reward of a functioning society.
San Francisco isn’t functioning well. That’s not a talking point. That’s not “propaganda.” It’s just what’s happening. And it’s impacting the sports.