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Peter Magowan, architect of the Giants’ success, has died at 76

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The former CEO had been ill for the past several years.

San Francisco Chosen For 2007 MLB All Star Game Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

A generation of Giants history would not have been possible without the strong-minded and steadfast contributions of Peter A. Magowan, the Giants’ former CEO and managing general partner. He passed away this afternoon in San Francisco, surrounded by his family.

The Giants released the following statement:

The Giants family, the entire Bay Area and the game of baseball lost a man whose passion and loyalty to his favorite team and beloved community made it possible for all of us and future generations to experience the magic of Giants baseball in San Francisco forever,” said Larry Baer, Giants President and CEO. “Peter was my mentor and dear friend, and I will forever be grateful for his guidance, support and love. His legacy will be carried on by all those he inspired, including community leaders, our players, the front office, Junior Giants players and, of course, by his devoted family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Debby and his children and their families.

The Magowan family had this to say:

Our family lost a great man today. We all know how much Peter loved his Giants and San Francisco, and he had that same love and passion for his family. He was so proud of his children and grandchildren, and we will forever cherish the memories we made together.

Commissioner Rob Manfred also issued a statement:

Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred issued the following statement tonight regarding the death of Peter Magowan, the former President & Managing General Partner of the San Francisco Giants, who was 76:

“Peter Magowan was a vital figure in the history of the San Francisco Giants, the club he rooted for since his childhood in New York. During a tenuous period for the franchise, Peter stepped up and led the group that purchased the Giants and kept them in San Francisco. With groundbreaking vision, he then guided the effort that resulted in a ballpark that became a landmark for the city. In his 16 seasons of leadership, Peter oversaw a winning, civic-minded ballclub that represented the spirit of San Francisco. The foundation created under his direction helped make the Giants the model club they remain today.

“All of us in Baseball will be forever grateful to Peter for his pivotal part in preserving a first-class franchise in one of America’s most vibrant cities. On behalf of Major League Baseball and his many friends in our game, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Debby, their children and their entire family.”

It’s difficult to imagine where we’d all be without Magowan’s efforts. He is a key figure in the history of the Giants and in Baseball itself. Keeping the Giants in San Francisco was no small feat, and signing Barry Bonds to a record-setting contract before the deal to buy the team had even been closed was a ballsy, triumphant, and vital move that did as much to reverse the franchise’s fortunes as getting a privately funded ballpark built at China Basin.

He loved the Giants and was good at making deals. That proved to be a potent combination. Where would be without Peter Magowan’s passion and effort? There’d have been no Pacific Bell SBC AT&T Oracle Park, no McCovey Cove, or home run record chase, or even Barry Bonds in a Giants uniform. No foghorn. No Dustiny. No Buster Posey, or Full Clubhouse video, or even McCovey Chronicles, because it’s hard to imagine that a good chunk of the fandom would’ve existed had the team actually moved to Florida in the early nineties.

Peter Magowan was the grandson of the founder of Merrill Lynch and son of Safeway’s chairman, and used his tremendous privilege to foster civic pride and make a moribund franchise into one of the most profitable sports franchises in North America. He defied baseball orthodoxy by getting a baseball stadium privately funded. That and Bonds’ free agent contract made him an enemy of MLB’s ownership cabal, a bad position to be in when you have to meet with them, but a good one to have when you’re dealing with the public.

Sports energize a city and the Giants have done more to become a fabric of San Francisco than most cities in their situation choose to be. As we’ll hear about when his plaque is put up on the Giants’ Wall of Fame at FanFest on February 9th:

He received numerous awards for the organization’s innovative community work, including becoming the first professional sports team to dedicate an annual game to the fight against AIDS/HIV with the creation of “Until There’s A Cure Day” in 1994. He also established the 100 Percent Player Participation program and the Giants Community Fund formed the Junior Giants program, providing free leagues for kids to play and learn baseball.

He hasn’t been around the yard very much over the past few years because of his dual battles with prostate and liver cancer, but for a good long while there, especially after the park opened, he was a regular fixture behind home plate, easily caught on camera during the broadcast cutaways, and as far as the executive face of a franchise goes, his patrician yet friendly demeanor stood out from the regular grumps glimpsed in the owner’s boxes of the other teams. Giants fans were extremely lucky to have him running the show.

Peter Magowan created a remarkable legacy for himself and the city of San Francisco and he did because he loved the Giants.