Big-hearted Baer

by Jennifer Blot

Giants CEO Leads by Example, Encouraging Players to Give Back

When ESPN named the San Francisco Giants Sports Humanitarian Team of the Year this summer, it reinforced what locals have known all along. And the Giants’ altruism is no accident: The team’s philosophy of giving back is as much a part of a new player’s initiation as Spring Training.

Giants President and CEO Larry Baer admits that while he doesn’t come right out and say, “If you don’t work with the community, we’re going to trade you,” his pep talks — and peer pressure in the clubhouse — result in near-unanimous participation. When pressed to come up with the number of causes the team has helped over the years, Baer is stumped.

“I don’t know, but I would say it’s hundreds. There’s 25 players on a team and 24 years of owning the franchise. Everybody in uniform commits to two things: to providing some amount of financial resources and, more importantly, time to a community organization of their choice,” he says.

Baer began to grasp the connection between sports and community in 1992 when he was working at CBS in New York and heard mutterings that his hometown team might leave. Baer’s best childhood memories centered on attending Giants games at Candlestick Park with his father, and he understood how gravely the team’s departure would wound the city. A heartfelt letter-writing campaign from fans underscored the point.

Later that year, after aligning with Peter Magowan to keep the Giants in the city, Baer joined the team as executive vice president. Even then, the philanthropic spirit of the clubhouse was evident. The late Rod Beck was one of the first players to champion a cause, supporting the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Will Clark would commit to spreading the word about autism (a condition that affects his son), and Barry Bonds, aware of the “digital divide,” helped provide computers in classrooms.

These days, there’s a new crop of generous players. Jake Peavy supports cancer research and is a member of Musicians on Call, showing up in uniform to perform bedside concerts at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Sergio Romo is Washington High School’s unofficial mascot and motivational speaker. Buster Posey hosts fundraisers for pediatric cancer research with his wife, Kristen. And there’s Jeremy Affeldt, the team’s newly christened Community Ambassador. His charity, Generation Alive, encourages young people to get involved in causes ranging from poverty to human trafficking. When Affeldt throws a fundraiser, Baer says, the whole team shows up.

The Junior Giants and Community Fund were in place when Baer came onboard years ago, but their reach has exploded in the past two decades. Every year, 25,000 kids from low-income communities are invited to baseball clinics; on game nights throughout the season, the team supports multiple causes, from Strike Out Violence and Strike Out Bullying to Until There’s a Cure. A much-needed campaign relating to gun violence is on the horizon for next season.

The players don’t need a lot of convincing when it comes to giving back. “Our players very much buy into this — they are role models,” Baer says. “You don’t have the choice to be a role model or not — you are. They know how grateful they are to be where they are, and blessed.”

He also rallies nonuniformed staffers to join him serving meals at Glide Memorial and St. Anthony’s. With wife Pam, Baer gives to numerous causes beyond the ballpark, including Hearts in San Francisco and the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation Campaign Committee, which the couple co-chaired. He encourages his four children to continue the family tradition that took root with Baer’s father, an attorney who adopted a number of social justice causes and often took cases pro bono.

Baer’s conviction is contagious when he emphasizes the weight of the words “San Francisco” across the chests of his players.

“We see ourselves as a quasi-public institution. Technically it’s a business, but we like to think of ourselves as really a community resource.”

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