Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers speaks to the media at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, 2023. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
If it wasn’t the sun and sandy beaches of Southern California that motivated baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani to spurn the San Francisco Giants and sign a mega-free agent deal with the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers, was it something about the City by the Bay?
Beloved former Giants catcher Buster Posey, the centerpiece of San Francisco’s three World Series championship teams from 2010–14 and now a member of the club’s ownership group, suggested that might have been the case.
“Something that unfortunately keeps popping up from players and even the players’ wives is a bit of an uneasiness with … the state of the city, with crime, with drugs,” Mr. Posey told The Athletic, a sports news and analysis platform. “As far as a free-agent pursuit goes, I have seen that it does affect things.”
A seven-time all-star and the National League’s 2012 most valuable player, Mr. Posey retired in 2021 after the Giants had won 107 games to interrupt an 11-year run in which the Dodgers have captured the other 10 West division titles. San Francisco, the former home of marquee superstars such as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Barry Bonds, has been searching for a replacement centerpiece ever since.
The ill-fated run at Ohtani was just the latest in a series of unsuccessful forays into the free-agent market, following failed bids to land the likes of former Washington Nationals standout Bryce Harper, who instead signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018, and slugger Aaron Judge, who opted last winter to remain with the New York Yankees.
Along with Giants chairman Greg Johnson, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, and new manager Bob Melvin, Mr. Posey was part of the club’s contingent that met with Ohtani, attempting to sway the former two-way Los Angeles Angels standout to move further up the coast.
Instead, Ohtani agreed to a monumental 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers, deferring an overwhelming majority of the money. The Giants, notably, essentially matched the offer dollar for dollar, Mr. Zaidi later told reporters.
“I don’t think the Giants even had a prayer of getting Ohtani anyway,” longtime Bay Area television sports anchor Joe Fonzi told The Epoch Times. “That was just a pure pipe dream. He was going to stay in Southern California to play for the Dodgers. They were the front-runners from Day One. I don’t think the perception of the city of San Francisco had anything to do with it.”
Mr. Posey was clear in his interview with Andrew Baggarley of The Athletic that Ohtani expressed no concerns about San Francisco during his conversations with the Giants but said “there was some reservation with the state of the city” from the player’s representatives.
Buster Posey (28) of the San Francisco Giants speaks at a press conference announcing his retirement from Major League Baseball at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Nov. 4, 2021. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
“I suppose there are some high-end free agents whose wives might say, ‘Hey, look at school districts,’” Mr. Fonzi said. “They look at all that. Perception and reality are often two different things, but perception is perception. In some circles, that’s how San Francisco is perceived. The right-wing media loves to portray it that way, and part of it is based on fact. San Francisco’s got to clean up its act. There’s no question about that.”
The next huge free-agent domino to fall is expected to be prize Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Multiple media outlets have reported that the 25-year-old fireballer has met with several teams, including the Giants. The Dodgers, with Ohtani as part of their negotiating party, also want Yamamoto.
The Giants have come to terms Dec. 14 on a six-year, $113 million contract with highly regarded South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (18) of Team Japan pitches in the eighth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot Park in Miami, Fla., on March 20, 2023. (Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Ironically, the Giants had agreed to a huge contract with coveted free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa last winter, only to back away from the deal when questions about his surgically-repaired ankle arose during a medical exam. The New York Mets repeated the exact scenario before Correa finally signed a much smaller contract to remain with the Minnesota Twins.
Prior to Correa’s deal with the Giants falling apart, a report surfaced that the team had taken him shopping for homes in suburban Orinda, across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco.
“Nobody who plays for the Giants has kids going to San Francisco public schools,” Mr. Fonzi said. “They probably don’t even live in the city. They probably live in the East Bay or on the Peninsula, which is an entirely different world than the Tenderloin in San Francisco.”
Mr. Fonzi, himself, resides in Alamo, roughly 25 miles from the Giants’ home at Oracle Park, and works at KTVU-Channel 2’s studios in Oakland. He commutes into San Francisco at least twice a week to teach classes at the Academy of Art University.
“The difference between this Christmas season and last Christmas season around Union Square, you can’t walk into a Walgreens or a CVS or something without there being a private security guard there now, so they’re taking steps,” he said. “I really have noticed a difference, but it’s going to take a while before perceptions change.”