Bill Neukom

Giants’ win overshadowed as executive committee forces out Bill Neukom

The news hit the press box right after most of us had come back from the clubhouse. Bill Neukom, no longer the Managing General Partner of the San Francisco Giants. Before we get to some postgame notes from what was an extremely well-pitched game featuring tremendous defense from Pablo Sandoval, let’s touch on the biggest transaction the Giants have made in a season that’s gone from euphoric to, let’s face it, a little bit sad.

According to multiple baseball sources, Giants’ managing general partner and chief executive officer Bill Neukom will not return in that role for the 2012 season. The sources say that Neukom has been asked to step aside by the Executive Committee of the Giants’ ownership group. The action is believed to be the fallout from a series of disagreements with the committee during Neukom’s three-year stewardship of the team.

The baseball sources also say that Larry Baer, currently the Giants’ president and chief operating officer, will assume CEO duties when Neukom steps down. The Giants may try to spin his abdication as some sort of organizational restructuring in which Neukom and his trademark bow tie will be voluntarily assuming another position with the organization.

But make no mistake, it won’t be Neukom’s idea. And the announcement, when it does occur, has to be considered a stunner and a bit puzzling.

For those of you who aren’t fans of Larry Baer and/or baseball teams who install hard salary caps upon themselves — even though they’re selling out every game and push more merchandise than Harry Potter  — brace for more playoff-free seasons like this one. Just without the sellout crowds and some of the players people have grown to love.

Neukom’s own falling-out with the Giants’ executive committee, say the baseball sources, began over how to spend the additional millions that flowed into team coffers following the World Series championship. For example, one source says that beginning last October, the Giants’ merchandising revenue alone has increased by $1.5 million to $2 million per month over previous years. Ticket sales also boomed. The Giants have effectively sold out every game this season.

Neukom, it is said, believed that this was his money to spend as he saw fit — and he did so, to increase payroll and buy new technology for the baseball department, among other expenditures. Instead, the executive committee allegedly wanted the money to be put in a “rainy day fund” for use in leaner times. The committee also believed that Neukom needed the committee’s authorization before making such major financial decisions.

I think we’re all smart enough to connect the dots here. The owners didn’t want to soar over $100MM in payroll, and Neukom put himself out there by giving Brian Sabean the go-ahead to trade for Carlos Beltran. If the Beltran move succeeded, if it had spurred the Giants to become a league-average offense and propelled the team to the playoffs (where they’d accumulate some more money for that “rainy day fund”) we probably wouldn’t be hearing this story.

But the executive committee must have been scared to let this news slip out as early as it did. Why not after the World Series, when people are kind of ignoring baseball? Perhaps they were worried that if they didn’t get rid of Neukom quickly, he’d spend more of that surplus that THE FANS provided in 2011 with all the money spent on tickets. With dynamic pricing and a marketing-friendly team that the Bay Area and all of Northern California really couldn’t get enough of after the team’s first World Series win since moving out west, there is an incredible amount of money that fans would like to see put back into the team.

Really, executive committee? You want to squander all the good will this team created in winning it all last year? You don’t understand that you’re sitting on a gold mine? The debt service on the ballpark’s going to be paid off in about seven years. After decades of looking up to the San Francisco 49ers you’ve built the marquee franchise in the area, and you want to save a few bucks? Sure, it’s not my money. But it is OUR money, and based on the immediate reaction to this news, fans are petrified.

Matt Cain’s set to make $15MM next year? Maybe he’s on his way out. Carlos Beltran definitely isn’t coming back (not that I wanted him back, but after he hit two homers today I can see why someone would). Even though the Giants look and sell like a big market team, and reside in a big market, it looks like there’s a good chance the Giants are going to pretend like they’re Milwaukee or Minnesota again.

I have a bunch of videos from postgame interviews with Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, and I’ll post those later this evening. For now, I’m off to Oracle Arena to hear Joe Lacob, Peter Guber, Jerry West and Mark Jackson talk to season ticket holders who are probably nervous about paying for tickets when there might not be a season. I’ll keep you posted on that, as well.

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