S.F. Giants exec brings Jewish values to the Major Leagues

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

When he thinks about baseball, Larry Baer also thinks about being Jewish. And about AIDS.

He's the San Francisco Giants' executive vice president, and he's deeply involved in both.

The AIDS connection comes in because Baer, who will be honored Sunday, Nov. 12 by the American Friends of the Hebrew University's Scopus Society, was instrumental last year in establishing the first benefit by a pro sports team to fight the disease.

"Until There's a Cure Day" was repeated this season, and is expected to become an annual Giants event.

"Consistent with the teachings of Judaism," Baer says he has also helped the ballclub reach out to other needy segments of the community. The Giants, for example, have refurbished the Western Addition's Kimball Field so inner-city kids can play baseball, and helped stage a Hunter's Point street fair to benefit seniors there.

Making sure each Giant player is committed to a charitable cause of his own has become one of Baer's major goals. "That's a part of my fulfilling my mission of Judaism," he says.

A fourth-generation San Franciscan and graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Harvard University, Baer, 38, has been steeped in Judaism since his Sunday school days and bar mitzvah at Congregation Emanu-El, where he and his wife Pam are currently affiliated.

As a teenager, Baer started to blend his Jewish identity with a love of basketball. After helping found the Moise Weinberg AZA chapter, he "thrived on the camaradarie and playing in the league."

Baer's memories of the league remained so positive he helped revive the Jewish Youth Athletic League, along with Ron Blatman and Bill Black, for synagogue hoopsters 15 years later.

He did a three-year stint with the Giants after college, then held executive positions in marketing, TV, film and politics. In 1992, Baer rejoined the Giants, and two years later became a limited partner of the management team.

Being second in command to owner Peter Magowan, Baer's schedule is grueling. "I go to all the games, travel with the team, run day-to-day operations, negotiate TV [and player] contracts, and get involved in the effort to build a new ballpark and ways to make the Giants profitable, which has been difficult because of the strike," he says.

Though there are few Jews playing in Major League baseball, Baer talks with pride about the Giants' "Jewish pitcher, Jose Bautista, who says Shabbat prayers by phone from the clubhouse before Friday night games with his wife and family in Chicago."

Baer also talks fondly of Israel and the Hebrew University, which he toured when he was 15. "The university is part of the rich texture of the country, which left an indelible impression on me," he says.

He hopes to return for another visit soon, this time with his wife and two young sons.

At the seventh annual dinner of the Scopus Society, AFHU's leadership development division, Baer will be given the Sports Torch of Learning Award, which recognizes exceptional American leaders in sports and memorializes the 11 Israeli athletes who lost their lives at the hands of terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Baer, who follows San Francisco 49er Harris Barton as the award's recipient, clearly loves his job.

"I get pure enjoyment just walking into the ballpark and seeing the smiling faces of parents and grandparents with their children, just enjoying a great day together." he says.

"The bonding experience of baseball is so great. It harkens back to an era when we spent more time with family, which takes me right back to a Jewish" focus.

The Scopus Society dinner will be at 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Jazz Supper Club, 330 Ritch St., S.F. Emcee will be humorist Michael Pritchard; the Ben Marcato Trio will perform. Tickets: $150 per person, providing scholarships at the Faculty of Humanities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Information and reservations: (415) 974-6363.