Giants boss, ex-49er give federation breakfast all-star appeal

San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer strode to the podium, looked out over 23 packed tables at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and cracked, “There may be more people here this morning than at many of our night games at Candlestick Park 15 years ago.”

Well, not quite, but 245 people — many of them dressed in business suits, poised to get cranking in the middle of the work week — did take time out of their busy schedules March 9 to attend a breakfast on Nob Hill put on by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

The keynote speakers were Baer, still riding the high off his team’s World Series victory last fall, and Harris Barton, a three-time Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers.

Harris Barton photos/peter marcus photography

Thus, the event was titled “A Breakfast With Champions.” It was the annual fundraiser for the Business Leadership Council, a group of Jewish businesspeople that hosts networking events, outreach programs and a speakers series in addition to the breakfast.

This year’s event included an eye-opening, big-screen presentation of 2010 Giants’ highlights, eliciting wild applause after the final out of the World Series was shown. Later, after people took their final bites of bagels, lox and cream cheese, Baer and Harris began talking about how Jewish values have inspired them.

“A lot of you might not know this,” Barton said, “but I was born and raised in a very Jewish religious family [in Atlanta]. We kept kosher, and I went to the [Greenfield] Hebrew Academy for five years until I became a disciplinary problem,” he added, getting a huge laugh.

Barton, a 6-foot-4, 286-pounder in his 12 years on the 49ers, was a key component on the teams that won Super Bowls in 1989, 1990 and 1995. One of the best offensive linemen of his era, he’ll be inducted March 27 into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Comack, N.Y.

At the podium, he talked not about his achievements, but about people such as  Miriam Belger, his grandmother who was a Jewish day school teacher in Atlanta for 50 years.

“This has been a big circle for me,” Barton said. “When I first got off the plane in San Francisco after I was drafted in 1987, I was introduced to Claude Rosenberg, a legendary Jewish philanthropist in the Bay Area. He took me under his wing … I was blessed by being nominated to a Koret Fellowship that went to Israel … and I’ve met many people in this room.

“I love coming back to do things for federation,” he added. “It’s all about the circle.”

Barton now runs Palo Alto–based H. Barton Asset Management.

Baer, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, runs in business circles, as well. Over the past two decades, he has been at the forefront of every Giants’ major move, from cable TV deals to getting AT&T Park built. A Harvard Business School graduate, he was a leader in bringing together the 18 investors who bought the Giants in 1992, preventing the team from moving to Florida.

Harris Barton photos/peter marcus photography

“In very much a tikkun olam moment, we got together and said, ‘We don’t really have a business rationale for keeping the team in San Francisco.’ The team was losing a lot of money in those days,” Baer said. “It was an act that reminded me a lot of acts through history that had exemplified selfless exercise for the community good.”

Turning to last year’s World Series title, Baer read a verse written by the late Rabbi Alvin Fine, rabbi at Emanu-El Congrega-tion from 1948 to 1964. It poetically noted how life is about the journey itself rather than individual moments of joy or sorrow.

“It reminds me in many ways of the journey that lifelong Giants fans like myself have been through,” Baer said. “The winning [last season] was wonderful, an incredible moment and an incredible high for all of us. But, really, it’s the journey, and I think that’s consistent with Jewish values.”

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr is J.'s former managing editor and former Hardly Strictly Bagels food columnist. He lives and writes in Mexico.