Photo: Mac stands in front of AT&T park
Eight years ago next month, the San Francisco Giants’ first World Series — and, perhaps, the team’s now-faded dynasty status — was ensured by a Springer Spaniel.
It’s true. I was there.
The situation isn’t so hot right now for the Giants (or, you could argue, in general). But, sometimes, you can’t tell how one little thing — even a dog, an honest-to-God dog — can change everything that comes after. But it can happen. I saw it myself.
I was one of the two narcotics officers who stood to the side of a SoMa condo doorway just blocks from AT&T Park and rapped, softly, just as we were trained to do in the academy. A striking blond woman opened the door to a barren condo.
Earlier that morning, well before sunrise, my partner and I had been within a vast parcel delivery warehouse, profiling. Not people, but packages: We were scouring incoming mail for the telltale indications that the parcels might contain currency related to trafficking. My partner and I, assigned by San Francisco Police Department to the Drug Enforcement Agency, understood the currents of the Northern California underground trade. At warehouses like these, the tide of green currency arrived in the morning mail, and the tide of green herbs receded with the afternoon mail.
Deputized with DEA status, we were authorized to profile, intercept and deliver suspicious mail to the intended recipients. If we could establish probable cause that the currency within the package was related to a crime, we could civilly detain the money until the recipient established to federal attorneys that there was a truly bona fide business purpose to mail thousands of vacuum-sealed dollars to a fictitious person.
My partner — he’s still working, so we’ll leave his name out of this — picked off an intriguing package sliding down the conveyor belt. He noted the name and the origin of the package, and concluded he needed a second opinion to confirm his suspicions. For that, he turned to his upbeat sidekick, Mac. With his puppy-dog eyes, Mac had an alluring effect on men and women alike, who found it hard to keep their hands off him.
My partner placed the suspicious package — along with four placebo packages — along a wall, and released the panting Mac to wag his tail and roam.
Mac, then still a puppy, is an English Springer Spaniel, a breed known for its intelligence. And a narc dog. Typical of a narc dog, Mac is a little bit crazy, with a short, 280-character attention span, high energy, and always game to chase suspicious odors.
Mac ambled up to the five packages, sniffing and wagging. Then he froze, hitting on the suspicious package, looking up to us for acknowledgement, before pointing his nose again at the suspect parcel.
And, thousands of miles away, the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Texas Rangers were enjoying their day off, oblivious that a puppy was altering their baseball destiny.
Based on Mac’s nose, my partner and I were off to deliver the suspicious package to its intended King Street address — another ubiqutous, generic building that had recently sprouted up a couple hundred yards from the local nine’s ballpark. We had every reason to be confident this was going to be an interception of the cash side of a drug transaction.
But that’s not how things worked out. At all.
Responding to the knock on the door, the striking blonde — Yamel, we soon learned — opened the door to her condominium, vacant except for two upright suitcases adjacent to a sofa inhabited by two kids watching television. My partner explained that he believed the package addressed to “Yamel Gillen” contained contraband and she could either open it right there, or he was going to ask a judge to authorize access.
Yamel opened the cardboard package. To our considerable surprise, it contained not wads of money but syringes. Forty-nine syringes, in fact, full of a mysterious fluid. (Subsequent articles would report 50 syringes, but I counted 49 — which I felt to be a very San Francisco number).
My partner inquired: “Human growth hormones?”
“I was going to start working out,” she replied.
“Well, HGH is illegal. We can’t let you keep it.”
It didn’t seem likely to me that the petite Yamel could be juicing, so I asked: “Is your husband home?”
“No, he’s asleep. He works nights.”
“What does he do?”
In barely a whisper: “He plays for the Giants.”
“He plays for the Giants.”
“Giants? Oh, you are a ‘Guillen,’ not ‘Gillen.’
Eight years and three titles ago, maybe you don’t remember Jose Guillen. He was, at the time, a 34-year-old journeyman outfielder with some pop the Giants had traded for in late summer in hopes of adding one more potent bat for the stretch run — and, if things worked out, the playoffs and Series. And, now, we’d caught his wife having what appeared to be HGH shipped to his home.
“Look, we can’t let you keep the HGH because it’s illegal. We’ll give you a receipt.”
Finding loaded syringes instead of cash was a jolt for us and, to be honest, a disappointment. But, for me, it was more than that. I went to my first Giants game in 1964 — the Willie Mays era. In 2010, I went to 81 games. So, I was concerned that, in the midst of a pennant race, this would become a huge distraction.
“We have to report it,” countered my partner.
So, we compromised. We went to our captain, who had an in with the Giants. He suggested we defer to the DEA — while he would personally notify the Giants’ front office. On the DEA side, they recognized the potential “tentacles” of the case. If one receives a package of contraband in the mail, in order for law enforcement to assert a crime, we have to prove the recipient had intended to receive the package. The DEA was going to leverage Yamel Guillen’s, “I was going to start working out” as the impetus to run with the case.
While her husband was scheduled to battle the Dodgers that evening, the DEA initiated the paperwork to serve a search warrant on Yamel Guillen to entice her to cooperate with a federal investigation. On the field, led by Jose Guillen’s three hits — including a homer — the Giants crushed Los Angeles, 10-2, and climbed into first place. The DEA search warrant was not completed in time, however, and Guillen returned to an undisrupted household.
The next morning, I received a call from Guillen’s attorney from Pittsburgh, who informed me “the Guillens want to cooperate.” I referred Guillen’s attorney up the DEA ladder. And, shortly thereafter, I was informed that Yamel Guillen and the kids had slipped out of the country. The DEA’s leverage in the case evaporated.
And so did the Giants’ grasp on first place. The team ceded the top spot only to reclaim it again days later — thanks to a titanic, six-RBI effort from, guess who, Jose Guillen.
But nobody among that sellout crowd could have known that Guillen’s monstrous grand slam would be his final home run. Two weeks later to the day, on the final game of the season — also the final game of Guillen’s career — the Giants clinched the division. Over that two-week period, Guillen was unproductive; my partner and I had a hypothesis why, but the truth remains unknowable.
And, in a move every bit as surprising as our finding those syringes, Guillen was left off the team’s postseason roster. The media would later report that he was scratched due to a neck injury.
Sure he was.
Guillen’s replacement in right field: Cody Ross.
In the first game of the playoffs, Ross drove in the only run the Giants would need in a masterful Tim Lincecum 1-0 blanking of the Braves. Days later, the Giants finished off Atlanta aided by Ross homering and then driving in the winning run. In the next round of the playoffs vs. Philadelphia, Ross was voted the National League Championship Series MVP, belting two homers in the first game off 2010 Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay. Guillen’s replacement went on to hit two more homers in the postseason and earned a World Series ring as the San Francisco Giants captured their first World Series. And, two years later, another. And, two years later, another.
This is not what we predicted when Mac zeroed in on that package. If he’d missed it, we’d have probably found another, and then knocked on someone else’s door. But he didn’t miss it, and that was that.
It’s 2018, and the team’s first taste of World Series glory seems like it was long ago. Because it was. Only Pablo Sandoval, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey remain from that magical time when the Giants lost their innocence, and Cody Ross mysteriously “replaced” Jose Guillen.
Mac is now 10 years old, with hundreds of cases on his proud resume. But, all but surely, none has ever affected more people than this one. Whether they know it or not.
Lou Barberini, CPA, has an MBA in Taxation, and is a former SFPD officer. He was assigned briefly (but notably) to the DEA Asset Forfeiture Unit. He currently provides retirement, investment and tax planning services on a fiduciary basis through Nich Capital Partners.