By George T. Wise
I have some questions about the San Diego Padres. Let’s start with the recent acquisition of the team by the new ownership group. The whole town was excited. The team was about to be sold and one of the groups vying for ownership was comprised of the family of the late Walter O’Malley. It was Walter O’Malley who owned the Dodgers when they were still the Brooklyn Dodgers, and O’Malley who decided to take the team West, moving them to Los Angeles. That move was followed closely by the move of the New York Giants to San Francisco.
Now, one of the groups hoping to buy the team was comprised of the family of the late owner of the Dodgers. As many hoped, the O’Malley family group won and bought the team. Every baseball fan in San Diego was excited. I still remember when I was a kid and San Diego had a minor league team that played in Lane field. It was an old green monster, a lot like Fenway Park in Boston, and was situated on Broadway between Pacific Coast Highway and Harbor Drive.
To tell the truth, it was great! The team seemed to win every year or finish at worst in second place. It had some big name players, too. I remember seeing Luke Easter, Jerry Mone and Minnie Minoso play here. San Diego loved it’s Padres, even though they were in the Pacific Coast League, which was the minor leagues. Then, lo and behold, in 1969 they became a major league team. The entire city was thrilled, and a ballpark was built in Mission Valley for them.
The problem soon became clear. Even though they were now a major league team they became perennial losers. Unfortunately, San Diego only supports winners. Thus, when the O’Malley group took over ownership, the city got excited once again. It hadn’t been this excited about baseball since 1984 when the team played against Detroit in the World Series.
So a group with a background in baseball and successful baseball management suddenly became the owners of our Padres. Then they held a press conference, and told the city that it was their intention to make the team a contender; a contender not just once, but every year. The city virtually swooned. To get a promise like that from a group who had the genes to know what they were doing? What a wonderful thing to happen. They promised to spend whatever money was required — judiciously of course — and build a contender.
Unfortunately, hopeful fantasy has now turned into terrible reality. The team has pretty good pitching, just not good enough to win consistently. The offense leaves a great deal to be desired, with the Padres claiming one of the worst team batting averages in the major league. There is virtually no timely hitting. We recently played a three game series against Arizona, also one or the worst teams in baseball this year. We played them here at home, where we supposedly had an advantage. We lost two out of three, and needed a miracle hit late in the game to win even that one.
So what happened to all those promises, and all that hope?. We struggle mightily for the very few hits we get. Even though it is early in the season, we are already six and a half games behind the division leader and four games under five hundred. Sure, we have a few players hurt, but so does every other team in baseball.
I understand that every ownership group, including this one, would prefer to build the team through the draft and not through signing expensive free agents. It is a whole lot cheaper, and the players will stay with the team for a much longer period of time. But c’mon — we’ve been patient. We cheered for you when you became the new owners of the team because of your baseball background. We even believed your promises that you would bring San Diego a contender. So what happened? The team can’t hit, pitching is not quite good enough. Defense is pretty good, but not good enough. The players in the minor leagues seem to have major league futures, but they are still futures, not presents.
I recommend to the ownership group that they do something to make the team a contender now. Remember what I said earlier: San Diego supports a winner. That may not make us a great sports town, but it is our reality. The exception may be the San Diego Chargers, because San Diego is crazy about professional football. Pro football is a fast moving and very exciting sport. In addition, we have some very good players on our team and good coaching. Also, the hype about the current team and it’s future is being handled beautifully. We expect a lot from the Chargers and most of the time we get it.
The Padres, on the other hand seem to keep recycling the same old players, and the ones who we sign as free agents are often hurt or soon get hurt. We bring up some players from the minors, and then it’s usually from the Double-A team and not the Triple-A team. That’s another thing I will never understand. There is a progression in baseball, the top level of which is Triple-A — not Double-A. So why, when we bring up a pitcher or position player, is he usually from Double-A, and not Triple-A?
In any case, I believe the people of San Diego are sick of empty promises, and “wait till next year.” Padres fans have been too patient for far too long. So, to the new ownership group I say: “we want what we want when we want it, and we want it now!” We want players who can hit. We’ve had enough of perennial pitchers’ duels. We want good hitting, good pitching and good defense. Just to be clear: we want a winner and we want it now. We’ve had excuses year after year. It’s finally time for results.
George T. Wise is a La Jolla resident, published author and frequent contributor to online blogs.