San Diego Padres (1969-Present)
National League (1969-Present)
National League Champion: 1984, 1998
World Series Champion: Never
The threat of a third Major League led to the Expansion in 1961-62, and when the threat reappeared in 1968 Major League Baseball’s response was again to expand. The expansion was originally slated for 1971, but due to pressure put on by the State of Missouri and the town of Kansas City, it was pushed up to 1969. San Diego was one of the eight cities given final consideration, but it was still a bit of a surprise when they were offered one of the four franchises.
Despite being the 8th largest city in the country, San Diego had certain limits pertaining to supporting major sports teams. San Diego is surrounded. Surrounded by desert on the east, Mexico on the south, the Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Dodgers to the north is all the explanation you need to understand the plight of the San Diego Padres. Unlike the three other new franchises, Kansas City, Montreal, and Seattle, San Diego did not have a large nearby population from which to draw.
Despite the fact that ownership hired ex-Dodger executive Buzzie Bavasi to run the organization the team almost didn’t survive their early years. Not competitive on the field and struggling at the gate their were constant rumors that the team was ready to relocate. A last place finish in each of their first six years led to attendance figures that never reached the 700,000 mark. In early 1974 the team was tentatively sold to Joseph Danzansky, who made it clear he was going to move the team to Washington D.C. The City of San Diego immediately sued, putting the whole issue in chaos. That’s when Ray Kroc came in. Kroc had recently retired from running McDonald’s and was interested in getting into baseball. He purchased the team for $10 million.
The change was immediate. As the San Diego Union said about Kroc; “He was above all, a fan of the team.”
The team’s top attendance figure before Kroc’s purchase was 644,772, but in 1974 in jumped to over a million. Kroc was a hands on owner until 1979, when he famously said, after being fined $100,000 by Baseball Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, “There’s more future in hamburgers than baseball,” and handed over operation of the team to his son-in-law, Ballard Smith. Kroc would pass away in 1984, just prior to the Padres first World Series appearance, but he was secure in the knowledge that he had kept Major League baseball in San Diego.
Since then the franchise has been in much better financial shape. Except for the two strike shortened years (1981 & 1994) the team has drawn at least a million fans every year since Kroc purchased the team in 1974, more than 2 million every year but one since 1996, with a peak of over 3 million in 2004.
On the field they’ve been better, not great. Led by Tony Gwynn they won the National League Pennant in 1984 and 1998. Since then they’ve captured two National League Western Division flags in 2005 and 2006. Recently it’s been a struggle. Attendance seems to have flattened out just over the 2 million mark, and they haven’t had a winning season in nine years.
San Diego has had a hard time attracting, and keeping teams in the major sports. The NBA San Diego Clippers long ago bolted to Los Angeles, as did the San Diego Chargers just two years ago in 2017. The only major sports franchise left in town is the Padres. The fear of losing the team is always there.
The decision between Terry Kennedy (1981-1986) and Gene Tenace (1977-1980) is a difficult one. Each was a better than average offensive player for a catcher. Gene Tenace (1977-1980) was better. Though his batting average in San Diego was only .237, he had an on base percentage of .403 and slugged .422. Compare that to Terry Kennedy (1981-1986), who hit .274, but had an on base percentage of only .319, and a slugging percentage of .407. It’s close, but Tenace’s numbers are better. Since neither one was very good defensively a slight edge goes to Gene Tenace (1977-1980).
Adrian Gonzalez (2006-2010) was a four time All-Star during his five years in San Diego. He also drove in 99 runs or more four times. An easy choice.
The weakness of the Padres franchise is best illustrated by the choices at second base and shortstop. Bip Roberts (1986-1991, 1994-1995) was no star. He was just OK. He’s still the only candidate for San Diego at second base.
Ken Caminiti (1995-1998) had the best Padre season ever when he won a National League MVP in 1996. He was still with the team in 1998 when they lost to the Yankees in the World Series. A slick fielder, who put some runs on the board on offense. Of course, he’ll always be tainted by his drug use, which eventually took his life at age 41. The metric we use puts him in a dead heat with Phil Nevin (1999-2005) and just slightly ahead of Chase Headley (2007-2014, 2018). Headley also had a season that was way out of line with the rest of his career (2012), but he still rates third in comparison of the three. That leaves Caminiti and Nevin. Don’t know if this is fair, but the tiebreaker goes to the player who was not implicated in PED use. Phil Nevin (1999-2005) is the one who replaced Caminiti at third when Ken was shipped back to Houston after the 1998 season. He was a solid offensive force, who drove in over 100 runs three times with the Padres.
Gary Templeton (1982-1991) today is most remembered for being traded from the Cardinals to the Padres for Ozzie Smith. Not a good trade for San Diego, but Templeton did provide the Padres with nine adequate years at short.
Three evenly matched candidates. Brian Giles (2003-2009) best years were in Pittsburgh, but he did have three very good years in San Diego before age caught up to him. Gene Richards (1977-1983) spent seven of his eight Big League seasons with the Padres. Very fast, he at one time had the Padre record for career stolen bases. Ryan Klesko (2000-2006) was not fast, in fact he was rather slow. But he could hit. None of the three were particularly good in the outfield. In fact Klesko played more games at first base in San Diego than left field. The metrics we use rates them, Klesko, Richards, Giles, in that order, but it’s very close. Not to sure about this one, but we’ll go with Ryan Klesko (2000-2006).
Dave Winfield (1973-1980) was involved in one of the ugliest events in American sports while he was in college. He was playing forward for the Minnesota Golden Gophers when a near riot broke out at the end of a tense basketball game with Ohio State. Winfield was among the Gophers who completely lost control of themselves when their team lost. Despite a Hall of Fame career in baseball, he never fully gained his reputation back. Only about 40% of his overall value was in San Diego, but he’s still the second best player to ever put on a Padre uniform.
Tony Gwynn (1982-2001) spent his entire 20 year career in San Diego. He won eight batting titles, led the league in hits seven times and was a 15 time All-Star. Need we say more?
The recent Hall of Famer and relief ace Trevor Hoffman (1993-2007) is #1. We know modern closers are overrated, but he had 15 years of very effective service. Twice he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting, another two times he was in the top ten.
#2 Randy Jones (1973-1980) won a Cy Young Award for the Padres when he won 22 games and pitched 315 innings in 1976. He had a similar season the year before, but not quite as good. He was only 26 years old at the time, but was never the same again after his two big years.
Jake Peavy (2002-2007) also won a Cy Young Award in San Diego. He never won 20 games, but his overall record with the Padres was 92-68.
The final spot is between the two Andy’s, Benes and Ashby. Andy Benes (1989-1995) was a fixture in the rotation when he was joined by Andy Ashby (1993-1999) in 1993. Benes was 69-75 with the team and Ashby 70-62. Ashby, along with Kevin Brown (1998) headed the staff that took the Padres to the World Series in 1998. This is close, but we’ll go with Andy Ashby (1993-1999).
Dick Williams (1982-1985) is in the Hall of Fame, as he should be. The Padres won their first pennant under his guidance, but like most of his jobs, he didn’t last very long. After four years he was done. On the other hand, nobody got tired of Bruce Bochy (1995-2006). After leading the Padres to their second pennant in 1998 he stuck around for another nine years, winning a total of 951 games at the helm in San Diego. He then went to San Francisco for his final 13 years, where he won three World Series titles.
MVP: This might be the easiest MVP pick for any franchise. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001).