By Nick Recchia:
Photo Credit: San Digo Union Tribune, Getty Images
Left to Right: AJ Preller, Jayce Tingler, Peter Seidler
The history of San Diego sports has been lacking in many things over the years, from competitive teams to strong ownership groups, to just a basic commitment to winning. The Padres in particular even staved off being relocated a handful of times before the city approved the construction of Petco Park after the team made its second appearance in the World Series in 1998. Ownership groups specifically have been a topic that has led to many sour tastes in the mouths of San Diego sports fans over the years. Two other professional sports franchises have packed up and moved up the “5 Freeway” (the NBA’s Clippers & NFL’s Chargers) with ownership claiming a lack of a true fan base while the lone remaining “Big 4” franchise battled on. Talks of “San Diego discounts” have been levied about for years and cheap skate tendencies abounded.
The Padres founding owner in 1969, Conrad Arnholdt Smith tried to initially move the team to Washington D.C. before selling to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and his wife Joan in 1974. The Kroc family kept the team in San Diego and in 1984 the team made its first playoff spot, culminating in a World Series appearance. Ray Kroc passed away in January of 1984 and was honored during the season posthumously with the players wearing RAK patches. The Kroc’s are one of the reasons there is a baseball team still in San Diego. Joan held onto the team until 1990 and after a failed attempt to donate the team to the City of San Diego (MLB rules prohibit public team ownership) she sold to Tom Werner and a collective of 14 other minority owners.
This is really considered the dark ages of Padres baseball where within six weeks of his tenure as lead owner, the Roseanne Barr fiasco occurred at Jack Murphy creating national headlines for all the wrong reasons. The sport began dealing with challenges from revenue differences and contentious feelings between MLB ownership and the MLBPA which led to the strike in 1994. The team ended up blowing up the roster during the 1993 season in a “fire sale” that saw the exits of All Stars Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, and Tony Fernandez among others. It also prevented a possibly historic finish by Mr. Padre Tony Gwynn who ended the strike shortened season with a .394 batting average. Werner exited the majority ownership position when he sold 80% of the team to John Moores in the Winter of 1994.
Moores and executive Larry Lucchino helped get the team to the playoffs in 1996 and pushed the city to approve Petco Park after the whirlwind success of a season the team had in 1998. Even this ownership tenure led astray after a personal divorce and failed ownership sale to former MLB player agent Jeff Moorad and partners who attempted to purchase the team in installments like a layaway purchase. Thankfully, this led to the current group now led by majority owner Peter Seidler.
To truly value and understand the gravitas of where we are now, we had to take the stroll down ugly lane. To say the current leadership from Seidler and his statements this week are refreshing and downright candid, would be the understatement of the last 50+ years. Making a statement when asked how he could afford to do what other teams have mostly not been able (willing) to do, his response was the anti-message of every ownership group before him.
With the team colors changing before last year's abbreviated season helping to create an identity, the fanbase is rallying around a team that has stopped trying to mimic other organizations in looks and has finally felt comfortable in their own skin (jerseys). The organization has given out the five largest contracts in team history over the last five years (Myers, Machado, Hosmer, Tatis, and the man he was acquired for in James Shields) along with an international bonanza during 2016 that saw the team spend north of $80 Million on International Amateurs like Adrian Morejon, Michel Baez, and others. The commitment to spending has been consistent but has ramped up after the team’s first playoff appearance since 2006 at a staggering $180+ Million range when the Tatis signing bonus is considered.
Representing a fan base in the USA’s eighth largest city, and a county that alternates between the fourth/fifth most populated in the country, it's hard to play the “poor card” as previous groups have tried to do. As the largest city in the USA with only one “Big 4” professional sports team, the team is in an advantageous position to cash in on rabid sports fans who will be packing one of the most beautiful ballparks in the sport while wearing the brown and gold that identifies the friar faithful. Fans desperate for something they’ve never experienced before...a winner.
Longtime baseball enthusiast who tries to incorporate new age analytics into old school baseball strategy and how the two can coexist in winning harmony. Also a minor league aficionado who delves deep into the farm to share the love of the game from the lower rungs of the minor leagues and up. Always up for sports talk.