San Diego Padres
THE PADRES BY THE DECADE
With a brand-new multi-purpose stadium seating 50,000, unbeatable weather and a rich minor league baseball heritage, the City of San Diego was rewarded with one of two National League franchises for 1969. Many locals, already fans of the Dodgers 100 miles to the north, were cool to immediately embrace the newborn Padres, who drew just 23,000 in their first home game and 600,000 for the year; a major league-worst 110 losses didn’t help.
Success and, therefore, respect were both hard to come by as the Padres struggled to achieve solid footing; by 1974, it looked as if the San Diego experiment had come to an end with an all-but-certain move to Washington—but McDonalds founder Ray Kroc rescued the Padres, kept them local and fueled far more money in an attempt to shake them from the cellar. The fans responded—the team finally cracked a million at the gate—and the team slowly followed suit, finally reaching over .500 for the first time in 1978. Stars were born with tall and talented slugger Dave Winfield and junkball specialist Randy Jones, who twice won 20 games.
The Padres finally hit paydirt on the field in 1984 with their first postseason appearance—and copped their first pennant by upsetting the favored Chicago Cubs in the NLCS before being steamrolled by the powerful Detroit Tigers in the World Series. From there, the Padres spent the rest of the decade scuffling in the standings with various degrees of success but no further postseason action—despite the emergence of perennial batting champ Tony Gwynn, who would become the most popular player to wear a Padres uniform.
A rocky start to the decade hit its low point in 1993 when young owner Tom Werner, who bought the team in 1990, initiated a housecleaning of star players so brazen that season ticket holders threatened to sue. John Moores took over ownership and resumed sensible spending—and in 1998 the Padres responded with a franchise-record 98 wins and their second pennant; but as with 1984, the dream hit a dead end in the World Series against another titanic opponent (the 114-48 Yankees). Bittersweet accomplishments included Gwynn’s 1994 run to hit .400 (cut short at .394 by the players’ strike) and Ken Caminiti’s 1996 MVP effort—which he later confessed to achieving while on steroids.
The Padres received a boost in 2004 with the opening of gorgeous Petco Park in downtown San Diego, as the team won consecutive NL West crowns from 2005-06 behind ace pitcher Jake Peavy and popular veteran closer Trevor Hoffman. But the new yard quickly earned a reputation as a pitching haven that was death on hitting, as 1-0 and 2-1 games became a constant sight and scared potential free agent sluggers away—citing the quasi-herculean numbers of Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres’ lone bona fide star who did the majority of his damage on the road.
Gonzalez left in a trade with Boston after telling the Padres he wouldn’t re-up for the long term; the Padres struggled to find a worthy replacement and embarked on a subpar period, whether via a blasé roster or a brief marquee spike from 2015-16, with neither approach generating much enthusiasm. Box score equilibrium returned with the moving of Petco’s fences inward, but it didn’t move the Padres closer to increased success.
No mid-market team has aggressively pursued a world title in the decade more than the Padres, behind owner Peter Seidler (grandson of former Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley) and general manager A.J. Preller. Using a farm system flush with prospects, the Padres built up a respectable pitching rotation, locked up super-talented (but troubled) shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., and made an eye-opening move midway through 2022 by trading for young superstar slugger Juan Soto. Though the transactions have yet to result in a championship, they have energized the Padres’ fan base, which has packed Petco Park more than ever.
Highlights of the Padres’ History on This Great Game:
1984: The Roar of a Powerhouse The Padres win their first pennant behind a mix of sage veterans and rising talent, but hopes of winning it all come to a screeching halt against a dominant Detroit ballclub.