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All My Padres
Steve Wulf
April 05, 1989
For 15 years, the San Diego Padres have lived a soap opera, complete with a cast of characters that would do daytime TV proud
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April 05, 1989

All My Padres

For 15 years, the San Diego Padres have lived a soap opera, complete with a cast of characters that would do daytime TV proud

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DYNASTY

Some years the club went with youth, other years it went with veterans. There was no consistent plan until McKeon was named G.M. in July 1980. Trader Jack so overhauled the club that by 1984 Flannery was the only player he had inherited who hadn't been traded, released or otherwise let go.

McKeon also hired Dick Williams as manager before the '82 season, and he signed Garvey, whose agent was Kapstein, for the '83 season. For '84, McKeon signed Goose Gossage and traded for Graig Nettles; both players were represented by Kapstein. The president of the Padres at the time was Ballard Smith, Kroc's son-in-law, but it was McKeon who was really running the club. When Ray Kroc died in January 1984, his wife inherited the club.

Ray had fallen in love with Joan—Joni he called her—after watching her play the organ in a St. Paul restaurant in 1958. They were both married at the time, but because Joan's husband, Rollie Smith, was a McDonald's franchise owner, they kept in touch over the years. Ray and Joan did not get married until 1969, or three divorces later, two for Ray and one for Joan. A former music teacher with a Minnesota Democratic-liberal upbringing, Joan did not know a lot about baseball when Ray bought the club in 1974. According to Grinding It Out, Ray's autobiography, her response on hearing he had bought the San Diego Padres was, "What on earth is that, a monastery?"

But by 1984 she was just as much a fan as Ray had been. She even had her own Padres uniform. The '84 season turned out to be a glorious one, with the Padres winning the division title, then defeating the Chicago Cubs for the National League pennant in a dramatic five-game series. At the victory party at Gossage's house, the players invited Joan Kroc over, and Goose threw her into the pool. Garvey's heroics in the championship series were such that on a flight from San Diego to Detroit for the World Series. Padres fans chanted "Gar-vey, Gar-vey" throughout the inflight movie. The Natural.

The Tigers committed Padrecide in the Series, but the feeling in San Diego was that the Pads were on the threshold of a dynasty. "With everything we had going for us." says Gossage, who's now winding down his career with the Cubs, "we could have become one of the great franchises in baseball."

Indeed, very few franchises have the resources the Padres do. San Diego is an attractive area for potential free agents. The fans are plentiful and supportive; one fan was so avid that, in 1986, while listening to a Padres game on the radio as he rode his lawn mower, he failed to notice that his house was burning to the ground. And, of course, the Padres have nearly unlimited funds upon which to draw. Joan Kroc is nothing if not generous. She has given $6 million to the University of Notre Dame for a peace studies institute. She once donated $3 million to the San Diego Zoo. She gave $1 million to the Democratic Party last year. (Never mind that she once had three John Birch Society members on her team.) She has donated $18 million to build a hospice in San Diego: she is very active in AIDS research, alcohol rehabilitation, aid for the homeless, and animal rights. And as much as she loves animals, she says, "I love the Padres even more."

On opening night in '85, a record crowd of 54,490 cheered as the National League pennant was raised in centerfield. A new $6.5 million scoreboard was unveiled in rightfield. Joan's daughter. Linda, sang the national anthem, as Joan's ex, Rollie Smith, looked on. The Padres were one big happy family. As the team pummeled the Giants, Kroc turned to Feeney, then the National League president, and said, "You know, I wouldn't have chosen to buy a baseball team on my own. Now, I wouldn't give this up for the world."

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS

Two years later, she tried unsuccessfully to unload the club. What had happened? Well, a series of disasters that might have discouraged Job. Second baseman Alan Wiggins went into drug rehabilitation; Kroc said Wiggins would never again play for the team. The club collapsed in the second half of'85, and Williams told Ballard Smith and McKeon that he wasn't coming back. But Williams changed his mind when he learned he might not be paid for the last year of his contract, and Joan said she wanted him back. But Williams changed his mind again, and on the eve of spring training in '86, somebody asked, "Anybody seen Dick?"—at which point the Padres realized they had no manager. Steve Boros was quickly named to replace Williams.

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