Last season on "all my Padres": Joan puts her faith in Chub, the new president recommended by ex-president and ex-son-in-law Ballard. Jack, the general manager, feels left out. Larry, the manager, promises to control his emotions, but when the team gets off to a slow start, he becomes increasingly agitated. Chub accosts outfielder John, mistaking him for pitcher Lance. Agent Jerry is dating Linda, Joan's daughter and Ballard's ex-wife. Chub decides to fire Larry and secretly asks Jack to replace him. Jack agrees, against the wishes of his family. Larry gets wind of his firing and trashes Chub in the press. The club goes on a six-game winning streak, with Jack's son-in-law Greg, the pitcher, getting the win in the sixth game. Chub tells Jack he can't be manager and G.M. even though Jack wants both jobs. Club moves up to fourth place. On the same day Jack is named permanent manager, Chub has a shouting match with Jerry. Jerry calls an impromptu news conference in the seventh inning to blast Chub. Ten days later, on Fan Appreciation Night, Chub flips the bird to fans carrying a SCRUB CHUB sign. Chub denies it, but his gesture has been captured on videotape. The next day, Chub announces his resignation, saying he was planning to quit anyway. Jack moves the club into third place on the next to the last day of the season. Former player-hero Steve applies for the vacant presidency. Jerry and Linda get married in La Jolla, Calif., where Joan exchanges pleasantries with ex-stopper Goose, who once accused her of poisoning the world.
That's life with the San Diego Padres, baseball's comic soap opera, complete with wealthy matriarch, baffling inter-family relationships and a plot synopsis that rivals anything in Soap Opera Digest. The Padres may not have a dastardly villain(ess) or a dashing hero(ine), but they still have a cast so large and colorful it seems to have sprung full-blown from the mind of a scriptwriter.
There's Joan Kroc—widow of McDonald's hamburger magnate, Ray Kroc—as the bubbling, sometimes loopy matriarch with a heart of golden arches. There's Trader Jack McKeon, the cigar-smoking wheeler-dealer who was almost written out of the show but who now runs the club from the field and the front office. There was Chub Feeney, the genial club president who was written out after losing a power struggle with McKeon. There's Jerry Kapstein, the elusive agent who represents McKeon's son-in-law, pitcher Greg Booker, and who married Joan's daughter, Linda Smith, the ex-wife of former club president Ballard Smith. There's the fallen matinee idol, ex-first baseman Steve Garvey, who had hoped to become the new club president but now would be lucky to get a job as a peanut vendor in Jack Murphy Stadium.
Art imitates life. Garvey has a friend, Hollywood executive producer Glen Larson of Magnum P.I. fame, who has a pilot in the works about a baseball team with an eccentric female owner. "He has a part in it for me as president," says Steve, who also seems to be auditioning for All My Children.
But back to our show. Already this season on All My Padres: Joan names Dick as interim president but hires consultant Tal to look for a new president, ignoring the early public sentiment for Steve. Trader Jack trades for slugger Jack and convinces Joan to sign southpaw free-agent Bruce and extend the contract of batting champ Tony. Joan's son-in-law, Jerry, negotiates a $235,000 contract for Jack's son-in-law, Greg. Joan finds a dog lying in the street in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and names her Boots. While Joan still looks for a president. Jack tries to find a third baseman. Joan consults an animal behaviorist. Joan names Dick the new president and announces she is adopting Boots.
As Kapstein said, over and over, in his impromptu press conference last September, "Truth is stranger than fiction." There has always been a peculiar quality to the Padres. After all, for years the team's biggest star was not a player, but Ted Giannoulas, the San Diego Chicken. And who could possibly have imagined what would happen the first time the Padres played in front of their new owner, Ray Kroc, in the home opener in 1974 against the Houston Astros? With the Padres losing 9-2 in the eighth inning, Kroc grabbed the public address microphone and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I suffer with you"—at which point a streaker raced across the field. After yelling for the police to get the man, Kroc apologized to the fans, saying, "This is the most stupid baseball playing I have ever seen."
"It was like the voice of God," says Doug Rader, the Angels manager who was playing third base for the Astros at the time. Rader remembers the night well because after the game he was quoted as saying that Kroc should not treat his ballplayers "like they were short-order cooks." The next time the Astros were in town, Kroc held a Short-Order Cooks Night, with free admission for anyone wearing a chefs hat. That night Rader brought the lineup card to the plate wearing just such a hat and an apron and carrying a spatula. Kroc was so impressed that he later traded for Rader.
The Padres continued their "stupid baseball playing" until 1978, when manager Roger Craig put them over .500 for the first time. But the next year, after the team lost 93 games, Craig was replaced by Jerry Coleman, the Padres announcer whose malapropisms ("Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen") had endeared him to millions. Coleman is a sweet man, but he was not cut out for the manager's job.
Tim Flannery, a utility infielder now in his 10th year with the Padres, remembers his rookie year under Coleman: "I came up as a second baseman along with Barry Evans, who was a third baseman. But for some reason, I was moved to third and Barry was moved to second. I played in about 100 games , but then Jerry sat me down the last two weeks of the season. When I asked him about it, he said, 'Well, Barry, we want you to use those hand grippers more, start pulling the ball down the line and hitting for more power.' " Surely Coleman hadn't been confusing Flannery for Evans all season...or had he?