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A catalog of the sports it is possible to do, or do better, in San Diego would, it seems, be interminable. The county has 70 miles of public beach, nearly half of all the public oceanfront available in the state of California. Off La Jolla, and at many other points, surfers are present every day of the year (temperature average: 68� summer, 57� winter); out beyond them are the scuba and skin divers, while inshore are swimmers and body broilers and Frisbee players and shell hunters and bird watchers. In addition to all the boating, competitive and otherwise, done inside Mission Bay, there are four big ocean yacht races each year: San Diego- Acapulco in February, Newport Beach-Ensenada in May, the brand-new Marina del Rey-San Diego in June and San Diego- San Clemente in August.
The San Diego scene is so attuned to the sea that visitors sometimes forget its upland attractions. There is excellent hunting, some almost within walking distance. The duck season opens in October on the city-owned lakes in the South Bay area. Sixty miles east in the Laguna Mountains are deer and bear, and in the high meadows there are pheasants. Thousands go into the uplands to search for rocks, to hike and climb, to roll dune buggies over the sands, or just to camp and picnic. In sum, do-it-yourself sport without end.
So why pick on Glenn Rick? Is it his fault the Rockets only attracted 6,800 people per game at the Sports Arena? Is Rick responsible for the fact that the Padres' attendance this year was the worst in the major leagues? The answer is a qualified yes. Glenn Rick started Mission Bay, which had a seminal effect on every other kind of outdoor activity. People who are playing golf are not attending baseball games. Neither are the people at the zoo, or Sea World, or the 1,800-acre animal park, or.... But take those needles out of the Glenn Rick doll. If Rick had not noticed that San Diego was, potentially, an extraordinary playground, somebody else would have.
Covering the World Series of 1961, Jim Murray, America's foremost critic of cities, dourly observed: "In Cincinnati if you don't like baseball you can always go downtown and watch haircuts." Both baseball men and barbers have it a lot tougher in San Diego—there are nearly 100 alternatives to watching either of their specialties. The same dilemma confronts promoters of other spectator sports, including basketball, hockey, boxing and wrestling. Football so far seems to be immune. Fifty thousand San Diegans will turn out on a warm, starlit night to watch the Chargers just as readily as 50,000 Wisconsinites will in sub-zero weather to see the Green Bay Packers. There is a difference, though—the San Diegans could go someplace else.
Buzzie Bavasi isn't any city's uncle, but he has a more than passing interest in affirming the major league image won with such enterprise and persistence by the real San Diego uncles during the '60s. He would also like to make money, win some games, maybe a division title and then a pennant. In 1969 the Padres attracted 513,000 people, and in 1970 they upped that to 643,000, but both times they finished last in the Western Division. Now they not only have done it again, but attendance has dropped to 549,000.
In owners this sort of apathy often conjures up fantasies of faraway places with strange-sounding names—like New Orleans, Toronto, Honolulu, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, D.C. All of these, and others, have indicated an interest in the Padres' franchise, but Bavasi insists he will stay in San Diego. "Mr. Smith and I agreed we would not sell the team because of poor attendance," he said recently. "It's our fault that the team doesn't win. We can't blame the city. I know what the fans are thinking. It's a lovely evening and a guy is sitting on his patio and he says to himself, 'Why should I go to the ball park? The team is going to lose anyway.' "
One of the reasons often put forward for San Diego's baseball apathy is that the Padres must draw from a San Diego County population pool of only 1.2 million people, smallest in the major leagues. It is apples and oranges, of course, to try to compare baseball's attractiveness with that of football, but the Chargers, drawing from the same pool, do jam the stadium, and so do the ferocious Aztecs of San Diego State, who were the national small-college champions in 1966, '67 and '68.
Two minor sports, which are major in a good many cities, have done well in the past year. The Gulls hockey team proved the best draw in its league, averaging 9,500 spectators per game, and Del Mar had its best meeting ever.
Well, that about ties it up, doesn't it? One successful professional football franchise, one tottering baseball franchise, one lost basketball franchise, a minor league hockey franchise and a second-rank racetrack. Los Angeles Sports-writer Jack Tobin was right when he wrote in 1961: " San Diego, history has proved, is like Long Beach, a great sports center if it is free or costs less than $1." In other words, San Diego is still bush—perhaps irretrievably bush. The uncles failed to put it on the map, to make it really big-lime, to establish a major league image. Or did they?
That invaluable compendium, The Dictionary of American Slang, defines bush as, among other things, unsophisticated, nonprofessional, amateurish, inept, inexperienced, small-time and second-rate Would anyone seriously suggest that San Diego, having lost the Rockets, is now a bush-league town, whereas by virtue of possessing the Mets and the Jets, New York's borough of Queens is sophisticated, professional, big-time, first-rate and even ept? This might have seemed the prevailing view in San Diego the week after the Rocket sale. There was a desperate scramble to get an ABA team to fill the gap. The thought of San Diego without a major league basketball franchise so upset a television man-in-the-street interviewee that he blurted: "Sellin' the Rockets was an awful thing. I never went to see 'em, but I was goin' to one of these days."