Next July, when McIlvaine reaches the midway point of his five-year contract, his status will be evaluated by the ownership group, which holds an option to buy out the last two years of his contract. It will probably exercise that option, ending what has been a tense relationship between McIlvaine and Werner.
The man caught in the middle of all this is Jim Riggleman, who is in his first spring as a major league manager. He has been roundly praised in camp, especially by Hurst, for his professional approach to what is obviously a difficult situation. Riggleman has been able to keep the players upbeat in the face of the upheaval. "No sense whining," says Sheffield. "All we can do is entertain the fans the best we can."
The fans who follow the Padres have been anything but upbeat. In the March 7 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune, a letter to the editor read, "If the Werner Wrecking Crew keeps going, they won't have enough fans to raise the flag on Iwo Jima.... And someone should tell Tom there are two things that need cleaning up in San Diego: the Tijuana River, and his act. They're both full of the same thing."
After a recent game at Desert Sun Stadium, McIlvaine participated in a question-and-answer session with fans gathered behind home plate. Some of them must have been from Raggers Rail, given the negative, even nasty, tone of the questions, which included, "How are we going to win when we trade our stars for nobody?" and "Is Werner going to sell?" and "How can you stand up there and tell us to our faces that we can win the West?"
Tough crowd. One of the last queries came from a seven-year-old named Travis, whom the moderator introduced as "the Padres' shortstop in the year 2005." Before Travis could speak, a fan, no doubt a Railbird, said with disgust, "Sign the kid. He won't cost much."