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.
April 4, 1989
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?
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.
During spring training, 16-game winner LaMarr Hoyt voluntarily entered a substance abuse program. In June the Padres decided to ban beer in the clubhouse, and Gossage exploded. "They have Budweiser signs in the park so they can make money," said the Goose, "but they don't want the players unwinding with a couple of beers after a game. How inconsistent and hypocritical is that?" Gossage also called Ballard "gutless" and then accused Joan of "poisoning the world with her hamburgers." That last remark was too much; Gossage was suspended, but 20 days later he paid a $25,000 fine (to charity) and made a public apology in which he said he and his family often enjoyed the fine fare at McDonald's.
In the meantime, Ballard and Linda's marriage was disintegrating, and that added to Joan's disillusionment. She decided to sell the club, and although Garvey headed a group that wanted to buy, she chose to sell to George Argyros, the Newport Beach, Calif., developer who owned the Seattle Mariners at the time. Having developed a reputation for mercurial incompetence in Seattle. Argyros was not about to be welcomed with open arms into the National League. Joan and Argyros dissolved the deal before the sale came to a vote, and Kroc took the club off the market.
McKeon, meanwhile, had seen his good work go down the drain. In what must have been a funk, he made what turned out to be a terrible trade with the New York Mets, giving away outfielder Kevin McReynolds. Larry Bowa, a former infielder of the diminutive fireplug variety, was hired to run the team on the field in '87, and he ran it ragged, throwing tantrums at the players, criticizing them in the press and setting an alltime major league record for clubhouse meetings in a season (17 in April and May alone). In the middle of the year, Ballard Smith resigned as president of the club. He was no longer very popular with the press, anyway, having once called them "flies." (After his statement, the Padres all had flyswatters in their lockers.)
Feeney agreed to take the position on a temporary basis and did a pretty good job of reorganizing the front office. Feeney has many good points, charm being one of them, but it became apparent last year that the game had passed him by. He caught considerable flak when he corralled outfielder John Kruk at a luncheon, thinking he was pitcher Lance McCullers, and said, "Way to go, Lance. You're finally starting to earn the money we're paying you." Says Feeney, "From behind, they do look very similar."
It was perhaps fitting that Feeney was miscast in the Padres' soap opera; he was, after all, a refugee from game shows. Chub had in fact been a two-time contestant on Jeopardy! (unsuccessful both times), and those who passed by his closed door in the Padres offices could often hear the voice of Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. But criticism of his work habits may have been unfair. "I feel I worked very hard," Feeney says. "On the day of a game, I'd be there from 10 in the morning till 11 at night." At any rate, he still had a few more Padres episodes to complete.
On May 28, with the Pads off to a miserable 16-30 start, the team was in New York for a series with the Mets. Feeney flew in to fire Bowa, who learned the bad news from a reporter an hour before Chub called him to his room. Bowa refused to go and later said to reporters, "This would hurt if I got fired by somebody I respect."
Feeney asked general manager McKeon to take the manager's job, and McKeon liked the idea of returning to the field, 10 years after he was fired as the Oakland A's manager. Jack put it to a vote of his family: He and his sons Kelly and Kasey voted dugout; his wife, Carol, and daughters Kori and Kristi (Booker's wife) voted desk. "I settle all ties," says McKeon.
ONE LIFE TO LIVE
McKeon turned out to be just what the Padres needed. As manager, he told them to relax and have fun and keep their heads in the ball game. As general manager, he stole pitcher Dennis Rasmussen in a trade with the Reds. McKeon is reluctant to say it, but he still thinks he can wear both hats. "Whitey Herzog did it in St. Louis, and he stopped only because he liked to go fishing. I don't fish."
Feeney, though, told Jack he would have to choose between the two jobs, which created some friction. But as the team played better and moved up steadily in the standings—the Padres had the second-best record in the NL after McKeon took over—McKeon's power base grew and Feeney's shrank. On Sept. 14, the day McKeon was given a three-year, $1.3 million contract to stay on as manager. Feeney got into a shouting match with Kapstein in the Padres' offices over pitcher Andy Hawkins, whose contract was expiring. A door was slammed and a picture fell to the floor. That night, Feeney went on a pre-game show and made mention of the Hawkins disagreement. Kapstein got wind of what was said, and. furious, he called the press box and demanded a briefing. He showed up in the seventh inning and detailed Chub's flubs. His constant refrain during the briefing was, "Truth is stranger than fiction."
Feeney knew he was already out the door on Fan Appreciation Night. 10 days later. Perhaps feeling liberated, he flipped the aforementioned bird at jeering, sign-waving fans. Those in the know noticed that a man standing nearby, watching the whole thing, mouth agape, was none other than Ballard Smith. As KFMB sportscaster Ted Leitner replayed the gesture on the air, he said, "Chub was just trying to indicate he thought the Padres were Number 1." Actually, Feeney was indicating how many more days he had left with the Padres, for he announced his resignation the next day.
Like all good soap operas, this one had a wedding scene. On Oct. 12, 1988, Kapstein and Linda Smith were married at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. In attendance were several of Kapstein's players—he is devoted to them and they to him—including Gossage, Hawkins, Booker, Nettles and infielder Darrell Evans. The Garv couldn't make it. McKeon, who has a good relationship with Kapstein, was there, and so, of course, was Joan Kroc. Although she privately admitted she happy
with the marriage, she put on a happy face that day. She even exchanged pleasantries with Gossage. "I don't believe in holding grudges," Joan says. "I don't believe in holding grudges," Gossage says.
SEARCH FOR TOMORROW
With Joan again behind him, McKeon went to work over the winter. He got first baseman Jack Clark and pitcher Pat Clements from the Yankees for pitchers McCullers and Jimmy Jones and outfielder Stanley Jefferson. Then, during the winter meetings, he pressed interim president Dick Freeman and Joan Kroc until the club finally signed Bruce Hurst, giving the Padres the only pitching staff in baseball with five starters who threw more than 200 innings apiece last year. And for the capper, McKeon ended a frustrating contract stalemate between Feeney and Tony Gwynn, the Padres top hitter and No. 1 citizen, by offering Gwynn an extension—which he happily accepted.
This off-season, Kroc hired baseball consultant Tal Smith to find her a new president, passing over interim president Freeman, and clearly ignoring the public opinion polls that favored Garvey. Joan (the lifelong Democrat) and Steve (the staunch Republican) have not been on great terms since he tried to buy the club. Garvey even offered to take the job for nothing. "Well, maybe I'd have an incentive clause for finishing first," he says. But now that his love life is out in the open, you or I have a better chance than the Garv.
Joan also asked Tal Smith to help handle some of the club's paperwork. Asked if he felt like an office temp, Tal said, "I'm not sure I like the characterization, but it does fit." In mid-March, the Padres named Freeman president after all.
In the meantime, Joan found Boots, so named for the bandages the vet wrapped around her cut paws after Kroc rescued her. The San Diego papers got wind of the story after she placed an ad in the Union trying to find Boots's true owner. "Poor Boots was obviously in mourning, and I just wanted to find her master," she says. Kroc invited Samantha Khoury, an animal psychologist, to see if she could help Boots in her grief. "I know it sounds silly," says Kroc, "but you never know." As former Padres and new Giants catcher Terry Kennedy says, "When you're worth seven hundred million dollars, you can consult anybody you want to." Kroc does say that Boots is feeling more at home.
With Hurst and Clark feeling more and more at home, too, ticket sales are way up and excitement is high in San Diego. Kroc flew out to Yuma, Ariz., for the first spring training game. After she threw out the first ball to catcher Mark Parent, he gave it back to her and said, "We're gonna win this one for you." Says Kroc, "I think he meant the whole season, not just that game."
So what does the new season hold in store? Will Trader Jack get Joan to name Boots as the new general manager, and thus avoid another potential power struggle? Will the guy marketing the bumper stickers that say STEVE GARVEY IS NOT MY PADRE get rich? Will Goose get released by the Cubs and take up Joan's offer of a job in McDonald's public relations department? Will Chub replace Rolf Benirschke as daytime host of Wheel of Fortune? Will the Padres finally live up to their potential as a franchise? Tune in again tomorrow.
Jack Me Keon