The fat lady sang. Actually, she screeched. Then she scratched her crotch and spat. But the San Diego Padres didn't need Roseanne Barr's questionable rendition of the national anthem on July 25 at San Diego/Jack Murphy Stadium to tell them that their hopes of winning the pennant were over. A 3-21 stretch in June and July had taken care of that. All Barr did, besides make Pia Zadora sound like Barbra Streisand, was add an embarrassing chapter to an already disappointing season in San Diego.
Now that it's too late, now that the pressure is off, San Diego is finally playing up to its potential, winning six of its last seven games as of Sunday. Don't be surprised if the Padres do just what they did the last two seasons: rip through the second half, finish a bit over .500 and trick people into thinking the season wasn't that bad. It won't work this time, though. After the Padres beat the Houston Astros 6-2 last Friday for their fifth straight victory, San Diego rightfielder Tony Gwynn said, "We have to win 25 in a row to get anyone's attention."
The Padres got baseball's attention in the off-season, when they acquired outfielder Joe Carter from the Cleveland Indians and signed two free agents, pitcher Craig Lefferts and outfielder Fred Lynn. Because San Diego had finished only three games behind the National League West champion San Francisco Giants in 1989, this was supposed to be the Padres' year. Yet at week's end they were 44-55, in fourth place and 15 games out of first.
How could that happen? "It's puzzling to all of us," says manager Greg Riddoch. "But look what's happened to the Cardinals, the Royals. Talk about having name players. We can talk about five players; they can talk about 15. I think the expectations for us were too high. The second half of last year, three or four guys had career half-seasons."
Perhaps expectations were inflated. After all, the Padres weren't true contenders last season. Sure, they went 47-27 after the All-Star break (again, no pressure), but they were 10 games back on Aug. 23, and their finish was deceptive: Three games out was as close as they had gotten to first place since June 2.
Being slightly overrated might explain why the Padres aren't battling the Cincinnati Reds for first place. However, that doesn't explain why they're struggling to stay out of the cellar. True, San Diego entered the season with little depth and then got hit hard by injuries and a series of individual slumps. Nevertheless, as Houston pitcher Jim Deshaies says, "There have to be other reasons. I thought they'd be the team to beat in the division. Maybe there's a fine line between having good players and having a good team."
Another opposing player offers this explanation: "Maybe it's just too nice out there." Too nice?
"Tim Flannery [a former San Diego in-fielder] used to say that to play in San Diego, you have to motivate yourself," says catcher Mark Parent. "The media aren't big here. Fans can motivate you, but the fans here aren't rowdy like those in New York or Boston. [Former Padres outfielder-third baseman] Keith More-land came here from Chicago [in 1988]. There, he would go on the field and kill people. But it's so laid back here, it ate him up. He lost his flair for the game."
No team needs a kick in the pants more often than San Diego. Indeed, according to Parent, a comment by Reds outfielder Eric Davis might have sparked the Padres to win three of four games from Cincinnati last week. "He said he couldn't believe we were playing as bad as our record," says Parent. "The guys might have seen that and got it in gear."
Pitcher Bruce Hurst is among the many Padres who say that the team misses outfielder Chris James. He, along with third baseman Carlos Baerga and catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., went over to Cleveland in the Carter trade. James hit .282 with 11 home runs in the second half of '89, and his aggressive style of play rubbed off on the younger players. Now, says Hurst, "we have some guys who bring the younger guys the other way. They bring 'em down."
Says one National League manager, "I know there's dissension over there." Obviously, good team chemistry wasn't promoted when Gwynn, the Padres' best player and a four-time batting champion, had to defend himself in May against charges by teammates that he's a selfish player who cares more about getting hits than winning games. It also doesn't help that Gwynn and first baseman Jack Clark, an influential presence in the clubhouse, don't get along, as sources insist.
Nor has team harmony been enhanced by the managerial situation. In June, Jack McKeon, San Diego's manager-general manager at the time, began dropping hints that he might want to become a full-time general manager. (McKeon began managing the Padres on May 28, 1988, but said all along it was not a permanent move.) On July 11 McKeon resigned as manager and was replaced by first base coach Riddoch. In his first day on the job, Riddoch was taping a radio interview from the visiting manager's office at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium. As he began answering a question about the status of the Padres, someone flushed a toilet in the office, and the sound of the rushing water drowned out his response. Perhaps it was an omen. Afterward, the team, to quote Gwynn, "went down the toilet," losing 11 of its next 12 games.
When Riddoch, 45, was managing in the minor leagues, from 1973 to '81, he spent his off-seasons teaching psychology and other subjects in junior high and high school in Greeley, Colo. Last year the Padres players nicknamed him Psychology Today, and he had T-shirts made up with those words inscribed on them. Riddoch says he believes in "positive affirmation," and predicts that his background in psychology will help him as a manager "because things I know as far as creating atmosphere will help the players." Some disagree, but Riddoch says that the Padres' attitude "has been good. Even when we're behind, guys are cheering for each other. If everyone had a pillow and was asleep on the bench, I'd rattle some cages."
What has hurt the Padres most is injuries. Benito Santiago was leading National League catchers in batting, homers and RBIs when on June 14 he was hit by a pitch that broke his left arm. (The next day, coincidentally, Tom Werner, the producer of Barr's show, Roseanne, took over operation of the club from Joan Kroc, who had inherited the team from her husband, Ray.) When Santiago went down, the Padres were 30-27 and in second place, six games behind Cincinnati, but then they dropped 26 of their next 34 games. San Diego was also hurt by the loss of Clark, who spent four weeks in May and early June on the disabled list with a strained back and fractured cheekbone. Santiago probably won't play until mid-August at the earliest.
McKeon refuses to use injuries as an alibi. Nor does he blame several key players' slumps. Still, it's hard to ignore these disappointing performances. Hurst, who was 15-11 with a 2.69 ERA last year, was 6-8 with a 4.10 ERA through Sunday. Andy Benes, one of the top young pitchers in the league, went from June 5 to July 26 without a win. Carter was batting .220 at week's end. Clark had only 40 RBIs.
During its 3-21 stretch, San Diego's sloppiness—on defense, on the bases and just about everywhere else—became obvious. After an atrocious 8-3 loss to St. Louis on July 19, Lynn said, "Fundamentally, this is the worst team I've ever been on." That from a guy who played on the 1988 Baltimore Orioles, who lost 107 games, and the '89 Detroit Tigers, who dropped 103. Says another San Diego player, "Some guys don't even know how to play. And not just the kids, but the veterans also."
The team's poor play has intensified trade rumors. Clark's name has been mentioned in talks with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox. It's also possible that Hurst may return to Boston. McKeon doesn't believe that the Padres need an overhaul, just some fine tuning. "I still think the nucleus is good," he says. "I really think if next season began tomorrow, and we started out 10-2 [the way the Reds did this year], we would win it." Dream on, Jack.
Even if the season were opening tomorrow, San Diego would still face some critical questions. Riddoch doesn't know if he will be asked to manage next year. (Either way, he plans to continue teaching as a substitute in Greeley during the off-season, as he has since '83.) In addition, All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, the brother of Sandy Jr., doesn't know if he will play second or shortstop in '91. He was shuffled between the two positions before and after the All-Star break. "It's like spring training around here," says one player. "Guys are being tried at new positions."
Riddoch says he probably will use Alomar at second for the rest of the season, even though Alomar is the team's best shortstop. That means that the Padres may have to find a new shortstop, because Garry Templeton, 34, is on his last legs as a regular. San Diego has been looking for a third baseman for three years and is currently platooning Eddie Williams, who had more errors (16) than RBIs (10) in 1989, and Mike Pagliarulo, who has only three homers and 23 RBIs in 75 games. The Padres would also like to find a centerfielder so that Carter, who has struggled at that position, can move to leftfield, or a first baseman, should Clark be traded. San Diego may pursue St. Louis outfielder Willie McGee, who can be a free agent at season's end. But McGee has said he will consider joining the Padres only if Clark stays. Says Deshaies, "The last thing they should do is dismantle that team."
One person certain not to be back next year—or any year—is Barr. The decision to have her sing The Star-Spangled Banner was made by Werner, a big baseball fan who often sits in the stands instead of his private box. Needless to say, the decision was not one of Werner's savviest.
How bad was Barr's rendition? Well, after hearing her on TV, opera singer Robert Merrill, who has sung the national anthem at Yankee Stadium for two decades, said, "I almost upchucked my dinner. It was to me like the burning of the flag."
Lynn, a 17-year veteran, said, "It's the worst I've ever heard. You don't mess with that song. This is a military town. On Sundays the Marines and Navy come to the games. If it had happened on a Sunday, it could have been real ugly."
San Diego pitcher Eric Show, who is known for his John Birch Society philosophy, said, "For once I find myself in harmony with public opinion. Usually, I find that to be an indictment. But [Barr's performance] was an insult to the song and all the people who died for what we have left of freedom." And President Bush called Barr's song and dance "disgraceful."
The following day the switchboards at the Padres' offices were flooded with calls from fans complaining about her performance. Club president Dick Freeman apologized. Barr said, "I'm sorry that I didn't sing so good, but I'd like to hear him [the President] sing it." Barr also said she would do it all again, "but I'd do it for a hipper crowd. If this is the worst thing they've ever heard, then their lives have been pretty easy."
Werner, claiming Barr meant no disrespect to the anthem, apologized for the incident while speaking at a local Rotary Club luncheon the next day. "Today marks the 40th day since our ownership group acquired the Padres," he said. "In front of this great audience, let me say that Noah, survivor of the great flood, had it easier."
Barr didn't apologize for scratching her crotch and spitting. She said she was merely parodying baseball players, but not many seemed to think her imitation was funny. A Padres executive said it was the most embarrassing moment in the club's 22 years—and that's saying something, given the bizarre history of this franchise.
In 1974, while San Diego was losing its home opener, Ray Kroc, who had purchased the team in the off-season, screamed over the public-address system, "This is the most stupid baseball playing I have ever seen." In 1986 Goose Gossage, then a Padres reliever, was quoted as saying that Joan Kroc, who took over the family business, McDonald's, after Ray died in '84, was "poisoning the world with her hamburgers." In 1988 Chub Feeney, the club president at the time, flashed his middle finger at the crowd on Fan Appreciation Night. No wonder that when Toronto Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston was asked on July 25 if he had ever seen anything as strange as the three-run throwing error made that night by Kansas City catcher Mike Macfarlane, he said, "I've probably seen everything. I played in San Diego."
Last Friday night, the Padres honored Joan Kroc for her contribution to baseball in San Diego. As she stood at home plate, she was handed the microphone. "It's been a long time since a Kroc has been allowed to take the PA. at this stadium," she said. The crowd of 20,244 roared with laughter.
"That was nice," said Gwynn of the tribute. "It's too bad more people weren't there. I think Roseanne soured a lot of people."
So has the Padres' record.