As I write this, the San Diego Padres are mired in last place of the NL West and boast the worst record in the NL. For most of their history, the Padres have been nothing short of a laughingstock, a dim star in the baseball firmament and an afterthought for most pundits making predictions at the beginning of every baseball season. However, this article will focus on those rare moments of brilliance that San Diego has attained in their 40 seasons in the MLB and beyond, going back to 1936 when the PCL Padres began play at Lane Field.
10. Ted Williams makes the leap to the MLB
The story of Ted Williams' life - and his baseball career - began in San Diego. When his mother forbade him to sign for a major league organization after graduating from high school, the "Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived" signed for the PCL Padres in 1936, when the Padres were an affiliate club of the Boston Red Sox. Williams took off playing as a professional for the first time, and the rest - as they say - is history.
9. The 1978 All-Star Game
1978 would prove to be a crucial year for San Diego baseball. En route to their first winning season since their entry to top-flight baseball nine years earlier, '78 would also be the year in which the rest of the nation would be properly introduced to the Padres via the All-Star Game, hosted by the Friars at the then-named San Diego Stadium. Hometown hero Dave Winfield would play for the NL, who won thanks to a terrific performance by future Pad Steve Garvey.
8. The 1996 Season
It had been 12 years since the Padres had been to the playoffs for the only time in their history. After a strike-shortened '95 season that saw the Padres finish four games below .500, GM Kevin Towers made several moves in the off-season, coming away with 1B Wally Joyner, OF Rickey Henderson, P Fernando Valenzuela - adding to an already competitive club which featured Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Trevor Hoffman and Tony Gwynn.
The Padres remained in the divisional race until September, when a late surge allowed them to go into Dodger Stadium against the first-place Dodgers, needing nothing less than a sweep to win the NL West. After winning the first two games, Gwynn (Chris Gwynn, Tony's brother, mind you) shot a double through the gap that would prove to be the game-winner, effectively pushing the Friars past Los Angeles for their first NL West title since 1984.
7. The Opening of Petco Park
In 2004, after a long, six-year struggle with the city of San Diego, Petco Park finally opened its doors to the public. The new-look (literally) Padres took the field promising to contend for the first time since the late '90s, featuring players like Phil Nevin, Ryan Klesko, Mark Loretta and Jake Peavy.
Though the Padres would fall short of their bid to make the '04 playoffs, a solid winning record foreshadowed good things to come, including two consecutive NL West titles and contention for an NL Wild Card spot up until the very last day of the 2007 season. Thanks to its modern style, attractive location within the city and profit turning for San Diego ownership, Padres fans can in part thank their beautiful new stadium for providing them with much to smile about since it opened in 2004.
6. Jerry Coleman inducted into the Hall of Fame
World Series MVP, decorated veteran and war hero, world-class announcer. Those are just some of the terms utilized by others to describe the illustrious life and career of Jerry Coleman, the long-time San Diego Padres radio announcer (and in 1980, their manager) who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, receiving the Ford C. Frick award for his exploits as a broadcaster.
His colorful style, hilarious misquotes and mispronunciations, excitable personality and trademark quotes ("Oh Doctor!", "You can hang a star on that play!") have made him a part of San Diego baseball as much as anything or anyone else.
5. Trevor Hoffman's record-breaking save
Already in possession of the record for most appearances by a pitcher for a single team, Hoffman broke another, more cherished record in the fall of 2006, the all-time saves record held until then by Lee Smith. It was a testament to Hoffman's durability and dominance over the course of almost 15 years. With Hoffman closing games, the Padres have won four Division Titles and one League Championship while Trevor has been selected to six All-Star games. He also holds five distinct MLB records for closers aside from his all-time saves mark.
4. Dave Winfield inducted into the Hall of Fame
One of the most complete athletes of all-time, Dave Winfield was drafted by the Padres in 1973, the same year he was drafted by two basketball franchises (the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the ABA's Utah Stars) and an NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings. During his eight seasons in San Diego, Winfield established many club marks that continue to stand to this day.
His first four All-Star game selections were obtained as a member of the Padres, as were his first two Gold Gloves. After retiring in 1995, Winfield selected the Padres as his team the first year his name appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, in 2001. Today, he remains with the team - serving as a vice president.
3. The 1984 NLCS
The upstart San Diego Padres had made it to their first postseason series in franchise history, earning a showdown against the NL East winning Chicago Cubs, who looked to end a 78-year championship drought.
The Cubs appeared to have the series locked up when they took a 2-0 lead, but San Diego clawed back, winning the next two games and forcing a Game 5 in San Diego. After taking an early lead, the Padres stormed back in the 7th inning, with a bad hop double by Tony Gwynn being the coup de grace. San Diego would go on to their first World Series, and Chicago would go on without winning a title to this very day.
2. The 1998 Season
After winning the NL West in 1996, the Padres finished last in their division the following season. Once again, GM Kevin Towers made key moves which included the trade that brought SP Kevin Brown to the Padres in the off-season.
The Padres won the NL West easily, then took down the favored Astros (Randy Johnson and all) in the NLDS before knocking off the heavily favored Braves in six games in the Championship Series, making it to the World Series for the second time in franchise history. Greg Vaughn hit 50 home runs in 1998, and Tony Gwynn homered in Yankee Stadium in an exciting Game 1 of the World Series.
1. Tony Gwynn
Tony epitomizes what a franchise player should be. Loyalty, class, discipline, talent, an unwavering sense of devotion, and durability. Over the course of his grandiose playing career, Tony Gwynn came to be known as "Mr. Padre", a title that will no doubt continue to be bestowed upon him for all time.
Tony was a pleasure to watch, putting on hitting clinics every night for teammates and opponents alike, winning eight batting titles and seven Silver Slugger Awards over the course of twenty seasons with San Diego. In the field, a consummate outfielder, he collected five Gold Glove awards while being selected to 15 All-Star games, all franchise records.
With 3,141 hits, a lifetime .338 average and more than 300 stolen bases at the end of his career, Tony was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2007 with a whopping 97.6% of the ballot vote.
Today, while managing San Diego State University, he is a constant contributor in the broadcast booth at Petco Park, which overlooks center field, and a huge, glowing "19" hanging out above the bleachers, a synonym of Tony Gwynn.
A synonym of quality. A synonym of San Diego. A synonym of baseball.
Honorable Mentions: Randy Jones' Cy Young season in 1976, Mark Davis' Cy Young season in 1989, Jake Peavy's Cy Young season in 2007, Ken Caminiti's 1996 MVP Award, Benito Santiago's Rookie of the Year season and 34 game hitting streak, the 1996 series vs. the New York Mets in Monterrey, Mexico.