Ending Up With Enzo: A Padres History Lesson

As part of our February Happiness Baseball Resolutions, I got permission from the esteemed Rob Neyer to republish one of his essays from his terrific book Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups : A Complete Guide to the Best, Worst, and Most Memorable Players to Ever Grace the Major Leagues. I think we all know that, as Padres Fans, we dislike the Dodgers, but this essay sums up so much more of why we dislike the Dodgers. Like it's part of our genetic makeup. You might think that focusing on the negative is contradictory to the Happiness Project, but one of the great things about rooting in sports is having rivals and regardless of how Dodger Fan may think of us, there are perfectly good reasons why they could be considered our most hated rival and the first perfectly good reason happened right from the get go. Don't let it make you unhappy. Instead, relish in the joy of having a rival knowing the roots of that rivalry. Enjoy!

-Dex

Ending Up With Enzo by Rob Neyer

Tommy Dean. Jose Arcia. Enzo Hernandez. Derrel Thomas. Bill Almon.

Those are the men who played shortstop for the San Diego Padres before Ozzie Smith arrived in 1978. Mostly it was Hernandez, who played regularly for the better part of six seasons. And to be brutally honest, Enzo Hernandez has to rank among the worst players ever to play regularly for so many seasons. He was a terrible hitter, even for a shortstop. In those six seasons, he batted .225 with a .285 OBP and .267 slugging percentage. He did run pretty well, but wasn't on base nearly often enough for his speed to make much of a difference. The real problem, though, was that Hernandez wasn't much on defense, either. He was adequate, at best, and adequate isn't actually adequate when you're a complete zero with the stick.

And the hell of it was, the Padres could have had somebody good.

In July of 1968, the National League voted to expand into San Diego and Montreal. A banker named C. Arnholt Smith owned the minor-league San Diego Padres, and he got the new major-league franchise. Shortly afterward, Smith hired Buzzie Bavasi, then running the Dodgers, to run the new Padres. Bavasi wanted to stay with the Dodgers for a bit longer, but Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley told him that Phillies owner Bob Carpenter thought it would be a conflict of interest for Bavasi to stay on in Los Angeles. And so O'Malley wanted him out immediately.

Bavasi didn't understand how it could be a conflict of interest without one ballplayer in San Diego yet, and John Quinn, the Phillies' general manager, assured Bavasi that Carpenter didn't know anything about the situation. Then O'Malley asked Bavasi to stick around a few days so the Dodger players could give Bavasi a motorboat, after which Bavasi finally resigned.

But then, prior to the expansion draft in October, with Fresco Thompson in the hospital - Thompson was a long-time Dodgers executive who had taken over for Bavasi - O'Malley called Bavasi to ask for help preparing the list of forty players the Dodgers would protect in the Expansion Draft. Even though Bavasi was working for the Padres, he agreed to help O'Malley since Thompson was in the hospital.

Now that is a conflict of interest.

But wait, it gets worse. On the way to Dodger Stadium, Bavasi stopped at the hospital to visit Thompson. As Bavasi later related in his memoirs,

I went up to see Fresco, and I told him I was doing his job for him, that I was going to Los Angeles to help Walter.

"That's fine, Buzzie," Fresco said, "but who are you going to take in the draft?"

"Bill Russell, Jeff Torber, and Jim Brewer," I said, mentioning three players the Dodgers were not planning on protecting."

"Ohm you can't do that, particularly Russell and Brewer. Russell's a fine prospect."

"That's why I'm taking him," I said.

"You can't do that," Fresco pleaded. "Buzzie, don't do that to me, really."

". . . OK, I'll do it for you . . ." I had spoken with the doctor, who had told me that Fresco was dying and that he wasn't going to make it. I knew I had to keep my promise.

. . . I went to Dodger Stadium and met with Walter O'Malley and Walter Alston. I said, "You can't leave Brewer on the unprotected list. If you leave him there and I don't draft him, people are going to crucify me."

Brewer had had 14 saves in 1968. I talked them into including Brewer on the protected list, which took the heat off me. Leaving Russell unprotected was OK, because nobody knew him at the time.

The Padres wound up drafting outfielders Al Ferrara and Jim Williams, and shortstop Zoilo Versalles, from the Dodgers. Ferrara gave the Padres a couple of good years, Williams barely played, and Versalles got traded to Cleveland for first baseman Bill Davis (who batted .175 in thirty-one games for the Padres).

Summing up . . . to run their team - and oversee their efforts in the Expansion Draft - the Padres hired a high-ranking employee of the Dodgers, perennial contenders with an enviable depth of talent in their organization. And the Padres came out of the draft with one ex-Dodger who helped them, and two who didn't.

From 1969 through 1973, Jim Brewer saved 103 games with a 2.38 ERA.

Bill Russell made the Dodgers' opening-day roster in 1969. And after three seasons in the outfield - the Dodgers still had Maury Wills at short - Russell took over as the club's everyday shortstop in 1972 and held the job for a dozen years.

Due to Bavasi's presence, the Padres employed a string of mangers with historical ties to the Dodgers. But the Padres didn't employ nearly enough players with historical ties to the Dodgers. And what made this all the stranger is that when C. Arnholt Smith hired Bavasi, he'd given him a thirty-two percent interest in the franchise.

The San Diego Padres finished last in each of their first six seasons, and they'd have finished last even with Jim Brewer and Bill Russell, so not having those guys certainly didn't kill the Padres. But having them sure as hell would have helped.

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