Despite the stunning lack of color in their modern uniforms, the San Diego Padres have had a colorful history with their hometown. “Foot” “ball” was the cool kid in town, and the MLB was itching to expand its national and international reach to keep baseball at the forefront of popularity.
Thus, the Padres sprouted out in 1969, promoted from their minor Pacific Coast League in an expansion effort alongside the Seattle Pilots, Montreal Expos, and Kansas City Royals. As of now, 50% of those teams are still around.
The Friars were officially purchased on May 27th, 1968 by a fellow named C. Arnholt Smith and his buddy E.J. Bavasi, back when initials for first names were still a thing. Smith actually bought the team for $4 million more than he was planning on, which is a fitting start to a baseball franchise that hasn’t been used to having a large piece of the financial pie.
Towards the end of ‘73, Smith was getting piled on by the IRS and as part of an 8-digit lawsuit from the federal government. He had to dump the Padres from his ownership — fast. He was a breath away from sending the Friars to Washington D.C. to be renamed the ‘Stars’, but the team from San Diego was hamburgled by McDonald’s CEO Ray Kroc for a whopper-of-a-deal (even for the 70’s): $12 million.
And baseball has been in San Diego and nobody had to be named the ‘Stars’ ever since.
But, not so easily. The newly-owned Padres faced some quick-and-harsh criticism from Kroc in his infamous rant about stupidity and baseball and how the Padres were stupid at baseball. The then-stupid Padres eventually yanked themselves out of their rut in 1978 for the franchise’s first .500-plus season. Heck, we even hosted the All-Star Game that year!
But the decade ended with more stupid baseball, and four years into the 80’s, Ray Kroc had passed away, shifting the team over to his wife Joan. After trying to give the team to the city in 1984, and despite a widowed Joan probably not being very invested in baseball after Ray’s passing, the Padres went to the dang World Series. Their first World Series!
After that, Padres baseball (save Tony Gwynn) started getting a little stupid again. There was some shift of managerial power, Goose Gossage told Joan to stop feeding everybody her poisonous cheeseburgers, he was suspended and apologized. Things got dramatic in San Diego. By the middle of the 1990 season, Joan was ready to sell, but she wanted the Padres to stay the San Diego Padres.
A day after April Fool’s, Joan sold to Tom Werner, a TV producer, for $75 million. He immediately brought on 11 other San Diegans to fill his 15-member ownership board. To promote his team that he now proudly owned, he ran a TV promo with Roseanne (yeah, from Roseanne) singing the national anthem in a double-header at Jack Murphy Stadium. She destroyed it, in a bad way, then clutched herself where a jock cup would be and spat to The Murph’s ground. Fans and whatever you called bloggers then were pretty upset — but that’s still punk rock as hell.
Werner (who by the way was responsible for getting rid of the brown and gold) eventually got rid of the Padres in ‘94 after a few average-performance seasons. Werner was hopping around for people to pick up now-blue Friars from some serious cash and sold ‘em to John Moores, a software tycoon out of San Antonio.
The Padres flirted with success here and there, after winning the west in ‘96, their greatest season ever in ‘98 and a few playoff appearances in ‘05 and ‘06. But that wasn’t before the Friars had a string of losing seasons from 1999-2003 and before they would eventually gear up to move out of The Murph. That’s right, the Padres were getting ready to play somewhere new by 2002.
Somewhere new not being 2 hours up the I-5, but rather a quick hop on the I-8 W and the SR-163 to the Gaslamp Quarter.
On the path to a new home, there was the classic ‘make Jack Murphy Stadium bigger so we can have more football-baseball’ proposition in ‘95, in which Moores gave a big ‘No’ to, and showed just how ready the Padres were to move on from that shell of a stadium after consulting a task force to prove how crumbled and dusty The Murph had really become. He established that the stadium, extended or not, could no longer host the Friars.
It was a new ballpark or bust.
Looking for a home
A few locations were considered, but only if it could be proven that a new venue meant success for the city of San Diego as a whole. The entire deal was contingent on this qualifier, so if you weren’t thinking of the city first you weren’t going to see a new ballpark for your team. Though, keep in mind, this idea of a new ballpark was about to be presented to San Diego voters in the midst of the ‘98 season. The Padres had been loaded with talent, so love was in the air between the team, ownership, and the city.
In November of ‘98, San Diego voters decided they were indeed ready for a new ballpark in San Diego. After the political obstacle of courts effectively canceling the first passed proposition to build a new ballpark downtown, and a few lawsuits here and there, the voters of San Diego collectively voted again to keep baseball in San Diego and construct Petco Park.
Constructing the future of San Diego baseball
So, in an attempt to revitalize the downtown/East Village area and incorporate San Diego’s immediately surrounding history into the Padres’ new home, the most beautiful ballpark in baseball history was built.
Sure enough, it wasn’t an ugly football-baseball multi-sport complex convention center hybrid. Importantly, the 450~ million dollar price tag was paid in part by municipal bonds, hotel taxes, Port of San Diego contributions, and the Padres organization themselves.
Baseball in San Diego was permanently cemented in 2004 due to thoughtful planning from the city, citizens that loved its team and a team that loved its citizens, and decisive action from ownership.
Rooting for the home team
Now, there’s a ton to get into regarding how the city has since handled its finances, how the ballpark will continue to ideally benefit the city for years to come, and the remaining debt of building the park, but the goal of the Padres organization and of Petco Park is carved in the city’s history:
Physically, with a ballpark and surrounding area that the citizens of San Diego can be proud of, and emotionally, with providing us some fun, stupid, hometown baseball.
Hey, there’s no ball like Gaslamp Ball.
Sources: VoSD, Wikipedia, my basic knowledge of the team I love, and random Padres books that have collected some dust.