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Remember when Danny Tartabull nearly played for the Padres?

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You know, that one time? Or that other time?

Danny Tartabull

Today is Danny Tartabull’s fifty-fifth birthday, which is as good of a time as any to look back on both times the deadbeat dad best known for appearing on Seinfeld nearly came to San Diego. The two occasions were separated by over eight years, the first coming when he was in the prime of his career, with the second happening when he was nearly three years removed from his last major league game.

Padres general manager Joe McIlvaine first showed interest in Tartabull during the offseason between the 1990 and ‘91 seasons, but that never got past the inquiry stage as the Royals were uninterested in a proposed swap involving Joe Carter. It wasn’t until a year later, when Tartabull was a free agent, that him suiting up in navy and orange became a real possibility. In fact, more than a possibility, it seemed to be a likelihood. Even before officially entering the open market, Tartabull was extremely vocal in tabbing San Diego as his preferred destination.

From Bob Nightengale’s October 27, 1991 article in the LA Times:

"I'd like to take care of the situation as soon as possible," Tartabull said. "I'm not going to make any hasty or foolish decisions, but San Diego is my No. 1 choice.

"I'm going to be wealthy no matter where I sign, but I want to play for a winner, and I want a help a team become a champion. And I think San Diego's that team.

[...]

It might sound crazy, Tartabull says, but in a way, it's almost as if San Diego already feels like home. He and McGriff are longtime friends and used to work out together during the off-seasons in Florida. He met Gwynn and Benito Santiago at the All-Star game, and said Gwynn made him feel as if they knew each other all their lives. He knows and respects Manager Greg Riddoch from when he was a minor leaguer in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

"It's almost like the perfect fit," Tartabull said. "What I did personally this year was nice, but it was only a stepping stone. I want to show people the true Danny Tartabull.

"I want to show how hungry I am to take a team to the top."

"I want that team to be the San Diego Padres."

He expressed a willingness to take less money than he would earn elsewhere, but even that wasn’t enough to strike a deal with the Tom Werner-era Padres. As you would expect, knowing what we now know about Werner’s reign of terror, the club offered low-ball proposals to Tartabull, paired with excuses to fans.

From Nightengale’s December 11 column, one day after Tartabull went on record saying "I think the whole world knows where I want to go. It's just a question of how interested the Padres are. It's coming down to that":

"I told (agent Dennis Gilbert) economically what we can do, and what we can't do," said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager. "Now, we'll determine how badly (Tartabull) wants to come to San Diego.

"We can't compete with flat money, but we'll see whether he wants to come for a lesser arrangement or a creative arrangement. Maybe we'll name the gift shop after him."

[...]

"As a fan, I'd love to have Danny Tartabull," Padre Chairman Tom Werner said. "But it's a question of money. Can we spend $29 million on Danny Tartabull, I don't think so. This isn't a hard and fast thing. It's a question of flexibility.

"It you look at the net worth of our partnership, it's probably greater than any ownership group in baseball, but it doesn't mean you don't want to act sensibly. If we go out and make a bona fide offer for Danny Tartabull, then things have to be done."

As you know, the Padres “missed out” on Tartabull when he declined their “totally in earnest” offers, eventually signing with the Yankees in January, 1992 for $25.5 million over five years after it was assumed that the bidding was down to just the Angels and Rangers. Once that contract was fulfilled, Tartabull signed with the Phillies before the 1997 season, begrudgingly taking “only” $2.3 million, complaining about the amount and circumstances even after he signed. As it turned out, he wasn’t the one who got shorted. For their money, Philadelphia got zero hits as Tartabull broke his foot by fouling a ball off of it in his first at-bat with the team.

In addition to being sidelined the entire 1997 season, Tartabull sat out 1998 and ‘99 before setting his sights on a comeback in the year 2000. The only team to show interest in the rusty 37-year-old was the lowly Padres, but their terms weren’t acceptable in his eyes, which feels like a ridiculous thing to type regarding someone who hadn’t as much as put on a uniform in almost three years. Instead of restructuring the contract incentives to his liking, Padres general manager Kevin Towers let Tartabull know that beggars can’t be choosers by instead signing Ed Sprague to shore up the bench.

After his bluff was called by Towers, Tartabull received no interest from any other teams, officially ending his career. By holding out, Tartabull cost himself at least $250,000 even without incentives, not that it really matters since it’s not like his kids were ever going to see a cent of it.