SAN DIEGO PADRES
With constant sunshine, warm weather and a rich history in the Pacific Coast League, San Diego was a natural choice for a major league expansion team in 1969. The franchise was awarded to a local business entrepreneur named C. Arnholt Smith and the Padres opened their history with a 2-1 win against Houston on April 9, 1969.
Unfortunately, like most expansion teams of the time, the growing pains would be long and difficult. The Padres lost 110 games that first season and finished last in the National League Western Division each of its first six seasons, accumulating a winning percentage of only .368. When Smith ran into financial difficulties in the early 1970's, the team was almost moved to Washington, DC. But Ray Kroc, the fast-food visionary who founded McDonalds Corporation, stepped up and bought the team. He would own them until his death in 1984, which unfortunately came only months before his team's first pennant.
The first star for San Diego was first baseman Nate Colbert. He hit 147 home runs during the Padres first five seasons, his high water mark being 38 in 1972. During that season Colbert walloped five homers in a doubleheader, something only Stan Musial had done to that time. He drove in 13 runs, still a record for RBIs in a doubleheader.
The Padres scuffled during most of the 1970's, although they did produce some noteworthy talent including Randy Jones, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and on the lighter side — the team's famous mascot, the San Diego Chicken. After losing 22 games in 1974, Jones delivered back-to-back 20 win seasons, including a 22-14 record and a 2.76 earned run average to win the 1976 Cy Young Award.
Winfield provided a solid bat and excellent defense from 1974-80, averaging 21 home runs and 88 runs batted in. It's no coincidence the Padres had their first winning season in 1978 during one of Winfield's best seasons (24 HR, 97 RBI, .308 average) and the year Ozzie Smith debuted at shortstop. Smith played four seasons for the Padres until he was traded to St. Louis for Garry Templeton.
After the 84 wins in 1978, the Padres returned to their losing ways until Dick Williams managed them to an 81-81 finish in 1983. The next year, with some imported veterans such as Steve Garvey, Goose Gossage (25 saves) and Graig Nettles combining with home-grown talent such as Kevin McReynolds and Tony Gwynn, the Padres earned their first division title.
Gwynn would become San Diego's most recognized and popular player during the next 20 years. He would win eight batting titles (tying him with Honus Wagner), smack 3,141 hits, and in 1994 he would hit .394, the highest average since San Diego native Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Gwynn would finish his career with a .338 average, 17th best in the game’s history.
The Padres' won in 1984 with a balanced pitching staff in which four starters (Eric Show, Tim Lollar, Mark Thurmond and Ed Whitson) all won in double figures, as did relief ace Gossage. The Padres mounted a stirring National League Championship Series comeback, winning three straight against the Chicago Cubs after losing the first two games. They were not able to match the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, however, with the Tigers winning in five games.
The Padres enjoyed some other successes in the decade. While Gwynn was making the National League batting title his personal property, rookie Benito Santiago had a 34 game hitting streak in 1987, the longest ever by a major league catcher. Also, in 1980 the Padres became the first team in history to have three men steal as many as 50 bases in a season (Gene Richards 61, Ozzie Smith 57 and Jerry Mumphrey 52).
The Padres would not see the postseason again until 1996, when Bruce Bochy led them to 91 wins with weapons like Gwynn (league leading .353 average) Ken Caminiti (40 HR, 130 RBI, .326 and the MVP award) and Trevor Hoffman (42 saves). They were swept out of the playoffs and then finished last in 1997.
To beef up for 1998, the Padres added Greg Vaughn, who responded by smoking 50 home runs to go with Gwynn hitting .321. The pitching rotation was solid, led by Kevin Brown (18-7, 2.38 ERA), Andy Ashby (17-9, 3.34) and Hoffman (53 saves). The Padres rocked the National League West, finishing 9½ games ahead of the Giants. This time they advanced to the World Series but lost four straight to the Yankees.
The team moved into beautiful Petco Park in 2004 and took advantage of a mediocre Western Division in 2005 to win the division title with an 82-80 record. They lost three straight to St. Louis, making their final record 82-83 and giving them the distinction of being the first postseason baseball team to finish with an overall record below .500.
They returned to the playoffs in 2006, but again lost in the division playoffs to St. Louis.
Among individual accomplishments during the decade, right-hander Jake Peavy won the 2007 Cy Young Award with a 19-6 record, 2.54 ERA and 240 strikeouts.