When Padres’ Problems Became Her Problems, the Fun Was Over : These Are Difficult Times for San Diego Owner Joan Kroc, Who Tries to Deal With Such Issues as Drugs and Alcohol
The late Ray Kroc told this story in his autobiography, “Grinding It Out”:
“I got in the car with Joni at the airport and told her that I was thinking of buying the San Diego Padres. She looked at me quizzically and said, ‘What on earth is that, a monastery?’ ”
Now, Joan Kroc knows. But here in her third full year as Padre owner, baseball has not always been very, very good to her.
In an interview last week, she tackled some of baseball’s toughest issues, including drugs, and, at one point, said: “I’m having a bad day today. I’m missing Ray real bad today.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Ray Kroc had died in January of 1984, leaving the team with her (“Not by choice,” she said), but the Padres went right out and won a pennant.
Wasn’t it fun?
But then second baseman Alan Wiggins had a cocaine relapse, and it was Joan Kroc who decided he had to go.
Then, when the team slumped in 1985, Manager Dick Williams decided to resign, and it was Joan Kroc who talked him out of it. Eventually, Williams resigned.
Then all-star pitcher LaMarr Hoyt announced he was an alcoholic, and it was Joan Kroc’s Operation CORK (that’s Kroc backwards) that helped put him in a rehabilitation center.
The past year, at times, has been horrifying.
“Very difficult times, yes,” Joan Kroc said Thursday.
It hasn’t been like that the first, wonderful year.
“Well, it (1984) wasn’t hard because I didn’t think I’d have to or need to or want to get involved,” she said. " . . . But when I see things, then if I’m going to own it--and, again, not by choice--then I have to act responsibly and take the responsibility for certain philosophies. Fortunately, Ballard (Smith, team president and her son-in-law) agrees with me 99 and 9/10% on all of these. . . . But, it’s been really tough.”
Still, here’s how Ray Kroc described her in his book: “Joni is a strong person who knows her own mind.”
Thursday, she gave a piece of her mind about:
She doesn’t like it that beer is so readily available in her team’s clubhouse. She said she will have Smith ask the players what they think about eliminating the beer altogether.
She said: “We have booze in the locker room--no, what do you call it?--we have it in the lounge for players. My feeling would be I would be delighted if they decided not to do that, and I’ll tell you why. It’s a business. It’s a profession. And these are professionals. When you go to a doctor and he does surgery, when his surgery is completed, he doesn’t go into the doctor’s lounge and have three beers. See? So I think it’s a question of how we look at it.
“And I would hope that all of the clubs eventually would begin, and I think they are beginning, to take a good look at that. Because it’s enabling, isn’t it? It’s saying: ‘Here we are, with a treatment program and prevention and intervention, and all of this, and yet we put this big, big bowl of candy out there and say, This is your reward.’ It’s a contradiction.”
But isn’t a cold brew synonymous with baseball?
“Sure,” she said. “It’s fine after they’re finished playing. But . . . not to have it there so casual as we do. You don’t drink at a funeral. You drink at weddings, but there’s certain places where it’s appropriate and others where it’s not.”
She said it is different than alcohol.
“I’m not ever going to put up with that,” she said. “No. 1, it’s against the law, that’s all.”
Unlike Wiggins, who suffered that cocaine relapse last year and was traded, Hoyt might get a second chance if he again succumbs to alcohol. With Wiggins, Kroc wanted him gone because he apparently hadn’t followed his aftercare program. She will not tolerate players who do not.
So, as long as Hoyt tries to beat alcoholism, he will stay with the team.
“What we want to let him know is that we’re available for him,” Kroc said. “And if things get bad, and he were to come to us and say: ‘Hey, I had a slip,’ meaning he drank, we’d embrace him. But if he refuses to go to meetings or whatever the aftercare is that Hazelden (Foundation in Minnesota) recommended for him and then he gets picked up for drunk driving or something, it’s over.
“And that’s what you call tough love, and it’s awful. But, I care more about LaMarr than I do--and this will shock you, and the fans might not like it--but I care about him much more than I care about winning a ballgame. It’s not a terribly popular (ideal), but it’s part of my philosophy.”
BEING AN OWNER
Does she even like it? Has she reached the point where she would rather not be involved anymore?
“No, not yet,” Kroc said. “You know why? Because the only thing I can contribute to baseball--and I’m right in the middle of it now as you know--is this drug thing. And I heard Don Fehr (director of the Major League Players Assn.) on the radio this morning, and he seems like such a likable young man, and I wish, down the line, we could sit down with him and have him realize that we are not on a witch hunt.
“I think it (the drug testing issue) is very threatening to him. And I thought, gosh, I hope we aren’t at the point in baseball where the only thing we have to fear is Fehr himself.”
So she is not ready to sell the team, though she admits she has options.
“No, I’m not (ready),” she said. “But I do know that if you own a car, you have an option to get it fixed, not drive it at all or sell it. As long as I know I have options . . . “Certainly, I’m becoming more comfortable with it (ownership). Let’s put it that way.”
THE PADRE IMAGE
“No, it’s not the same as it was,” she said. “But there is (interest). And where there’s hope, there’s always anticipation. And I think the fans are hopeful. I think they can see we really want to give them a wholesome, fun time and not be stingy on buying talent and try to keep those prices down. That (the prices) is very important to me, as it was to Ray. The bottom line is the fans.”
DICK WILLIAMS FIASCO
She says it is over.
“It certainly is, as far as I’m concerned. Regrets? No. You know what? The two words I’d say we should remove from the English language are guilt and regret. Because they’re counterproductive, I think.
“No, I love the team, and I’ve got wonderful people running it. I’m very pleased with (new manager) Steve (Boros). I think he’s being beautifully received. I think the boys like him, and I like him. He’s very forthright, isn’t he?”
She said: “Boy, I never dreamed. I’ve learned something. I can’t imagine why everybody, even now, is so anxious to talk with me. I mean, I’m not trying to play Humble Annie; I just find it amusing. If it’s that important to you guys, I’ll talk to you.”
He saw her for the first time at a restaurant.
She was playing the piano.
“I was stunned by her blond beauty,” Ray Kroc wrote in his book. “Yes, she was married. Since I was married, too, the spark that ignited when our eyes met had to be ignored, but I would never forget.”
He divorced his wife, Ethel Fleming, and proposed marriage.
Joan turned him down.
“Her daughter and her mother had helped her make up her mind,” he wrote. “They were both strongly opposed to her getting a divorce, and she couldn’t bring herself to break with them. So her answer was no.”
He met another woman, named Jane Dobbins Green, and he married her.
He wrote: “Of course, Joni found out about it eventually. One day, I got a telephone call from her, and we had a brief, businesslike conversation that she ended by asking, ‘Ray, are you happy?’
“I was shaken and astonished. It took me a moment to catch my voice. Then, I blurted, ‘Yes!’ and slammed down the receiver.”
But he never forgot her.
“I was content with Jane,” he wrote. “She was a fine lady, but it was Joni I loved and knew I always would.”
For five years, they were apart. But they met again in San Diego and . . .
“Joan told me she was ready now to get a divorce regardless of what her family might say,” he wrote. “She was ready at last to marry me, regardless of what gossips might say.
They were married March 8, 1969.
“He left an impression on anyone who knew him,” Joan Kroc said.
So is her commitment to the Padres all for Ray Kroc?
“A lot of it,” she said. “A lot of it.”