In many ways, baseball is the cruelest of sports. Because of the flow of the action, players tend to be spotlighted one at a time, making it easy for everyone to observe their mistakes and failures. But as a team sport, one player's failure hurts not only him, but also his teammates.
It's much the same way for team owners. More than any other sport, baseball people live with journalists recording most of what they do and much of what they say. And, following baseball tradition, owners are easy targets of fans, players and other self-styled experts, too, especially when their decisions about signing free agents can have such a direct impact on a team's success.
At times during the 13 seasons she and her husband owned the Padres, Joan Kroc must have felt like a shortstop who just threw a double play ball over the second baseman's head into right field. The Kroc stewardship of the Padres has been an adventure, beginning with Ray Kroc's preventing the team from leaving town by buying it from financier C. Arnholt Smith.
The low points included the 60-102 record of 1974, Ray Kroc's lambasting his players over the stadium public address system, the signing of expensive free agents in the '70s who failed to produce, and Joan Kroc's suggestion that former Padre shortstop Ozzie Smith could work in her garden in his off hours if he felt the Padres weren't paying him enough.
More recently, key players have had drug problems. Kroc and team President Ballard Smith, her son-in-law, earned the wrath of the players last season by banning beer from the locker room. Pitcher Rich Gossage later grew so angry with management that his invective to reporters--including criticism of McDonald's hamburgers, the basis of the Kroc fortune--got him suspended for several weeks.
There was the awkward handling of former Manager Dick Williams, and in recent months, fans have watched in disbelief and dismay as the Padres flirted with signing superstar Tim Raines for the upcoming season, but then backed off.
So it may be with a good deal of relief that Joan Kroc has sold her team. But, as do others here, she certainly must have some fond memories as well: Gaylord Perry winning his 300th game and Randy Jones winning the Cy Young Award, for example. In the '80s, the Padres finally signed the right free agents--Gossage and Steve Garvey--and traded for Graig Nettles. Tony Gwynn came out of San Diego State University to become a baseball student's delight.
But most of all, Padres fans will remember the team's first division and league championships, Steve Garvey's home run of a lifetime against the Cubs, broadcaster Dave Campbell shouting, "The World Series is coming to San Diego, folks!" That was 1984, a summer when San Diego needed something to feel good about, and Kroc's team provided it. She can be proud of that.
For Joan Kroc, owning the Padres after her husband's death in 1984 was a three-year stint. Her impact on San Diego, however, has stretched far beyond the baseball field and presumably will continue to. Her philanthropy is well-documented, as is the work of the Kroc Foundation and the now-defunct Operation Cork. She does not need the visibility of being a sports team owner to play an important role in this community.
The Kroc years are over now for the Padres, and the era of George Argyros begins. To him we say welcome. And just one more thing: Sign Tim Raines!