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Padres Must Wait for ’89 to Judge ’88 : Progress Was Made, but Will It Lead to Contender Status?

Times Staff Writer

It was 11:35 p.m. on Wednesday. The Padres had dashed onto their home field to mob Mark Parent after he beat the Dodgers, 2-1, with a 16th-inning homer, when something funny happened.

They stayed there.

They spread their arms. They doffed their caps. To the several thousand people still left in the San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium stands, they waved and smiled and mugged. This being their last 1988 game at home, it was a giant thank you card.

But as they were finally departing for for clubhouse, something else funny happened. Jack McKeon stayed.

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He spun around and waved some more. Into the first-base box seats. Over to the third-base box seats. Out into the bleachers.

In the end, after six months, two managers, two club presidents and a dozen different debilitating injuries to Chris Brown, it had come down to just that. Jack McKeon and the fans. And how appropriate.

It was McKeon who turned the team from major league ruin into the National League rage. And it is is because of McKeon that 1988 can best be described as a preamble to 1989.

It was a great year--if it can trusted.

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It was a great year--if the starting pitching staff is really that strong, if Mark Davis’ curveball is really that wicked, if Roberto Alomar is really that good, if Tony Gwynn can really play center field, if Carmelo Martinez can really play every day, and if Tim Flannery and Marvell Wynne really have enough left to keep the bench that warm.

It was a great year--if the Padres can take their core of Dennis Rasmussen-type discoveries and add a couple of power hitters and turn the whole thing into a 1989 pennant race.

If not, then it was not a great year. It was an average year for a team just being human. It was a year of a team that hated its first manager (Larry Bowa) so bad that it played him out of a job and then spent the next four months playing above its head to burn his memory. This could very well be a team that, power hitter or not, will go into next spring training searching for another cause. Lacking one, next summer could be another exercise in running in place.

Some people agree with the first theory. “We hate to get people’s hopes high, but we feel like we felt the year before we won it, 1984,” Gwynn said. “We learned a few things this year. Like how to win.”

Other people agree that you just don’t know. “Who knows?” McKeon admitted. “Who knows if what I did this year is going to have the same success next year? Who knows what was going on here.”

The Year in Quotes

--Agent Jerry Kapstein: “I went to Chub Feeney’s apartment at 9 p.m. this spring to negotiate, and his wife said, “Sorry, Chub has gone to sleep.”’

--Chub Feeney to coach Greg Riddoch: “Good luck this year, Rick.”

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--Larry Bowa: “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

--Andy Hawkins: “Larry was not qualified to manage this team.”

--John Kruk: “Even God couldn’t manage this team.”

--Chub Feeney to John Kruk: “Nice job pitching yesterday, Lance.”

--Marvell Wynne after Chris Brown slugged him: “I’ve decided this is not the place or time for revenge, so for now I’ll let it be. For now.”

--Chris Brown: “What altercation?”

--Littleton Waller, La Jolla businessmen who instigated an obscene gesture by Feeney by painting a “Scrub Chub” banner: “We wanted to also put on the banner, ‘And take Chris Brown with you,’ but there wasn’t room.”

--Chub Feeney: “I deny making any obscene gesture. That is absolutely ridiculous.”

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--Jack McKeon: “I’ll keep my vice president’s title until the end of the year, whenever that is.”

The Padres will finish the season above .500 for only the fourth time in club’s 20-year history. They did it with pitching and defense--with one of the league’s top starting staffs, with one of its top left-handed relievers and one its best fielding averages.

The hitting? Well, what hitting are we discussing? Brown’s sucker punch of Wynne? Mark Grant’s striking of a match while attempting to give Wynne a hot foot in the dugout during the middle of a game in Philadelphia?

Oh, you mean the other hitting? Well, the Padres likely will have a batting champion for the third time in five years. Of course, Gwynn will become the first player in National League history to win the title while hitting less than .320.

And, well, backup catcher Parent will probably end up with 5 homers in 39 games, not bad power numbers. Except that’s exactly how many home runs starting first baseman Keith Moreland will probably end up with in 140-plus games--a mere 22 fewer than he had last season with the Chicago Cubs.

Put it this way. The team’s third-leading home run hitter will be part-timer Wynne. Only three guys will have 50 or more RBIs. And they could end up outscoring opponents by less than 10 runs despite winning more than they lose.

“It’s pretty obvious what we need,” Gwynn said. “We need some pop .”

Timing Wasn’t Everything

--Larry Bowa was fired at 7 a.m., while still in his pajamas.

--Jack McKeon made the deal with Cincinnati for Dennis Rasmussen at 8 a.m., while sitting at his breakfast table.

--Two hours after Chub Feeney vehemently denied giving an obscene gesture, that gesture was being shown on the late news.

--Chris Brown held up a game in Atlanta for five minutes because of a broken jock.

--On Sept. 7, the Padres and Cincinnati combined to score one run on nine hits--and the game lasted 2:45.

For a season that began 16-30 with shame enough for everybody, it ended with plenty of heroes.

Gwynn’s courage in contending for the batting title with a sore and swollen hand so impressed teammates that they voted him their Most Valuable Player.

Gwynn said he would have voted for reliever Mark Davis, who after five years of searching finally found a home as the Padres’ bullpen stopper.

Dennis Rasmussen’s turnaround from a 2-6 Cincinnati pitcher to a guy who won 10 of his first 11 decisions here made him a team leader--he’s even the club’s new player representative.

Eric Show’s complete games--13 despite 11 losses--made folks believe in his toughness. The man who was once shunned by teammates now has them nervous that he might be lost through free agency.

Heroes were made of comebacks and debuts. Andy Hawkins and Dickie Thon, rebounding from shoulder and eye problems, showed how mental can prevail over the physical. Rookie Roberto Alomar showed how the youngest player on the team--youngest in the league for most of the season at 20--can darn near become the best.

And locker mates Martinez and Benito Santiago showed how, in the words of Martinez, “You don’t mess with the Puerto Rican mafia--one day we’re going to run this team.”

Just when both players were being left for disappointments, Martinez turned on the power and Santiago turned on the defense.

And who will forget the dizzying ride of Wynne, who on June 16 already had reached a career high in homers (8) with his third highest RBI total (26). So what if he has only hit 3 homers with 15 RBIs since then? Remember, after Wynne’s left eye was nearly closed from that Brown punch on June 27, he still agreed to enter the game in the eighth inning that night as a defensive replacement.

Inauspicious Beginnings

--Roberto Alomar was late for his first big-league press gathering because he was in another room weeping his way through two towels. It was the end of spring training, and he had just been told he would start the season at triple-A las Vegas.

--In spring training, against the first hitter in his first game in a Padre uniform, Keith Moreland dove for a ball and wrenched his shoulder and was never the same.

--In his first game managing in a Padre uniform, Jack McKeon couldn’t find one that fit. He borrowed some pants from John Kruk. “What are you going to do?” Kruk asked. “Sew my pants and Tony’s pants together?”

--In his first game in right field in his pro career, Carmelo Martinez spent nine innings with his mind elsewhere: “The whole time I was praying,” Martinez said. “Praying they wouldn’t hit me the ball.”

In a season where you lose as many as you win, not everyone can be a hero.

Ask Moreland, the man with five homers: “I’ll be the first one to admit that this year, I’ve been terrible. Awful. Terrible. There’s no other way to put it.”

Ask Kruk, the man with the .241 average: “It’s gotten so bad for me, I don’t even get mad when I strike out. It’s gotten so bad, I can’t even watch the games. Sometimes, when I’m not playing, I’ve gone up into the runway behind the dugout and sit for a few innings and just think about this winter.”

Ask Lance McCullers, the reliever who has lost eight leads: “I’ll admit, things haven’t always gone my way.”

Then there were the collective goats, the organization’s top three outfield prospects that many thought would keep them safe at that position for years to come. Remember Shane Mack, Shawn Abner and Stanley Jefferson?

Only one of them ended the season in the big leagues--Jefferson--and he has only had two at-bats in September. The other two had brief big league chances and failed. With McKeon hoping to put the team in a pennant race next year, it is doubtful he will have patience for any more growing pains.

“Last year and this year was the chance for our young players to show they could do it,” McKeon said. “If they couldn’t, well, next year could be a different story.”

Surprise Endings

--Pitcher Dave Leiper beat the Atlanta Braves with a 16th-inning single in his first big-league plate appearance. “Somebody asked me if I hit a fastball or a curve,” Leiper said. “How should I know?”

--Mark Parent beat the Dodgers with a 16th-inning homer in only his 38th game of the year.

--Benito Santiago beat his own team in Chicago with a pickoff throw to second base in the 11th inning. It was a good throw, but he didn’t warn anyone. And he threw it in the middle of an intentional walk. The ball went untouched into center field, Manny Trillo scored from second, and the Cubs won, 5-4. Said unwary second baseman Roberto Alomar: “If that ball would have hit me, it would have killed me.”

--The Padre relievers blew four leads in the last five innings to lose, 7-6, to Montreal on May 24. Afterward, Larry Bowa, particularly incensed at one reliever, said, “I’m never going to pitch Candy Sierra again unless the score is at least 12-1.” Four days later Bowa was fired, and two weeks later, Sierra was traded.

So what are the Padre going to do now? Here’s what the best-informed Padre and big league sources have to offer.

Their search for power hitters will begin with Kansas City’s unhappy slugger, Danny Tartabull, who lives in his area and would love to play here. The Padres would give the Royals top catching prospect Sandy Alomar Jr. and McCullers for Tartabull and one of the Royals’ starting pitchers.

The search will continue to New York, where Jack Clark is available and enticing. A deal involving Alomar Jr. or one of the Padres’ starting pitchers will be discussed. From New York, the search could move to Houston, where strong outfielder Kevin Bass works and is available from a team that desperately needs catching.

Then there is the free-agent market. The Padres are guessing they might have to part with a starter to get a power hitter, so they will likely contact Seattle Mariner Mike Moore when he declares his free agency. Still thinking power, look for them to talk with Dodger Mike Marshall when he declares.

Ideally, McKeon would like to find two power-hitting bookends to surround Gwynn in center field. He would then like to try Martinez at third base and move Kruk to first, although Kruk might be part of a trade.

If it appears McKeon can only get one power-hitting outfielder, look for him to leave Martinez in left and instead pursue a pure third baseman, such as power-hitting Jim Presley of Seattle.

Whatever, after his fine finish in 1988, look for McKeon to do something.

“If everything in this division stays the same, and we take this same club and add a little power and depth, we could be in contention next year,” McKeon said. “But then, if Cincinnati comes on strong or the Giants recover, it will be very difficult for us right away. But then, who knows? Who thought the Dodgers would do what they did?

“There’s no guarantees of anything in this game.”

After spending 1987 with the Padres, that much we know.

Three Best Reasons Chris Brown Missed Games:

--Bruised tooth root when hit by ball during batting practice

--Twisted right heel walking off field.

--Bruised right thumb while punching Marvell Wynne.

ASSESSING THE PADRESPlayer: Roberto Alomar Pos.: 2B Key ’88 Stat: 14 errors/1st 92 games, 2/final 52 games Future: Best NL second baseman by 1990, untouchable. Player: Sandy Alomar Jr. Pos.: C Key ’88 Stat: 0 for 0 vs. big league pitching Future: Likely will be traded for proven power hitter. Player: Greg Booker Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Best outing was only start, 1 run/6 innings Future: If not traded, willbe fifth starter candidate. Player: Chris Brown Pos.: 3B Key ’88 Stat: 7 games since hurt exiting field Aug. 27 Future: Likely to be traded immediately, maybe sooner.

Player: Jerald Clark Pos.: OF Key ’88 Stat: Hit above .300 in 4 minor league seasons Future: Top prospect, could slip in as club’s final outfielder.

Player: Mark Davis Pos.: LHP Key ’88 Stat: Didn’t allow homer after June 3 Future: One of league’s top two left-handed relievers, untouchable.

Player: Tim Flannery Pos.: INF Key ’88 Stat: Tied club record with 5 straight pinch hits Future: Invaluable leader in possible 1989 pennant drive.

Player: Mark Grant Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Allowed 4 or more runs in 5 of 11 starts Future: If not traded, will replace Lance McCullers as setup man.

Player: Tony Gwynn Pos.: CF Key ’88 Stat: Club 10-16 when he didn’t play Future: Center fielder only if club can find power-hitting right fielder.

Player: Greg Harris Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: 1988 team-high 11 Ks in first start Future: Will push Jimmy Jones for fifth starter spot.

Player: Andy Hawkins Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Fewer hits than IP in 22 of 33 starts Future: Because of age (28), most tradable starter.

Player: Stan Jefferson Pos.: OF Key ’88 Stat: Opening-day starter, 2 at-bats all of Sept. Future: Traded, or buriedat Las Vegas.

Player: Jimmy Jones Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Won only twice after July 24 Future: If not traded, must fight to stay in rotation.

Player: John Kruk Pos.: OF Key ’88 Stat: .241 average lowest of pro career Future: Likely traded, even with loweredvalue.

Player: Dave Leiper Pos.: LHP Key ’88 Stat: 2-0, 1 save in 1 opportunity Future: Perfect as left-handed setup man.

Player: Carmelo Martinez Pos.: 1B Key ’88 Stat: Since starter Aug. 18, 11 HRs/28 RBIs Future: If not starting firstbaseman, will be starting third baseman.

Player: Keith Moreland Pos.: 1B Key ’88 Stat: Same number of HRs as Mark Parent (5) Future: If can’t trade (probably can’t) will be veteran off bench.

Player: Lance McCullers Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Single-handedly blew 8 leads Future: Next to Sandy Alomar Jr., biggest lock to be traded

Player: Rob Nelson Pos.: 1B Key ’88 Stat: 130 Ks in 386 minor-league at-bats Future: Needs to fill holes in swing before finding future here.

Player: Mark Parent Pos.: C Key ’88 Stat: Since July 31, club 7-2 in his starts Future: Invaluable as quiet backup;role will not change.

Player: Dennis Rasmussen Pos.: LHP Key ’88 Stat: Lasted into 7th 15 times in 19 starts Future: No. 2 man in rotation.

Player: Randy Ready Pos.: INF Key ’88 Stat: 1 for 17 during 4 3B starts in row in Aug. Future: Platoon 3B or role player.

Player: Bip Roberts Pos.: INF Key ’88 Stat: Average in minors up .47 from ’87 to .353 Future: 3B candidate or minors.

Player: Benito Santiago Pos.: C Key ’88 Stat: Picked off 8 runners from knees Future: Trade? Only for Don Mattingly.

Player: Eric Show Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: 13 CG most since R. Jones’ 25 in 1976 Future: Once tradeable, now staff ace.

Player: Garry Templeton Pos.: SS Key ’88 Stat: .184 with Bowa, .275 with McKeon Future: Platoon SS with Thon.

Player: Dickie Thon Pos.: SS Key ’88 Stat: 6 errors in 8 September starts Future: Platoon SS with Templeton.

Player: Ed Whitson Pos.: RHP Key ’88 Stat: Bullpen blew four of his leads Future: Last year of contract, trade candidate.

Player: Marvell Wynne Pos.: OF Key ’88 Stat: 8 HRs/first 51 games, 3/next 73 Future: Energetic, uncomplaining left-handed role player.


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