First there was The Trade. Then there was The Road Trip. Then there was The Fight. Then there was The Plane Ride. Then there was The Comeback.
And all of a sudden the 1984 Padres, a team that in its 15 previous years of existence had never finished in the first division of the National League West, were in The World Series.
“Not many days go by that I don’t think about 1984,” says utility infielder Tim Flannery, one of eight Padres from that season who are members of the team’s 1989 major league roster.
It was a series that would turn out to be a disaster for the Padres. The Detroit Tigers wore out a tired and shallow Padre pitching staff. And if Kurt Bevacqua, the Padres’ DH, hadn’t lifted an 0-1 pitch from Dan Petry into the left-field bleachers for a three-run home run to help win Game 2, the Padres probably would have been swept. As in broom.
Actually the memory of the Padres’ failure in the 1984 World Series has a lot more to do with the success the people in San Diego are expecting from the 1989 team.
“No question the people are excited,” says Tony Gwynn, the National League batting champion. “And we’ve got some horses now. But we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Their 1989 identity is still in the formative stages.
“We won’t know if we have chemistry until it starts happening,” Flannery says.
Part of the chemistry of 1984 came from Alan Wiggins, whose Padre career would disintegrate when he was arrested for possession of cocaine a year later. Though only 31, Wiggins is now out of baseball, and Padre officials say the best place to find him is fishing on Lake Poway.
But in 1984, Wiggins was part of the puzzle rather than part puzzlement. Before the season, Manager Dick Williams converted Wiggins from the outfield to second base. The move was wildly successful. Wiggins rapped out 154 hits, stole 70 bases and finished with an on-base percentage of .342.
He also distracted opposing pitchers enough to help Gwynn win what would be the first of three batting titles in five years. Gwynn finished with a .351 average, but it was well above .400 when Wiggins, batting leadoff, was on base ahead of him.
This was also the year that Trader Jack blossomed. General Manager Jack McKeon was the former Oakland manager who used to sit in the A’s clubhouse after games and shrug while owner Charles O. Finley answered questions directed at him.
On Jan. 6, the Padres signed Goose Gossage, a relief pitcher whose fastball was almost as nasty as his personality. Gossage, released this week by the Cubs, would finish with 25 saves and contribute mightily to the Padres’ 34-24 record in one-run games.
Eight days after the Gossage acquisition, owner Ray Kroc died at the age of 81. The Padres dedicated the season to his memory by wearing the initials “RAK” on the left sleeve of their uniforms. His wife, Joan, succeeded him as owner and chairman of the board. Ballard Smith was named president.
McKeon wasn’t finished yet. Three days before the season opener, he pried third baseman Graig Nettles from the Yankees for a young pitcher named Dennis Rasmussen. Nettles only hit .228, but he added 20 home runs (tied for the team lead with Kevin McReynolds), 65 runs batted in, consistent defense and the kind of leadership this year’s Padres are expecting from Jack Clark.
Oddly enough, Rasmussen is back with the Padres after being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds last season.
“It’s easy to look back and have regrets,” he says now. “But it was obviously a good trade for the Padres. Nettles was the last piece to the puzzle.”
“We didn’t have many experienced guys,” says McKeon, now the Padres’ manager. “The Yankees wanted to move him. I felt at the time that was the last deal we could make. We didn’t have anything left to offer.”
Nettles turned 40 in August of 1984. He is out of baseball now and lives in Del Mar.
Another veteran was utilityman/pinch-hitter Bevacqua, a character nicknamed “Dirty Kurt.” He was the former major league bubble gum blowing champion.
Bevacqua will host the 10th-inning radio show on KFMB this year. He replaces the deposed Dave Campbell in that position.
Mario Ramirez, another utility player who was last seen bouncing around the Twins’ organization in 1985, hit two home runs all year, but one of them won a game. Neither the Padres nor the Twins know Ramirez’s whereabouts today.
The 1984 Padres won their first four games and were 9-2 with a 3 1/2-game lead over the rest of the division before they ever left San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. But by the end of April, they had slipped to second. By the end of May, they were tied for first. By the end of June, their lead was back up to 2 1/2 games. And by playing nine games above .500 in July, their lead jumped to 8 1/2 games. It never got smaller than 7 1/2 the rest of the way.
Baseball people said the Padres never had a big series all year. Not even a big game. When they clinched the division title at home Sept. 20, fewer than 16,000 were on hand to witness it. But Gwynn remembers at least one big series. And Braves’ pitcher Pascual Perez will never forget the one big game the Padres played in Atlanta Aug. 12.
On July 12, the Padres embarked upon an 11-day trip to St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh during which they would have to play 13 games because of early-season rainouts. They split four games in humid St. Louis and took two of three from the red-hot Cubs at Wrigley Field. Then they dragged into Pittsburgh for six games in four days. They despised Three Rivers Stadium, and they loathed it even more when they lost July 19 and the opener of a July 20 doubleheader, 4-3. It was a game they should have won.
The second game looked for the world like one they would lose, too. And second-place Atlanta had won earlier, cutting the Padre lead down to six games.
The Pirates were leading, 2-0, behind the strong left arm of John Tudor. It was the eighth inning. And there were runners on first and second when Tudor quickly got ahead of Gwynn, 0-2. We’ll let Gwynn take it from there.
“I took the next pitch even though it could have been called a strike. Two pitches later, he hung a 2-2 slider. I just barely got around on it. I didn’t think it would get out of the park.”
It did. The Padres won two of the next three and returned home with a seven-game cushion.
“That hit, I think, really made us believe in ourselves,” Gwynn said. “It gave us confidence the rest of the trip. A lot of players told me they thought that hit maybe changed the whole season around.”
“Going into that series, the players were worrying about being swept,” says longtime Padre broadcaster Bob Chandler. “After Gwynn homered off Tudor, that was it.”
Three weeks later, the Padres were cruising along with a 10 1/2-game lead over the Braves. They had won two of the first three games of a series in Atlanta and were looking forward to a quick nine innings and a fast getaway back to San Diego.
On the first pitch of the game, Perez plunked Wiggins. Witnesses say it was clear Perez was trying to hit him. And it was even clearer that Williams ordered his pitchers to keep throwing at Perez until they hit him. The war escalated.
Before the Braves had emerged with a 5-3 victory, there were ejections, brawls, recriminations and enough filmed lowlights to give baseball a black public relations eye for a week.
Flannery later said he heard from members of the Braves that Perez had not been ordered by Braves Manager Joe Torre to throw at Wiggins. Nobody could have convinced Williams. McKeon, for one, would have done it differently.
“I thought it was foolish,” he says now. “Here we were with a 10 1/2-game lead, and we’re jeopardizing the health of our players. Why we got involved in that, I’ll never know. The first thing I saw when the benches emptied was Goose Gossage tackling somebody. I said, ‘There go our pennant hopes.’ I would have hated to see our pennant hopes go down the drain because of some macho thing.”
But Flannery says the brawl brought the Padres even closer despite the fact that they lost the game.
“In the past, we would have climbed into a shell after something like that,” he says. “But since we felt the Braves had thrown at us on purpose, it made us decide to win together and fight together.”
The Atlanta fans couldn’t wait for the last series of the season, when Williams would have to return to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. But by then the Padres had clinched the division, and Williams let the team go to Atlanta by itself. He took a detour to Chicago, ostensibly to scout the Cubs, the Padres’ playoff opponents. And he bristled at the suggestion that he was simply trying to avoid the heat he inevitably would have taken in Atlanta.
The first two games of the playoffs, played at Wrigley Field, were even more disastrous for the Padres than the subsequent World Series. Game 1 was a 13-0 loss that was over almost before it started when two of the first three Cub batters homered to left, aided by a 20 mile-an-hour wind.
Game 2 was a 4-2 Cub victory that ended when Terry Kennedy’s check-swing, opposite field fly ball to left off reliever Lee Smith sent Henry Cotto to the warning track for the final out.
No National League team had ever recovered from a 2-0 playoff deficit to win.
The plane ride back from Chicago was a journey from hell.
“Some of the wives were crying,” Gwynn said. “There were even tears in the eyes of some of the players.”
“People had travel brochures and flight guides out,” Flannery said. “They were trying to make plans now that the season was going to be over.”
“The Grim Reaper was going from seat to seat,” Bevacqua said. “The Cubs hadn’t just beaten us. They had kicked our rear end. The casket was closed, and they were ready to seal it.”
There were about six people at the airport to greet their conquered heroes. And the Padres had no way of knowing what was waiting for them at the stadium where the bus was headed.
Thousands of fans were there to greet them in the fenced-in area near the tunnel where they kept their cars. This was a group of fans that hadn’t witnessed a crucial game all year and was fully aware that Game 3 might be their only chance to get rowdy. So they started early.
Reserve Bobby Brown commandeered a golf cart and began riding around slapping hands and leading cheers. Kennedy, still in shock from the two losses, wanted no part of any celebration.
But, according to Chandler, Brown approached Kennedy and read him the riot act.
Chandler recalled Brown telling Kennedy: “I’ve been in baseball 15 years. This has never happened to me and maybe never will again. Why don’t you enjoy it instead of being a big jerk.”
To his credit, Chandler said, “Kennedy got into it.”
By then, everybody was into it, and a noisy spirit had been kindled that would carry the Padres to three consecutive victories.
“That was the start of a snowball downhill, it was the spark that started a forest fire,” Flannery said, mixing his metaphors unashamedly.
There had been so many Padre highlights in 1984. But the fun had just begun. The Padres were greeted on the field the next day with a standing ovation for batting practice.
This was a team that had set its all-time home attendance record of 1,983,904 during the regular season. Their final division margin of victory over Houston and Atlanta was 12 games. Eric Show won 15 games, Ed Whitson and Mark Thurmond 14 apiece.
Keith Moreland, now an ex-Cub and an ex-Padre, doubled and scored on Ron Cey’s single in second inning of Game 3 to put the Padres behind again. But Garry Templeton’s two-run double in the fifth gave the Padres a 2-1 edge and their first lead of the series. Wiggins singled home Templeton, and the Padres led, 3-1.
The noise level at the stadium continued to rise. Whitson pitched eight solid innings and allowed just five hits. Kevin McReynolds’ three-run homer made it a breeze. Final score: San Diego 7, Chicago 1.
Two days later, Steve Garvey pounded out four hits and batted in five runs in a 7-5 Padre victory. His outburst included a run-scoring double that highlighted a two-run third, and an RBI single in the fifth. But he saved his best for last, crushing a Smith fastball into the right-center field bleachers for a game-winning, two-run homer in the ninth.
“As soon as the ball went toward the fence,” Garvey said at the time, “everything froze in time.”
Unfortunately for Garvey, whose recent domestic problems gave been widely documented, time eventually thawed.
The Padres paid a steep price for their victory in Game 4. McReynolds fractured his wrist sliding into second base and was lost for the rest of the playoffs and the World Series.
The Cubs’ upper lips were still stiff, though, because they had Rick Sutcliffe, the National League’s Cy Young winner on the mound and a 3-0 lead after five innings of the final game. Run-scoring sacrifice flies by Nettles and Kennedy whittled that to 3-2 in the sixth. Sutcliffe appeared to be tiring.
Then in the seventh, Carmelo Martinez scored from second when Flannery’s sharp grounder to first skipped under the glove of first baseman Leon Durham. Weeks later, there was a published report in Chicago quoting Durham as saying one of his teammates had accidentally tossed his first baseman’s glove into a bucket of Gatorade in the clubhouse before the game. Durham said he agonized over whether to switch gloves but decided to stay with the wet one even though the leather was heavy with moisture.
“If the glove was heavy,” Flannery said last week, “it would seem to me that it would have been easier for Durham to get it down to stop my ball. But it was that kind of year for us.”
It was clear to almost everybody, including the Cubs, that they were now cooked. Three more Padres scored that inning, including Flannery and Wiggins, who romped hope when a Gwynn smash aimed at second baseman Ryne Sandberg took a wicked hop and rolled all the way to the wall. The Padres won, 6-3.
The World Series turned out to be anticlimactic. And the Padres fell into the trap.
“We were satisfied just getting there,” Gwynn said. “But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s taken us four years to realize that.”