Dogs of Summer; If They Only Had a Heart

This is not the time of year for a baseball team deeply entrenched in the second division to be attracting any attention. Such a team usually plays out the string in a vacuum, with attention turned to more exciting things such as football and raking leaves.

So it stunned me this week that the Padres rather than the Chargers were the hottest topics of conversation hereabouts.

Little of it, indeed, had to do with the firing of Jack McKeon as general manager.

Following a weekend in which the Chargers looked as impressive as they have at any time since maybe the Don Coryell days, a startling number of people approached me about the Padres' weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds.

With disgust.

"That team," said a friend with season tickets, "has flat-out quit."

He left after the first game of Saturday night's doubleheader . . . and did not return for Sunday's home finale.

"And," he said, "I couldn't give the Sunday tickets away. No more season tickets for us. Probably not even a mini-package."

And another . . .

"Never," he said, "have I seen a baseball team dog it like the Padres did against Cincinnati. I don't know if I've seen any team dog it like that."

And another . . .

"I took my kids to the Sunday game," he said. "I've always told them the American way is to fight even when you're down. Those guys have quit. Watching them was more of an embarrassment than listening to Roseanne Barr . . . and at least Roseanne Barr was trying."

That's embarrassing.

In case you missed it, the Padres played four games against the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend and lost, 10-1, 6-4, 9-5 and 9-2.

The reaction to this lackadaisical performance was, in a word, outrage. That it came against a division leader trying to protect a less-than-comfortable advantage only magnified the intensity of this outrage.

This displeasure was, to be sure, widespread. It was the kind of reaction you expect after an early-season disappointment, when a team is still in a pennant race. However, as poorly as the Padres have played all year, this performance drew more negative reaction than all of the ineptitude of this dismal summer.

You see, fans can stand it when a team plays hard and loses. They complain, fans being fans. But they do not get so mad that they come unglued.

On this weekend, those who follow the Padres--they may, at this point, prefer not to be called Padre fans --thought they were watching a team which had collectively tanked it. They were going through the motions . . . slowly.

Calling to the witness stand Danny Jackson, Cincinnati's winning pitcher Sunday . . .

"It was the worst day I've had since I've come back (from injury)," he said. "I had no idea where I was throwing the ball. I mean, I was just throwing the ball up there. I had nothing on it."

Jackson seemed baffled that the Padres could not hit what he was offering, but he worked seven innings and allowed two runs and six hits. No one asked if he noticed whether any of the hitters had their eyes open.

Imagine what the Dodgers must have been thinking in Los Angeles as they struggled to stay in contention. They had to be wondering if the Padres had shown up against the Reds, or just mailed in their strikeouts.

As Padre pitcher Dennis Rasmussen said: "We're going to catch hell from them when we see them again. And we should catch some, the way we played."

The Dodgers may not be greatly loved hereabouts, but there is integrity to a pennant race, and the Padres played without integrity against Cincinnati. They also played without courage, intensity and togetherness.

In truth, this series simply underscored the lack of character these underachievers have displayed all year. The Padres are the tin men of baseball.

When Tom Werner hires a new general manager, tapes of this lost weekend should be mandatory viewing. Or maybe X-rays. It would be nice to be able to look inside these guys and see what, if anything, is there.

In more than a quarter-century of covering sports, I have never seen a team fall as far short of expectations as these Padres have. This team has eroded and corroded from the inside out, bitterly battling one another more vigorously than it ever battled the opposition.

Two series now remain. Three games beginning Friday in Cincinnati and three games beginning Monday in Los Angeles. The Reds are probably licking their chops and the Dodgers frothing at the mouth, given what the tin men did to the possibility of a tight race over the weekend.

If you don't care to watch, don't feel bad. It doesn't seem these guys care to play.

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