Padres History with Joe Furtado: Chapter 1 – The Beginning

*Back in 1988, Padres fan and local San Diegan Joe Furtado, started writing a book based on Padres history up to that point. 21 Chapters later he finished it and after a few failed attempts at getting it published, put it back on his shelf never to see the light of day…..that is until now. Padres Public will start posting a Chapter here and there for the rest of the year. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. A huge thanks to Joe for allowing us to get this out there!

By: Joe Furtado

As the crowd of 58,359 stood and chanted, “We’re Number One!, Goose Gossage quickly checked the runner at first and looked in for his sign.  The 1-2 pitch to Cub catcher Jody Davis was grounded to Graig Nettles at third.  He scooped it up and flipped it to Alan Wiggins at second base for the force out to end the game and the big crowd exploded.  They had done it.  Down two games to none in the best-of-five National League Championship Series, the Padres had come back to Jack Murphy Stadium to win three straight games and capture their first National League flag.

That warm, hazy day on October 7, 1984, was the pinnacle of many years of hard work by some determined people whose vision included the events of that afternoon.  But long before the wild victory celebration, there were times when the future of the game in San Diego looked very bleak.

The roots of professional baseball in San Diego go as far back as 1936, when Bill Lane moved his team, the Hollywood Stars, from Los Angeles.  Lane wanted to change the name of the team, so he held a contest.  The winning entry was “Padres”, in honor of Father Junipero Serra founding the first mission in San Diego.  The Padres played at Sports Field, later re-named Lane Field, located at the foot of Broadway along Pacific Coast Highway.  Over the years, they were one of the most successful minor league franchises around.  Players like Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Minnie Minoso, and Luke Easter provided many exciting moments, including the Pacific Coast League Championship in 1937, 1954 and 1967.

In 1938, Lane died, leaving the ball club to an estate which would control it for another five years.  Former Padre catcher Bill Starr then purchased the team and ran it for the next twelve years.  In 1955, Starr sold the Padres to a local banker by the name of C.Arnholt Smith.  By 1957, Lane Field had become a relic so Smith built a new facility in sparsely populated Mission Valley.  He named it Westgate Park.

In the National League, some changes were occurring that would have a big impact on the future of baseball in San Diego  In 1958, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to California.  The two owners, Horace Stoneham of the Giants and Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers, couldn’t say no to the lure of sunshine and money, so they abandoned some of the greatest baseball fans in the world and headed west.  The Giants came to San Francisco and the Dodgers landed in Los Angeles. As the two teams established themselves in California, it was inevitable that other cities in the state would begin to show an interest in a team of their own.  San Diego was one such town.  Not only was the population growing by leaps and bounds, but the success of the PCL Padres convinced civic leaders that it was time to go big league. The 1959 baseball season saw the Dodgers beat the Chicago White Sox, four games to one, to win the World Series.  What Brooklyn fans had waited a generation to experience, the city of Los Angeles got in two years–a world championship.

News of the American League expanding to ten teams in 1961 encouraged a group of civic leaders to get serious about their efforts to obtain a team for San Diego.  There was talk of luring the Cleveland Indians to town.  They had been drawing poorly in old Municipal Stadium and were threatening to move if things didn’t improve.  Mission Bay and the city of El Cajon were proposed as potential sites for a new ball park, and Joe Cronin, President of the American League, was quoted as saying that San Diego was in strong contention for an expansion team.

When the American League formally announced that, for the first time in sixty years, it would add two new teams in 1961, San Diegans became very optimistic.  After it was announced that the Washington Senators were moving to Minnesota and expansion teams would be awarded to Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, the local contingent was disappointed but undaunted. In November, the National League proclaimed that it too would expand to ten teams, beginning in 1962.  San Diego’s hopes were rekindled. Among those in the local task force were San Diego Union sportswriters Jack Murphy and Phil Collier.  Also lending some strong support was the powerful and influential owner of the Dodgers, Walter O’Malley. In another move that could only help the city go big time, the American Football League, on February 10, 1961, gave owner Barron Hilton formal approval to move his Los Angeles Chargers to San Diego.  They would play their games in Balboa Stadium, which was being enlarged to seat 34,000 fans.

When the National League awarded expansion teams to New York and Houston for the 1962 season, San Diegans were again disappointed and a lot less optimistic about ever getting a team.  But things kept coming up that made it difficult to sweep the idea under the rug.  Important people were saying encouraging things about the city’s chances.

Eddie Leishman, general manager of the PCL Padres, predicted there would be a major league team in town in a few short years.  C.Arnholt Smith, Leishman’s boss, stated that he would enlarge Westgate Park to accommodate a new franchise, and Charles O. Finley, the venerable owner of the Kansas City Athletics said he doubted the American League would put teams in both Los Angeles and San Diego, but he felt San Diego was destined to become a major league city eventually.

To further entice the local baseball fans, the Dodgers and the Braves played an exhibition game at Westgate Park in the spring of 1962, which drew 9,000 fans.

As the year 1963 drew to a close with little headway being made regarding a major league team in town, columnist Jack Murphy hinted that the Milwaukee Braves were considering a move to San Diego.  That’s all it took to get the city excited once again.  C.Arnholt Smith talked of building a stadium that could seat 43,000 and be completed in five months in an effort to entice John McHale to bring his Braves to town.  Rep. Bob Wilson sent a telegram to McHale urging him to move.  The next day, William Bartholomay, chairman of the board of the Braves, denied the team would move next season.  McHale, the Braves president, reiterated that the team had no commitment to any city, including Milwaukee, for the 1964 campaign.  Two days later, the city of Atlanta denied the team was moving south, and the very next day McHale announced the Braves would remain in Milwaukee. It appeared to everyone that San Diego was used as a pawn to improve conditions for the Braves in Milwaukee.  In 1966, the Braves finally did move to Atlanta.

Again spurned in their efforts to get a big league team, city officials focused their efforts on a more pressing matter–the Chargers were tired of playing in dilapidated, old Balboa Stadium.  If things didn’t improve, the team was threatening to move to Anaheim.

In an effort to make the city aware of the need for a multi-purpose facility, Jack Murphy suggested somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that a floating stadium be built on Mission Bay.  He even gave it a name, S.S. Mission Belle.  But the populace wasn’t listening.  In 1964, a proposal to build a new stadium was rejected.

The Chargers for one were very disheartened by the defeat.  They continued their threats to move and civic leaders, a group of people that had a hard time accepting no for an answer, forged ahead with plans for a new stadium proposal to be put on the ballot in 1965.

In the 1965 baseball season, the Dodgers captured their third World Series in seven years, the Braves officially abandoned Milwaukee for Atlanta, Georgia, and Ford Frick resigned as Commissioner of Baseball.  The owners selected retired Air Force General William Eckert to replace him.

In San Diego, some hard work was beginning to pay off.  A new stadium proposal with much more backing than the previous one was placed on the November ballot, and on election day, November 2, 1965, a $27 million bond issue for construction of a new stadium to be built in Mission Valley was passed with a resounding 72% of the vote.  The city finally got its new stadium.  The Chargers were ecstatic and the city fathers had in their possession an excellent bargaining tool with which to lure major league baseball to town.  Things were looking up!

More intent than ever at getting their own team, the city of San Diego showed some definitive movement on several fronts.  In July, the stadium board recommended a name for the new facility in Mission Valley.  It would be called San Diego Stadium.

In October, the city rejected a bid to join a proposed third major league, Global International, which would operate outside the jurisdiction of major league baseball.  The city felt they didn’t want to jeopardize their chances of getting a “real” team.

Several weeks later the Cincinnati Reds went up for sale and San Diego put in a bid to buy them.  Unfortunately, owner Bill DeWitt decided to sell to a local group for $7 million.

The brightest and most positive event of 1966 occurred on Christmas Eve.  That was the day ground was officially broken for San Diego Stadium.  When completed, it would be the home of the Chargers, the San Diego State Aztecs, and hopefully, a major league baseball team.

In March of 1967, the city of San Diego made a formal bid for a franchise.  Padre owner C.Arnholt Smith filed his bid with the commissioner’s office and to both the American and National League’s on behalf of the San Diego Baseball Company, the corporate title of the Padres.

At the end of the 1967 season, the American League gave Charles O. Finley permission to move his Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland, California.   The league also announced plans to once again expand, this time to Kansas City to quickly fill the void left by the Athletics, and also to the great northwest, Seattle, Washington.

The National League meetings held in November didn’t move as quickly or as decisively as their American League counterparts.  Expansion topped the agenda, but any decision as to where or when was put off until December. On December 2, the National League announced that they too would expand to twelve teams, but they didn’t really know when they would do it, so they said it would be no later than 1971.

Another meeting took place that brought together two men who would be instrumental in obtaining a franchise for San Diego.  E.J.”Buzzie” Bavasi had been in baseball for some thirty years, with the Dodgers in Brooklyn and in Los Angeles.  For the past eighteen years, he was vice president and general manager of the team, winning six league championships and four world titles.  He was a man admired and respected in the baseball community, and as expansion talks heated up, Bavasi was in great demand by both Seattle and Montreal.  If San Diego were to get a major league team, it would be because Buzzie Bavasi was on their side.

C.Arnholt Smith, in addition to being the owner of the Padres of the Pacific Coast League, also owned the U.S. National Bank in San Diego.  Although he didn’t have Bavasi’s baseball background, he did have the capital to finance the venture.  He wanted a major league team in San Diego and he wanted Bavasi to run it.

Bavasi was attracted to San Diego for several reasons.  One, he favored ownership of a new team to a straight salary, and he preferred it only with the Smith group.  If another buyer ended up getting the team, he wanted out of the picture.  Two, his boss Walter O’Malley had a son who would fit nicely into Bavasi’s shoes with the Dodgers, a thought that comforted him.  Bavasi also had strong family ties in Southern California, and he had developed a respect and admiration for Smith and Padre general manager, Eddie Leishman.

So on November 16, 1967, the two men met in a private room at Los Angeles International Airport.  The meeting lasted less than an hour, and when it was over a partnership was formed.  They immediately began putting together a viable package to deliver to the National League, most important of which was a lease for the use of San Diego Stadium.

With Bavasi and Smith focusing their efforts on getting a team, things jumped into high gear.  Walter O’Malley continued to voice his support for San Diego.  He stated that if the National League didn’t follow the junior circuits lead by expanding in 1969, it would be making a big mistake.

In March of 1968, the expansion committee, of which O’Malley was a member, met for the first time since their formation at the winter meetings.  Commissioner Eckert announced that San Diego, Dallas-Ft.Worth, Milwaukee, and Buffalo were all in the running for expansion teams.

Just prior to the start of the 1969 season, the first ever professional baseball game was played at the new stadium.  The Cleveland Indians beat the San Francisco Giants in an exhibition game before 18,611 curious on-lookers.  They came to see Mays, McCovey, and Marichal, but the star of the game was diminutive Vic Davalillo.  One of the more electrifying moments in the game came in the very first inning when Willie Mays backed Jose Cardenal to the concrete wall in center field, 420′ away.  Cardenal commented later that they had better put padding on the wall or someone was going to get killed.  Both players and fans agreed that San Diego Stadium was major league all the way.

The regular season, in an unprecedented “Day of Tribute” to slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, was delayed two days.  King, who was gunned down at a Memphis hotel on April 4, was buried in Atlanta on Tuesday.  The season officially began the next day.

Two weeks later, the National League club owners met in Chicago and voted to expand to twelve teams.  They still couldn’t decide which cities would be awarded franchises, but they did decide on how much it would cost to own one of the new clubs–$10 million. This figure upset Buzzie Bavasi.  Just one year earlier, the American League had charged Kansas City and Seattle $6 million, so he had anticipated a figure in the $7 million range.  When he heard the inflated price tag, he was ready to bow out.  Bavasi didn’t think he and Smith could afford the extra $3 million.  After discussing the matter with his partner, it was decided to go ahead with their efforts to secure a team.

On May 27, the owners set about voting on the two cities which would begin operation in 1969.  Among the applicants were groups from Buffalo, Montreal, Milwaukee, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and San Diego.  The San Diego contingent consisted of Bavasi, Eddie Leishman, and Douglas Giddings, legal counsel for Mr. Smith.  The wait seemed interminable.  It took more than ten hours and eighteen ballots to decide who would get to spend $10 million for a baseball team.

Finally the time arrived.  The representatives for each team were summoned to the meeting room and Walter O’Malley made the announcement.  The two franchises were awarded to Montreal and San Diego.  The winners smiles lit up the room.  All the hard work had paid off.  Bavasi and Giddings shook hands and Bavasi rushed out to call his wife.  But she had already heard the good news from Vin Scully during the radio broadcast of the Dodgers/Astros game.  When another phone became available, Giddings phoned his boss.  Smith was very pleased but he wondered why it had taken so long for a decision to be made.

He and the rest of the San Diego group had no idea that the eastern owners almost railroaded Buffalo into the big leagues along with Montreal.  The early balloting was heading in that direction, and if it wasn’t for two very stubborn Californian’s, San Diego would have missed out. Walter O’Malley and Horace Stoneham of the Giants were not to be swayed and as the balloting dragged on, the vote slowly shifted to San Diego, until on ballot #18, they had their unanimous support.

To read all of Chapter 1, download this PDF:Chapter1TheBeginning

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  • vapadres

    This was awesome. I was swept into Padres fandom in the excitement of 96 having moved out from the east coast. Although I am a rabid follower now (to the pain), the colorful history is all new to me. Keep it coming.

  • Jason

    Joe is awesome! So awesome his nickname is Jodiego!