Padres History with Joe Furtado: Chapter 3 – “1970” 5-X

*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. To read the other entries, click here

By Joe Furtado:

As the 1970 baseball season approached, the saga of St.Louis outfielder Curt Flood occupied the sports pages of America. Traded from St.Louis to the Phillies on October 9, 1969, Flood refused to report to his new team. Instead, he filed a $4.1 million law suit against baseball challenging the legality of the reserve clause, which binds a player to the team that holds his contract. While the suit was working its way through the courts, Flood spent the season in Denmark painting and running a restaurant. In August, a U.S. District Court upheld baseball’s exemption from anti-trust laws. Flood’s lawyers began an appeal process that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile Flood decided to return to the United States. After an agreement was made with the Washington Senators, he was officially traded from Philadelphia to Washington for 3 minor leaguers. He signed a contract with the Senators which included an understanding that he would not be traded and he prepared to start the 1971 campaign. Just 3 weeks into the season, citing financial problems and the fact that being away from the game for some 18 months was just too long, Curt Flood retired. In June of 1972, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision by a 5-3 vote. Baseball was in fact, exempt from anti-trust laws. The owners breathed a big sigh of relief.

For the Padres, the nightmare of 1969 was behind them. What lay ahead was a new season and hope for better things to come. The first sign of progress was the teams brand new spring training facility in Yuma. The half million dollar, 17,000 square foot, 4-diamond complex with a main stadium seating capacity of 4,200 fans was hailed as the best in baseball. Unlike the previous spring, the size and quality of the facilities allowed the team to bring their minor leaguers to camp along with players on the major league roster.

In the winter free agent draft, San Diego selected 17 year old infielder John Scott from Los Angeles. Cleveland had the very first pick in the draft and chose Oceanside first baseman Chris Chambliss, a youngster highly coveted by the Padres.

San Diego also got a new first base coach, Dave Garcia, to replace Sparky Anderson. An El Cajon resident, Garcia brought with him 30 years of baseball experience, 20 as a player and manager in the minors, and 10 as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. Bob Skinner became the new batting coach when Wally Moon resigned and returned to John Brown University.

In what was becoming an annual “rite of spring”, there was talk of another threatened players strike. This time the players wanted an increase in their basic living allowance during spring training, a shorter regular season schedule, and an increase in the minimum salary a player could earn. The players wanted it increased from $10,000 to $12,000 a year. By mutual agreement, it was decided to go ahead with spring training and the regular season while negotiations continued.

Spring training 1970 was anything but dull. On March 18, the team got quite a scare as their private Electra air-plane prepared for take-off from Yuma airport. As the plane taxied across one runway, a military jet which had also been cleared for take-off narrowly missed hitting the Electra broadside. Only the quick action of the Padre pilot averted a disaster as he quickly maneuvered the plane from the path of the jet.

Baseball chose the spring of 1970 to test a new baseball, the 5-X, nicknamed the “rabbit ball”. Purported to be 5% livelier than a regular baseball, the 5-X was to be used in all spring training games played on Wednesdays. Reaction to the new ball was so intense that the experiment was halted after only two days (22 games). While the 5-X was in use, tape measure homeruns and high scoring games were commonplace (the games averaged 17.3 runs). In Yuma, Padres outfielder Clarence Gaston hit a ball over the green, metal fence in dead centerfield. The homerun was estimated to travel almost 500′.

Nate Colbert also hit one of comparable distance off A’s pitcher Catfish Hunter in a game in Mesa, Arizona.

Almost everyone associated with the game was against using the ball on a regular basis. Leo Durocher commented that use of the 5-X, especially on astro-turf, would kill somebody. Findings from the experiment were never made public because in Commissioner Kuhn’s words, “There wasn’t any need. Everyone was against it.” The 5-X was officially laid to rest. Or was it? Everyone did agree on one thing, the livelier ball brought more excitement to the game. Although it was flatly denied and debated throughout the regular season, statistics showed that something was very different about the ball. 5-X or no 5-X, 1970 was the “Year of the Hitters”, and the Padres were an integral part of the barrage.

Unlike their first spring, San Diego had some intense competition at almost ever position on the team, and as was usually the case in the dry, desert air, the hitters surpassed the pitcher in performance. As a team, the Padres hit .275 with 14 homeruns. Catcher Chris Cannizzaro led the way, hitting a robust .415. Al Ferrara, battling for a starting outfield position, hit .340, and Ollie Brown hit .333. Newcomer Dave Campbell and youngster Van Kelly earned the starting second and third base jobs respectively with solid spring efforts.

To read all of Chapter 3, download this PDF: 3FX

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