Padres History with Joe Furtado: Chapter 7 – “1974” Excitement in the Air

*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:

He didn’t exactly ride into town on a white horse with his six-shooter and his trusted companion. Instead, he flew in on his private jet with his checkbook and his lawyers. If it wasn’t for the fact that some people had actually seen Ray Kroc, they would swear that Buzzie Bavasi made him up. The city of San Diego could search the world over and not find a more perfect owner for the Padres.

Not only was the Chicago businessman crazy about baseball, but he was very wealthy. Kroc was the founder, chairman, and largest stockholder of the McDonald’s Corporation, a hamburger empire that, in 1974, would gross $2 billion. His net worth was estimated at $500 million.
When the National League owners voted down Marjorie Everett, several potential buyers stepped forward. There was Houston financier Reuben Askanase, a personal friend of Bavasi and Walter O’Malley. He offered to purchase the team if no one else could. There was also a local group headed by Malin Burnham and Bob Golden. But they could never get the financing in order to make a viable offer.

Then there was Ray Kroc. One day while sitting in his Chicago apartment reading about the plight of the Padres, he turned to his wife and asked, “Honey, what would you think if I bought the Padres?” “I would say”, she answered,” that you are nuts.” Although it wasn’t the answer he was looking for, he had already made up his mind. He flew into San Diego with his lawyers to look over the teams financial records. Satisfied with what he saw, Kroc got together with the city and worked out a new lease for the use of the stadium.

What about financing? The only financing that needed to be worked out was who Kroc should make the checks out to. The first one was made out to the troubled C.Arnholt Smith for $8.25 million. He could certainly use the money. The second check for $750,000 went to the National League as final payment on the original purchase of the team in 1969. The last check for $900,000, was made out to Servomation to pay off the debt owed to them by the team.

With the financing ironed out, Kroc became sole owner of the team, lock, stock, and Mike Ivie. His first move was to announce that the team would stay in San Diego, and the current front office staff of Buzzie Bavasi and Bob Fontaine would be retained. They would concentrate on baseball, and as the new owner, he would concentrate on the quality and cleanliness of the food at the ballpark. In his words, “The hot would be hotter, and the cold colder.”

Another formality that needed to be taken care of was approval by the National League owners. It ended up being a mere formality. Kroc was their kind of owner. He had never done anything in his life that he was ashamed of and he was rich. The vote was so cut and dried that only two owners actually showed up for the emergency meeting. On January 31, 1974, by a vote of 12-0, Ray Kroc officially became the new owner of the San Diego Padres.
Bavasi and Mayor Pete Wilson could finally get a good night’s sleep. Kroc, on the other hand, was so excited that he couldn’t sleep for days. “Baseball is my sport and I want to have fun with an expensive hobby.” He would be at spring training, in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and best of all, he would be able to sit in on league meetings with men such as Walter O’Malley, Augie Busch, and Phil Wrigley. This was his idea of heaven.
With the team’s future resolved for, hopefully, many years to come, it was time to get on with the business of baseball. The team had been without a manager and coaches since last October. With spring training less than two months away, Bavasi hired 41 year old John McNamara to manage the team. McNamara had managed the Oakland A’s to a second place finish in 1970, but because A’s owner Charlie Finley felt he should have done better, he was dismissed. He was the Giants third base coach last season.

McNamara hired as his third base coach, former Giant third baseman, Jim Davenport. The 40 year old Davenport had been managing the Giants AAA farm team in Phoenix for the past three years. Former Padre scout, Jack Bloomfield was hired to coach first and to be the hitting instructor. This was his first major league job.

The Padre pitching coach for 1974 would be 68 year old Bill Posedel. Lured out of retirement, “The Chief” had been with McNamara in Oakland and had helped develop the staff that won the first of three straight World Championships in 1972. He retired at the end of that season.

Last, but certainly not least, Whitey Wietelmann accepted an offer to join the staff after a short retirement of less than five months. With a wealthy owner, there was little need to cut corners anymore, something Wietelmann was very good at. But a man of Whitey’s talent and experience would always be an asset to the Padres.

In keeping with the “new” look, the team trashed their mustard yellow/mission gold uniforms for some new threads. They would wear white double-knits with brown and gold trim and “Padres” written across the front. On the road, the uniforms would be gray.

Player contracts needed to be signed and Bavasi made it perfectly clear where the players stood in relation to their new owner, “We propose to pay you what you have earned, not what Mr. Kroc has earned”.

Willie McCovey signed for $110,000, the highest salary ever paid to a Padre. Slugger Nate Colbert signed for $80,000 and agreed to switch to left field so McCovey could play first base. Clarence Gaston became the first Padre to file for arbitration, and subsequently became the first Padre to lose his arbitration case. Bob Barton, who had been inactive for almost two years, decided to make a comeback and compete for the #1 catching job.
As the players gathered in Yuma, there was a new mood and high expectations. There were also a lot of the old ballplayers. In their first exhibition game, the Padres committed 5 errors and allowed 5 home runs in a 13-3 loss to Oakland. They would lose 9 of their first 11 games of the spring and win 8 of their last 9 to finish the Cactus League with a 10-10 record.

Many “experiments” were tried. Because of a surplus of outfielders and a shortage of infielders, Dave Winfield, who hit .400 in the spring, was tried at shortstop, a position he had played in high school. The sight of a 6″6″ shortstop was very strange and Big Dave was impressive, but as opening day approached, it was decided the he would platoon in centerfield with John Grubb.

Third base was becoming a source of concern. Dave Roberts, who’d had a great year in 1973, was recovering from a back injury. Dave Hilton, who was drafted as a third baseman, had also been playing some shortstop and some second base. He would open the season at the hot corner. Speaking of third basemen, the Padres #1 draft choice in the winter free agent draft was a 19 year old third baseman from Memphis, Tennessee by the name of Tucker Ashford.

Injuries were an integral part of the spring. Newcomer Glenn Beckert was bothered by his recently operated on foot and Nate Colbert was nursing a sore throwing arm.

To read all of Chapter 7, download this PDF: 7Excitement

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