Padres History with Joe Furtado: Chapter 8 – “1975” Escape from the Cellar

*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:

In the business of baseball, success is equated with money. If you’ve got it, you win; if you don’t, you lose. For six years, the Padres were run on a shoestring budget and consequently lost 608 games. With Ray Kroc, money was no object. He had lots of it, and he didn’t mind spending it. But Kroc was an impatient man. Used to success, he felt uncomfortable with a losing baseball team. He wanted to see results, and he wanted to see them quickly. It was Buzzie Bavasi’s job to improve the team, and if he didn’t, his job would be in jeopardy.

As the new year began, San Diego had an opportunity to spend some of Kroc’s cash. Pitcher Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s had been declared a free agent because A’s owner Charlie Finley failed to pay $50,000 owed to Hunter as stipulated in his contract. Citing breach of contract, Hunter announced that he would play for the team that made him the best offer. Catfish was in a position to get just about anything that he wanted. Over the past five seasons he had won 106 games, and in 1974 he led the A’s to their third consecutive World Championship while posting a 25-12 record and winning the Cy Young Award.

The Padres, along with most of the other teams in the majors, made a bid for the star right-hander. With basically a blank check from Mr. Kroc and the lure of living in San Diego, the Padre delegation felt they could convince Hunter to sign with them. When the field was narrowed down to three teams; Cleveland, the New York Yankees, and the Padres, local fans began visualizing Catfish Hunter in a Padre uniform. Finally, on December 31, 1974, citing his desire to play on the east coast and pitch for a contender, Catfish Hunter signed a five year, $3.75 million contract with the Yankees. Later it was revealed that the Yankee offer was more than $1 million lower than what the Padres were offering him. He immediately became the highest paid player in baseball history, and his signing ended one of the most expensive bidding wars professional sports has ever known.

Disappointed, but flattered that they were even in the running for Hunter, the Padres left the negotiations feeling very good about themselves. They didn’t realize it at the time, but their experience would reap them many benefits in years to come.

In the winter free agent draft, San Diego had the #1 pick again and chose South Carolina State outfielder Gene Richards. The speedy Richards had hit .414 in his senior year. He was quickly signed to a major league contract.

Enduring some of the worst spring training weather in seven seasons, the Padres focused on two weak spots–catcher and third base. Because Fred Kendall had slumped to .231 in 1974, the Padres were giving tryouts to sore-kneed veteran Randy Hundley and one-time Padre catcher Bob Davis.

To read all of Chapter 8, download this PDF: 8Escape

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