Padres History with Joe Furtado: Chapter 9 – “1976” The Bittersweet Summer of Randy Jones

*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 clock ticked off the final minutes of 1975, not only did it signal the end of another year, but it signaled the end of the current contract between the players and the owners. At the stroke of midnight, the agreement that had brought an end to the strike of 1972 would expire. The current negotiations, which had been progressing at their usual snail’s pace, were about to include a new issue that would shake the very foundation of the game.

Pitchers Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers and Dave McNally of the Expos had played the entire 1975 season with unsigned contracts. Although McNally had decided to retire, Messersmith declared himself a free agent and requested that the player’s association use him as a test case for the reserve clause in the current contract talks.

The same arbitrator who declared Catfish Hunter a free agent at the beginning of 1975, also declared that Messersmith was free to negotiate with any of the 24 major league teams.

Understandably, the owners were furious over the ruling. In addition to taking the matter to court, they announced that spring training camps would remain closed until a new contract was signed, just as they had done in 1972, the players began working out in local parks and ball fields.

There were deadlines made, offers and counter-offers rejected, and finally, in a major concession by the players, camps were opened 17 days late with the understanding that negotiations would continue while the season was being played.

The Padres arrived in Yuma with some new faces and were anxious to get the new season started. In the winter free agent draft, San Diego had drafted catcher Keith Miller from New Orleans. In the secondary phase, they selected left- handed pitcher Bob Shirley from Cushing, Oklahoma.

Off season trades brought them third baseman Doug Rader from the Astros and outfielder Willie Davis from St.Louis. In exchange for the 31 year old Rader, the Padres gave up pitchers Joe McIntosh and Larry Hardy. To get the 35 year old Davis, they parted with reserve outfielder Dick Sharon.

Hopefully Rader would solve their third base problems, ending the experiment of playing Johnny Grubb at that position and putting the career of Dave Roberts in doubt. The deal would also move Mike Ivie back to first base to platoon with veteran Willie McCovey.

Roberts would eventually be sold to Hawaii, and at the age of 25, the Padres #1 draft pick in 1972 would attempt a comeback as a catcher. Bobby Tolan and Randy Hundley were released, Merv Rettenmund was picked up from Cincinnati, and Joe Pepitone came out of a two year retirement to try out for the team.

There were also some changes in the coaching ranks. By mutual agreement, pitching coach Tom Morgan was let go and Roger Craig was hired to replace him. Craig, who had been the Padres pitching coach from 1969 to 1972, was with Houston for the past two seasons. Joey Amalfitano was hired to coach third base in place of Jim Davenport, who returned to the Giants.

The big excitement in camp was provided by none other than Mike Ivie. Although he vehemently declared himself a first baseman, Ivie voluntarily put on the catching gear to warm up pitchers, catch some batting practice, and even work a couple of “B” games behind the plate. The thought of Ivie catching for a full season stirred the imagination of manager John McNamara and the rest of the team. With him catching, everyone felt the Padres were a much stronger ball club. But it was not meant to be. As the season approached, Ivie reiterated that he did not want to catch, that he was only helping out the other catchers by offering to go behind the plate during the spring. His position was still first base.

Three players were unhappy with their contracts and would start the season unsigned. Willie McCovey, who disliked being platooned, second baseman Tito Fuentes, and outfielder Johnny Grubb all had their old contracts renewed by the team with a 20% cut in pay. Grubb would eventually sign a new contract during the season, but both McCovey and Fuentes would play out their option year.

The Padres, confident from their experience in trying to sign Catfish Hunter, decided to pursue with great vigor baseball’s newest free agent, pitcher Andy Messersmith. In fact, three days before the season was to begin, all that needed to be done to sign the big right hander was to get him to consent to a physical exam. Unfortunately, Messersmith and/or his agent didn’t feel it was appropriate for the Padres to demand a physical, so they balked at signing.

To read all of Chapter 9, download this PDF: 9Bittersweet

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