*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.