Expectations: The Only Game In Town

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Photo courtesy of Jim McCoy at SDHelicopterTours.com

Finally, I have something to thank Dean Spanos for – and it’s not just the freedom to end a sentence with a preposition.

Thank you, Dean, for making the Padres the only Big-League game in town. The Padres are now the only elite franchise (sorry Gulls, Seals, Fleet and Legion) in a wondrous city that is one of the few to see its pro franchise footprint shrink even as America’s pro sports mania has intensified (a subject for another column).

What makes the Padres elite is they are the last one left. In an empty refrigerator, two inches of curdled milk in the middle of the night after too much Sriracha on the dumplings is also an elite beverage. By comparison.

The Padres are now the singular focus of motivated San Diego sports fans. They can no longer hide behind Chargers agita, anger and angst — existing as the cheaper, bumbling, fan-friendly alternative.

The Padres are on the griddle. Attention is the spark. Expectations are the fire.

Which brings me to Kevin Acee, the Padres financials, Manny Machado and J. T. Realmuto.

Because this column is being written Jan. 26 and will be published online sometime later and in print on Feb. 1, some of what I am about to say (but not much) could be overtaken by events. Machado could be our 3rd baseman, Realmuto our backstop, Dallas Keuchel our ace and Craig Kimbrel back as our closer… Hell yes, I dream recklessly… I’m a Padres fan!

There has been considerable social media chatter about Kevin Acee’s stories in the Union-Tribune about the Padres books.

Here is the first: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/sd-sp-padres-debt-finances-payroll-fowler-seidler-owners-0118-story.html

Here is the follow up: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/padres/sd-sp-padres-free-agents-fowler-seidler-20190121-story.html

Some have criticized Acee for failing to comprehensively address all questions about Padres spending, priorities, debt service and Petco upgrades. I will not. Acee has provided a valuable if incomplete public service.

I don’t know Acee well, but he’s told me via Twitter DM he’s not a particular fan of this column, suggesting I had lost my mind with a “slew of half-baked… fan rant” criticisms of Padres skipper Andy Mulligan Green. Fair enough. He’s a pro sports writer and I am not. No ill will (though I do wish Acee had followed through on a pledge to come to a talk about my book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride” last fall at USD).

For those who want to pummel Acee, let me say this in his defense (not that he needs me for the task). Acee is a beat reporter and beat reporters develop relationships. Those relationships turn on professional capability, curiosity, power in the media market and trust. Acee is not an accountant or financial analyst. He’s not a tool or a fool, either (the most caustic and to my mind unfair accusations leveled against him). Acee was curious about Padres finances and persuaded the Padres to let him – and therefore the public – see more than they have seen before.

That, dear readers, is a public service. Journalists push for access to information all the time and with varying degrees of success. One way to look at my career as a White House reporter is to count all the times I asked for on-the-record access to a president, a senior administration official or documents and was denied (the number is staggering). Another way is to evaluate what the public learned because I fought for access – alongside countless other reporters – and a president appeared in public and took questions, background briefings were put on the record or documents were pushed to the surface. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Journalists wage numerous battles like this every day, 90 percent of which don’t even rise to the attention of our editors (the ones still left in the industry, that is). It’s part of the job. You press for information. You cajole. You use your clout, your wits and your powers of persuasion – developed over time – to tell the public something it does not know.

Acee did that. I salute him.

Every journalist also knows when you press for information of the kind Acee obtained from the Padres it will come wrapped in a narrative. That narrative will not start “Here are the sixteen ways we screwed up.” You know going in the narrative will be positive. You therefore know you have to sift that, look at the evidence, nod to that narrative when it makes substantive sense and then lay before the public the best rendering you can make of the information provided – knowing you will miss something, take the flack and press ahead. You do all of this on deadline pressure of some kind and with the nagging knowledge you can’t know all (especially when, as in this case, the team tells you the numbers are general and the accounting incomplete). You go with you have, what you have obtained through steady labors and live to write and report another day.

To all of Acee’s critics, I would ask this simple question: would you prefer he obtained nothing at all? I didn’t think so.

I don’t have time to wade through the social media/blog assessments of Acee’s demeanor or explanations. You take reporters and writers as they come. Most of us are misanthropic jerks who are barely sufferable to family and friends and mostly repellent to the world at large. We were born this way and have known it all of our lives. We scratch around for nuggets of news, work insanely long hours, write as best we can under deadline pressure and are flinchingly aware of coming professional and public criticism. We choose this life. Most of us couldn’t do anything else if we tried – I certainly couldn’t. We seek no sympathy. We come as we are – which means small talk at parties eludes us and all we can think of is how to more forcefully spike the punchbowl. Or maybe it’s just me.

Alongside Acee’s reporting has come some excellent crowd-sourced analysis of Padres spending as it compares to other Major League teams. This is the wonder of our time. Motivated people produce amazing articles rich in detail, insight and wit… all for nothing. The lack of financial compensation, I suspect, adds a measure of superiority and low-level spite to the social media mix/conversation. How couldn’t it? You don’t go to all that trouble and then tell the world “Take it or leave it. I’m not invested.” You are invested.

If you are reading this column, you are probably open to a deeper dive on this subject. If you haven’t already, I urge you to read this pre-Acee article from Gwynntelligence (with the catchy slogan “Think. Laugh. Enjoy Padres Misery) https://gwynntelligence.com/2019/01/03/the-true-story-of-the-padres-spending/  and its post-Acee analysis here https://gwynntelligence.com/2019/01/21/inheriting-debt-from-prior-owners-is-not-an-excuse/  These are serious attempts to get at something approximating the truth. This is passionate work; the kind only genuine year-round fans can comprehend.

Which brings me to the larger point of this pre-Spring Training agro. The Padres felt the need to explain themselves. Why? Because they are about to do something. The bids for Machado and Realmuto are not for show. Franchises do not open the books, even partially and with a syrupy narrative, and then dangle free agent gambits they are not serious about. Look, Padres owners have predominantly been incompetent and spineless. They have almost never been malevolent (which requires some measure of competence and spine). The Padres feel the need to be accountable because they want to be accountable – and therefore appreciated – for what comes next. I don’t know if the Padres will land Machado or Realmuto, but I am convinced the bids are serious and represent a turning point in terms of expectations, goals and standards.

It’s easy in sports and politics to focus intensely on today and forget about the recent past. I would just remind you the Padres were surprisingly aggressive and impressive suitors of Shohei Ohtani. The club finished second in that derby, but the work it put into that pursuit made it a damn close second and the process of doing that work, making the presentation, pushing all available buttons has not been forgotten. The Padres put themselves in a position to land the best player available last year and fell just short. The internal process of thinking about the future, describing it to a super talent like Ohtani and his team is not a one-off exercise. These pitches build on themselves. They create an inner sense of direction and confidence that could yield results when the time comes for Machado to decide. Realmuto is going to be about which stellar prospects the Padres are willing to give up. We have plenty. It can be done.

Before I conclude, we must address the Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer signings. Both look bad. Hosmer was a massive first-year disappointment. Was he pressing? Probably. Was National League pitching a harder adjustment than he expected? Probably. But he’s heading straight toward bustville if he doesn’t stop pounding the ball helplessly into the ground and vastly underperforming in terms of WAR, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base-plus slugging percentage (all at or near career lows). Myers is a costly cog in a machine that appears to be moving on without him. He’s not a 3rd basemen, there’s no room at 1st base and the outfield is now younger, faster and better-armed. Both are excellent clubhouse leaders and professionals who don’t dog it and prepare with focus and heart – valuable commodities for a young club. I like them both, but absent a production surge they look to be sunk costs with scarce long-term upside.

And yet, who among us does not wonder how much difference it would make for Myers and Hosmer to have Luis Urias and Manuel Margot in front of them with Machado and Realmuto right behind? Or Machado and Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero? Would Hosmer and Myers feel less pressure, let more pitches come to them and send more liners to the gap (their true hitting prowess)? Quite likely. How great would that be?

The time has come for expectations.

The Padres appear to know it. Acee found evidence of it in the accounting and openness. Other fans have sifted the evidence and found it wanting. That means being a part of Padres Nation is turning a corner. It means not only dreaming, but demanding.

Major Garrett

It’s a new tendency – one that has already born fruit. The Padres will return to brown uniforms in 2020 – meaning the once-derided “vocal minority” has prevailed. Those who dream of a better team demanded a return to the club’s distinctive roots. From 2020 on (there will be no going back), every time the Padres take the field, every baseball fan in America will know our name. We will not fade into the bottomless bluish sea of sameness. We are the Padres. We are brown. We are the only game in San Diego. And we are here to spend, win and repeat.

Thanks Dean.

 

Do you have a Padres or Clairemont question for Major…. Heck, maybe even a White House question? Send us an email to: AskMajor@ClairemontTimes.com we’ll forward them.

Major Garrett was born and raised in Clairemont, is Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, host of “The Takeout” podcast and author of the book “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams and Occasional Blackouts of His Extraordinary First Year in Office.”