Padres Versus the Volcano

By pure, delightful coincidence I was in San Diego for the Padres new uniform reveal.

You may have seen it on my Twitter feed.

It was splendid in every way. The uniforms are top shelf. The fans were honored. More importantly, the Padres now have a cemented psychological center.

That matters more than you might think it should.

Who cares about psychology if we have two dominant starters and a killer center fielder? A perfectly logical question.

I have come to believe that to achieve something you have to be something and that part of being is knowing who and what you are. In my case, I decided at age 16 I wanted to become a journalist. By this age I realized I was not going to be a professional baseball player or an actor. After becoming a journalist had only one other goal: make it to Washington to see if I could hack it covering national politics.

Every life decision – and I mean every one – was filtered thus. If it advanced my goal it was followed; if it did not it was discarded.

There are many ways to get to know yourself.

A favorite movie of mine dwells on this topic relentlessly and hilariously. It’s a movie you have probably overlooked – a misunderstood and overlooked gem called Joe Versus the Volcano. It came out in 1990 and features Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a host of wonderful character actors (Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Nathan Lane).

On the surface it’s a dopey romantic comedy with gaping plot holes and unresolved comedic motifs. The basic plot: Tom Hanks (Joe) has a soul-sucking job and is diagnosed with a terminal illness – news that comes as something of a deliverance. He is then offered unlimited riches in exchange for his promise to jump into a South Pacific volcano. Doing so will appease unseen gods, settle restless villagers and keep flowing supplies of a rare mineral an industrialist (and Hanks’ new benefactor) needs to produce electronic gadgetry. The industrialist’s pitch to Joe? “Live like a king, die like a man!”

It all sounds preposterous and barely worthy of the blossoming talents Hanks and Ryan (who, coming off the smash hit When Harry Met Sally, plays three different comedic characters). You may reasonably wonder what this could possibly have to do with the Padres.

Here’s what.


The first thing newly wealthy Joe does is hire a limousine to take him around New York. His driver is named Marshall (played by Ossie Davis). Sitting in the backseat, Joe starts to talk to Marshall and mentions something about new clothes.

Marshall: They just pay me to drive the limo, sir. I’m not here to tell you who you are.

Joe: I didn’t ask you to tell me who I am.

Marshall: You were hinting around about clothes. That happens to be a very important topic to me, sir. Clothes make the man, I believe that. You say to me you want to go shopping, you want to buy clothes, but you don’t know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I’m going to fill in the blank. That to me is like asking me who you are. And I don’t who you are. I don’t want to know. It’s taken me my whole life to find our who I am and I’m tired now. You hear what I’m saying?

Marshall: “What kinda clothes you got on now?

Joe: Well, I got the kinda clothes I’m wearing.

Marshall: So you got no clothes.

The point is Hanks (Joe) does not know who he is because he does not know why he wears what he wears. They are just clothes. They say nothing about his inner self or his message to the world. This has been the Padres for fifty years.

Like Marshall, I am not here to tell the Padres who they are. Neither are you. But we know the Padres have been out there shopping for the past three years, accumulating Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado. As fans we still don’t know what they’ve purchased or why. We worry management doesn’t either. All we do know is management has been willing to dress these players in all sorts of un-matching clothes (uniforms) within an un-matched roster. The Padres sense of self – unresolved, ephemeral and full of losing – has been hanging in the air waiting for someone or something to fill in the blank.

Part of that blank has been filled. The uniforms are now set. They are distinctive and unrivaled. No one else wears brown. The Padres no longer seek to hide, mimic or blend in with others. That is a statement. We are brown. We are the Padres. We are no longer confused about or indifferent to our past. We are parts of what we were in Mission Valley infused with a sense of what we can become downtown.

Joe Versus the Volcano is a deeply philosophical movie right up there with Groundhog Day. It doesn’t have as many blog posts devoted to it but it has a fair share.

After Joe decides the clothes he will wear into his fatalistic new life (suicide by volcano, remember), he visits a lush luggage store.

Salesman: Have you thought much about luggage?

Joe: No

Salesman: It’s the central preoccupation of my life.

Luggage is baggage. We all have baggage. We accumulate it shortly after we learn to walk and lug it around for the rest of our lives. The bit-part salesman is the philosopher king of the movie – baggage is the central preoccupation of his life. As it is for all of us. Once you know who you are – your clothes – you carry that with you forever.

Joe inspects the available luggage options.

Salesman: This is our premier steamer trunk, it’s all handmade, only the finest materials. It’s even watertight, tight as a drum. If I had the need, and the wherewithal, this would be my trunk of choice.

Joe: I will take four of them

Salesman: May you live to be a thousand years old, sir.

Joe is only going to live a couple of weeks. Yet he buys enough air-tight luggage for a decades-long journey. Why? Because Joe knows who he is, will die like a man and may well find out something deeper about the meaning of all life – not just his. And this he does. If you watch to find out how, I promise you will not be disappointed.

What is the Padres’ baggage? Under-funded futility; a masquerade of competitive zeal. Padre fans have been the only zealots, zombie-like zealots who resemble Joe in the dungeon of his soulless job — where existence (really death through numbness) is defined by buzzing fluorescent lights and coffee that tastes like arsenic.

The Padres have found their clothes. Now they go shopping. But this time they are shopping with a sense of self and place.

The clothes make the team. I believe that. You hear what I’m saying?

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.”