While the Padres prepare to celebrate their 40th anniversary in MLB, two members of that original team have died within the span of a week. First, left-hander Dave Roberts died of lung cancer [h/t Baseball Musings via Didi] at age 64 on January 8; then skipper Preston Gomez died at age 85 on January 13.
Roberts came to the Padres in the October 1968 expansion draft after a fine 18-5 campaign at Columbus of the International League in the Pirates organization. He got into 22 games — all but five in relief — for the ’69 Padres and did little to distinguish himself. The next year, splitting time between the rotation and the ‘pen, he went 8-14 with 3.81 ERA (104 ERA+).
In 1971, Roberts put together the first great season by a Padres starting pitcher. Although his record was a mere 14-17, he finished second in the league (to Tom Seaver) with a 2.10 ERA (157 ERA+). If that seems incongruous, it’s worth noting that the Padres averaged 2.30 runs per start in support of Roberts.
To this day, Roberts remains one of four Padres starting pitchers to earn 20 or more Win Shares in a single season (Randy Jones ’75 , Kevin Brown ’98, Jake Peavy ’07). By my accounting, and mostly on the strength of one monster season, Roberts is the 12th best starter in franchise history.
Gomez, for his part, possessed probably the single most important trait a manager of an expansion club could possess: boundless optimism. Although the Padres were preseason 300-to-1 longshots to win the pennant, Gomez predicted that his charges would outscore the Los Angeles Dodgers in ’69.
History will show that the Padres fell short by 187 runs, but it’s hard not to love a guy who is willing to put himself on the line for the most ridiculous of causes. If you think 99 losses felt bad last year, how do you suppose 110 losses felt?
Gomez managed the Padres in ’70 and ’71, before being let go 11 games into the 1972 season. His record at the helm was 180-316, which boils down to a .363 winning percentage. After leaving San Diego, Gomez went on to manage the Houston Astros in ’74 and part of ’75, as well as the Chicago Cubs for part of 1980.
My condolences go out to the family and friends of both men.