I am of two minds when it comes to the Padres’ unexpected success in 2010. It is satisfying to know that a team that had the second lowest payroll in baseball and that was given little chance at finishing anywhere other than last in the National League West notched 90 wins (fourth most in 42 seasons of Padres baseball) and wasn’t eliminated from contention until the season’s final day. The team, despite a paucity of resources and talent, battled to the end and represented the city well enough that people in parts of the country accustomed to paying as much attention to San Diego as to Pago Pago had to take notice.
The downside is that once those people took notice, the Padres stumbled badly, recovered, and then fell just short in their bid for a miracle. And so everyone said, “Nice try, kid” or some such and then returned to the business of ignoring our fine city.
Worse, in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Padres raised expectations and hopes for the future that may not be realistic in the short run. They also failed to answer questions about several young players expected to help deliver that future. When you are fighting for the right to play October baseball, you can’t afford to run Everth Cabrera out there and hope he suddenly remembers what he’s supposed to be doing on a baseball diamond.
In our season-end open thread, reader The_Slasher14 compared this year’s Padres to the 1969 Mets, which followed their improbable 100-win season with 83, 82, and 82 victories. He concludes with thoughts that I couldn’t have expressed better myself:
…this was a wonderful, wonderful year — one we should always treasure. But there is a lot of work to be done, starting now, if the Padres are to remain contenders. And in 2-3 years we won’t be seeing much of the boys who gave us this marvelous summer.
Yes, there is a lot of work to be done. And the parallels between this club and the Mets of the early ’70s should give us pause and remind us to keep expectations in check. Without knowing what moves Jed Hoyer and company will make, 80-85 wins strikes me as a reasonable baseline for 2011. The Padres played over their heads this year (possibly way over their heads) and are due for a bit of regression.
Incidentally, I’ve heard more than one person suggest that Bud Black should be fired. Right. If coaxing 90 wins out of a 75-win team isn’t immediated grounds for dismissal, then I don’t know what is. On a less facetious note, Black is not a great tactician (or even a good one), but he deserves at least some credit for getting more out of his available talent than any other manager in baseball in 2010.
If fans can recognize this past season for what I believe it was — an anomaly in the middle of a rebuilding phase — and keep hopes in check next year, they just might like what they see. My fear is that 90 wins may spoil folks. Not as much as reaching the playoffs would have, of course, although then at least we could say the team… you know, reached the playoffs.
Now all we can do is concede that everyone who said the Padres would fade were right. And instead of being happy about incremental gains made during a rebuilding year, we get to bemoan an ill-timed losing streak that buried a team that overachieved for the season’s first five months.
There is no way — believe me, I’ve tried them all — not to be frustrated by the outcome. As reader Bruce K. says:
It’s definitely disappointing. To come this far and still fall short will smart for some time. There are enough questions about the roster that need to be answered this off-season that this feels like a lost opportunity.
Reader Alan adds:
I once again was reminded of how terribly disappointing it is to be a San Diego fan. Yes, we came out of nowhere, but once we had a 6 game lead with a month left in the season, there are no excuses. It is such a shame that completely incompetent hitting took what could have been the most accomplished Padres season ever away from this team.
Meanwhile, the Padres missed out on more than just the playoffs. They missed out on the many benefits that come with a postseason appearance. And thanks to their stellar record, they missed out on a good draft position in 2011.
Attendance picked up a bit (over 2 million again after dipping below that mark in ’09 for the first time since 1995) but remains a concern. The economy is one factor; poor showings in ’08 and ’09, as well as the collective disappointment of ’07 and now ’10, probably are others. And there is the ubiquitous “nobody is from here” issue that is just as likely to go away as are those folks who came from other places and continue to root for their hometown team.
Fortunately, Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel appear to have made customer service a priority. They get that this fan base, such as it is, consists of frustrated folks who feel let down by various prior regimes (history will show that John Moores served the team and city well, although the post-1998 letdown and Moores’ failure to magically transform San Diego into a large market on moving the team downtown linger in the minds of many), most notably Tom Werner, who gutted a good team (thank goodness for Randy Smith) and then left town. Trust has been a problem, and the new ownership group is taking measures to engage with folks who feel disillusioned and, in some cases, outright cheated.
Beyond the attendance issues, numerous questions persist. Most of these, starting with Adrian Gonzalez’s future in San Diego and whatever domino effect that decision will cause, do not have easy answers.
I am proud of this year’s squad, probably moreso than I have been of any other Padres team. From a talent standpoint, this group had no business clinging to a playoff hope on the season’s final day. Nobody other than Heath Bell thought the Padres had a chance, and yet, there they were, scaring the bejeezus out of more talented clubs all year long. That is, and always will be, awesome beyond words.
I hope that fans appreciate what the Padres did this year and recognize that it was probably a one-shot deal. I hope that the fight this team showed and the commitment ownership made in procuring help at the trade deadline (even if Ryan Ludwick didn’t work as planned, there is no questioning the intent) when everyone expected them to be shedding their remaining salary will be enough to renew interest among locals. I hope it will be enough to keep folks around even when the Padres end up not being as good next year as they were in 2010.
I hope that this year’s effort, both on the field and by management/ownership, will help engender greater loyalty among the citizens of San Diego. This was a great season; they won’t all be like that. In fact, most of them won’t. But I hope one day to see people show more than a passing interest in the Padres even when they aren’t playing as well as they did this year. I know, I ask too much… I am a dreamer.
Maybe this particular dream will never amount to anything, but wouldn’t it be cool if one day San Diego embraced the Padres the way Boston embraces the Red Sox? Or the way Chicago embraces the Cubs? Or the way Los Angeles embraces the Dodgers?
It will never happen. We are too laid back, our roots too scattered. But I am a dreamer, and now, in the off-season slumber (technically games are being played, but I haven’t seen a single pitch), I imagine a brighter future. The reality of 2011 will come soon enough. Just let me stay here a while; I rather like it.