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October 16, 2012
The Year Baseball Went Missing in San Diego
The Padres had a strange 2012, even by their standards. The strangeness wasn't limited to on-field action. Ongoing ownership and television contract issues often overshadowed how the team performed in games.
It's all a bit convoluted, so we'll go over some background information before looking at the 2012 timeline and what effect the events of this year will have on the franchise and the city of San Diego in the short- and long-term.
In October 2009, Moorad fired Kevin Towers, who had served as Padres general manager since being hired to replace Randy Smith in November 1995. At the time of his dismissal, Towers was the longest-tenured general manager in baseball. Moorad indicated that although the decision to part ways with the popular and successful Towers was not easy, it was necessary to move forward with the new owner's vision for the franchise:
We're interested in approaching the business in all aspects with a strategic mindset, one that involves the idea of putting our thoughts and plans together, both short and long term.
Moorad hired former Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer three weeks later to help bring that vision to fruition. Hoyer was the Padres GM for two years and two days, before he left to join the Cubs in the same capacity under his former boss in Boston, Theo Epstein.
During his abbreviated tenure with the Padres, Hoyer made many positive moves. The most notable move was his December 2010 trade of hometown hero Adrian Gonzalez—whose contract would expire at the end of 2011 and whose price on the free market would be too steep for the financially-challenged Padres—to the Red Sox for Reymond Fuentes, Casey Kelly, Eric Patterson, and Anthony Rizzo.
When Hoyer left San Diego at the end of October 2011, Moorad replaced him with Josh Byrnes, who had served—and served well—as GM under Moorad in Arizona after previously working with Hoyer under Epstein in Boston. If the situation isn't feeling incestuous enough for you yet, consider that when the Diamondbacks fired Byrnes in July 2010, his successor was Towers.
Byrnes originally came to the Padres in December 2010 as senior vice president of baseball operations. Hoyer relished the thought of working with his former colleague again:
I'm excited to work with Josh again. He's one of the best baseball minds in the game and will be a terrific addition to our front office.
Terrific and, in light of Hoyer's departure, necessary. Byrnes promptly made several moves of his own:
Beyond the general turmoil the moves outlined thus far created within the organization, there is a fascinating dynamic at work:
The Rizzo/Cashner deal culminated a month's worth of activity that saw Byrnes retool his newly inherited roster. It happened on a Friday. After the weekend, things got interesting.
It's 100 percent done. I couldn't be more pleased. Jeff's remaining payment of all cash went into escrow in mid-December. I remain impressed that Jeff has done everything he said he would do.
The meeting and approval seemed to be a formality.
Thursday, January 12
What on Monday was supposed to be “100 percent done” on Thursday was in limbo. Selig cited a need “to get more clarity and technical information.”
Moorad didn't seem surprised and expressed a desire to work within the process to get matters resolved. According to Selig:
There's no hidden agenda here. There's nothing else. There were a lot of economic concerns. The most important thing that we do is bringing in new owners, so we have really become very, very fastidious about the economics of who can make it. And I'm not suggesting there were any negatives. There were just questions that we didn't have time to answer here.
How much of this sudden interest in due diligence was caused by the McCourt saga two hours to the north in Los Angeles and how much to the fact that there was “no hidden agenda” is anyone's guess. Whatever the case, Moores continued to own a franchise he did not wish to own.
Friday, March 9
With Opening Day less than one month away, [chairman] John Moores and I believe our top priority is to ensure that Padres fans will be able to watch broadcasts of what we believe is an exciting baseball team.
The sentiment seems noble enough. After all, what team wouldn't want its fans to be able to watch broadcasts of games, regardless of how exciting they may or may not be?
Saturday, March 17
This didn't happen in time for the season's first game, when an estimated 42 percent of housholds in San Diego County were denied television access. Fans were assured that deals would get done soon, but the number of households that couldn't watch Padres games at home never decreased.
In June, FSSD launched a campaign attacking one of San Diego's largest cable providers, Time Warner. The channel at one point parked a truck in front of a Time Warner office reminding San Diegans that “You've already missed 60 Padres games on Time Warner Cable.”
This annoyed fans who already were quite aware of the fact, but it didn't resolve anything. So while the two media giants remained in a stalemate, much of the city and county missed an entire season's worth of baseball.
And now I've wrecked our timeline. But you had to know this now. Because it gets better.
Full disclosure: I live nine miles from Petco Park and cannot watch FSSD without leaving my home. I saw 25 Padres games at the ballpark in 2012 and five innings of the Padres on TV at a sports bar (June 9, Cashner's first start). So I'm a little angry, although not as angry as I was earlier, before I'd had a chance to get used to the situation and become apathetic.
Thursday, March 22
Friday, April 5
Talk about quick turnarounds.
Moores also expressed a belief that, on the heels of the Dodgers' new television deal, he could sell the team for significantly more than the $525 million (some sources say $530; the discrepancy is due to interest paid as part of the installment plan) Moorad had agreed to pay back in 2009. As Moores said, “Life is good, and I'll leave it at that.”
Local businessman Ron Fowler, who formerly owned the San Diego Sockers (a professional indoor soccer team), took over as “point man for the minority partners.” Remember the name Fowler; it will appear again later in our saga.
Tuesday, April 9
Thursday, May 17
Monday, May 21
Monday, June 25 (approximately)
San Diego fans and the club deserve a good ownership, great ownership, and assuming this deal goes through—and it hasn't yet—so we'll have to wait a little bit, but it's great. The O'Malley tradition is remarkable, going all the way back to Brooklyn and to Walter and on to Peter, and now you're getting the sons and the nephews involved. Plus the San Diego club's minority partners in the last deal were a very solid group and all San Diego people, which means a great deal to us, are all going to be involved.
Monday, August 6
It's been a long time coming. It's on the agenda for the August meeting, and I'm optimistic that Commissioner (Bud) Selig and the other 29 owners will approve it.
Given Moores' track record in predicting such things, one can understand a certain skepticism among the fan base. This time, however, he was right.
Thursay, August 16
I think Padres fans have a right to be very happy today. Very happy. This group knows what it takes to compete. They're very optimistic. I'm optimistic. I've gone over their projections, gone over everything. I think their projections are optimistic, but realistic. This is a good day for baseball.
The only thing that would have made Padres fans happier was if they had been able to watch their team play on television.
Wedesnday, August 29
We understand it's a huge issue. We do want all home fans in San Diego to be able to see the Padres on TV. It's not a simple problem—if it was, it would have been solved some time ago. But we will be working on it with FOX and with the other party that is involved.
Working on the problem is good, although once money has exchanged hands and leverage removed, solving it may prove to be tricky. Meanwhile, Fowler's choice of the word “treasure” to describe a valuable object so well-hidden from public view was interesting.
Wednesday, October 3
The television situation is more complicated. With 42 percent of county households having learned how to live without Padres baseball for an entire season and with no apparent progress in negotiations, the incentives in getting something done are not obvious.
The Padres would benefit from having their games broadcast to fans, but they are not the ones cutting the deals. FSSD would benefit as well, by presumably being able to draw better advertisers as a result of increased coverage, but they need a willing partner.
Time Warner doesn't seem interested in carrying FSSD, focusing instead on other issues. Time Warner recently launched a new channel to broadcast games of the NBA Los Angeles Lakers. It isn't available “in the majority of Los Angeles households.” However, it is available in San Diego, which doesn't have an NBA team.
Snark aside, it is difficult to build and sustain a fan base when the would-be members of that fan base are denied access to the product. They will find other things to do with their time and money. If enough of them do that, eventually there will be so little demand for the product that the other 58 percent might not notice when it disappears for good.
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I am indebted to Corey Brock, Dan Hayes, and Tom Krasovic for their outstanding efforts in covering this story throughout 2012 as it unfolded. This article would not have been possible without their work.