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Ray Kroc is credited with saving baseball in San Diego when he bought the team that was packed up and ready to be moved to Washington, D.C., in 1974.
John Moores also saved the franchise when he purchased it in 1994 and provided new direction with National League West titles in 1996 and
1998 and National League pennant in 1998 that led to approving a downtown ballpark.
But it all started with the creditability Buzzie Bavasi provided an expansion franchise in 1969 when he left Los Angeles for San Diego.
Bavasi passed away of natural causes Thursday at the age of 93.
Bavasi was one of the most popular and respected general managers in the business with the Dodgers. Buzzie’s oldest son, Peter, said his father turned down numerous opportunities to take over a franchise that included part-ownership.
Peter said it seemed every baseball off-season when he came home from college for a holiday or the weekend, his mother Evit would tell him about the latest opportunity his dad turned down to remain general manager of the Dodgers.
“He never made money out of baseball, but he could have,” Peter said.
“In the off-season there were always changes at the ownership level, and my dad would get a call offering part ownership. My mom would tell me about it. But he always turned it down. Baseball wasn’t about the money to Buzzie. He loved working for the Dodgers.”
But in 1967, Bavasi finally did make the decision to leave the Dodgers.
He joined original Padres owner C. Arnholdt Smith in an effort that landed the expansion franchise that began play in San Diego in 1969.
But if he had left the Dodgers earlier for part-ownership of a team in the Midwest or East, Bavasi likely wouldn’t have been available to guide the San Diego group that gained approval for the Padres to enter the National League.
“The only reason he came to San Diego is he thought it was a great opportunity to start baseball in San Diego and a chance to make it a family venture for his boys,” Peter said. “I was his first farm director. My brother Billy worked on the grounds crew. Bobby went to law school, but he worked in the farm department for Bob Fontaine.
Chris played at Northern Arizona and was the only who didn’t really work in baseball, but he did work the concession stands, hauling beer kegs around, at Dodger Stadium.”
Peter and Bill both went on to become general managers. Chris remained in Flagstaff, Ariz., after his college years at Northern Arizona and eventually became the city’s mayor.
The Padres are still a civic treasure, and it all started with Buzzie Bavasi.
— TOM SHANAHAN