Monday, April 6, 2009 | They shopped their Cy Young Award winner, even though Jake Peavy isn’t trying to jump ship.
They allowed Trevor Hoffman, their future Hall-of-Famer to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers — he has been the face of the franchise since Tony Gwynn retired.
And as their 40th anniversary season opened Monday with a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at beautiful Petco Park, a former sports agent has purchased the team. Jeff Moorad is serving as CEO and vice chairman as he gradually assumes full ownership from John Moores.
From high up above, what would Buzzie Bavasi think?
Bavasi, the Padres’ first president and general manager when the franchise was founded in 1969, no doubt would have let Padres general manager Kevin Towers know what he was thinking from his La Jolla home high above San Diego. Bavasi never stopped tracking the Padres and sharing his thoughts right until his dying days.
“I asked Kevin once if he minded Buzzie offering advice,” said Peter Bavasi, Buzzie’s son and himself a former general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and president of the Cleveland Indians. “Kevin said, ‘We all love Buzzie. We’re getting advice from a Hall-of-Famer.’”
Buzzie passed away on May 1 at the age of 93, so this was the first Padres’ season opener without him. In past years, Peter said Buzzie appreciated Moores and previous owners inviting him up to their box on opening day.
But Peter contends Buzzie is still watching from high above, “with Preston Gomez sitting next to him,” a reference to the Padres’ first manager, who died in January.
Buzzie may have been an old baseball man, but he was ahead of the game when he worked with the Dodgers and Branch Rickey to integrate baseball with Jackie Robinson in 1947, and he kept up with the game’s changing economics.
Instead of viewing a former sports agent owning a team as a sign of baseball’s apocalypse, he would have adjusted to the times.
“Buzzie thought Jeff Moorad was a smart guy with a wonderful track record,” Peter said. “Since he has represented players, he understands the mentality of players. Buzzie would have viewed that as bringing something new to put into play. He would have applauded Moorad’s purchase. He recognized some things are inevitable in baseball.”
Instead of viewing the Padres as cheap and short-sighted for even considering trading Peavy, Peter says Buzzie would have considered it part of the game when a franchise’s decisions are dictated by the payroll.
Bavasi went through such a time when original owner C. Arnholt Smith’s banking empire collapsed and the franchise lacked stability until Ray Kroc purchased it.
Now, the Padres are again without solid financial footing as a result of the divorce of John and Betsy Moores. The thought of moving Peavy was a product of Moores’ having mandated $40 million payroll.
“Buzzie said it took the fun out of baseball when trying to run a team and keep it solvent,” Peter said. “Buzzie never had to worry about things like debt service when he was with the Dodgers, where they printed money.”
Instead of viewing the Padres as insensitive to their icon and fans for letting Hoffman leave, Peter say the old baseball man in Buzzie would have considered Hoffman’s age. Hoffman turned 42 in October.
“Trevor was a real tough because he was such a great player and person in the community,” Peter said. “It was one that got out of hand in this information age of today’s sports world of news on the Internet and sports talk radio moving with the speed of light.
“As professionally painful as it would have been for Buzzie to allow a player like Trevor to leave, Buzzie would have listened to his scouts if they didn’t think he had much left. Maybe that was the case here, especially with what we see now with Trevor starting the season on the disabled list.
I wondered if Peavy and Hoffman compared to Buzzie’s days when he was general manager of the California Angels and allowed Nolan Ryan to leave as a free agent. Ryan went on to pitch another 14 years with the Houston Astros and Texas Ranger.
“I don’t think so,” Peter said. “Nolan Ryan’s circumstances with the Angels included a strong-willed agent. But in retrospect, Buzzie recognized it was a mistake, and he wrote Nolan a letter saying so.”
It wouldn’t be fair to say Towers — who has done so much for the Padres in his tenure — misses Bavasi’s advice on such matters. But on the 40th anniversary of Major League Baseball in San Diego, it’s fair to say the Padres haven’t been the same since Buzzie passed away.
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the editor.