Toward the middle of last season, then-team president Tom Garfinkel resigned from the San Diego Padres and the search was on to replace him. It didn’t take long for the team to settle on Mike Dee, the CEO of the Miami Dolphins who had spent time with the Padres from 1995-2002 as Larry Lucchino’s protege.
Fans were sad to see Garfinkel leave, and relatively unimpressed with Dee. With the Boston Red Sox, Dee made a name for himself as president of the Fenway Sports Group, leading acquisitions of Fenway Park, a 50 percent interest in Roush Fenway Racing, and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network. He also helped lead the charge for the remodeling of Fenway Park and helped broker a 30-year agreement between the Red Sox and Lee County, Fla., for a publicly funded spring training complex.
The Dolphins saw what Dee had accomplished in Boston and brought him to Florida in hopes of securing public money for a new stadium. Dee failed at that job, but a lot of the blame can be placed on the Miami Marlins, which promised taxpayers a competitive baseball club if they could get public money to build their new stadium before selling off their entire roster after the first year at Marlins Park. Local fans were not about to be fooled twice. Even when Dee set his sights lower, asking for $350 million in public money to upgrade Sun Life Stadium, the city of Miami turned him down.
The Dolphins now sit in the same limbo as the Chargers, without a way to get out of their old, decrepit stadium and losing out on countless bids to host the Super Bowl as a result. That’s not exactly what they had hoped for when they hired Dee, which is why they happily let him walk away for the Padres. In fact, they hired Garfinkel to replace Dee.
In short, Dee is the money guy. He was part of the group that helped the Padres land Petco Park, and he had a large part in getting Fenway Park remodeled. Dee became the guy you hire if you have money issues or were hoping to secure public funding for a stadium. It made sense that the Dolphins hired him, but why did the Padres? They’re happy with their home, they’re not trying to secure public funding and they are about 15 years away from being able to renegotiate their ownership stake in Fox Sports San Diego. Dee seemed like an odd fit.
It took a few months for Dee to get out of his responsibilities with the Dolphins and into his role with the Padres, so not much changed before this offseason. What Dee has done in his short time in San Diego, however, has already left die-hard fans incensed. In short: Most of the changes involve swapping out members of the Padres organization with members of the Dolphins organization. That’s the same Dolphins organization that made national headlines in 2013 for letting a bully (with a police record) loose on one of its youngest players.
The most recent move was announced this week: The team will not bring back fan-favorite Andy Masur to its radio broadcasts. That means that two of the top three personalities on the Padres’ official broadcasters page won’t be around in 2014. Jess Agler, who was brought over from the Dolphins, will serve as the team’s “director of content,” putting him in charge of the Padres’ social and digital products, and will be the new fill-in play-by-play guy as well as host of a daily “interactive” show that will either be aired on Padres.com, Fox Sports San Diego or both.
The reasoning for the team’s decision to move on from Masur? He didn’t do a good enough job of connecting and engaging with fans, according to Wayne Partello, the Padres’ new chief marketing officer, who was also brought over from the Dolphins.
That’s curious, though, since Masur is very active on Twitter, Instagram and Blogspot. I don’t buy the excuse. It feels more like Masur was muscled out to open up an occasional radio spot for Agler, whom Dee seems intent on turning into a star.
As spring training approaches, it will be interesting to see how the team’s ticket sales are affected by all of this. The team on the field isn’t too different from the one that finished 76-86 last season, but the die-hards who typically buy season tickets don’t seem thrilled with all of the moves that have been made in the front office this offseason. And Garfinkel’s much-heralded approach to sales is likely to change, now that Dee has brought in Steven Ziff from the Florida Panthers to be the new guy in charge of sales and service for the Padres.
All of this top-down change really makes you wonder. If Dee’s group was so excellent in Miami, why did the Dolphins let him (and them) go? And how will these changes in the front office affect the Padres organization now and in the future? Right now, it looks like Dee believes more in his vision than in appeasing the fanbase, which makes him the polar opposite of the man that he replaced. That’s going to take some getting used to.