The Padres have been a part of the city of San Diego as far back as 1936. Though, not in their current form. The original San Diego Padres were a minor league team in the PCL. They were led to the 1937 PCL championship by an 18-year-old San Diego native named Ted Williams. In 1969, San Diego was one of 4 cities that debuted expansion franchises (others included the Seattle Pilots (Milwaukee Brewers), Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals), and Kansas City Royals). They have had very little success in their 45 seasons. In fact, they have had more seasons in which they finished in last place (17), than seasons in which they even finished with a winning record (13). They have 5 playoff appearances in their history (’84, ’96, ’98, ’05 & ’06), and can lay claim to 2 National League pennants, but were handily defeated in both World Series appearances (only 1 win in 9 games). To this date, they also are the only team in all of MLB to have never had a pitcher throw a no-hitter, and are one of just two teams (Marlins) to have yet to have a player hit for the cycle.
Perhaps a lack of overall success is a part of the oddity that is their uniform. I don’t mean that their current uniforms look strange, but the curious tour they took to get to where they are today. In just 45 years of existence, the Padres have had six different logos, and four different color combinations. In fact, since 2001, the team has undergone 5 different changes to their uniforms, color scheme, and/or logo. One might could interpret this as a continuing struggle for an identity, as the team historically has had very few star players that they were able to keep around long enough for the fan base to identify with. But, that’s really a discussion for a different post. In their history, the Padres have fielded 1 MVP, 4 Cy Young winners, and 2 Rookie of the Year winners. And while there is only one player in the HOF who spent the majority of his career with the Padres, there is one other player with a Padres hat on his plaque. But, we’ll discuss them momentarily. For now, let’s consider the 5 greatest Padres of all time:
5. Jake Peavy (’02-’09) – from 2004-2008, it looked as though Peavy was going to be a premier pitcher in the league for a long time. Over that period of time his average ERA was 2.95 (leading the league twice), his average WHIP was 1.14 (leading the league once), and he averaged over 200 K’s per season (leading the league twice, and finishing 2nd once). But, injuries have taken their toll (everything from ankles, to ribs, to back muscles), and today he is a fraction of the pitcher he was with the Padres. But, his time with the Padres was impressive. In addition to the aforementioned accolades, he was named the starter for the NL in two All-Star games (’05 & ’07), and won the Cy Young in 2007, when he completed the pitching triple crown. Among pitchers with at least 900 IP with the Padres, Peavy ranks 4th in ERA (3.29), 2nd in wins (92), 2nd in win pct. (.575), 3rd in WHIP (1.186), 2nd in K/9 (9.04), 1st in K’s (1348), 2nd in K/BB ratio (3.099), and 2nd in ERA+ (119).
4. Dave Winfield (’73-’80) – many who write about Winfield speak of him as though he were an amazingly gifted athlete who could do anything on the baseball diamond. And, in many respects, that is an accurate description. Winfield was a Gold Glove rightfielder (won 2 while in San Diego), who could hit for power, and steal a sizable number of bases. But, the cynic in me looks at his stats from another perspective, too. You could easily look at his numbers and come to the conclusion that while he did everything well, he didn’t excel at anything – which is why he’s ranked this low on my list. He may have 465 career HR, but it took him 22 years to accumulate that many (around 22 per season). He may have 3,110 hits, but he never had 200 in a season, and only had 180+ 4 times (a career .283 batter). He may have been able to steal some bases, but the most he ever stole in a single season was 26, and he averaged just 11 per season for his career. And, he only ever led the league in anything one time. His best season was in ’79, while still with the Padres. He led the league in RBI (118 – the highest total of his career, and one of just 8 seasons he eclipsed 100), and hit 34 HR, to go along with his .308/.395/.558/.953 stat line. All of which led to him finishing 3rd in the MVP voting (the highest he would ever finish in his career). While with the Padres, he also appeared in 4 All-Star games. Winfield was an excellent player, and I believe deserves to be in the HOF (elected on first ballot in ’01). But, I think his lore outshines reality. That being said, he is certainly one of the greatest to play for the Padres, and even though he spent one more season with the Yankees than he did with the Padres, he chose to have the Padres logo on his Hall of Fame plaque. Winfield ranks 7th all-time in San Diego history in SLG (.464), 8th in OPS (.821), 3rd in hits (1134), 4th in HR (154), 2nd in RBI (626), 6th in stolen bases (133), 5th in OPS+ (134), and 2nd in runs created (666).
3. Adrian Gonzalez (’06-’10) – while with the Padres, Gonzalez was a 3-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glove winner at first base, and finished 4th in MVP voting his final season in San Diego. His average season with the team included 32 HR, 100 RBI, and an .888 OPS, in spite of playing half of each season in one of the most difficult parks to hit in. Interestingly, the only statistic of significance in which he led the league while with the Padres was walks in 2009. But, compared to someone like Winfield, I think you’ll see that the only time Winfield is ranked ahead of Gonzalez in Padres history, is when Winfield benefited from having 3 more seasons to accumulate numbers in San Diego. In franchise history, Gonzalez ranks 7th all-time in batting (.288), 9th in OBP (.374), 3rd in SLG (.514), 3rd in OPS, 6th in hits (856), 4th in total bases (1529), 2nd in HR (161), 4th in RBI (501), 3rd in OPS+ (141), and 3rd in runs created (565).
2. Trevor Hoffman (’93-’08) – one of the longest tenured Padres in their history, Hoffman ranks 6th all-time in the number of games he appeared in for San Diego – all while working as their closer, which meant he usually appeared in only 60-70 games each season. He came over to the Padres in the middle of the ’93 season in the deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida. In ’94, he became their primary closer, and saved 20 games. That would turn out to be the only season a healthy Hoffman would save fewer than 30 games for San Diego (he missed nearly all of the ’03 season from shoulder surgery). From ’95-’08, Hoffman set MLB records for most 30-save seasons (13), and most 40-save seasons (8) in a career (he would extend his 30-save season record by 1 in 2009 with the Brewers). Hoffman was the first player ever to reach the 500-save and 600-save marks. He held the all-time save record from 2006-2011. A 6-time All-Star with the Padres, he also was runner-up for the Cy Young in ’98 & ’06 – the only two years he led the league in saves. Among pitchers with at least 900 IP in San Diego, Hoffman ranks 1st in ERA (2.76), 10th in wins (54), 1st in WHIP (1.04), 1st in K/9 (9.725), 1st in saves (552), 3rd in K’s (1029), 1st in K/BB ratio (4.035), and 1st in ERA+ (146).
1. Tony Gwynn (’82-’01) – there are some players who are the face of the franchise. And, not just for a particular era, but will forever be associated with that team. Gwynn is one of those. His entire career was spent in San Diego. The address of Petco Park is 19 Tony Gwynn Dr. (San Diego retired Gwynn’s #19 in 2004) He was drafted by the Padres in June of ’81 out of San Diego State, and made his debut for the Padres just a little over a year later. And, so began the career of, in my opinion, the greatest pure hitter of his era. Gwynn was not a power hitter, and he didn’t drive in a lot of runs. He usually was batting at or near the top of the order, and was actually quite fast in his earlier days – he stole 56 bases in ’87 (2nd best in the NL)! But, Gwynn’s claim to fame was that he was a hits machine. He won 8 batting titles – the second most in the history of baseball. He also led the league in hits 7 times. He appeared in an impressive 15 All-Star games, won 5 Gold Gloves, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 7 times (though, he never won). When the baseball strike prematurely ended the ’94 season in mid-August, Gwynn was batting .394 – the highest average by any NL player since 1930. He never got closer to .400. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 by the 7th highest percentage in history (97.6%), just 13 votes shy of unanimous selection. Gwynn is the all-time leader in Padres history in batting (.338), runs (1383), hits (3141), total bases (4259), doubles (543), triples (85), RBI (1138), walks (790 – and, interestingly, isn’t even in the top 10 in strikeouts; averaged just 22 K’s per season for his career!), stolen bases (319), and runs created (1636 – including 2 of the top 3 single seasons in Padres history).