The Ten Best Padres Ever

Bill Center of the U-T has been collecting suggestions about who belongs on the Padres all-time top ten list. Here’s my list, a little commentary as to why, followed by a few who deserve honorable mention.

Here we go:

10. Eric Show. I realize I might get some criticism for this one. And it’s true, he could be frustrating at times; he never passed the threshold from good to great. However, Show has the following in his favor:

  • He was a mainstay in the rotation for 9 years (’82-90);
  • He is the all-time leader in wins, with 100;
  • He won 15 games three times, with a high of 16 in ’88.
  • His WHIP with San Diego was 1.29. Not too bad, especially considering that it wasn’t even used as a stat to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness back then.

Not too shabby.

9. Ozzie Smith. True, he was not the hitter that he would later become with St. Louis. But even in his San Diego days (’78-81), he was simply the finest fielder the game had ever seen. It’s doubtful there will ever be another like him, and it was a sad day when the Padres traded him.

A footnote: when the rumors were circling about his pending trade to St. Louis, many fans pleaded with then President Ballard Smith not to make the deal. Smith wrote back a number of fans, explaining that (paraphrase) “while we may be trading the best defensive shortstop, we are getting a future Hall of Famer (Garry Templeton) in return.”

Ouch.

8. Nate Colbert. The only “original” Padre on this list. For six years, he was their first baseman, and to this day, he remains the team’s home run record, with 163. Bear in mind that this was before the shorter 8-foot, temporary fence was added to then-Jack Murphy Stadium. Also, a great guy who encouraged kids to stay off of drugs.

7. Dave Winfield. As a future Hall of Famer, there is no way to keep him off of the list. If not for Tony Gwynn, he would easily be the greatest Padre right fielder of all time. After being drafted in 1973, he went straight to the majors. Four times he had over 20 home runs, including a high of 34 in 1978, his first true All-Star season. He may have left for bigger bucks in New York, but don’t forget where it all started.

6. Steve Finley. He was the Padres starting CF from ’95-98, when the team won two division titles and one pennant. Compared to his previous four years in Houston, his offense jumped while in San Diego, and he provided Gold Glove caliber defense, winning that award twice.

In ’98, the Padres won the pennant. In ’99, they badly regressed, going 73-89. One of the key reasons why: Finley left to sign with division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.

5. Ken Caminiti. Granted, his legacy was tarnished by the revelation that he used steroids. But when he was with San Diego, he was the best at his position.

Clearly, the December 1994 trade that brought Finley and Caminiti over from Houston may be the best trade the Padres ever made.

4. Jake Peavy. While injuries have slowed him down, he remains one of baseball’s top starting pitchers; certainly in the top 20. He played for the Padres from 2002-09. Three times, his ERA was below 3, including a sparkling 2.27 in ’04, and 2.54 in ’07, when he also won the Cy Young Award with 19 wins and 240 k’s. He is second all-time in team wins with 92, and first in strikeouts with 1,348.

It sure would be nice to have him now.

3. Adrian Gonzalez. When “A-Gon” made his first plate appearance at Petco Park as a Dodger, the fans booed him. They shouldn’t have; in five years (2006-10), he averaged 35 doubles, 32 homers, 100 RBI, with a .288/.374/.514 line (.888 OPS). A true pity that he was traded, even if Yonder Alonso winds up being solid, and Casey Kelly (who came over in the trade) turns out to be a decent pitcher. We’ll have to wait on that until next year; he’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

2. Trevor Hoffman. Personally, I think closers are slightly overrated, especially these days. They only have to go in and pitch one inning, so they can air it out and they’re done. For that one inning, they get a “Save.” However, Hoffman did it for so long and so well, he deserves to be on this list. From 1993-2008 (think about that; 15-and-a-half years!), he saved 552 games for the Padres (601 total, if you count his service with the Marlins in ’93, and the Brewers in ‘09-10). If not for Mariano Rivera, Hoffman would hold the all-time saves record.

1. Tony Gwynn. Was there ever any doubt? A Hall of Famer who spent his entire career with the Padres (1982-2001), he won eight batting titles while amassing over 3,000 hits; keeping in mind that his knee injuries really slowed him up later in his career, costing him at least 200 more. As a youngster, everyone knew he had talent; however, his defense was questionable. One longtime Padre fan posited at the time that Gwynn would have to be a .330 hitter to make up for his shoddy defense. What happened? T-Gywnn worked hard, and not only became a life-time .338 hitter; he won five Gold Gloves. A San Diego legend.

Honorable Mention: The following players whom others have considered do not appear on my list.

  • Garry Templeton. Yes, he rallied the Padres in ’84 when they were down to their final game in the playoffs against the Cubs. But he was clearly not the HOF they thought they were getting for Ozzie Smith (see above): over 10 seasons (1982-91), his OBP was an unforgivable .291. An everyday ball player can only get away with that if he brings something else to the field, like, say, the defensive prowess of Ozzie Smith, whose career also surpassed Templeton’s by six years.
  • Randy Jones. He ranks #11-12 on my all-time team list. It’s true that he won the 1976 Cy Young Award, hence putting the Padres on the map for the first time (he also had a fabulous ’75 season and could have won the award then as well, if not for Tom Seaver). But after that, he just wasn’t as good, going 35-51 with a 3.61 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. He then languished for two seasons with the Mets (’81-82), and that was that.
  • Fred McGriff, Tony Fernandez, and Gary Sheffield. These three were very solid performers during their time with the Padres. They would have easily made the top ten, but for one thing: none of them was on the team long enough to have a lasting impact: McGriff and Fernandez for 2 1/2 years, Sheffield for 1 1/4 years. Coincidentally, all three were shipped out during the Great Fire Sale of ’93. For McGriff, they got a middle reliever who was decent for part of a season, an overhyped prospect in Melvin Nieves, and a minor league outfielder who never made it. Perhaps the worst trade in team history. For Tony Fernandez, they got Wally Whitehurst. Remember him. Neither do I. For Sheffield, three young pitchers, two of whom never made it. The third? Trevor Hoffman.
  • Dave Dravecky. Most people wouldn’t pick him, as he wasn’t here long enough. I have him on here for sentimental reasons: not only was he a great talent, but the story of his comeback from radical arm surgery while with the Giants was incredibly inspiring. He is a hero in my book.
  • Benito Santiago. It’s true that he had a solid rookie season, which included a 34-game hit streak, the best ever from a Padre/Latin/catcher/rookie. But as a Padre, he only had one other good offensive season. He was also notoriously lazy on the field, which was why many fans were happy to see him go. This may also be why he had a hard time sticking with one team after that: eight different clubs in 13 seasons post-San Diego.
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