The San Diego Union-Tribune
“I don’t want to put a bunch of turkeys on the field,” Peter Seidler said a decade ago.
Eliciting the comment was a question asked of the new Padres part-owner as he stood near the dugout soon before the home opener in 2013.
Did Seidler plan a full-scale rebuild for a franchise coming off its fourth losing season in five years?
The Cubs and Astros, it was noted, were in the midst of steep rebuilds. Extreme pain, said their leaders, was the price of building sustained World Series contention.
Seidler was the grandson and nephew of Walter O’Malley and Peter O’Malley. The family had owned or run the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for decades.
The Dodgers were not a franchise that raised white flags on seasons.
Nor would the Padres, Seidler implied, at least if that meant — gobble, gobble — losing some 100 to 115 games as other teams were willing to do.
Seidler opted instead for a stunning “win-now” push following his second full season. The flurry of moves shocked the baseball world. They thrilled Padres fans.
Here, at last, was an owner who wanted to win as badly as fans did.
The win-now bid crashed and burned, but after the Padres took their medicine for a few years, Seidler approved of more big swings that were better-supported, smarter and more sustained.
A World Series berth did not ensue. And sadly, if one does, Seidler won’t be around to see it. He died Tuesday at 63 after being dealt numerous health challenges, including multiple bouts with cancer.
In his baseball stewardship, Seidler pulled off something wonderful for locals that could endure for generations.
On his watch, Petco Park was transformed into something it had never quite been: A happening place permeated by a Padres vibe. For a longtime Padres fan who sat six rows beyond the team’s dugout two Octobers ago, the atmosphere raised goosebumps.
The Padres were facing the Dodgers with a chance to advance to the club’s first League Championship Series since 1998.
The fan, a man in his early 70s, looked around the ballpark. What he saw stunned him. A sea of fans in brown and gold. Almost everyone waved a gold towel.
Only specks of Dodger Blue dotted the scene.
“That was a turning point for the fans and how they bonded with the organization,” said the fan, Steve Garvey, the former Padres and Dodgers first baseman. “The fans knew Peter was all-in. He was going to put the best team he could afford on the field. It was expensive.
“The fans felt that they could make a difference when they were at the ballpark,” Garvey said Tuesday. “Peter created this feeling of ‘we’ in San Diego between the fans and the team. For years, it used to be 60 to 40 between Dodgers fans and Padres fans, or Cubs fans and Padres fans.”
In quantity, the Padres broke new ground as well.
They finished third of 30 teams in home attendance in 2021 and fifth the following year. This past season, they welcomed a franchise-record 3,271,554 in paid attendance, and would have surpassed 3.3 million had they not played two games in Mexico City.
They outdrew the Yankees, Mets and Cubs. They beat out the Red Sox, Giants and Cardinals. Only the Dodgers played before more fans at home.
What Seidler, fellow part-owner Ron Fowler and others with the franchise did was put the San Diego into the Padres, and vice-versa, to a greater extent than any other Padres stewards had.
“Fans thought they could make a difference, as they did against the Dodgers in the playoffs,” said Garvey, who played against 14 Padres teams before finishing his career with five San Diego clubs between 1983-87.
If the team on the field wasn’t nearly as successful as Seidler envisioned when he pushed the 2023 payroll to $258 million, the past season nonetheless drew 61 sellout crowds to Petco Park.
It likely planted seeds for fan support in years to come.
A whole generation is becoming accustomed to wearing gold and brown, the MLB-unique color scheme that returned to the Padres under Seidler.
“We’re in the memory business,” Garvey said of MLB. “Peter always understood that, from having been a boy in Los Angeles and so forth.”
Garvey’s relationship with Seidler went back to the 1970s.
Harkening back to Seidler’s youth, Garvey would jokingly ask Seidler where his bow tie was.
As a boy when he visited Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., Seilder wore a seersucker shirt and a bow tie.
Garvey described Seidler as kind, decent and caring, saying the same held true for Seidler’s other family members.
He found him a very good listener.
Garvey asserted that Seidler wasn’t just in the sport just to turn a buck: “He had character. He was a very unique individual. For him to own a Major League Baseball franchise was special to him. It was a continuation of the family history in MLB. He took it very personally, he had passion and he wanted to put a winning team on the field and entertain the fans.”
This year, Seidler didn’t get the Disney moment he arguably deserved. The club was unable to reach the playoffs, much less give a World Series-winning performance to the team’s chairman and control owner as he faced increasing health challenges.
Maybe next season is the year, Seidler might say.
Who knows? Maybe history will echo.
The Garvey home run that helped send the Padres to the 1984 World Series came nine months after beloved Padres owner Ray Kroc died at age 81.
Garvey said that when he saw Cubs outfielder Henry Cotto climb the wall at San Diego Stadium in pursuit of his backspin flyball, he feared Cotto had just made the greatest catch in postseason history.
Then he saw the ball carom beyond Cotto and the wall.
“Maybe Ray,” said Garvey, “was the one that blew that one a little hard to five feet over the wall.”
The ’24 Padres now have marching orders. No turkeys allowed.