As you step through the gate just north of the Padres Official Team Shop, Tony Gwynn‘s statute looms in the distance. The luxury condos rise all around you. The perfectly manicured grass of the outfield concourse area welcomes you. And just ahead a small field for children to play wiffle ball brings you back to your childhood. You make your way around to your seats, descend or ascend depending on your location, and step out into the open-air stadium. The Western Metal Supply Company building meshes nicely with the sandstone walls surrounding the rest of the park. The sandlot just beyond center field grabs your attention. The children have already begun to gather, some with buckets in tow ready to make baseball-style sand castles. You find your seat and take, pull out the program a nice elderly woman handed to you at the gate, and you start to flip the pages. Do the players excite you? Do they make you believe? Do they bring to minds thoughts of success?
Success is relative. Those who have it want more. Those who don’t want a little. The Yankees are successful. So are the Red Sox. But then again, so are the Diamondbacks, the Brewers, the Rangers, the Mariners, the Marlins, the Royals, the Pirates, the Cardinals, and the Padres. The list could go on. Every team, all 30 of them, is successful depending on your definition of success. What are the possible definitions? There are plenty, but let’s focus on a few; Winning, consistency, and entertainment.
The Padres have had winning seasons in 13 of their 43 years. That may not define success to some, but when you group the winning seasons, perhaps there is success to be found. Since Petco Park was built, the Padres have had winning seasons 5 times in the park’s 8 year existence. The Padres went to the play-offs in back-to-back years, 2005 and 2006. They also went to the play-off two out of three years, 1996 and 1998.
Maybe, World Series appearances are important to you. The Padres have been twice, 1984 and 1998. They lost both, but they were there. The Seattle Mariners (established in 1977) have never made a World Series appearance. Neither have the Washington Nations/Montreal Expos (established in 1969). The Colorado Rockies, while established much more recently, has only been to the World Series once. The same is true for the Houston Astros who have been around since 1962. The Brewers, who along with the Expos came into the league at the same time as the Padres, have only made one World Series appearance.
Perhaps winning, by definition, means being better than everyone else. If that’s an opinion you share, you may be surprised to know, not many teams are better than everyone else. Only one team per year can claim that title. Since 1969, 43 teams have been better than everyone else. Of those 43 teams, only 20 different franchises have won a World Series.
If success is defined by consistency, can the Padres be considered successful? They have 21 seasons of 75 wins or more. Granted these aren’t winning season, but they are consistently above the lower-quartile. They avoid complete futility consistently. They had eight seasons of .500 or better in 11 years between 1982 and 1992. They had four consecutive winning seasons between 2004 and 2007.
There are teams who have sustained success. The Yankees, the Phillies, the Cardinals, and the Red Sox are a few of them. However, it’s important to remember, these teams don’t always have winning seasons. The Yankees had six losing seasons in seven years between 1989 and 1995. They failed to make the postseason in 11 straight years from 1965-1975.
The Phillies were looking up at the Atlanta Braves from 1994-2006. They had seven losing season in eight years from 1985 through 1992. From 1951 to 1975 the Phillies failed to qualify for the postseason even once.
Of course these teams have had more success than the Padres. They are different teams though. Built in more populated areas, grown through decades of existence, these teams had a head start. The Padres will not catch these teams in terms of success, but they have found success. They’ve found consistency, and they’re getting better as a franchise.
As seriously as we all take it, as dramatic and extravagant as the game can be, baseball is nothing more than entertainment. People have choices on what to spend their entertainment dollars on. They can go to a movie, a bar, a friend’s house, or a play. There are countless other forms of entertainment people choose to spend their money on, but baseball can entertain like no other. Padres baseball entertains as good as Yankees baseball or any other storied franchise.
From the first pitch to the final out, the games are exciting, hurtful, joyful, and incredible. A home run can bring 35,000 people to their feet at once. A strikeout with runners in scoring position can incite a collective groan. Padres baseball provides great memories. Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Nate Colbert, Randy Jones, Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez, and other have crossed the foul lines and taken the field in a Padres uniform. Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds hit historic home runs against the Padres. Randy Jones and Jake Peavy brought home Cy Young awards. Walk-off home runs can dominate the memories of Padres fan, and there have been plenty of them. Steve Finley, Adrian Gonzalez, Steve Garvey, Khalil Greene. The mix of players who easily come to mind prove the entertainment value one swing can bring.
As a measurable example of the Padres’ ability to entertain, their attendance figures are generally good. Last season, San Diego drew 2,143,018. They entertained every one of them. In 2010, the team drew 2,131,774. While they don’t normally draw beyond the covetted 3 million fans that some ball clubs do, the Padres bring a large number of fans to the park in a small market.
It’s easy to say the Padres are not a successful ball club, but the fact is, they are. They have entertained us for 43 years. They have won games, lost games, given us something to believe in, and given us hope. They have provided us a taste of the World Series, and they have shown us what play-off baseball is like downtown. If you define success in comparison to other clubs, you will never find it in the Padres. Success should be defined in individual terms. Each team defines those terms, the fans define those terms. The San Diego Padres are successful, and the fans prove it every Spring through Fall.