For a San Diego native, I was very disturbed when I went to the San Diego Union-Tribune web page this week and saw that there was an 11th hour meeting scheduled for Wednesday between outfielder Tony Gwynn and the Padres.
The meeting is being conducted in a bid to keep the eight-time batting champion with the San Diego team for a final season after 18 years with the Padres.
Padres officials had only until 9 p.m. Thursday to make a decision about what they wanted to do with the man who many in San Diego feel is Mr. Padre.
When Padre CEO Larry Lucchino announced at the end of last season that the Padres would not be picking up the one-year extension option on Gwynn’s contract, many fans were not so much shocked as they were disappointed.
The fans knew that Gwynn was not ready to retire from professional baseball. The idea of their Tony playing for any other ball club, especially when it is highly likely that the club that signs Gwynn will end up being the club with which Gwynn retires, was ludicrous. Gwynn started with the Padres, and fans wanted him to retire in San Diego.
The dilemma stems from the fact that Gwynn did not produce to the level that many expected of him last season.
Removed from the lineup early and often because of injuries, especially the knee injury that sidelined him for almost the entire second half, that has continued to plague the All-Star, Gwynn missed the majority of the 2000 season.
The problem does not lie in the amount of money that the Padres are offering Gwynn, although it cannot be denied that an offer less laden with bonuses would have been preferable.
Yesterday, Gwynn agreed to a contract that is to be termed a one-year “incentive laden” $2 million deal. He must have 600 plate appearances to jump to $5.7 million, as an example.
Instead, the problem lies in the amount of playing time that Gwynn would receive were he to choose to remain a member of the organization where he began his major league career.
There have been no qualms on Gwynn’s behalf in announcing that he wants to be a starting right fielder for the team that signs him. He does not want to be a pinch hitter.
But, Padres officials are being asked to make a leap of faith and believe that Gwynn will remain healthy throughout the 2001 season. And, not only will he be healthy, they are also expected to believe that Gwynn will produce both offensively, of which no one doubts Gwynn’s hitting abilities, but also defensively.
Gwynn wants to remain a Padre. The players want him to remain a teammate. Bruce Bochy, the Padres’ manager, wants Gwynn to remain a Padre. Even a majority of the Padre officials want Gwynn to remain in the organization. So, why is he being forced to look at other clubs’ offers?
Perhaps Gwynn has been less than productive in the past few seasons. But, he is a San Diego institution. I would be hard pressed to find a baseball fan who did not know who Gwynn was, or which team he plays on.
To let Gwynn go would be to damage the reputation of the Padres organization. In being so impersonal in their dealings with Gwynn so far, the San Diego ball club has already damaged its relationship with him.
It would not be right to see Gwynn in any uniform than that of the Padres.
Fortunately for Padres fans, the organization woke up and did what it should have done in the first place.
Heather Baxter, a junior journalism major, is assistant sports editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.