Bernie Wilson, sportswriter, Associated Press
David Marver, Padres fan and filmmaker
Related Story: Padres 2013: Hope Springs Eternal
CAVANAUGH: This is the time when hope should be in the air for Padres fans. Preseason play is underway, but the brand-new untouched regular season lies ahead, full of promise for a team with a new group of owners who say they want the team to be part of what makes San Diego great. But Padres watchers say there are some good reasons not to be too optimistic about 2013. We'll talk about the team's chances, changes to Petco Park, and a political battle over TV access to Padres games. My guest, Bernie Wilson, a sportswriter for the Associated Press. Welcome to the program.
WILSON: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Now, first of all, bring us up to speed about how the Padres are doing in Peoria.
WILSON: Well, I'm Mr. Negativity. I've been covering them for 20 years, and the one lesson that Padres fans don't seem to have grasped yet from spring training is results over there are usually skewed. They don't count. There's a running joke that the team that wins the cactus league, everybody gets a TV. But that's like sending the rookie bad boy to find the keys to the batters' box. The history of the Padres is littered with guys who hit well during spring training. John Roscoes, or hit well in spring training or AAA, in altitude or in the desert, Anthony Rizzo, then they come to San Diego, fizzle out within a month, sometimes fizzle out within two months or a year. And it doesn't matter until they get to the regular season.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. And why is that? Is it because of the field, is it because of bad choices? Is it just bad luck?
WILSON: No, it's generally the conditions in Arizona. It gets hot. It's conducive to good hitting. And you just -- spring training game, it's great for the fans who pay $5, get to drink a few beer, and go back to the hotel and get blitzed even more. It's a good time. But the starting pitcher is in for two innings, then he's out. And here come a couple of rookies or guys coming off injuries.
CAVANAUGH: So it's not a true test.
WILSON: No. And with guys like Rizzo, they come up and might do well until the second time around, and the big league pitchers quickly figure them out. Jedd Gyorko, the prospect who many are now anointing the savior. You hope a kid like that does well. But just because he hit a bunch of bombs in Peoria and elsewhere it doesn't mean it's going to translate. He is a good hitter. That's why I'm saying it really doesn't matter till he comes up here, hits a few bombs at Petco, hits a few bombs here and there, and he'll get figured out by big league pitchers, then it's up to him to figure them out again. So that's why it's wait and see.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take an overview of what this season looks like. There was this $800 million sale of the Padres to the O'Malley group, it went through last August. There seemed to be a lot of promise for the Padres. What changes were you hoping to see from the new ownership group?
WILSON: Well, the one was obviously a better lineup, a better rotation. They did say they were going to look at adding starting pitching. And maybe a more defined plan of just what they planned to do. They came in very optimistic saying it's going to be a first-class organization, saying they were well capitalized, but they haven't done anything. To me it doesn't matter because I'm going to -- I'm not a fan, I'm a journalist. I just need to report what's going on. But the burden of proof is on them. It needs to translate into a winning product on the field. And an editorial comment, there's nothing worse than covering bad baseball. Since 1991, I've covered my share of bad Padres teams. And last year, you walk out of the press box at 11:30 or 12:00 at night after watching miserable, brutal, boring baseball April and May, and it's like you see your career flash before you. It's like what have I done? Why am I doing this? And I love baseball! But not bad baseball. I'd much rather watch my kids' freshman high school team than the Padres right now.
CAVANAUGH: Let me just say the Padres did boost the payroll, right?
WILSON: They did. But they did it through arbitration, which is the -- you know, the simple explanation is players under six years service time, or usually between 3-6, it gets complicated, once they get to a certain point, they can go to arbitration. They submit a number, the team submits a number, and they usually settle. So they increased it through arbitration. Eight guys including Chase Headley who got a nice, well deserved raise. And they're claiming contracts that they extended during last season, which I guess. Carlos Quentin, Huston Street.
CAVANAUGH: So what you're saying is they just gave out the sort of raises that they had to.
CAVANAUGH: And that boosted the payroll, but they didn't put any fresh money in fresh players or really changing the look of the team.
WILSON: You're right. About the only move that they did make in fresh money is they brought back pitcher Jason marquee for $3million. He was a free agent. And that's about it.
CAVANAUGH: You mentioned Chase Headley. He seems to be a bellweather for a lot of people to see whether or not there really is a change in the ownership and management. The Padres, whether or not they decide to keep him.
WILSON: Exactly. Litmus test, bellwether, put up shut up.
CAVANAUGH: Because he's a free agent next year?
WILSON: No, he's under control of the club. That's a difference. He's under control of the Padres through the 2014 season. But yeah, he becomes eligible for free agency after 2014. And so they have said that they want to keep their young players who want to be here. They have also in the past traded established stars for prospects. So the key is going to be -- and you know, you can see it both ways. They do have the right to wait and see how he does this year. He's under control all around baseball. But if they trade him for prospects rather than an established pitcher, an established position player, maybe one of each, maybe two of one flavor, then it becomes hypocritical.
CAVANAUGH: You said that you're a journalist, not a fan. Let me turn to somebody who is a fan of the Padres. He's kind of pessimistic, angry about this Padres season. His name is David Marver, he's produced a documentary called Padres: The Sad Truth. Welcome to the show.
MARVER: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: What is the sad truth about the Padres?
MARVER: Well, the sad truth about the Padres is that over the past four seasons, they've spent less money than everyone in baseball, and we've been lied to from ownership, the team president, from the GM on a wide variety of issues like ball park amenities, keeping players, compensation in trade, payroll promises. So the sad truth is the documentary just chronically all these things.
CAVANAUGH: And you have boycotted the games since 2009; is that right?
MARVER: I went to one game in 2010. And besides that, yes, I have not gone to the Padres since 2009.
CAVANAUGH: Let me play a clip from the documentary which we got from Facebook. And it kind of explains why you've stayed away from seeing the games and think other people should:
MARVER: If you insist on watching live baseball in 2013, why not watch Mike Trout and the Angels? If you can't leave San Diego, what's not to like about Aztecs basketball? I'm not saying you should hate the Padres. Let me be clear: Still root for them. They are your team. But you can do that while holding ownership accountable. After all they really don't want this publicity.
CAVANAUGH: And that's a clip from the documentary produced by my guest, Dave Marver. What kind of reaction have you gotten from this documentary?
MARVER: I would say it's been overwhelmingly positive. It's raised a lot of fan awareness. And it's really switched the tables. For a long time, fans were told if they came to the stadium, the revenues would be reinvested in the team. Now we're saying if you invest in the team as owners, then we'll bring you back the revenues. And I think that has resonated with a lot of people. We're watching 1,400 followers now on Facebook, and another 500 or so on twitter.
CAVANAUGH: It makes me curious to ask you, what would it take to get you back into Petco Park? What do you need to see of this team?
MARVER: Well, I need to see ownership fulfilling their promises. When they bought the team, the new owner said "if we have good players who want to be here, we'll try to keep them." Now they have Chase Headley who is a great player, and it's reaching a point where they either need to extend him and show Padres fans they want to keep him and live up to their promises or not. And it's just frustrating as a fan to see your team have the lowest payroll in the league from 2009 to present. And a new ownership comes in and does nothing to try to win you back. So for some people, it's a spectrum. Some people will be easier to bring back to the stadium. I want to go, and hopefully ownership does things that influence me to go.
CAVANAUGH: Thanks for joining us.
MARVER: Thank you very much.
WILSON: David, you still there?
WILSON: It's Bernie Wilson. I just wanted to say, first of all, good job on the documentary. Good, thank you for using a clip of mine from way back in 1993. I have no idea where you found that.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, David. I appreciate your being on the show. Let me get your reaction to that, Bernie what. Do you think about the documentary and the points he's make something
WILSON: I think he did a great job. He put an awful lot of work digging up all these clips and statements. And the thing is, direct quotes, boom. That's the best evidence can throw back in an owner's face. And the Internet is forever. A lot of us journalists were talking, he really did put in the research and present today very well.
CAVANAUGH: There are actually a lot of people who are kind of in reverse position to this. They actually want to see the games, they want to follow the games. But they can't if they have time warner cable. That TV dispute has been lingering now for a year. What's the holdup?
WILSON: Money. Time Warner, their baseball argument is they say Fox would charge them too much to provide Padres games to run on Time Warner cable. I guess the elected officials feel they must try to solve it. But it's almost laughable. I think in the paper yesterday or today, the city attorney says there's really not much that can be done other than fans voting with their feet and their pocketbook, which David has done and suggests. And that's how you get at people. That's how Charger fans responded to three years out of the playoffs. They have didn't buy tickets. And that's -- you can switch, drop cable, go to satellite. The cynics would say Time Warner is saving fans the trauma of having to sit through a game. I've heard that a lot. And I've seen it in my own house. The kids used to love having the Padres games on. Now it's, like, dad, it's borings. They have Xbox, Facebook, cellphones, iPods, whatever.
CAVANAUGH: Is there a public hearing coming up on this at City Hall. You expect a lot of fans to show up?
WILSON: I'm sure there will be, but what's going to be proved? Don't they have other things to do? Potholes, libraries, the stadium? The thing is Time Warner agreed that the Dodgers were some crazy deal for, like, I think $7 billion over 25 years starting next year. They carried the Lakers. Why do they need the Padres? And why haven't the Padres been more forceful in trying to get this resolved? We went one season, and it look like it's going to be another season. Time Warner is a private company. I know there's carriage agreements and whatever. I have no idea if there's any stipulations. Probably not. But when I heard it was going to the City Council, I thought back to sometime in the '90s when we had to cover all these mindless hearings and public forums on Charger stadiums and Petco Park, and one day there was a guy in a Charger jersey, and I don't mean to offend him, but he had the name Mongo on the back, and that just sums up San Diego sports in a nutshell. A guy in a Charger jersey with Mongo on the back. And I hope Mongo is there just to say something.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about the changes in the fences at Petco. They've moved them. Is this going to make it -- people from other teams, are they going to want to come to Petco Park now? Are hitters going to look at this and say this is a park I can work with?
WILSON: Well, that's one of the hopes of the Padres. The ultimate one is to cut down on the number of boring games.
CAVANAUGH: And just to be clear, the fact of the atmosphere at Petco Park stops hitters from really been able to hit the ball far enough to get a lot home run of home runs.
WILSON: Right. The proverbial marine layer, night games early in the season, the outfield as originally built was a place where fly-balls went to die. Center field, but mostly right center, and right field. Padres hitters groused about it. Clevingo groused about it, Adrian Gonzalez didn't like the place. And another thought is, yeah, now they can get some hitters, free agents, who would want to come here. The other side of the coin is if Padres hit more home runs, the opponents will hit more home runs.
CAVANAUGH: If you can, what's the best case scenario for the Padres this year?
WILSON: That they can win 81 games and finish .500. They avoided the 100 loss plateau last year. They had a strong finish but still finished 4th in a very competitive division, 18 games behind the San Francisco Giants. And they're coming back with essentially the same lineup.
CAVANAUGH: Bernie, thank you. I’ve been speaking with Bernie Wilson, an Associated Press sportswriter. Thanks a lot.
WILSON: You’re welcome.