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The Padres: In The Cellar, But Profitable

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Aired 4/29/11

The San Diego Padres are in last place in the NL West, playing .360 ball with a team batting average of 211. Yet, Forbes called them the most profitable team in baseball.

ALISON ST. JOHN: In tough economic times, people rely on sports all the more to lighten the mood…to take them out of their own difficult circumstances. The San Diego Padres are not living up to expectations so far this season - they are 9 and 16 - the worst record in the major leagues right now. Could this be because the owners spent less on payroll than many other major league franchises? That might be understandable but then we hear Forbes magazine says the San Diego Padres were the most profitable team in Major League baseball last year. What's going on here?

GUESTS

Jay Paris, sports columnist, North County Times

Dean Calbreath, business columnist, San Diego Union Tribune

Mark Sauer, senior editor, KPBS News

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: In these difficult economic times, people rely on sports all the more to lighten the mood, take them out of their own difficult circumstances. The San Diego Padres though are not riffing up to expectations so far this season. They are 9 and 16, the worst record in baseball right now. Could this be because the owners spent less on payroll than many other major league franchises then we hear Forbes magazine say the San Diego Padres was the most profitable team in baseball last year. So what's going on here? We'd like to hear your opinion. 1-888-895-5727. So jay, tell us, what is going on here? Why are the Padres doing so badly right now?

PARIS: I think it's -- the key is the offense, and they're just not hitting, and this just came across, Allison, I don't know if you saw it or not, but they're great with promotions, and tonight, in honor of the royal wedding, they're gonna say it's gonna be the marriage of a baseball and baseball bat. If they're lucky. I'm not sure if that's gonna work out or not, but the royal wedding, Padre style --

ST. JOHN: That's not the image the royal family would like to see.

PARIS: But it's -- you know, they won 90 games last year.

ST. JOHN: Yeah.

PARIS: They've only done it four times in the franchise history. That's a phenomenal fete and they almost made the playoffs. And their reaction was to blow that baby up. And there's only eight or nine players on the opening day roster that were here last here. And a lot of people would build on that success. A lot of people would keep that nucleus, a lot of people would say we gotta get a foundation here, let's see if we can take it one step forward. Instead they -- money driven, financial concerns, they are the kings of cheap labor. And they have one of the lowest payrolls in major league baseball. And often you get what you pay for, and so far this season they have.

ST. JOHN: Okay. So Forbes magazine is saying they have the biggest profits in the whole country. And I gather that Jeff Murad is denying that. Is there any question about that?

PARIS: Well, you know, Forbes -- I've heard of them. They're pretty good. But their figures as well, you know, comes without -- before you pay taxes, but your interests on your loan, and quite a few other expenditures. That said, there's some truth there. And when you have a low payroll, and you're paying out 43 million, and other people are paying up to two hundred million, there's a little wiggle room there. And while the major league baseball doesn't have the revenue sharing as the NFL does, the higher teams that do have that high pay roll, they pay the lower market teams money. The Padres got $30 million in revenue sharing, and 20 or 30 million more in some TV rights, major league baseball wise. So there's some money there, and Mr. Murad is saying, you know, that they're putting that money back in. But they could be putting that money back into the club to buy the club. He still owes John Morris $146 million. So that layaway plan like you had at Sears when you bought that little red wagon, put a little down, that's what they're doing.

ST. JOHN: Well, does this happen most times when a team is sold?

PARIS: Not really. Yeah, it's kind of different. And now that they're in, they're complaining about how much the payroll is, and how much these other guys are spending. It reminds me of the buddy who's always trying to get in your poker game because you got a good poker game Friday night. So he finally gets a seat at the table and now he complains what the ante is. And this is kind of what the Padres are doing, wait a second, this is costing a lot of money. Well, we knew that going in. And I really feel for the fans in regard to those days back at Qualcom, it was all about if we can put that new stadium. If we can put that new stadium, if we got these new revenue streams, we can maybe not compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox, but at least be in the middle. Well, now they got the new stadium and now they say the stadium debt's too big and we can can't afford these players so --

ST. JOHN: Why do you think the fans should feel? I saw that there was a twitter yesterday from one of the players saying, hey, the hometown team relies on the fans. You shouldn't be booing us in our own --

SAUER: You pay those kind of prices, you got a right to boo. And a lot of people feel there's a bait and switch here. We had the great run up, the time think was unbelievable, they put together a marvelous team in 1998, that boat was coming a couple weeks after the world series against the Yankees. I don't know in any time after that, that know little window if the voters here would have supported that stadium. But they did then, they battle their way through a bunch of court slog. And now peopling, hey, we supported, the taxpayers supported you, you got this new stadium, state of the art, it's a Marsh house place. You got the party suites and you've got the season ticket concessions and all the goodies down there. Why aren't you plowing some of this back in? Why aren't you keeping in Adrian Gonzalez who was worth one quarter or more of the offense last year, a bona fide super star, home grown kid, appeals on both sides of the border, and he's going off to the Red Sox. Yeah, it's 20-million bucks a year, but you knew the kind of money you were gonna have to have, and so people feel short changed. They feel like we stayed with you, we want a winner, and we're coming down here, we're paying these prices. I will give them credit, they boosted attendance last year because they did have this remarkable 90 wins. I don't know how they did it. It was the most boring team in the world to watch with 90 win, as far as I'm concerned bump they did do it, they got more attendance, and they lowered some prices and they brought some more people out, and of course all their promotions, and but the bottom line is a lot of people feel --

ST. JOHN: Bait and switch.

SAUER: Yeah, bait and switch.

ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is the number if you'd like to join the editors at the round table. And dean, I was wondering, this is America, and entrepreneurship is the name of the game, and perhaps some of the fans feel, well, that's fine. If the owners of the team want to make a profit, they don't blame them. How do you feel we should be looking at a team owner and what they should -- what is their responsibility for the fans.

CALBREATH: Well, I think if you look at them as a business operation, then yeah, you've got a point. But if you're a person paying the ticket to get into the game, and watch, then you know, you want your money's worth. You don't mind if Angelina Jolie makes millions of dollars on a good movie, but you're not gonna pay for a bad movie. And similar to the games, you're not gonna pay for a good game, and if you pay the money, you expect to see a good game, and if you don't see a good game, you might boo.

SAUER: Jay, I want to ask you this. You've been covering this for a long time. When they were building the stadium, and I've gone on the website, and I started looking at the dimensions, and you've got, at that time, Ryan Clesco and Phil Nevin, huge hitters in the middle of the lineup, a big offensive machine at that time. And I'm looking at the dimensions here, and did nobody go down there, that bawl doesn't carry near the bay in that dense air, did anybody take a Fun-go bat and hit a ball? Why in the world did they build a pitcher's park where it's really difficult to hit and guarantee these dull games?

ST. JOHN: Just a few seconds for the answer here.

SAUER: Even in the years we were losing, they had fun teams.

PARIS: I think that marine layer's been around since Lane Field and they were playing down there. I think the key is that was the steroid era too. Those guys could just knock that ball out of that park, and they can't just do you that now.

SAUER: Good point.

PARIS: I think your other leg on that argument is pitching and defense is cheaper than building an offensive team.

SAUER: Good point.

PARIS: It's an old saying, the chicks love the long ball. They get paid. The long ball hitters get paid a lot of money. If your template is pitching and defense, you can get by cheaply, you get some cheap pitchers in there --

SAUER: And stay competitive that way, but it's dull.

PARIS: Yeah, it's --

ST. JOHN: We'd love to hear your opinion too, 1-888-895-5727 to join us here at the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS. We'll be right back.

ST. JOHN: And you're back at the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS with Dean Calbreath of the UT, Jay Paris of the North County times, and Mark Sauer, managing editor at KPBS. The Padres with the worst record in baseball right now, and also Forbes magazine tells us it is also the most profitable team in the major leagues. We have Jose on the line from Chula Vista with a question of thanks for joining the editors, Jose, go right ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, it's not really a question. You guys were talking about how it's a dull team and actual game, and it's not really the pitching and the defense, tattoo that they need to have not long ball hitting just good consistent all around hitting and some fast, good base running. You know what I mean? Some stolen bases here and there, that would really shake up things and get the crowd more into it, you know what I mean? If you go back to last year, last year they had a really good base pairing team, a really good small baseball team, and they stayed competitive, and the games were pretty good. If they could get more into that, instead of trying to get 50 home run hitters or 40 home run hitters which are gonna be really hard to find at cheap prices, especially coming to San Diego. That's my comment of it's not really a question. Thank you.

ST. JOHN: Jay, or sorry, Jose are you willing to wait for that? Oh, it sounds like we lost Jose. So Jay, how would you react?

PARIS: Well, Jose makes a good point. Last year was scrappy. Last year's player were quicker and it seems like their base running was one of the larger attributes.

SAUER: They got on once in a while.

PARIS: That's right, that's right, it's hard to steal first. And that's kind of what they were looking at. Of and let's face it, they went dumpster diving on this off season to get these players, and they BROUGHT IN older veteran player who were coming off Bad years, Jason Bartlett, the short stop, Hudson at second.

SAUER: The guy at first, Brad hop.

PARIS: Yeah, Brad hop. Good guys, and the back of their baseball card showing good careers, but they're all coming off of bad years, and they're all not speedsters. So their business model was we're gonna bring in these veterans this year, and see if they can turn it around.

ST. JOHN: And I understand the coaches are not the ones to be blamed. What do you think about that?

PARIS: No, Jed Hoyer is the general manager, and he construct the roster and gives it to the coaching manager, Bud Black, who was the national league manager of the year last year, and that is among the strengths of that organization, the coaches and the manager. But Jed's got as about like everybody else, and you got a billion. We're talking about budgets around here today.

ST. JOHN: Right. It's all about the money.

PARIS: You got it.

ST. JOHN: David is on the line, by the way, 1-888-895-5727 is the income if you'd like to join the editors. David is on the line from North Park, go ahead David.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, too bad the Padres could make pitches like your fundraisers, they'd be doing a little better.

SAUER: We'll go pitch for them.

NEW SPEAKER: My understanding is Jeff Murad, he owned the baseball team in Arizona before the bought the Padres, and I'm wondering did he have a similar track record of a low payroll and such in Arizona?

PARIS: Not -- he did have partial ownership there. Not to this degree. Arizona, they -- with their new ballpark, they had more money or they spent more money now. Spending money and spending money wisely are two entirely different things, and the diamond backs have certainly been on the down swing the last couple of years. But, he's a former agent, and he knows the value of a buck. I just think it's frustrate. Three years ago, this payroll was $73 million, 11 years ago at Qualcom before they made this jump, it was $55 million. So I think the key here is not to stress that they're gonna start writing checks for the Yankees Red sox and the Philadelphia Philies, but I think the fans are desperate to say, hey, at least give us something here, and for us to be down with the Pittsburgh pirates and the Tampa bay Rays, and the perennial low spenders, for what voted in, and for what we were promised --

ST. JOHN: And so far they got 30 million in revenue sharing.

PARIS: Right. And I think a lot of it is going back -- he's still trying to buy this club.

SAUER: Service of debt. You mentioned the Yankees and of course the other team of that market is the mets, and things could be worse here in San Diego. They're just about bankrupt. The league had to come in and bail them out. Same thing with the dodgers.

PARIS: Right, right. So at least -- he hasn't been investing in Bernie Madoff. So that's a good thing of that got the mets in trouble. It's almost like this season's a Band-Aid. And the Padres looked at it and said we can't compete, we can't get the superstar players, let's draft them, develop them, and coach them up. Well, this is kind of the brick year. Those little -- not little, those kids aren't quite ready yet. And they need more seasoning down in the minors before they can play at the major league level.

ST. JOHN: So what's your advice to the fans? Hang in there till this bridge season is over, till the next season comes around?

PARIS: I'd bring toothpicks and put them in both eyes so you don't fall asleep trying to wait for a big hit.

CALBREATH: The good news is you mentioned the mets, I mean if you're old enough to remember the 1969 mets, you know that a terrible terrible team can certainly become a Cinderella team.

SAUER: Right.

PARIS: Which last year was. I call it a lib year for the padres. Lightning in a bottle. They caught lightning in a bottle last year with that --

SAUER: Unfortunately in September they reverted to form, and it took them that long.

PARIS: Right.

SAUER: And they did. They contended until the last weekend of the season. And that's all you want is a contender, something to come out, and the games are meaningful, and we're in April, and the games are not going to be meaningful.

PARIS: It's entertainment, and if you're not being entertained, you look elsewhere to spend that.

ST. JOHN: Let's see what pall has to say. He's calling from Chula Vista. Thanks for joining us, Paul.

NEW SPEAKER: People talk about pitching being boring, pitching is a beautiful part of the game. [CHECK AUDIO] Don't bash the pitching that's part of the game. Pitching is a beautiful part of the game. A one nothing game can be an awesome event and an awesome thing to watch. If you ever have a chance, if you had hay no hitter, and you're gonna tell me that was a boring game because the pitching was so good?

SAUER: No, but I'll tell you what, they tout their bull pin, the middle relief, and it's so strong, and it is, it's remarkable. But do you really sit around thinking, gee, let's go out on the 8th inning and see if Mike Adams does a one-two-three, won't that be exciting? I mean you're really gonna pay those prices to see that?

ST. JOHN: But Paul, I'm glad you're bringing in a little bit of dissension here. So jay, what's your take.

PARIS: I agree of course I'm a baseball purist. I'm not real league baseball guy with the rockies and all that, but at some time you gotta hit. It's -- you know, changing gears here, I'm just hike the Chargers they had a great offense, a decent defense, and their special team stunk. Here you have decent defense, great pitching, and basically no offense. To be shut out seven times already is amazing. I can't believe that status.

SAUER: What's interesting about baseball situations, if you don't have anybody on base, you don't have any situations.

ST. JOHN: And I just wonder, in the minute we have left, mark, how does this relate to the Chargers? Here we have a similar situation shaping up. They want a new stadium.

SAUER: They do want a new stadium, but football and jay will tell you the details on this, but football has a cap, nobody can spend more than the next guy. They have tremendous revenue from television, they make a -- they guaranteed a profit before they tee up the first ball in spring practice, and it's a whole different business model.

ST. JOHN: Okay, well, listen, thank you gentlemen, I'd like to thank you. It turns out, everybody here was the first time to Editors Roundtable. Although you'd never know it to hear you of it was a lively show. Dean Calbreath business columnist from the San Diego Union Tribune. Thanks for being here.

CALBREATH: Thank you.

ST. JOHN: Jay Paris, sports columnist from the North County times, and Mark Sauer, our own managing editor at KPBS.

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