1-Man’s Opinion on Sports-Thursday

Posted by on February 1st, 2024  •  0 Comments  • 


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On this day 50-years ago, we almost lost our baseball team.

A last minute move by hamburger baron Ray Kroc prevented the Padres move to Washington, DC, where they would have replaced the Washington Senators franchise in the American League.

Kroc spent and spent and the Padres got to the World Series.  He saved the team.

Then after turmoil filled times with other others, John Moores and Larry Lucchino saved the team again and got Petco Park built.

Then the Seidler family arrived and rebuilt the franchises credibility.

Had there been no Ray Kroc, there would have been no Tony Gwynn, no World Series teams, no beating the Dodgers in the playoffs, and certainly no AJ Preller good-moves bad moves.

Here’s an in depth ‘look’ at this historical story…50-years ago this hour, courtesy of the Washington Post:

A half-century ago, the San Diego Padres were so close to relocating to the nation’s capital that longtime Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich sent a two-word telegram to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a D.C. native who had championed a new team for his hometown: “MAZEL TOV.”

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The traditional Jewish congratulations came after National League owners approved the team’s move to Washington in December 1973, Kuhn recalled in his autobiography.

Earlier that year, Joseph B. Danzansky, president of the Giant supermarket chain, had signed a deal with the troubled owner of the Padres to purchase the team for $12 million and place it in the nation’s capital to replace the Washington Senators, who had relocated to Texas the previous season.
But a lawsuit by the city of San Diego, followed by McDonald’s chairman Ray Kroc swooping in to buy the team and keep it in Southern California, wound up sinking the D.C. effort. The conclusion came Jan. 31, 1974 — 50 years ago Wednesday — when NL owners unanimously approved the sale of the team to Kroc.

“So Ray Kroc got the Padres as spring training approached and Washington’s window of hope closed again,” Kuhn recalled in his memoir. “There would be only robins and Redskins at RFK Stadium.”
It represented a stunning switcheroo, coming less than two months after the mazel tov-inducing vote approved the team’s relocation to D.C. And it set up decades of heartbreak for Washington baseball fans, who lived with fleeting hope and constant uncertainty for more than 30 years before the arrival of the Washington Nationals in 2005 finally ended the city’s baseball drought.

Congressional pressure for a Washington team
The saga really started at the end of the 1971 season, when Senators owner Bob Short got permission to move the team to Texas, where they would become the Rangers in 1972. That angered many members of Congress, and they began agitating for a new team in the nation’s capital.

At baseball’s December 1971 winter meetings in Phoenix, four members of Congress presented a petition signed by 238 members — more than half of the House’s 435 — calling on MLB to reestablish baseball in Washington. The top of the petition listed several House heavyweights, including Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.), Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-Mich.), Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. B.F. Sisk (D-Calif.), chairman of the “D.C. Baseball Steering Committee,” according to a Chicago Tribune story at the time.
Celler, a colorful longtime Brooklyn lawmaker, had been furious when the Dodgers left his home borough for Los Angeles in 1958. At the 1971 winter meetings, he delivered a letter to MLB in his typically brash style, criticizing the owners “who in the name of the public interest successfully maintain their blanket exemption from our antitrust laws, occasionally exhibit precious little concern for the community welfare.”
Celler also referenced the NFL’s New York Giants’ announcement earlier that year that they would be leaving Yankee Stadium for New Jersey.


“The recent exit of the baseball Senators from the nation’s capital — and indeed that of the football Giants from New York City, where they have prospered for years — is symptomatic of a long‐standing pattern,”Celler wrote.
Sisk was even more blunt: “We want a team by next year if possible and we must have one by 1973,” he said, according to the New York Times. Kuhn, the baseball commissioner, said the owners “heard the message” and that he would name a blue-ribbon panel to get a team back in D.C.
“The choices seem to be that baseball could expand again or could move some troubled franchise to Washington from perhaps Cleveland, Oakland or San Diego,” the Times wrote in what almost turned out to be a prophetic line.

‘Baseball’s back!’
Eighteen months later, in late May 1973, came the news that a group led by Danzansky had a deal to buy the Padres and move them to D.C., contingent on the team terminating its lease with city-owned San Diego Stadium and on the approval of NL owners. Two years earlier, Danzansky had tried to buy the Senators and keep them in Washington, but he couldn’t meet Short’s asking price of $12 million (about $90 million today). This time, his group came up with that figure for the Padres that, improbably, was $2 million more than George Steinbrenner and fellow investors had paid for the New York Yankees in January 1973. The plan was for the Padres to relocate in time for the 1974 season.

The new D.C. team was to play at federally owned RFK Stadium under favorable lease terms — 10 cents for every customer up to 1 million and 30 cents over that threshold, the Times reported.
The team didn’t have a new name lined up for its new city, although fans did get a sneak peek at the road uniform, which minor league pitcher Dave Freisleben modeled in a photo. Freisleben, who would make his MLB debut in 1974, sported a baby-blue 1970s-style jersey with the word “Washington” across the chest and a white baseball cap featuring a “W” that had a red star protruding from the top.
“Baseball’s Back! San Diego Padres Play Here in ’74,” blared a May 28, 1973, front-page headline in The Post, above the fold and just below a story about the spiraling Watergate scandal.

The Padres had a losing tradition that would have fit in with Washington’s. Since their birth as an expansion franchise in 1969, they had come in last place in the NL West every season, never finishing with a winning percentage above .400. They had averaged barely 7,000 fans per game in their first four years, even worse than the paltry crowds the Senators drew in their final season in D.C. (around 8,000 per game).

“There are some who will scoff that no treasure was snatched from San Diego in preparing Washington for its reentry into major league baseball in 1974,” Povich wrote. “But for two brooding, silent summers, Washington baseball fans have been deprived of most of the sights and all the sounds of the game while lesser cities could give out with whoops. At this point, the caliber of the Padres, which can be subject to change, is less important than their presence in the city.”
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Danzansky told Channel 5′s Maury Povich — Shirley Povich’s son — that his prospects for team manager included “Frank Robinson at the head of my list,” which would have made him the majors’ first Black manager. Robinson would go on to break that barrier with the Cleveland Indians,who named him player-manager for the 1975 season. Thirty years later, Robinson would become the first manager of the Washington Nationals.
“I’m very flattered [Danzansky] feels that way,” Robinson told The Post at the time, adding he wasn’t deterred by the Padres’ losing track record. “I don’t shy away from tough situations. The Padres are a young expansion team, and it’s only fair to give them five to eight years to become a good club.”

And the team did have some exciting young players, such as rookie outfielder Dave Winfield. After the 1973 season, they traded for veteran superstar Willie McCovey.
Kevin Dowd, a longtime Washington baseball fan, recalled that when the Senators left town, he was optimistic the city would soon land a new team.
“A year or two went by, I was getting impatient, but here come the Padres, and Danzansky had a deal in place,” he said in a recent interview. “When that happened, I was saying: ‘Take it to the bank. It’s done.’ ”
Dowd, who was 29 at the time, had already planned to attend a bunch of games in 1974. “I was single, and that was a good date. It was cheap,” he said, recalling attending Senators games at RFK for $1.50 and paying the same price for a beer. “So you could have a nice date for 10 bucks.”

Politicians rejoice
As the Padres wrapped up what appeared to be a lame-duck season in San Diego, which ended with an NL-worst 60-102 record, President Richard M. Nixon, a California native and huge baseball fan, cheered the team’s expected move. After the Senators left town, Nixon had strategized with D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington on finding a replacement team, a White House tape recording shows.

“I just want to cast my own vote in favor of returning major-league baseball to the Nation’s Capital,” the president wrote to NL President Chub Feeney in September 1973. “You can be sure all of us in the Washington metropolitan area would enthusiastically welcome a National League team.”
On Dec. 6, 1973, the NL owners conditionally approved the team’s move to Washington. That same day, Congress deliberated Nixon’s choice of Ford as his new vice president, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew. Sisk, the congressional D.C. baseball booster, broke into the floor debate to announce the Padres news.
“Mr. Sisk and Representative Frank Horton, Republican of Upstate New York, who together had led a Congressional effort to secure a new baseball franchise for Washington, paid tribute to Mr. Ford, a onetime football star and still a sports enthusiast, for his support of their effort,” the Times reported. Ford was sworn in as the new vice president later that day after winning congressional confirmation.

The Post reported that Washington would open the 1974 season at RFK Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. game against the Philadelphia Phillies, a day before the rest of MLB’s teams started their season. That winter, Topps printed a 1974 set of baseball cards of 15 San Diego players with “Washington Nat’l Lea.” printed on them.
But San Diego officials soon made it clear they wouldn’t give up their lousy baseball team without a fight.
“We’ll see them in court,” warned San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, a Republican and future California governor, at a news conference the same day of the NL owners’ vote.
“The U.S. Congress, as watchdog of the public purse, has decided that subsidizing the piracy of the San Diego Padres is an urgent national priority, warranting the expenditure of federal taxpayers’ funds,” he added.

Wishful thinking for D.C.
The next week, San Diego followed through on its threat, filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NL, alleging a conspiracy dating from 1971 to yank the Padres from the city and move them to Washington. The other defendants were each of the league’s 12 teams; Padres owner C. Arnholt Smith; and Sisk.
Among the alleged co-conspirators: Vice President Ford, Albert (the House speaker), Celler, Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) and Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D); as well as the American League.
Looking to get out from the San Diego lawsuit, Smith tried to find another buyer. That’s when Kroc, who had failed in his attempt to buy his hometown Chicago Cubs, reached out. In January 1974, he came to an agreement to buy the Padres and keep them in San Diego.
“That was almost, but not quite as big, a betrayal as Bob Short,” said Dowd, the longtime D.C. baseball fan.

After the NL approved the sale to Kroc, Danzansky sent a telegram to the league asking owners to consider D.C. as the first city to get an expansion team and said he had several encouraging comments from owners.
“There has been some indication that there is a definite feeling among the owners that we are going to be favored,” he said.
But that proved to be wishful thinking. MLB expanded in 1977, 1993 and 1998 but bypassed Washington each time. Instead, D.C. had to turn to relocation again when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005.
Meanwhile, the Padres finished last again in Kroc’s first year, 1974. At the Padres’ home opener, which they dropped, 9-5, in the midst of a six-game losing streak to start the season, Kroc went into the press box and told the crowd on the public address mic: “I suffer with you. I’ve never seen such stupid ball-playing in my life.”
Kuhn recalled ordering Kroc to apologize and soon met with him on Kroc’s yacht in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“I knew right away we had another fascinating egocentric in the world of baseball,” he wrote

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