THE WASHINGTON PADRES: THE TEAM THAT ALMOST WAS
[January 6th] -- Although I was equal parts angry, devastated and depressed when Bob Short moved the Senators to Texas in the fall of 1971, I never for a moment considered that RFK Stadium would remain dark for thirty-four more summers. Since 1954, when the Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore, there had been several franchise shifts within the league and there was no reason to believe that would change (which it did as as the Expos move to Washington was the first franchise shift since the Senators in 1971) . The Giants and Dodgers moved to California, and both the Senators I and II were allowed to seek greener pastures as well. Heck, the Seattle Pilots lasted just one season in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Milwaukee in 1970. I thought it might take four or five years, but I was sure that baseball would return to Washington.
And I was justified in my hopes.
Back then, teams weren't changing zip codes for luxury boxes and state-of-the-art facilities. Many teams were facing extreme financial difficulties. In 1973, all of Major League baseball drew just over 30 million fans, an average of only 13,600 per game. The San Diego Padres fared even worse, drawing an embarassing 611,000 fans to San Diego Stadium - about 7,500 per game.
Like I said, I didn't know who would be moving to Washington - or when - but it would be someone, sometime. I was confident.
I was turning 17 in 1973. My father took me to K-Mart on May 27th - the day before my birthday - and let me buy what I wanted. If I remember correctly, I bought clothes - had to impress the chicks after all. I was in my room trying on some of those clothes when the flash came over WTOP radio.
The Padres were - apparently anyway- moving to Washington.
Padres' general manager Peter "Buzzie" Bavasi had gathered his staff earlier that day and broke the news to them. They were moving to D.C. Things were so tight, in fact, that he told the group that the team would move to Washington in 1974 "at the latest." Owner C. Arnold Smith was "broke."
Though Bavasi admonished his staff to keep their meeting quiet, the story broke in the papers the very next day. Joe Danzansky, president of Giant Foods, was going to purchase the Padres. The team would remain in San Diego for the rest of the year unless "financial concerns" forced them to move later that summer.
For the rest of the summer, baseball fans in Washington were on cloud nine. It wasn't a matter of "if things work out" or "assuming all parties agree;" It was a done deal and everyone - everyone - were talking of the move as a certainty (though no-one had signed anything at this point)
I'll never forget Warner Wolf's sportscast after the move seemed all but certain. After filling in his viewers on the particulars of the move, he finished by saying, "Washington is getting a third chance at baseball. There are a lot of things to be decided but there's one thing we can't let happen. Folks, we can't call 'em the Senators. That name is jinxed! Let's call 'em the Metros, or the Ambassadors or even the Blue Jays; Anything -- anything but the Senators." And then he smiled into the camera and finished by saying "Baseball is back in Washington! I'm Warner Wolf."
I wasn't the only one certain the team was moving east. San Diego fans were so sure the team was leaving that they stopped going to games. They drew just 1400 fans to a game in September. Topps was so sure the Padres were moving that they created those famous "Washington" "National League" cards - the first series had to be printed before any official announcement could be made. GM Buzzie Bavasi was so sure the team was moving that he even contacted the person he wanted to manage the team -- none other than Frank Robinson.
Finally, it was officially announced in December that Danzanski and a group of partners were going to purchase the Padres. He was given three weeks to complete the deal. No one thought the deal would fall through. After all, Washington was owed a baseball team.
Then, it happened.
Sometime during those three weeks came a report out of San Diego that the city attorney obtained court approval to force the team - even if it moved - to pay off the remainder of the stadium lease to the city.
The lease was to run for fifteen more years.
When the judge approved the city's request, the banks that were going to finance Danzansky's deal all pulled out. The team couldn't stay afloat, they said, while paying for two stadiums.
That was that. Game over.
Smith said he couldn't continue to own the team regardless of where it played and Major League Baseball said it was ready to assume ownership of the Padres before Ray Kroc came forward and saved the team.
Though I was devastated yet again, I still believed that baseball would return to Washington. It was common knowlede that both leagues would expand several more times, and I refused to believe that D.C. would be bypassed for the other cities mentioned. Of course, expansion did bypass Washington. Several of the cities that ultimately got a franchise have struggled to put people in the stands.
Looking back on it, I can laugh about the "Washington Padres." But I've got to be honest and tell you that tears were shed when Warner Wolf reported that the Padres would remain in San Diego. "Maybe baseball in Washington is jinxed" said Wolf.
Maybe it was, but no more. Thankfully. No more.
As you can imagine, I was crushed when Mr. McDonald's, Ray Kroc, swooped in and saved the team for San Diego. Then again, San Diego is a pretty great city in its own right. The African Queen and I consider it our SECOND HOME. We go there often, and LOVE IT! We have seen the Padres play at home, many times.
Great Post, and perfect timing off my Rangers first appearance in Baltimore. We are in sync, my friend.
My dad loved to shop at Korvettes -- spent a lot of time there too.
If you worked at Drug Fair at Seminary Plaza, I must have met you--since I went to Hammond High for two years before going to TC Williams, right across the street and we always bowled at the Seminary Lanes. Of course, this is probably too much information for everyone else reading this and shaking their heads right now about these two Northern Virginia Boys who fondly remember their youth--especially on a SATURDAY NIGHT!!
When I needed a gadget for my stereo, I never went to Radio Shack - it was too small. I went to Lafayette Electronics (Wilson Blvd?) near 7 corners.
Most of the memories of my youth are tied to the area stores, mostly 7-Corners because I lived so close to it.
When I was 8 or 9, you could park on the roof of Montgomery Ward and walk in from there. How cool. They always had a vacuum cleaner facing upwards, balancing a beachball in the air. My dad would finish his shopping and I would just stare at the ball, marveling at how it balanced in the air.
With each passing day, my memories of home are slowly dissapearing. I am worried that I will never get to go back home before age overtakes me. There have been so many benefits of raising two handicapped children (now three with our foster boy) and would never change a thing. The drawback, however, has been the cost. Spending $6,000 every other year for a new wheelchair tends to go a long way at reducing spendible income. My other daughter currently is having 20-60 seizures an hour - you don't want to know what those medecines cost.
I'm not whining - I guess I'm just saddened that at the reality of it. The price of a plane ticket to D.C. may not be a significant amount to folks inside the beltway, but to a guy in college with 6 kids, who'll start his career at a teacher next fall making $27,000, well, that's the perspective I'm looking at.
I consider myself very lucky living in Idaho. But you're very lucky too - to be able to grow up/older around all that D.C. has to offer - well - let's just say we're both very lucky.
Sorry for the side trip down memory lane via crybaby Blvd.
See, I don't remember the little league carnival. Never knew that existed.
Also, when I left the area, 7-Corners was still an open air shopping center with the store's doors along the interior prominade.
Every Saturday, I'd go to the cafeteria down by Woodies during my lunch hour (was it S&W?)then do some shopping at the other stores.
I can't picture how it must look now.
Thanks for stopping by Mike.
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