Padres honor memorable 1998 team
SAN DIEGO -- Ted Leitner, the Padres longtime and inimitable radio play-by-play guy, introduced the 1998 Padres on Friday night at Petco Park as "arguably" the best in club history.
Arguably? Those Padres won 98 games and seven more in the postseason, both club records by a landside. So that word can be excised.
"It was a great team, along with the 1984 team, the best in club history," said Kevin Towers, general manager of the Padres from 1996-2009 and in the same position with the D-backs now. "It was probably one of the most special years in my career so far. It was a fun group to be with. Very resilient. They expected to win each and every night."
By a stroke of good fortune, Towers and the D-backs were in the ballpark on Friday night as the Padres celebrated the 15th anniversary of the 1998 NL championship team. Those Padres defeated the Astros and the Braves in the playoffs, and then were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
In the pregame ceremony before San Diego's 2-1 victory, Leitner introduced Towers, clad in a red D-backs polo and standing in a skybox high above the field. He then introduced many of the members of the team Towers put together, all of them ferried to home plate in automobiles.
Since joining the NL in 1969, the Padres have won the NL West five times and been to the World Series twice. The 1984 team won 92 games and four more in the postseason, which included only two rounds and a best-of-five NL Championship Series. They came from behind in stunning fashion to defeat the Cubs in the NLCS, and then lost to Kirk Gibson's Tigers in a five-game World Series.
"That was a fun year," said Gibson, the D-backs manager, who sat out a one-game suspension on Friday night while his 1984 Detroit teammate, Alan Trammell, ran the team. Trammell, normally the bench coach, was MVP of the '84 World Series.
There was all kinds of happenstance like that on Friday night. Tony Gwynn, the eight-time NL batting champion and Hall of Famer, was the only Padre to play on both pennant-winning teams. He was there wearing his vintage 1998 Padres dark blue jersey with the retired No. 19 on the back, the same unis the present-day Padres wore Friday.
Gwynn finished with a .338 lifetime batting average and 3,141 regular-season hits. He had 33 more hits in the playoffs, perhaps none more significant than the home run he hit in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series off the right-field second-deck facade at the old Yankee Stadium.
In a 20-year career that ended in 2001, the now 53-year-old Gwynn called that his favorite hit.
Like his Hall of Fame induction in 2007, Gwynn's daughter, Anisha, sung the national anthem on Friday night.
"I always cry when I listen to her sing that," Gwynn said, wiping back a tear.
Six of the eight members of the regular starting lineup were there as well as the four starters in the postseason rotation -- Kevin Brown, Andy Ashby, Joey Hamilton and Sterling Hitchcock, who was named MVP of San Diego's six-game victory over the Braves in the NLCS.
Among the missing were closer Trevor Hoffman, who is currently a special assistant to the Padres president and had a preplanned family vacation; first baseman Wally Joyner, who is a hitting coach with the Phillies; and third baseman Ken Caminiti, who passed away in 2005 from a drug overdose.
The Padres also had two players from the 1984 team die young because of drug problems, pitcher Eric Show and second baseman Alan Wiggins.
Gwynn, who played with them all, was happy to have his former teammates back together.
"It was like old times, like we never left," Gwynn said. "It was amazing."
Gwynn has an own prism to view it all through. He has spent the past few years battling cancer of a gland in his cheek, the result, he believes, of a lifetime of chewing tobacco. He's undergone multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and is currently working through treatment to keep the area clean of malignant cells.
"He always says that he's happy to be alive and standing up," his wife, Alicia said.
Gwynn is the head baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater, and the Aztecs were just eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Now, he's embarking on a limited schedule of analyzing televised Padres games. His debut was this week and he was up in the booth, wearing his jersey after the festivities on Friday night.
It should be noted that the 1998 pennant was not won in this now 10-year-old downtown ballpark. The Padres played from 1969-2003 in the Mission Valley stadium once named after sportswriter Jack Murphy and now the home of the NFL Chargers.
Fifteen years may be just a blip on the radar, but it certainly is a measure of time.
"Baseball always makes you feel like that," said Mark Sweeney, a utility player on that team and now also a Padres TV analyst. "It keeps you close. Those memories make it seem like it's yesterday. But it also seems so far away because of what has happened to you in your life."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.