Why would California real estate tycoon George Argyros, who has owned the Seattle Mariners for six years, buy the San Diego Padres from Joan Kroc, subject to major league approval? Look at it this way: It is January 1981, and there are only 26 luxury automobiles in the world, and you've been waiting a long time to get a crack at one. The only vehicle for sale is the Seattle, the sporty blue, white, and gold Mariners model.
Even though you spend most of your time in Orange and San Diego counties, and would like something you could garage closer to home, you're impatient. So you buy the Seattle but keep your eye open for a more attractive property.
Perhaps the world didn't know it, therefore, but it was inevitable that when a team like the Padres came on the market, Argyros wouldn't be able to hold still. This isn't to suggest that George didn't do everything he could to make the Mariners a winner, including going to the expense of laying the foundation for what could someday be a fine farm system. But his heart never left southern California, and when the chance came to trade absentee ownership for the real thing, he did exactly what his friends knew he'd do.
San Diego also has a new manager this year in Larry Bowa, who is as aggressive as predecessor Steve Boros was placid. Bowa, who managed for the first time last season at Las Vegas and won a Pacific Coast League pennant, was thrown out of five games and suspended twice.
Bowa is a born fighter, a guy who a lot of critics said wouldn't last 16 days in the big leagues when the Philadelphia Phillies brought him up to play shortstop in 1970. Instead, he lasted 16 years; made the plays in the field; and through sheer effort developed into a decent hitter.
San Diego has some newcomers who can run (among them outfielders Stan Jefferson, Shawn Abner, and James Steels) and Bowa will try to take advantage of their speed. His main worries will be with the pitching, which gave up more runs last season (723) than any National League team, except the Chicago Cubs.
Bowa must decide on a four-man rotation that will probably include Eric Show, Dave Dravecky, Andy Hawkins, and Storm Davis, the latter acquired from Baltimore for catcher Terry Kennedy. But Dravecky could end up in the bullpen or as a spot starter if rookie Jimmy Jones is as advanced as everybody says he is - everybody meaning opposing scouts as well as the Padres themselves.
Brought up in September, Jones threw a one-hitter against Houston in his first big league start, later beat Los Angeles, and ended up with 15 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Even though the Padres reportedly think Jones is still a year away from working regularly in a major league rotation, they may just risk him in a couple of early starts and see what happens.
The bullpen could be outstanding with Goose Gossage, Lance McCullers, Craig Lefferts, possibly Dravecky, and perhaps Ed Whitson, who was an unhappy New York Yankee a year ago.
Even if the rumors are true that Gossage has lost a foot off his fastball, the Goose is still capable of 20 to 25 saves. McCullers, a rubber-armed rookie who appeared in 70 games last year, should be even better this time around.
Probably the toughest thing to evaluate about the Padres is the mid-winter multi-player trade that general manager Jack McKeon made with the world champion New York Mets. Whatever else it accomplishes, it has already established a record for most Kevins switching uniforms in the same deal!
Looking to the future, McKeon gave up power-hitting outfielder Kevin McReynolds, left-handed relief pitcher Gene Walter, and infielder Adam Ging for five of New York's best young prospects. Acquired from the Mets were third baseman Kevin Mitchell, outfielders Stanley Jefferson and Shawn Abner, and pitchers Kevin Armstrong and Kevin Brown.
Mitchell is expected to start at third base and Jefferson in center field, while Abner (the baby in the group at 19) could end up platooning in left field with Carmelo Martinez. Although this is not McKeon's first try at giving players on-the-job training, he has never had as much talent to work with before in such a project - at least on paper.
The rest of Bowa's lineup will probably have the veteran Steve Garvey and John Kruk, who hit .309 as a rookie last season, platooning at first base; Tim Flannery at second; newly appointed captain Garry Templeton at shortstop; batsmith Tony Gwynn in right field; and rookie Benito Santiago behind the plate.
Gwynn, who has 631 hits in his last three seasons, won the NL batting title in 1984 and is always a threat to capture another. Last year, in a first for him, Tony also hit for power (14 home runs) while finishing a close third in the batting race at .329. It marked the first time he has been in double figures in homers since his minor league days.
While nobody can be sure that the youthful Padres will even improve on last year's 74-88 record, Bowa will have them playing every game as though it was the final day of the World Series.
Maybe because Larry is young and in his rookie year as a major league manager, his Gen. Patton approach will work - though it's worth noting that the same style only caused problems when Dick Williams led this team two years ago.
Anyway, those who won't run through walls for Larry without being asked will probably end up climbing them!