Why the Padres have signed a former pitcher annually since the 90s

Matt LaChappa was an up-and-coming pitcher with the San Diego Padres after being drafted in 1993. In one instant his career was taken from him – what has the baseball team done in that time to make his life easier? 

Alex Gallardo/AP
San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Padres have signed retired pitcher Matt LaChappa every year since 1996 to an entry level contract so he can receive medical treatment that is part of the contract. LaChappa's career came to an end when he suffered a heart attack in 1996.

Professional sports today are viewed by many as an amoral number-crunching force that treats young athletes as commodities. But don't tell that to former pitcher Matt LaChappa, who has come to know nothing but compassion from a professional sports franchise after his career came to a tragic and sudden end in 1996. 

Mr. Lachappa was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1993 out of nearby El Capitan High School and was considered in the early years of his career the best pitcher in the team's minor league system. The southpaw had a killer pick-off move, a fastball that ran into the mid-90's, and a diving curveball that could lock opposing batter' knees, according to the Orange County Register. 

But LaChappa and the Padres had no idea how short his career as a professional pitcher would be. Tragically, during a warmup for Class A Rancho Cucumonga in 1996, he suffered what was later diagnosed as a serious heart attack that led him to need a wheelchair. 

With a player unable to live up to his entry-level contract, the Padres could have gotten insurance to cover the life of LaChappa's deal. But the team was not going to abandon their player, and instead has opted to resign LaChappa every year since 1996 to his basic, entry-level contract.

The money has gone a long way in assisting LaChappa and his family living on the Barona Indian Reservation, the Register reported. Today's minor leaguers earn a starting salary of $1,100 a month for a five month season, according to Slate. But what has really made the difference for LaChappa, is the medical insurance he has access to – part of his contract with the Padres, according to the Orange County Register.

"It's our way of saying to Matt that you're a Padre for life," Ms. Oppenheimer told the Orange County Register. "When Larry Lucchino [the team's former president who now holds the same position with the Red Sox] was here, he said that's the way it should be. And as long as I'm here, that's the way it's going to stay."

It's easy to think of professional sports as a club of millionaire athletes playing for billionaire owners, but the humanity and compassion the San Diego Padres have shown one of their own is a testament to their character as an organization. 

“Nowadays, everybody talks about the statistics in baseball, and how it has all become a numbers game,” Eagle LaChappa, Matt's brother, told USA Today. “But the Padres have been pretty special to him. They've said he'll be a Padre for the rest of his life, and they've allowed him to keep a certain level of care.”

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