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In Michael Baumann’s Grantland article posted on March 20, he talks about how the goal of his daily column is to bring attention to every team and to get fans excited for the upcoming baseball season. He then proceeds to list through all the teams, trying to decide which is the least interesting team in baseball.
Finally, after paragraph upon paragraph about the relative ‘interest’ each team has, he comes to the final two: the Padres and the White Sox. And then, in the only Padres-related article that will appear this spring training, he spends one and a half paragraphs talking about why the Padres might be good this year, so therefore, they’re not even the most uninteresting team.
Even when there’s a chance the Padres might win something, they lose.
The initial reaction of Padres fans would be to get irritated, or upset, or rant on and on about how this is yet another example of the major media ignoring their team. It’s proof that even writers that are paid to follow baseball don’t know anything about this team. It’s proof that the Padres aren’t important enough for an ESPN writer to spend more than 200 words talking about them.
But, honestly, isn’t that what the Padres are? They’re a nice, easy-going team. No one on the team is a superstar and no one is an attention seeker. Baseball has a tough time selling their players in the first place, but the average fan can identify Derek Jeter, Miguel Cabrera, or Mike Trout. Do you think even a diehard baseball fan from a city that isn’t San Diego could identify a picture of Chase Headley? I wonder how many people looked at the picture in this article and had absolutely no idea who was in it. Everth Cabrera, if you weren’t sure…
This is a team that flies under almost everyone’s radar. Any Padre who’s a fantasy baseball star is inevitably drafted lower than players with equal stats. In an auction league, Padres go for much cheaper than players from other teams. For example, in one of the leagues I’m in, Chase Headley went for $700,000 and Brandon Phillips for $2.2M, even though both players are projected to be similar in value. Even if you believe that an RBI-hitting second baseman is worth more than a third baseman, that’s still too great of a gap.
And during the Biogenesis scandal last year, most people’s reactions to two Padres admitting guilt was a big “meh”. No one cared, no one argued that these players should be suspended longer, no one was screaming for blood. They just shrugged their shoulders and didn’t really care.
Which, sadly, is what most fans do when they hear about the Padres.
I think that the ownership likes it this way. They do everything under the radar and do nothing to stir up any trouble. You never hear them mentioned in rumors about, well, anybody. If a free agent signs with the Padres, I can almost guarantee that there’s never anything on the Internet leading up to it. You’ve all seen it before – the press release, the press conference, and the new jersey number for a free agent who most other teams weren’t even thinking about signing. Half the fans shake their heads and wonder why the Padres sign this guy and the other half celebrate that the team is spending some money, regardless of who it’s for.
Staying under the radar is exactly what the ownership wants. Boring is good for them. Uninteresting serves their purposes. They’ve seen what happens in other markets and, I believe, don’t want the same thing to happen in San Diego. Fans in Kansas City, angry at the continued mediocrity, are demanding the ownership to spend more. Their ownership group is continually ripped apart, normally lead by Grantland columnist Rany Jazayerli, for not spending money or caring at all if they put a good team onto the field. Other teams with long-suffering fans, such as in Seattle, have started to demand more and criticize when nothing happens.
But no one lights a fire under the feet of Padres management because no one pays that much attention to them. They talk about being unable to spend money because they’re in a small market, but in truth, they’re in the 18th biggest market in the United States with an estimated population base of over 3.1 million. That’s bigger than St. Louis, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. Oh, that’s 1 million more than Milwaukee, who were able to go out and sign big ticket free agents Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza in the last three years. Each of those players will be making more than the Padres highest paid player this season. The Padres biggest free agent signings in the last three years were Mark Kotsay, Jason Marquis, and Josh Johnson. All of these were one year contracts and all of them were pretty much past their expiry date when they got signed. The Milwaukee signings showed that the team was moving forward and trying to remain competitive. The Padres signings were stop gaps or reclamation projects, none of them seen as being very valuable. Signing big names gets people talking. Signing role players gets a small blurb on Twitter.
Strangely enough, there is a connection between attendance and this kind of spending. Milwaukee, in a much smaller market, and with a worse record, ended up an average of almost 4000 more fans per game than the Padres.
In attendance, the Padres were a solid 20th, getting over 2.1 million people to attend games last year. Would you believe that they’ve averaged just over 2.1 million every year since 2010? They sold, according to ESPN, 62.7% of their seats, which put them 22nd in all of baseball.
The Padres don’t have the excuse of a bad stadium, or one in a bad location. It’s right downtown, in the heart of a redeveloped area. Fans don’t stay away because the owners are jerks, like in Baltimore or Miami. Fans don’t stay away because the team is bad – the attendance was almost identical in 2010, where they won 90 games, and in 2011, where they lost 91. Maybe fans stay away because of the economy. Maybe fans stay away because they expect this team to trade away stars, so why get connected to them?
Or maybe fans stay away because, simply, Grantland is right.
Maybe the Padres aren’t interesting.