Padres history: A look at the underappreciated Gene Tenace

Padres, Gene Tenace (Photo by Alan Band/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Padres, Gene Tenace (Photo by Alan Band/Fox Photos/Getty Images) /

Here we look back at an underappreciated player in San Diego Padres history.

According to Baseball Reference, the all-time on-base percentage leader in San Diego Padres history isn’t Tony Gwynn, but rather the underappreciated Gene Tenace, who suited up for the Padres between 1977 and 1980 and put up an impressive .403 mark.

Tenace’s playing career was notable for a few reasons. One of them is that he was taken in MLB’s first ever amateur draft, when he was selected in the 20th round by the Kansas City Athletics. He made his debut with the big club in 1969 (with the A’s now in Oakland) and was a backup catcher to Dave Duncan before taking over starting duties late in 1972.

In the ALCS that year against the Tigers, he drove in the winning run in the decisive Game 5, and then in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he went 8-for-23 with four home runs, earning World Series MVP honors.

After that, Tenace’s career took off and he became one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Not only did he hit for power on those great A’s teams of the early 1970s, but he also drew a ton of walks in an era before they were appreciated as much as they are now. Before the 1977 season, Tenace signed as a free agent with the Padres.

Tenace’s power numbers dropped off a bit in San Diego, perhaps at least partially due to Jack Murphy Stadium’s large dimensions, but he still hit between 15 and 20 each of his four years on the club. What was really impressive, however, was his ability to draw walks and to get on base. In 1977, for instance, he led the league with a whopping 125 free passes, which helped him to post a .415 OBP that year.

Tenace continued to draw tons of walks in San Diego, with 101 in 1978, 105 in 1979, and 92 in 1980. Tenace was also a versatile player for the Padres, splitting his time between catcher and first base and even seeing some action at third base in 1977.

The Padres traded Tenace to the St. Louis Cardinals after the 1980 season; he spent two years there before finishing his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1983. If Tenace played today, his tremendous on-base ability would probably be more appreciated than it was back then. Tenace finished his career with a 46.8 WAR, good for 14th all-time among catchers and second-highest among those not in the Hall of Fame (excluding Joe Mauer, who is not yet eligible).

Tenace went on to have a great career as a coach after his playing days and was respected by many hitters. Though he only spent four seasons in San Diego, during a lean time in team history, he probably should get more due than he has for his playing accomplishments.

Any Padres fans remember watching Gene Tenace play for the team? Let us know if you have any memories of him!

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