Can the Padres reverse last year’s dysfunction and get back into contention?

BILLY BEANE WAS a sports-obsessed 7-year-old in San Diego when Major League Baseball came to his town in 1969. He attended as many Padres games as he could, visiting what was then called San Diego Stadium so often that it became part of an early promotional campaign that designated him as a “7up Junior Father”. He was very supportive of Nate Colbert and Clay Kirby, mocked those who suggested that Vin Scully was a better broadcaster than Jerry Coleman, and approached each spring with unabashed optimism. The Padres managed just one winning season before Beane left town as a first-round pick in the high school draft in 1980, but he continued to quietly support them from afar, even as he navigated his current job as the celebrated head of baseball operations. Oakland Athletics baseball. He wanted it for San Diego.

“I know what that city is capable of when there’s an exciting, winning team,” Beane said. “I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.”

Now, strangely enough, he could be a part of it.

The Padres began a much-hyped 2021 season with 34 wins in their first 53 games, then suffered one of the most baffling meltdowns in recent baseball history and ultimately missed the playoffs with a losing record and sent the major decision-makers of the team on a search for new leadership in their clubhouse. His greatest need, many in the industry pointed out, was an experienced manager with clout, someone who could strike a balance between earning the trust of players and creating synergy with executives, a skill that often seemed to elude the fired Jayce Tingler. And it was Beane who helped present his ideal candidate.

Beane and Bob Melvin had grown extremely close while spending the past 11 years together in Oakland, sharing an affinity for red wine, wry humor and 5 o’clock dinners. But with the A’s contemplating the likelihood of another rebuild after the 2021 season, Beane and Oakland owner John Fisher gave Melvin a chance to consider outside opportunities, even though the team had already picked up his option for 2022. .

Padres president of baseball operations AJ Preller spent the first few weeks of the Major League Baseball postseason getting an idea of ​​the team’s initial slate of candidates, but with an eye toward asking Beane about the possibility of interviewing. to Melvin for the vacant position. The call came in mid-October. “Let me talk to him,” Beane replied.

“It wasn’t something I accepted,” Beane said in a recent phone conversation. “But he’s at this stage in his life, and our relationship is such that I wanted the best for him. And this is the best for him.”

The whole chase took about a week. Preller, struggling to move quickly, accompanied Melvin to two separate meetings during the last few days of October, one at the Padres’ spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona, and the other at the Major League Baseball stadium in the team in downtown San Diego. As the process progressed, Beane became Melvin’s most important confidant.

“It was about doing what was best for Bob,” Beane said. “That was absolutely, positively.”

Melvin, 60, wasn’t necessarily eager to leave, but he wasn’t necessarily eager to navigate a third rebuild, either. The New York Mets also expressed interest, but Melvin didn’t want to pit the teams against each other. He would make his decision one team at a time, starting with the Padres. He never made it to the Mets.

“I felt comfortable with this,” Melvin told ESPN as spring training drew to a close. “It wasn’t about money for me. It wasn’t about negotiating. It was about being comfortable somewhere else. That’s who I am. I was comfortable with this, so the New York process never really took shape.”

Nearly 300 different players wore the A’s uniform between 2011 and 2021, and none of them, Beane claims, ever said a bad word about Melvin. Beane highlights the humility, empathy and calm that make him the best at running a clubhouse and building relationships. His open mind, curiosity and intelligence, Beane added, make him fluent in the analyzes that prevailed long after his playing career ended in the mid-1990s. Together, despite scant resources, Beane and Melvin emerged from each of two aggressive rebuilds with impressive streaks of three straight postseason appearances. They had been the longest-serving manager-executive pair in the sport.

“And it didn’t end because of the failure of one part or another,” said Beane. “It kind of ended because it was so successful.”

JUNE 23, 2021, ended in euphoria. Padres third baseman Manny Machadocaught a hard line off the bat from Albert Pujols and quickly fired to second base to retire Will Smith, ending a close game with a double play. the second baseman Jake Cronenworth loudly raised his fist, the closer mark melancon he let out a primal scream and the packed local crowd went wild. The Padres had swept the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, improving to 45-32 as they cruised into the NL wild-card race. It felt like his arrival.

It turned out to be his peak.

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Can the Padres reverse last year’s dysfunction and get back into contention?