San Diego Padres attendance is off by almost 600,000 fans since drawing more than 3 million in 2004, the year they opened Petco Park. The team lost 99 games this season, just two years after winning back-to-back division titles, and a year after losing a one-game playoff to represent the National League as the wild-card entry. Ace pitcher Jake Peavy is on the trading block.
All of that is mere background noise to the soap opera that is calling into serious question the future of the franchise, the pending divorce between John Moores and his wife of 44 years, Becky. The couple is bitterly divided about control of the ballclub. Under California community property laws, Becky Moores is entitled to half of community assets, of which the ballclub is their most valued piece.
The acrimony is so thick that John Moores, who had moved some of his offices to Texas, barred his estranged wife from the owner's suite when he returned in late July. She has taken him to court over that, too.
The couple has been a major player in San Diego civic life for years, and their private fight has some very public ramifications. There were recent reports that John Moores planned to sell his 49 percent stake in the team. The club termed those reports highly speculative, but it appears that a sale may be inevitable. Selling the team in these volatile economic times also becomes problematic.
"We're very hopeful that won't happen," said Bob DuPuy, CEO of Major League Baseball. "John has been a major force in the industry, a member of the Executive Council, one of the people who thinks of the industry first and his team second."
Commissioner Bud Selig said he could not predict a resolution.
"I don't have a handle," he said. "I don't know. It's a personal situation. I'd rather not comment. Hopefully they'll get everything worked out. I don't think John or Becky want it to affect the Padres; they both love the Padres."
Curt Schilling was mocked last year when he mentioned the Tampa Bay Rays as a team with which he'd considered signing as a free agent, with a young pitching staff that he could mentor. His critics saw it as a shameless negotiating ploy to squeeze more money out of the Boston Red Sox. Now, of course, it appears that Schilling, who missed this past season with shoulder woes after re-signing with Boston, was ahead of the curve.
"Absolutely," he wrote in an email this week, when asked whether he had anticipated the Rays' leap in improvement, though no one, including Schilling, projected they'd be in the World Series. "They were young and very talented last year, with some holes to fill, but I have known Joe Maddon since I was 14 and have immense respect for him. He is one of the people that was instrumental in getting me drafted and becoming a pro.''
Schilling first met Maddon at an Arizona baseball camp when he was a kid.
The Red Sox pitcher, who eventually underwent shoulder surgery this summer, said he still has not made a decision whether to attempt a comeback. He turns 42 in November, and the odds appear long that he will commit to the work necessary to get back on the field. The Red Sox, who engaged in a contentious debate with Schilling last spring about how to proceed medically, have no interest in inviting back the pitcher whose "bloody sock" exploits in the 2004 postseason will forever remain a part of the team's lore.
Schilling's first taste of postseason greatness came in 1993 when, with the Philadelphia Phillies down 3-1 and facing elimination after losing a wild 15-14 game to Toronto in Game 4, he pitched a complete-game shutout against the Blue Jays in Game 5.
Asked if he has lingering affection for the Phillies, with whom he parted on less-than-amicable terms in 2000 when he essentially forced a trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and if he would be pulling for them in the Series, Schilling wrote:
"Yes I do and yes I am, sort of. I wish Joe and the Rays the best. Being beaten by them means I'd like them to win [so we can] say we were knocked out by the World Champs, but 10 years in Philly never goes away. My appreciation for the fans and their deep-seated love of that team is unforgettable. I want to see them 'turn the page' and make the '93 Phils a thing of the past, instead of this monkey on their back.
"I think the world of the Giles family and would be ecstatic to see them realize this dream one more time. Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins and a few of the others I know and hope like hell they enjoy this and do the game a service by giving us a worthy World Series.''
Schilling has been outspoken on his radio appearances and on his blog about Manny Ramirez's tenure with the Red Sox. He blasted Ramirez this week in his latest blog entry, which curiously was pulled off his website after just a few hours. He contended that uncertainty about whether Ramirez would play for Boston after the team did not meet his contract demands gave the Red Sox no choice but to move Manny.
"… The thing that killed me in the end was this: He never gave a rat's [behind] about any of us that suited up with him, not one iota,'' Schilling wrote, according to an excerpt preserved by the website Fanhouse. "He was, and he said repeatedly, about going to the highest bidder and getting as much money as he possibly could, period. If that meant pissing on us in the interim, so be it.''
Schilling, who at one point during Ramirez's tenure nearly came to blows with him in the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana Field, gets ripped for spewing forth on any and all subjects. But in this case, his words reflect a reality club officials acknowledge privately. They were afraid that Ramirez would quit on the team the way he did at the end of the 2006 season, when he cited patellar tendinitis in his knee as the reason he barely played the last six weeks. No one in the organization called him on it at the time – to do so, they believed, would have risked losing Ramirez permanently – but at the end of the season one veteran thanked a reporter for spelling it out that way, and said he was disgusted by Ramirez's conduct.
Selig said that baseball does not intend to lop off jobs like the NBA, which earlier this month acknowledged that it will reduce its staff by 80.
"We don't have any plans to do that," Selig said. "We're budgeting very cautiously, very cautiously. We're doing things very mindful of this situation, but we don't have anything like that in mind. We made it through this year. It's been a remarkable year in every way, but look, I come from a family of economists, people are concerned, and they have a right to be.
"No one is immune, whether it's sports or all businesses. The fact is this is something that affects every one of us in different forms, no question."
The recession comes at a bad time for the Baseball Network, which MLB plans to launch next season.
"Starting from scratch, selling from scratch, presents unique sets of challenges," DuPuy said. "We're out there selling sponsorships and advertising for a brand new entity, which is a challenge in this environment."
Selig refused to speculate on how the current economic conditions will impact the pending sale of the Chicago Cubs, whose owner, Tribune Company boss Sam Zell, had targeted the end of the year as a timetable for selling the club.
"This thing … I watched Alan Greenspan this morning, and he talked about this being a once-in-a-century tsunami, and I think he's right," Selig said of the economy's drastic downturn. "The more people I talk to, particularly economists, who I've spent a lot of time talking to lately, they don't know. So it's very hard for me to kind of determine exactly what's going to happen. So the answer is, I don't know. I said in an off-handed comment in Milwaukee during the playoffs, somebody asked me about ticket prices, and I said the owners shouldn't get too cocky. Since then, I've had a lot of owners call asking if I was talking about them. I wasn't, but I think we have to be extremely sensitive. This is a really tough time for this country."
- John Moores