Given the nickname America’s Finest City back in the 1970s, San Diego often ranks as one of the most tourist friendly and favorite cities for many Americans. The city has grown to become California’s 2nd largest but unlike its much larger neighbor to the north, San Diego has a different appeal. The city is home to four separate military bases. Unlike Los Angeles which is laid out in a massive valley near the Pacific Ocean with scenic hills and mountains shadowing it in the distance, San Diego County mostly consists of beautiful rolling hills and scenic mountains with the majority of the population living in the flatlands close to the water. San Diego is home to probably the best craft beer scene in the country. San Diego also has the cleanest beaches in Southern California. With all these benefits, there is a reason why a native San Diegan is often arrogant about their hometown. But there are two things the city lacks (Not counting the escalating homeless and criminal problem that exists downtown which is impacting every major California city). First, the culture here lacks the diversity of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yes, they got concert halls, museums, gorgeous parks, amazing beaches, and solid entrepreneurship along with amazing food. But it lacks the originality and sheer volume that have given Los Angeles and San Francisco the reputation of being some of the most creative cities in the world. Second, the professional sports teams in this town are pathetic. The history of San Diego when it comes to athletic success ranks among the worst cities in the nation. An argument can be made that it is the worst. This blog will dive into this pathetic legacy and why the 2023 San Diego Padres are the latest and best example of the failure of sports in this town.
I started living in San Diego in 2012 before buying a condo in Southern California wine country (Temecula/Murrieta) in Riverside County back in 2017 where we have lived since (I have also lived in Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Riverside County Desert, and Phoenix, Arizona). With so much movement inside California paired with my lifelong interest in sports, the teams I root for are mostly based in two locations, Los Angeles, and San Diego. During my childhood, San Diego had this monstrous AM radio station called XTRA 690 that broadcast out of Rosarita, Mexico (About 30 miles south of the Mexican border) XTRA aired sports talk radio and broadcast the local college teams, the San Diego Padres and the NFL Chargers. Growing up in Los Angeles allowed me to appreciate teams from three distinct areas, Los Angeles Orange County/Anaheim, and San Diego.
To make this comparison legitimate, here are the cities that house professional sports franchises in California and the number of championships that their teams have won. I will also add my adopted city of Phoenix into this mix.
Los Angeles (8 Teams: Dodgers, Kings, Lakers, Clippers, Rams, Chargers, Galaxy, and LAFC). Lakers have 12, Dodgers have 6, Kings have 2, Rams have 2 (Also won another single title in both Cleveland and St. Louis), Galaxy have 5, and LAFC has 1. The Raiders also won 1 here during their short run in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994. This gives the city a total of 29 sports championships.
San Francisco (3 Teams: 49ers, Giants, and Warriors). 49ers have 5, Warriors have 5, and Giants have 3. The California Golden Seals of the NHL played in San Francisco but folded. This city has 13 sports championships.
Oakland (1 Team which will be none in 2025: Athletics). Athletics have 4 and the Raiders who moved to Las Vegas in 2020 have 2. Oakland will finish with 6 sports championships.
Anaheim (2 Teams: Angels and Ducks). Both the Angels who have had a tortured history and Ducks each have 1. The Rams played in Anaheim from 1980 to 1994 and won no titles. The city of Anaheim has 2 championships.
San Jose (2 Teams: Sharks and Earthquakes). Sharks have none, Earthquakes have 2. The city of San Jose has 2 championships.
Phoenix (4 Teams: Cardinals, Suns, Diamondbacks, and Coyotes). The only team that has won a championship is the Diamondbacks. This city only has 1 championship.
And Sacramento who have only one professional team, the NBA Kings, has never won a title.
So what city is missing? My beloved San Diego!
San Diego (2 Teams: Padres and a future MLS franchise). The NFL Chargers played in the city from 1961 to 2016 and the Rockets in the NBA from 1967-1971 and the Clippers in the NBA from 1978-1984. All these teams had a cumulative zero titles in the city.
To compare Sacramento with San Diego is unfair because that city has had only one sports franchise while San Diego has had 4 through its history with 3 of them leaving for other cities. Sacramento has played 38 seasons of professional ball with no titles.
Phoenix comes the closest to San Diego’s ineptitude. The Suns have played 55 seasons, the Cardinals have played 35, the Coyotes have played 28, and the Diamondbacks have played 25. That totals 143 seasons of professional sports with only one championship. Phoenix has also lost 4 times in a championship series/game.
The Padres have played 54 seasons, the Chargers had played 56 seasons, and the Rockets/Clippers had played 10 combined. This totals 120 seasons of professional sports with a single championship won by the Chargers in the AFL in 1963 which no longer exists (The league was merged into the NFL). This past college basketball season, the San Diego State Aztecs made a surprising fairy tale run to the Final Four and NCAA Championship Game. With this city craving a title badly, the Aztecs lived up to the San Diego tradition and got blown out in the Championship game moving the city to a Buffalo Bills-like 0-4 in title series/games while being non-competitive in every single one. As arrogant as San Diegans are about their beautiful city, the entire history of professional sports in this city has been an embarrassment. Here are a few other examples.
The two sports heroes in this town both died young.
Tony Gwynn passed away at 54.
Junior Seau died at 43.
Their second owner Ray Kroc, of McDonald’s fame, belittled the team over the PA system in 1974.
The founder of the Padres, C. Arnholt Smith, was a notorious San Diego figure who often got in trouble with the Feds and law enforcement. During his short-term ownership, the team averaged 7500 fans and over 100 losses a season. He was going to move the team to Washington D.C. until Ray Kroc bought them. Smith served time in prison for embezzlement in 1979.
This run of bad owners is a tradition of Padres history. The Krocs owned the team through mostly misfortune (And 1 NL Title) until 1990. It was taken over by Tom Werner from 1990-1994 who sold the team and became a fantastic owner with the Red Sox and led them to 4 World Series titles. The 18 years of John Moores had highs (The 1998 NL Title, 2005 & 2006 NL West Titles) and many lows. The 8-year ownership of Ron Fowler was a miserable failure. Now, Peter Seidler has taken over.
The ownership problem impacts all teams that have called San Diego home during any portion of its history. The old San Diego and now present-day Los Angeles Chargers are owned by Dean Spanos who angered the entire city when he moved the Chargers north to be tenants in the Rams new stadium and has managed to run the franchise just as badly as his father Alex once did. The Clippers were owned by Donald Sterling, a team that had losing records in over 80% of their seasons under his leadership. He was forced to sell the team and was banned for life by the NBA for some racist remarks he made back in 2014. Currently, there are only two teams based in Los Angeles that have never won a championship for the city. They are the Chargers and the Clippers, and both spent time in the city of San Diego.
Looking at other local professional sports played in the city, San Diego has won a few professional championships in minor league sports or leagues that have a small following. The San Diego Sockers are an indoor soccer team that has won 14 titles in 3 different iterations. During the eight seasons of the now defunct WCHL, the San Diego Gulls won 5 titles during that minor hockey league’s history before folding. The San Diego Seals are a winning franchise since they started playing in the National Lacrosse League back in 2019. But following city tradition and despite having the best record in the league in 2023, they were upset in the 1st round of the playoffs and remain title-less.
In 54 seasons, the Padres only have 16 winning and 2-.500 seasons. They have 36 losing seasons. They have as many 100 loss seasons (5) as division titles (5). The Padres have only won over 90 games four times (1984, 1996, 1998 & 2010). They have never won 100 games in any season with 98 wins being the franchise high. The Padres have made the playoffs seven times in their history. They are 6-7 in playoff series including being 0-2 in the World Series. During both their World Series appearances, the Padres played two of the best professional baseball teams of all-time, the 1984 Detroit Tigers (104-58) and the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) and managed to win only one game.
Since Peter Seidler became the owner, the Padres have actually spent money consistently for the first time in their history. He inherited Manny Machado who was signed as a free agent & Fernando Tatis who grew up with the organization. Since taking over, he has added Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Josh Hader, Xander Boegarts, and Juan Soto. Despite this accumulation of talent, the results have been mixed. The 2020 COVID shortened season ended with a wild card appearance. The #4 Padres beat the #5 Cardinals 2-1 before getting swept in the NLDS by the Dodgers 3-0. In 2021, a once promising season came apart when the pitching collapsed in August and September. Padres ended up with a losing season. Last year, they rebounded to finish 89-73 after the massive Juan Soto trade. Padres actually made a respectable run and defeated the Mets 2-1 in the wild card round, the Dodgers 3-1 in the NLDS, before getting beat by Philadelphia 4-1 in the NLCS.
After bringing in Xander Boegarts during the offseason, the 2023 Padres have never been in sync all season. They are a few games under .500 despite having a plus 64 run differential. The Padres are also 14-17 against bad teams with losing records. The Padres currently have 21 blown saves/holds in 49 opportunities which is tied for 2nd worst in the league. The bullpen numbers do not look bad upon analysis. If the Padres are blowing a team out or losing a game, the bullpen tends to perform well. The numbers crater when the bullpen is asked to protect a 1, 2, or 3 run lead. Despite having 58 wins so far this season, Hader only has 27 saves. Because when the Padres win, they usually do comfortably. Everyone of the Big Four has disappointed and their stats are tracking below their norm. There are rumors that Boegarts is battling a season long wrist injury. Jake Cronenworth has regressed. Trent Grisham continues to hit around the Mendoza line. Free agent pick up Matt Carpenter has been practically useless. During the first three months of the season, the Padres had one of the worst batting averages with RISP. The Padres are also 6-23 in one run games and 0-10 in extra inning games. All these problems mixed in with bad management and a GM who has put a team together piecemeal has also contributed. But the biggest tragedy is the waste of good starting pitching. Here are the Padres five main starters’ statistics. Other than Darvish and Lugo who still have decent stats, these starters have been fantastic.
Blake Snell 10-8, 176 Strikeouts, 2.65 ERA (The bullpen has blown seven of his games so far this season)
Joe Musgrove 10-3, 97 Strikeouts, 3.05 ERA (On the DL currently for the second time this year)
Michael Wacha 9-2, 78 Strikeouts, 2.65 ERA (Just got off the DL after being on for over a month)
Seth Lugo 4-6, 94 Strikeouts, 4.16 ERA
Yu Darvish 8-8, 134 Strikeouts, 4.24 ERA
Those are the pitching stats of a World Series winning team. Yet, the Padres are below .500.
Whatever dark cloud or supernatural curse that has impacted this team, I am hoping at some point it will stop. The pain of being a Padres fan and having expectations only seems to lead to the inevitable disappointment. Let’s hope that after the waste of 2023 is sketched into the history books, that this team can put together a run for the ages in 2024. This old Padres fan will be watching and waiting!
EXPERT OF SOME