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Folks, Would You Believe This Is Only a Misunderstanding

December 07, 1985|Dave Distel

For some reason, the Padres had a news conference Friday afternoon. I don't really know why. There was nothing to announce.

Ballard Smith, the club president, merely confirmed what everyone was already taking for granted.

Dick Williams would be back as manager. And Ozzie Virgil would be back as third base coach, should he so desire.

"I thought most people knew that Dick Williams will be our manager," Smith said. "Those of you who listen knew that was the case."

That being the case, it was hard to comprehend the hype and hoopla of Friday afternoon. Why was the media out in such abundance for a mere formality? Why were there so many cameras that they sounded like machine guns rattling? Why did the Padres' flagship radio station carry the proceedings live? Why were so many members of the Padre front office watching curiously from the back of the room? Why wasn't Kurt Bevacqua playing golf?

Why?

It was all because of a misunderstanding. Make that a series of misunderstandings.

Dick Williams did not understand how badly Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon wanted him back. Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon did not understand how badly Dick Williams wanted to return. Joan Kroc did not understand that Dick Williams did not understand, nor did she understand that Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon had misunderstood.

Because Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon misunderstood what Dick Williams understood, they advised Williams' chum, Ozzie Virgil, that his contract was not being renewed. Virgil, of course, misunderstood, thinking he had been fired. Because he misunderstood, he suggested that Smith and McKeon were trying to force Williams to resign.

At about this time, Joan Kroc misunderstood. She thought Ozzie Virgil had been fired and that Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon did not want Dick Williams back and that Williams did not want to come back. She was dismayed, and her dismay was deepened because Williams misunderstood and thought Smith and McKeon had offered to buy out the final year of his contract.

In what she later described as a pleasant conversation with a wire service reporter, she made it perfectly clear that she owns the ball club. She said there would be no buy-out, unless Messrs. Smith and McKeon wanted to cough up their own money.

Of course, Kroc's comments were misunderstood. The public--and the media--somehow got the impression that she had rather strongly rebuked Smith, who happens to be her son-in-law.

By now, it seemed obvious that there had been a gigantic clash in the upper echelons of the Padres organization. This was Hatfields and McCoys stuff, but it was all in one family--both literally and figuratively.

Because we all misunderstood, we wondered . . .

Could Williams possibly return and work under two men who had tried to shuffle him off to a soup kitchen?

Could Smith and McKeon run an organization after their leadership had been undermined in a most important decision?

Could Kroc fire her own son-in-law?

Would Kroc be the first woman manager? Or maybe third base coach?

Because we misunderstood, we concluded that Williams would be the odd person out. This understanding seemed safe, since it was understood that Williams did not want to come back any way.

Suggestions, most of them tongue in cheek, abounded as Zero Hour approached and the television cameramen adjusted their lights. Would the new manager be Billy Martin? Joe Torre? Dave Campbell? Doug Scovil?

None of the above.

The new manager was the old manager. Smith and McKeon desperately wanted him back. And Williams passionately wanted to return. All of this was established, presumably in an outpouring of bouquets and kisses, in a Friday morning summit conference at Kroc's cottage in La Jolla.

This must all be taken in faith, because this is what we were told at the news conference. This news conference was more a journalism class than a news conference. It was an opportunity to advise the media that it had misunderstood.

To Smith's credit, he accepted a significant share of the responsibility for what he called "an unfortunate set of circumstances" which led to such a baffling series of misunderstandings.

"There's no question," he said, "that there was some miscommunication on my part and on Dick's part and on Joan's part too. One of my jobs is to make sure we don't have this form of miscommunication. The important thing is that it not happen again."

It should probably be noted that the communications at this very news conference were a bit lacking. Shortly before it began, a bus boy distributed glasses of water at each of eight places at the head table. I wondered if they were going to have Williams over for a last supper. However, Smith stood alone behind the bank of microphones.

Joan Kroc was not there.

Dick Williams was not there.

Jack McKeon was not there.

Ballard Smith called it a symbolic news conference, whatever that meant.

"There's been much more made of this than there should have been," he said. "This isn't that big a deal."

Wouldn't it have been a more symbolic show of harmony if all of the principals had been on hand? Maybe I just don't understand.

I am sure the players will be pleased to hear that their fearless leader will be with them for another year. A few of them had some disparaging things to say over the course of the last few days about the prospect of another year with Williams, but I am sure you know by now what must have caused such a burst of vitriol.

That's right. A misunderstanding.

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