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San Diego Sportscene / Dave Distel

Want to Know About Padres? Don't Ask

March 22, 1986|DAVE DISTEL

Call them the San Diego ?adres. Make it clear that is a question mark with no answers because that is the way it is these days with the local children of summer.

Who knows what caused Dick Williams to resign? Or how much he is being paid to sweep his patio in Coronado?

Who knows what anti-drug policies have been implemented in the aftermath of LaMarr Hoyt's problems?

These are significant questions, and no answers have been forthcoming.

It surfaced this week that a couple of ?adre players, perhaps taking a cue from the mummified tightness of ownership and/or leadership, have taken similar stances.

Eric Show, what do you think about being the opening-day starter? No comment. Not talking to beat writers.

Rich Gossage, how are you today? No comment. Not talking to beat writers.

Not talking to beat writers? A beat writer is not a writer who is weary from squinting at a computer terminal, but rather the writer each newspaper assigns to cover a particular subject. He is supposed to develop expertise in that area.

A baseball player refusing to talk to a beat writer is a bit like Lee Iacocca refusing to talk to business writers or Bob Hope refusing to talk to entertainment writers. Would Messrs. Show and Gossage prefer to discuss baseball with a restaurant reviewer or Moscow bureau chief? Maybe so.

I suppose the players cannot be faulted, what with the pathetically laughable example they have been given. Ownership has treated the public like parents often treat children.

"Everything is fine," mom and pop explain. "Just sit there and watch MTV and don't ask questions."

That's right. That's how the ?adre hierarchy has dealt with the fans.

It started, of course, with the apparent rift within the front office in December. Dick Williams was or wasn't out, but it appeared that Ballard Smith and Jack McKeon had either perceived he wanted out or decided they wanted him out. And Joan Kroc was buying none of it, including a payoff on the final year of Williams' contract.

The result was a summit conference. Ballard Smith emerged alone from that summit conference and announced that Williams would return and that all were united and everything was copacetic. It was easy to get the impression that the Smiths, McKeons and Williams would all be over at Kroc's pad to open gifts together on Christmas day.

Yet Smith stood there alone. Why? It's never been answered.

It turned out that Williams really wasn't going to manage the ?adres in 1986, and Kroc and Williams appeared together to make that announcement. They read statements, kissed and departed.

As a press conference, it was as farcical as anything at the Starlight Bowl or San Diego Repertory Theatre. Of course, most of what happened to the ?adres in the off-season would play quite well with J.R., Woody Allen, Joan Collins and Peter Sellers in lead roles.

And then came the day when Ballard Smith precisely underscored the ?adres emerging public policy. This was shortly after Hoyt had entered a rehabilitation center and that was shortly after Williams resigned.

Asked about the ?adres' policies toward drug testing and related topics, Smith was no longer the smooth chief executive who had become a community stalwart. He was harried and defensive.

"It's none of your business," he snapped.

I guess it was understandable that he should be so careful. Should his enlightened plans become public, all of San Diego would likely plagiarize his policy. Mom and Pop rehab centers would be opening on every street corner, all of them making a fortune because Smith had leaked his secret.

No, Ballard Smith was not protecting some patented program for keeping a team clean. Not at all.

He was verbalizing, in one concise sentence, what appears to be the ?adres' attitude toward the public.

Smith might argue that he is willing to talk to the public, but it wasn't the media's business. Should that be his contention, I would assume he is starting at the beginning of the telephone book and working his way through the community. If your name is Aaron, call and tell me what's going on so we can print the story and save poor Ballard from dialing all the way to Zzyzz.

These people are missing--or ignoring--the fact that the public deserves answers.

How long will the public pay $8.50 a seat to an organization which refuses to be accountable?

And so this mentality spreads. It is none of the public's business what happened at the summit conference in December or what happened with Dick Williams at the start of spring training or what the organization plans to do about drug abuse. And I suppose it is none of the public's business what happens in a summit conference on the pitcher's mound or a confab in the on-deck circle or . . .

These people pay their money, and they have a right to insight.

Gossage, himself, provides a rather poignant example. In the aftermath of that painful World Series loss to Detroit, he explained the circumstances that resulted in Kirk Gibson hitting the home run which put Game 5--and the series--out of reach.

Dick Williams, Gossage said at the time, wanted to walk Gibson because first base was open.

"I didn't want to walk him," Gossage said, "because I've had good success against him in the past. The man beat me. I got a fast ball up and he beat me. I'm sick about it."

In one statement, Gossage had said a lot. He had told the story behind a scene the world had seen, but he had also come off as very much a human being. His observations were laden with confidence and pride, honesty and humility.

The Gibson home run was hardly a highlight in Gossage's baseball career, but a more important image--Gossage as a man--was greatly enhanced.

Is there not a message in there somewhere?

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