ATLANTA — From above the rattle of this winter's Padre bandwagon--currently operating at dangerously high speeds without benefit of brakes--there has sounded new inspiration from an old leader.
Newly signed shortstop and team captain Garry Templeton said Tuesday said that despite signing just a 1-year contract for less money than he would like, he would gladly play wherever and whenever Manager Jack McKeon wants.
Templeton even mentioned what would formerly be the two most dirty words in the vocabulary of a proud veteran--"utility infielder."
"I thought their offer might have been a little more, but right now, I'm just so happy to be a part of the Padres, I will contribute any way I can," said Templeton, who Tuesday signed a deal worth $550,000, nearly half of the $1 million he made last year. "I want to be part of this new winning tradition, and Jack knows that I will play where it takes--shortstop, second base, third base, outfield. You know, I could turn into one of the best utility players in baseball."
Not so fast. Templeton, a 13-year veteran who will be 33 on Opening Day, will likely start the season just as he ended last season--as a platoon shortstop. This time around it will be with minor league star Mike Brumley, as Dickie Thon has demanded to be traded. If the Padres need Templeton to play first base, they could be in trouble.
But consider the message sent.
"For Garry to say something like that just shows what kind of belief this team has in itself," McKeon said. "Everybody sees what we have done, and it seems like everybody will do what it takes. As long as I'm managing, Garry Templeton can play for me."
Said Templeton: "In the last couple of years, in my opinion, the Padres weren't making an honest effort to win. All they were trying to do was fill a few voids. But once Mrs. (Joan) Kroc has stepped in and freed up Jack's hand . . . everything has changed. We are moving in a different direction. I want to be part of it."
Templeton, who hit .342 in his final 21 games last season to raise his average to .249, admitted that he, too, was moving in a different direction.
"Everybody goes through changes in his life, and I think I'm going through one of those changes, and I've learned to accept certain things," he said.
"Of course, people forget that while I've played a lot of years, I'm still a very young man. I still think I can play every day, and think I could prove that. But I won't complain no matter what happens."
That bit about still being young can be supported in at least one area: His 7 triples last year were his most in 6 years, since he had 8 in 1982.
Padre catcher Benito Santiago was named the National League Gold Glove catcher Wednesday by a vote of the league's managers and coaches. It was Santiago's first Gold Glove and the third won by a Padre in the last 3 years. Outfielder Tony Gwynn had won two consecutive Gold Gloves in 1986 and '87 but was hampered this year by a hand injury and a midseason move to center field.
"This is great, I'm going to enjoy it," Santiago said Wednesday from his Puerto Rico home. "This year I was more relaxed, more experienced and it showed."
Santiago led all NL catchers in assists (75) and double plays (11) with just 12 errors--10 fewer than last season. He also picked off 9 runners, including 5 at second base.
While Santiago and McKeon had their differences, which resulted in Santiago being benched on a couple of occasions for 3 days each last season, the two apparently made up in a brief visit in Puerto Rico last week.
"Benny and I had a great 2-hour talk," McKeon said. "I basically told him the facts of life. He can be an outstanding player, but he still has to do things. He has to be a team player, not an individual. He can be a great player, but he ain't one yet. He has to keep working. Benny told me he understood, and would work hard. I believe him."
The Padres' farm system was considered one of baseball's best last season, and it was confirmed when the Padres were named 1988 Baseball Organization of the Year, the second time they have won the award since its inception in 1966. The award is based on the number of players in the organization who received Topps awards during the past season.
The Padre organization was led by catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who was Topps Co-Minor League Player of the Year. Three Padre minor leaguers were chosen as Topps Players of the Year in their respective leagues, and five were picked as Topps Minor League Players of the Month.