PEORIA, Ariz. — Kevin Brown was acquired from the Florida Marlins to be the ace. Dave Stewart was coaxed out of the front office to provide an attitude. The two fierce competitors are the key components of a remodeled pitching staff that enhances the San Diego Padres' bid to reclaim their National League West title of 1996 and convince voters of the need for a new stadium.
"From one through five now," General Manager Kevin Towers said of a rotation that has Brown as the new No. 1, "we have a chance to win every day. Teams are going to know now the Padres are in town and not be able to get too comfortable. We have three guys [Brown, Joey Hamilton and Andy Ashby] who can throw in the 90s and pitch with authority inside. There may be a few hitters jackknifed off the plate."
Brown sets a nasty tone, and Stewart, who agreed to become the pitching coach while retaining his hopes of becoming a general manager and his role as Towers' special assistant, preaches it.
Four straight seasons of 20 or more victories and five World Series rings strengthen Stewart's sermon that the pitching staff--which had a franchise-high 4.98 earned-run average last year but might include seven new members--has to assume the attitude that "we're responsible for how this team does, we're responsible for the good and bad. We're part of the team, but we're separate. If we pitch well, we win. If we pitch very well, we win it all."
So far, Stewart said, no one has "looked at me as if I'm crazy." If they do?
"Well, if I have a problem with any of them, I'll bring my rings in here and set them on the table and I'll ask them, 'Do any of you have these, and if you do, this many, then I'll sit down and you coach the team,' but I haven't had that problem," he said.
"You know, being a part of a championship team is not that big a deal. Anybody can be a part of a team. A guy can come up for a month and get a ring. But to be in the middle of it, to be part of the backbone [as Stewart was with the Oakland Athletics] of a club winning is another thing, so I take a lot of pride in my rings.
"I knew what it took to get there. I also know it would be unfair to expect them to be another Dave Stewart, but I do expect a Dave Stewart effort. Try. Every day. Every inning."
The Stewart scowl, that killer glare on the mound, would be hard to duplicate, although Brown delivers the same tenacity, regarding hitters and reporters with the same disdain as the clubhouse furniture he often destroys after a loss.
"I don't advocate the destruction of property, but I like guys who hate to lose," Towers said. "I think when we lost Rickey [Henderson] last year we lost a little swagger, and Brown brings an attitude that rubs off."
The 33-year-old right-hander won 33 games in the last two seasons and was 16-8 with a 2.69 ERA for the World Series champion Marlins. However, at a salary of $4.8 million in '98, Brown was expendable amid the payroll purge, and the Padres were persistent, ultimately closing a deal that sent two legitimate prospects--first baseman Derrek Lee and pitcher Rafael Medina--to Florida but did not require the Padres to give up a major league arm in return for Brown's.
Only the mile-high Colorado Rockies scored more runs than the Padres in the NL last year, but the Padres won 15 fewer games than in the division title year of 1996.
"I wasn't concerned about our offense, but we had to improve the pitching," Towers said. Now the rotation includes Brown, Hamilton, Ashby, left-hander Sterling Hitchcock and either Pete Smith or former Angel left-hander Mark Langston. Veterans Brian Boehringer, Dan Miceli, Don Wengert and Ed Vosberg have been added to the bullpen, with Trevor Hoffman returning as the closer.
San Diego starters averaged only 5 2/3 innings last year and pitched only five complete games.
"Brown makes a huge difference," said Hoffman. "He makes everybody better. We now have a guy who goes seven innings or more at the top of the rotation. He takes a lot of the pressure off the bullpen and makes it easier for Ashby and Hamilton, who don't have that burden of being the number one."
There was another factor involved in the Brown acquisition. The Padres need a big year to cement their future in San Diego.
A task force has already selected the embarcadero area near downtown as the best location for a 40,000-seat baseball-only stadium. The Padres hope a financing package can be put on the fall ballot. Ownership claims to have lost $8 million last year and can't survive in 71,600-seat Qualcomm Stadium.
The Padres' lease expires after the 1999 season, and Northern Virginia beckons.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't important for us to perform well this year," said Towers. "The better we play, the more we may sway the vote.
"You only have to look at Seattle and Houston [where new stadiums are being constructed or have been approved] to see what a good year can do.