Although San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin is recovering from prostate surgery and not in the clubhouse or the dugout, his calm presence can be felt. In a back-and-forth series in Atlanta, the Padres took the rubber game 7-3 in 11 innings and won a series against the Braves for the first time since 2015.
Interim manager Ryan Christenson texted Melvin after the game “… about the grit the team is showing right now—the whole series, really.” Grit would not have been a descriptor applied to the Padres until recently. Last year, the team kept pace with the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the first half but folded after the All-Star Break and ended the season in third place with a 79-83 record.
The collapse cost manager Jayce Tingler his job shortly after the season ended, and he joined the long list of managers hired and fired by A.J. Preller (Padres general manager and head of baseball operations). The Padres hired Preller on August 5, 2014. Mid-season the following year, he fired Bud Black on June 15, 2015, when the Padres were one game below.500. After that, a parade of men have led the team: Dave Roberts for one game, Pat Murphy for 96 games, Andy Green for most of four years, Rod Barajas for one game, and Jayce Tingler for two seasons.
Tingler struggled to keep the Padres on an even keel last season, and players hinted at tension (partly brought about by a general lack of respect but also the constant Eric Hosmer trade rumors). Tingler, like the veritable multitude of managers since 2014, had no managerial experience.
Green spent ten years in the minor leagues and finally made it to the big leagues for a total of 140 games (the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2004-2006 and the New York Mets in 2009). He also played in Japan. He was named the Southern League Manager of the Year for the Mobile Bay Bears in 2013/2014. In 2015 he served as third-base coach for the Diamondbacks before moving on to the Padres. Green had the misfortune of leading the team during a period of rebuilding and a resultant 274-366 record and 428 winning percentage. He lost his job on September 21, 2019.
Jayce Tingler, who managed the Padres during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, had a shorter leash and a better team. He’d played college ball for the Missouri Tigers and worked for the Texas Rangers as player development field coordinator and assistant general manager.
Tingler did preside over the Padres’ first post-season appearance since 2006, albeit during the COVID-shortened season of 2020. The Padres (37-23) defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card series. Still, they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers (the ultimate winner of the big prize) in the National League Division Series.
Finally, the Padres have chosen a man with experience as both a player and a manager. A backup catcher, Melvin’s playing career lasted from 1985 to 1994. In 2003 he took over as skipper for the Seattle Mariners (2003-2004), moved on to the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks (2005-09), then spent eleven years managing the low-budget but plucky Oakland A’s.
Melvin has been named Manager of the Year three times: in 2007 in Arizona and twice in Oakland in 2012 and 2018. He served as bench coach under Bob Brenley in Arizona when the Diamondbacks won the World Series against the New York Yankees. He’s also led the A’s to the postseason seven times but, like the Padres, has not won it all.
Preller reached out to Melvin one month before the shutdown and hired him in late October. As soon as lockdown ended, he received the unwelcome news that Fernando Tatis Jr. would be sidelined for at least two months thanks to surgery on his broken wrist (most probably incurred while riding a forbidden motorcycle).
Instead of bemoaning the loss of Tatis, Melvin emphasized the fact that it would take the whole team to get through the season and that the shortstop’s absence would give other players a chance while also testing the team’s flexibility.
“We want to create a culture where we use everybody, and everybody has a role,” Melvin declared, “No one will be sitting down for too long.”
Tatis’ absence has allowed Ha-Seong Kim the opportunity to show his stuff. He’s stepped in at shortstop and excelled on defense, ranking sixth overall with .02 DWAR.
Thanks to his experience, Melvin also has the confidence to go against the grain. Unlike most managers, he’s moved players around in the lineup. No one can count on playing every day or batting in the same slot. He emphasizes that all 25 players will get a chance.
In the first series of the season, Melvin demonstrated his approach to creating the lineup. In game one against the Diamondbacks, Austin Nola, Manny Machado, and Jake Cronenworth batted one through three; in game two, Trent Grisham, Machado, and Cronenworth. In game three, Grisham, Matt Beaty, Jose Azocar; in game 4, Grisham, Nola, Machado. Only Manny Machado has consistently landed in the same spot.
As a backup catcher, Melvin knows what it’s like to ride the pine, often getting just one start a week. Rookie outfielder, Jose Azocar, didn’t start until the 12th game, but he had played in nine games up to that point. He emphasized that Melvin “tries to make you comfortable, and he tries to put you in a good position all the time. I feel like I’m part of the team right away because he’s been using me every single game.”
Oakland players have high praise for their former skipper, emphasizing his calm demeanor, honesty, and quiet confidence. Players in San Diego, like Jake Cronenworth, echo that praise: “Obviously Bob is Bob, and the presence he brings is unmatched.”