In the 46-year history of the San Diego Padres the team has had only one MVP. That honor goes to Ken Caminiti who was a very capable leader, but had many unforseen issues that led to his untimely death. Caminiti was a fierce competitor and worked very hard on his craft. The man hated to lose or fail and in the end that drive for perfection led him down the wrong road.
Caminiti was born in Hanford California, a city 85 miles north of Bakersfield. He was a two sports star in football and baseball for Leigh High School and was drafted in the third round of the 1984 draft by the Houston Astros. The 22-year-old switch hitter reported to the Single-A Osceola Astros in the Florida State League.
In 1985 his first full season in Osceola, Caminiti had a batting line of .284/.352/.404 in 126 games and 468 at bats. He also slugged four home runs, stole 14 bases and drove in 73 runs. Caminiti spent the 1985-86 offseason playing winter ball in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He played for the Indios de Mayaguez and his teammate was Wally Joyner. That was the first time the two had the pleasure of playing together.
The next season Caminiti spent the entire season with the Columbus Astros of the Southern League. He hit .300 that season with 12 home runs and 81 RBIs in 137 games. An excellent second season that showed much growth for Caminiti. That successful year led to the 1987 season and the year the slugging third baseman would make his major league debut. He got into 63 games and recorded 203 at bats while hitting .246 with three home runs and 23 RBIs. He showed his worth but the franchise decided to have Caminiti start the season in 1988 with the Triple-A affiliate. He reported to the Tuscon Torros of the Pacific Coast League and hit .272 with five home runs and 66 RBIs in 109 games. Caminiti got a call up late in the season and played in 30 games for the Astros but only hit .181 with one home run in 83 at bats. He needed to work harder and that he did.
For the next six season Ken Caminiti was the starting third baseman for the Houston Astros. His first three seasons he played in 161, 153 and 152 games. He was a durable above average defender at the hot corner and he also put the ball in play and had a decent on base percentage. His power was lacking though as a third baseman. In his six years as the starting third baseman for the Astros he never hit more than 18 home runs and he did that in his last season with the team in 1994.
In the winter of 1994 the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros agreed on a mega deal that would help shape the Padres franchise and ultimately assure the teams ability to stay in the city of San Diego. The 12-player deal was huge for the Padres as they would obtain two very valuable players that would help lead the team to the 1998 World Series.
The Padres sent Derek Bell, Doug Brocail, Ricky Gutierrez, Pedro Martinez, Phil Plantier and Craig Shipley to the Houston Astros for Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti, Andujar Cedeno, Roberto Petagine, Brian Williams and a PLTBNL. Both Finley and Caminiti proved to be the best players in the deal and each were studs for the Padres for the next three seasons. The Astros really got the short end of the stick on this trade and it easily goes down as one of the worst trades in Astros history.
Caminiti responded by hitting .302 with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs in 143 games for the Padres immediately. Each stat was a new career high and immediately the Astros felt remorse for the deal. Caminiti followed that 1995 season with arguably one of the best seasons in Padres history for a position player. The 1996 National League MVP had a batting line of .326/.408/.621 with a 1.028 OPS and a 7.6 WAR rating. He hit 40 home runs, 37 doubles and stole 11 bases while driving in 130 runs on the season. Caminiti did all this with a bum shoulder that required surgery after the season. Those stats are brilliant but tainted by the fact Caminiti later admitted to PED use during that season and frankly much of his tenure with the Padres.
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