The best bench players in San Diego Padres history

Credit: AP Photo

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In over half a century of history, the San Diego Padres have had their fair share of key bench players.

Bench players play an essential role in any successful ball club, but especially in the National League. This article is a look back at the best players for the Friars among those who rarely were penciled into the starting lineup but found a way to contribute later in the game or during critical situations.

These players put together substantial numbers coming off of the bench. Let’s take a look at these key role players in chronological order and a crucial moment where each came through.

Gene Locklear

Locklear did not see his name in the starting lineup often in 1975, but that did not stop him from contributing. He appeared in 49 games as a pinch-hitter, hitting .292. Over his four seasons in San Diego, he collected 34 pinch hits with a .266 average overall.

On September 10, 1975, the Padres trailed the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in San Diego, heading into the bottom of the eighth. Locklear pinch-hit with two outs and runners on second and third, looking to get the Padres on the scoreboard and at least tie it.

He hit a ground ball, which the second baseman allowed to get through, scoring both baserunners, giving the Padres a 2-1 lead late, which they would hold on to for the win.

Merv Rettenmund

Before he became the hitting coach for some of the most successful seasons in Padres history, Rettenmund came to the Friars as a savvy veteran who could handle coming off of the bench well. In 1977, Rettenmund set the franchise single-season record with 21 pinch hits, hitting .323 in the process.

Overall, the Flint, Michigan native amassed 34 pinch hits in his two-year Padres career.

On May 18, 1976, things looked bleak for the Friars, down 6-4 against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. A runner reached base ahead of Rettenmund’s pinch-hit appearance, which made him the tying run. He sent a ball deep into left field for a pinch-hit, game-tying, two-run home run. That blast sent the game into extra innings, where the Friars won 7-6.

Jerry Turner

Turner is perhaps the best bench player in Padres history given his nine-year tenure with the squad. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in pinch hits with 70 as well as pinch-hit home runs with nine. In 1978, he hit an eye-popping .408 with a 1.218 OPS in 52 pinch-hit appearances, helping the Friars to their first winning season in team history. His five pinch-hit homers that season is still a Friars record.

He had to share the outfield with Dave Winfield, Gene Richards, Derrel Thomas, and Oscar Gamble, so playing time was scarce.

One of the most notable pinch-hit appearances for Turner came in July of 1978, when the Friars trailed 2-1 to the Chicago Cubs with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two runners on base. Turner launched a ball over the right-field wall for a walk-off home run, sending the fans at San Diego Stadium home happy.

Credit: MLB.com

Kurt Bevacqua

Bevacqua, perhaps more so than others on this list, made a living as a key bench player for many seasons. He accumulated 376 pinch-hit appearances over 15 seasons, playing over half of his 970 career games as a substitute.

This was especially true during his parts of six seasons as a member of the San Diego Padres. In 1980, he collected 17 pinch hits, and in 1983, he racked up 14 pinch hits while hitting .412 off the bench.

His 61 pinch-hits as a Friar is the second-most in franchise history.

During the magical 1984 campaign that saw the Padres get to the World Series, the Miami native came through on several occasions- one being late in the season when the playoff push was hot, on September 14 against the Houston Astros. It was tied 2-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs Bevacqua pinch-hit with two runners on base.

The then-37-year-old hit a go-ahead double, scoring two and giving the Padres a 4-2 lead that they would not relinquish, earning the Friars their 82nd win of the season.

Scott Livingstone 

In 1996, Livingstone made 64 pinch-hit appearances for the N.L. West champion Friars. He hit .311, including a pinch-hit home run, collecting 19 total pinch hits.

During his four seasons in San Diego, he made a total of 131 pinch-hit at-bats and hit .313, with 41 hits in those scenarios, including two home runs. He hit .297 in 102 games for that playoff squad in 1996.

On May 28, 1996, in Montreal, the Texas native pinch-hit in the top of the 10th inning in a tie game with runners on first and second and two outs. He lined a single into center field, putting the Padres ahead 3-2 in the 10th inning, and the Friars went on to win.

Archi Cianfrocco

A teammate of Livingstone, Cianfrocco carved out a role himself on the two playoff teams of 1996 and 1998 for San Diego. Before those two campaigns in 1995, Cianfrocco put together a strong season off of the bench. He only had 11 pinch-hit opportunities, but he made the most of them. He smacked three pinch-hit home runs. In what could go down as one of the best performances by a substitute player during a game, Cianfrocco pinch-hit with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Padres down by two to the Atlanta Braves. He performed one of the most exciting plays in all of baseball, the pinch-hit grand slam.

His work was not done there, as he stayed in the game and came up to bat again in the top of the ninth with San Diego up by one. He lined a two-run single, which gave him six RBIs in just two at-bats, one of the most impressive feats in Padres history.

The New York native finished his six-year Padres career with 66 pinch-hit appearances, with 13 hits and 15 RBI in those situations.

Mark Sweeney

Sweeney is one of the most recognizable Padres role players as he was part of the 1998 National League pennant run as well as the 2005 N.L. West championship, as well as his post-career exploits with Fox Sports San Diego. He had three stints with the Friars spanning over nine years. He notched 215 pinch-hit appearances over that time, third in franchise history. With 56 pinch hits, his average in those scenarios was .260, and he also smacked five pinch-hit home runs, the third-most in team history.

During his first stay in San Diego in 1997, the Massachusetts native came through for 17 pinch hits and two home runs.

His most significant contribution came in his last stint in 2005. The University of Maine alum posted a career-high in WAR that season with 1.9, at age 35.

On May 6, 2005, against the Cardinals, Sweeney came into the ballgame in the sixth inning with the Friars down by three. Sweeney launched a two-run home run that cut the deficit to one. Once the Padres tied it, Sweeney came back up in the seventh inning and delivered the crushing blow, singling the go-ahead run that would end up being the winning run.

He played in 135 games for the 2005 squad, helping them to 82 wins and the division title.

Matt Stairs

Stairs is regarded as one of the best pinch-hitters of all-time and still holds the record for pinch-hit home runs in a career with 23. By the time he came to San Diego, the Canadian was 42 years old and had almost 6,000 plate appearances to his name, clearly past his prime. However, given his name recognition and ability to make late-inning magic, Padres fans were excited to see him come to Petco Park.

The 2010 ball club was in the playoff race from start to finish, with a 90-72 record. On the surface, his numbers looked pedestrian at best with a .232 average in just 111 plate appearances. However, Stairs played in 78 games and hit six home runs, four of them as a pinch-hitter.

On September 14, 2010, he produced some of that classic Stairs pinch-hit magic. The Friars were nursing a slim 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth, and Stairs subbed in for Jon Garland with Will Venable at first. The burly lefty launched a mammoth two-run home run, all but clinching the win, extending the lead to 6-3.

Jesus Guzman

Guzman will never pop off the page at you with his stats or be on any Hall of Fame ballots, but for an over two-year stretch, he seemed to have that “it” factor when the game was on the line. Only the previously mentioned Jerry Turner has more pinch-hit home runs as a Friar than Guzman, who blasted six over three seasons. In 2013 alone, he hit three home runs with three doubles as a pinch-hitter.

In 2011, he hit .333 as a pinch-hitter. Overall, he hit .250 in 108 pinch-hit at-bats for the Friars.

On June 18, 2013, the Padres were in a battle with the San Francisco Giants. Guzman pinch-hit in the top of the eighth with the Friars down 3-2 and one runner on. The Venezuelan launched a two-run homer deep into center, giving the Padres a 4-3 lead late. Over a quarter of Guzman’s home runs as a Padre came off the bench.

Mark Kotsay

As Guzman was making a name for himself among Friar Faithful, a familiar face returned to the team in a bench, savvy veteran role. Kotsay was an everyday player for San Diego from 2001-2003, and over a decade later, he returned.

Credit: AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Then in his late 30s, Kotsay often came off the bench as a valuable left-handed bat. In 2012, he collected 13 pinch-hits with two pinch-hit home runs and a .793 OPS.

On April 26, 2012, the Padres hosted the Washington Nationals and trailed 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Desperate for some offense, the Friars called on Kotsay to face Tyler Clippard with runners on first and second, hoping to create a spark. The Cal State Fullerton alum lined a double into the right-center gap, scoring two runs and giving his team the 2-1 lead and the Padres would go on to close it down in the ninth for the win.

Brett Wallace

Wallace came to the Padres before 2015 with little fanfare, hoping to find a place on the squad as a reserve corner infielder. The Napa, California native had a ho-hum career to that point after being a bench player for Houston for four seasons. He arrived in San Diego, wanting to find his place on the big league roster. Find a niche he did as he hit .349 as a pinch hitter, with four home runs and 1.138 OPS.

He came one of the best single-season pinch-hitters the Padres have ever had. His 15 pinch-hits that season are eighth in team history. In two seasons with the Friars, he hit .284 in 102 pinch-hit at-bats.

What made Wallace valuable was that he did not have to swing for the fences and hit a home run every time to be successful. On September 8, 2015, the Padres and Rockies were locked at one apiece heading into the bottom of the ninth at Petco Park. Cory Spangenberg lined a double to lead off and got to third on a bunt, bringing up the pinch-hitter Wallace with a chance to win the game.

Wallace lined a ball up the middle with the infield in, and Spangenberg was safe at the plate, giving Wallace a walk-off fielder’s choice to win the game for San Diego.

Hector Sanchez

Backup catchers don’t get enough love. The Friars claimed Sanchez off of waivers during the 2016 season. He backed up Derek Norris and posted a 133 OPS+ during the 2016 campaign before becoming Austin Hedges’ primary backup in 2017.

During that season, Sanchez hit three pinch-hit home runs. On April 30, 2017, the Friars were facing Sanchez’s former team, the San Francisco Giants. With the Padres trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth inning, they called on Sanchez off of the bench in a vital spot with a runner on, being two outs away from a loss. Instead, the Venezuelan backstop launched a homer deep into right, dramatically tying the game and sending it to extra innings, where the Padres would win 5-2.

Half of Sanchez’s eight home runs in 2017 came against the Giants.

Greg Garcia

Garcia epitomizes everything about the ideal bench player- he can play multiple positions and can provide a valuable bat off of the bench. Coming to the Friars from the Cardinals via waivers before the 2019 season, Garcia was the primary infield backup behind Ian Kinsler, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Manny Machado. He played at least one inning in five different positions and also was a designated hitter for one game.

As a pinch-hitter, Garcia hit a solid .278 with ten pinch hits.

Getting a spot-start at second base on June 16, 2019, Garcia collected four hits and drove in four runs, including a game-tying, two-run triple in the ninth inning, making it 13-13 and led to a dramatic comeback win.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

7 thoughts on “The best bench players in San Diego Padres history

  1. Garcia should be there number one off the bench.i truly believe he could handle second if given a shot.ty France should also make this club . See in baseball you will not sit a guy making 25 mil a year. Myers. So guys will be washed out and become stars with other teams.its hard to have big stats sitting the pine.i love France, so what ? he will not get a chance with this team.they brought in 6 second basemen .I believe 4 still left with team.preller gave away a lot of good talent for what.pham who is hurt.grisom un proven, for who.gave up 35 h.r in reyes 35 h.r for reinfro.still no catcher. He hit 180.now what ,more ifs.fire preller now don’t wait.

    1. I wasn’t happy with moving Renfroe. Framil is a DH or emergency outfielder. I like Garcia off the bench. They’ll start a Profar because of the 5M + they’re paying him. I like Ty also. I would have given him a shot at 2nd before acquiring Profar. More wasted AJ money.

  2. Nice walk down memory lane. I’ve been around for all of these guys. I remember being excited when some of these got the opportunity. Archi brought enthusiasm and hope whenever he stepped up to the plate with the game on the line. Kudos for capturing the group as a whole.

    I’m really enjoying Garcia being with us. He’s so valuable coming off the bench but I would have liked to have seen him for the whole season at 2nd rather than Profar.

  3. I’m not sure of his stats, but I seem to remember John Vander Wal being a pretty good pinch hitter for the ’98/’99 Padres.

    1. Where is Luis Salazar!? Multiple stints with the Padres and played multiple positions.
      I’d take Luis over more than half the guys on this list.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.