The Right Man at the Right Time


Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In 2021, the San Diego Padres stayed in the hunt for a playoff spot through the first week of September. After a string of losing seasons dating back to 2010 (not counting the 2020 mini-march), players and fans alike started to dream of making waves in the postseason.

Alas, it was not to be, and the Padres finished below .500 yet again with a 79-83 record.

“We’ve kind of buried that.” Second baseman Jake Cronenworth said before this season. “Last year was last year. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, and that was disappointing. But we’ve moved on; it’s like Bob says, we just need to think about winning today’s game.”

Of course, Cronenworth referred to Bob Melvin, the first experienced manager hired by A. J. Preller (the Padres general manager and president of baseball operations). When Preller first contacted Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics executive vice president, and asked to interview Melvin, the response was a curt “No chance, go to hell.” Ultimately, however, Beane ultimately acquiesced, and Melvin accepted the Padres’ offer.

Unlike Preller’s previous choices, Andy Green and Jayce Tingler, Melvin has a wealth of experience as a player, a coach, and a manager. He played for 10 years as a backup catcher in both the National and American Leagues. After retiring as a player, Melvin worked for the Milwaukee Brewers in multiple capacities and served as bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2001-2002, when the team won the National League West twice and the World Series in his first year.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In 2003, the Seattle Mariners hired him to take over for manager Lou Pinella, and he lasted for two years before moving on to the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the D-backs, Melvin turned the team around, winning 26 more games than the year before. In fact, he became the most successful manager to that point in the team’s history, winning the West in 2007 (90-72) as well as Manager of the Year.

Early in the 2009 season, Arizona replaced him with A.J. Hinch. Two years later, the A’s hired him. During his time in Oakland (2011-2021), the low-budget A’s went to the playoffs six times. In the bay area, he was named Manager of the Year twice in 2012 and 2018 and became the eighth manager to win the award at least three times.

Unlike the Athletics, an organization low on cash but high on analytics, Melvin now has the benefit of managing a team which ranks fifth in payroll.

“When you have a $200 million payroll…you get the type of support from ownership that gives you a chance to win and gives you a payroll where you can go out and pay some guys,” Melvin said.

Some of those guys being paid include Manny Machado ($32 million), Wil Myers ($22 million), Yu Darvish ($19 million), and Blake Snell ($13 million). At the trade deadline, Preller also added three potentially impactful players–outfielder Juan Soto, first baseman Josh Bell, and pitcher Josh Hader. Although the three had a rocky beginning after arriving in San Diego, Soto and Hader have started to turn it around. In the last seven games, Soto has batted .385/.484/.731, and Hader’s ERA has dropped to 1.35.

In fact, since Melvin sat players down and gave them an earful in mid-September, the team has played better ball all around. Frustrated over a desultory 4-0 loss to the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, the manager let it all out.

“It’s felt like a spark,” Bell remarked. “It’s tough that we put him in that position where he felt like that was something we needed to hear. But since then, it seems like both sides of the ball and the pitching have been spot on. We came together and realized what’s at stake here.”

After “The Talk,” the Padres won three in a row against the D-Backs and two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals. After a heartbreaking loss to the Rockies, the team will have two more chances to overcome Coors Field. Melvin has definitely noticed a difference in attitude and output

“It just feels better,” Melvin remarked. “And you know what, it’s guys coming together and understanding where we are in the season. We need to play a little bit differently and tweak the attitude a little bit….  It’s really a credit to the players coming out and being ready to play and focus from Pitch 1.”

Only a veteran of the game–a player, coach, and manager—would have the gravitas to reach the men in this clubhouse.

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In the past, promising seasons have turned to ash under inexperienced managers, thanks in part to their standing. But this year has a different feeling, a feeling that finally the Padres have the right man at the right time.

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