Nick Canepa of the U-T San Diego wrote a column last week on the need to change the make up of the San Diego Padres’ front office, claiming whoever ends up owning the Padres should affect a clean sweep. Canepa often gets it right but this time he didn’t, because his idea is absurd.
From the time of John Moores’ ill-fated firing of Larry Lucchino and Lucchino’s exit to the Red Sox and Boston, the team’s leadership became intervallic. The sale of the Padres by Moores to Jeff Moorad and his ownership group in 2009 promised a new beginning, especially when Moorad named Tom Garfinkel to head the team’s day-to-day operations. But Moorad ultimately was turned away as principal owner by Major League Baseball.
Ironically, despite MLB’s rejection of Moorad, Garfinkel remains CEO (with John Moores’ blessing, no small matter given his majority ownership). Whatever Moorad’s failings and whatever the fallout of his departure, his choice of Garfinkel was inspired.
Is Tom Garfinkel the second coming of Lucchino? No. There’s only one Lucchino, the game’s one true genius; the man who changed the face of baseball by building Camden Yards 20-years ago in Baltimore; which became the inspiration for more than 100 new ballparks at every level of professional and college baseball – and by which Petco Park would rise and Fenway saved.
Garfinkel is not Lucchino, but he has the chance to be as good as Lucchino, if the Padres new owners are smart enough to keep him as CEO. But, seriously, the assumption that intelligence and making money are one and same is an erroneous assumption.
From the time Garfinkel arrived, in two critical areas ultimately affecting on-field performance, the Padres have seen their farm system and organization ranked number one by ESPN and Baseball Prospectus. In front office performance Sports Business Journal, in its comprehensive mystery shopper’s evaluation, said the Padres were the major’s finest and Bloomberg.com rated the Padres sales staff the game’s best – for the second year in a row (no small achievement given the team’s performance last year and so far in 2012).
It was Garfinkel who made the bold move to persuade Dick Enberg, one of the five greatest broadcasters in sports history to leave NBC and become the play-by-play voice of the Padres on television. Never before have they had a broadcaster of Enberg’s stature; a testimony of Garfinkel’s reach for class throughout the organization. (And, given the Padres now have a $1.2 billion contract with Fox Sports, who’s to say one didn’t follow the other.) He’s also responsible for luring Mike Pomeranz here from Minneapolis to handle Padres pre and post-game shows. Pomeranz and Mark Sweeny make an impressive on-air duo – major league in every way.
Garfinkel has also transformed the experience of going to Petco Park by significantly improving that experience by lowering ticket and food prices and greatly expanding the choices available, such as Hodad’s at the PCL Club, Anthony’s, Filippi’s Pizza, Bull Taco, Kona Brewing, Wines at the Park, and a gluten free stand (no small matter given the rising number of Americans gluten intolerant).
This weaving together of a broad ballpark tapestry for fans has occurred because Garfinkel has succeeded in convincing people of exceptional talent to walk away from accomplished careers and become a part of the Padres’ organization, as he did Enberg and Pomeranz.
Thus he persuaded Sarah Farnsworth, who was at the Defense Department to join the front office (previously she had worked for Hilary Clinton); brought in Brent Stehlik, a highly sought-after young executive with a diverse background in baseball, ice hockey, and pro football (Dallas Cowboys); so too Nicole Smith, who had been at the University of Michigan, and Tyler Epp, who had been with NASCAR. Each came because they believe in Garfinkel, not just as a leader but also in his transcendent qualities as a human being.
The team Garfinkel leads he sees not alone in the context of baseball but in the larger context of civic life; which is why Epp quickly became a force for Michael Brunker as a board member of the Jackie Robinson YMCA, as others in the front office have made a difference in the civic organizations they serve.
All of this notwithstanding, Garfinkel understands fans judge ball clubs by their on field performance, that who’s in who’s out in the front office is of marginal interest, but he also knows there’s more to baseball than wins and losses. And, since the model he adopted for the Padres is that of the Boston Red Sox, considered to have the highest civic ethic of any team in professional sports, one cannot help but be impressed knowing Garfinkel seeks no less a standard for San Diego.
All of this Canepa missed or, maybe, considers irrelevant.
That said, it’s a given the primary responsibility of sports writers and columnists is to write about what happens on the field, but you cannot disconnect team and player, front office personnel and ownership; which is why success is owed to an organization’s overall qualities (see Red Sox). Therefore, the last thing the Padres’ need is an ownership group that follows Canepa’s advice and starts their reign by firing Garfinkel and blowing up the stellar team he’s assembled – from front office personnel to Josh Byrnes and baseball operations.
To do so would be monumentally stupid, as there’s a large number of people in San Diego who haven’t missed what Tom Garfinkel has accomplished; men and women of standing in our city, who know baseball and business, who believe the best decision any new ownership group can make is to keep Tom Garfinkel as CEO and build upon his accomplishments – who believe privately but will act publicly to declare their support.
What if the new owners bring back Lucchino? Well, any new ownership group that doesn’t ask Lucchino if he’s available would be an ownership group you don’t want owning our team – and it’s “our” team, because without us Petco Park doesn’t exist. But Lucchino isn’t coming back, unless he’s given complete control and that’s not happening. No one is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to own the Padres and then sign their team over to someone they can’t control– even if that “someone” is Larry Lucchino.
Which is why, when all options are weighed, keeping Tom Garfinkel and the talented team he’s assembled would provide the Padres’ organization with the stability of leadership it desperately needs.