Gwynn Puts Hex on Padres' Draft Woes
Ending the hex that has plagued Padres first-round draft picks. Consider it a humanitarian mission.
Here's the deal: The draft's first round is to San Diego's ballclub what casinos are to rubes.
Only much worse.
Stephen King couldn't dream up a spookier 15-year stretch for a club's top-round picks. One died in an auto accident. Others flamed out on the field or were arrested off it. There were detours caused by alcoholism, Tommy John surgery, ulcerative colitis, a degenerative hip, a bum shoulder, a broken hand.
Consider what has beset San Diego's top pick from last June, a prep outfielder from Georgia named Donovan Tate taken third overall and likened afterward by the Padres to longtime major leaguer Mike Cameron. Not long after the Padres guaranteed $6.25 million to Tate, the litany began: A mysterious pelvic bone injury discovered last summer. A broken jaw suffered in an off-road vehicle accident last fall. A sprained shoulder in spring training, followed by a concussion. Tate's father, Lars, also was sucked into the vortex. He became ill in March, sending Donovan home to Georgia.
Sure, the Padres and their majority owner since 1994, John Moores, created their own bad luck at times. But the club's first-round luck couldn't have been worse.
With another draft looming, my options were to watch another bust in the making, or bust the hex.
There's too much suffering in the world, so the choice was easy.
I enlisted as the hex-buster Tony Gwynn, the Hall of Famer who spent his entire career with the Padres.
Met Gwynn at the team's ballpark and brought 13 paper slips -- 13 being the anti-hex number.
On each scrap was the name of a player rated by Baseball America's draft guru, Jim Callis, as a potential first-round draftee, yet one not likely to be drafted before San Diego picks ninth on Monday.
The rest was all Gwynn. I held out a cup containing the scraps, and Mr. Padre, with nimble fingers that carved out a .338 career batting average, selected, drum roll please...
Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
"Who?" Gwynn said.
"I don't know anything about him," I said.
"Who?" said one of two witnesses on hand, each employed by the Padres' flagship radio station.
Now that he's been touched by Gwynn, Kolbrin Vitek can go from Ball State to San Diego's farm system to stardom.
Figuring a smart club might steal Vitek before the Padres can get him, I asked Gwynn to pluck another player.
Gwynn snagged a prep center fielder from Georgia, Delino DeShields Jr. Hey, his luck can't be any worse than the prep center fielder from Georgia taken by the Padres last year.
When the Padres make their selection on Monday, they can assume the hex is over -- removed by the best draft pick in franchise history. Whoever the Padres select ninth, we know he'll have a reaction different from Gwynn's in 1981 after being taken 58th out of San Diego State.
"I said, 'Dang, I've got to wear brown,' " Gwynn said, laughing.
In the same draft that brought Gwynn, the Padres took center fielder Kevin McReynolds sixth overall. The move by Bob Fontaine Jr., now with the Mariners, turned out to be one of the better first-round selections in franchise history.
Too often, though, the Padres would've been better off in the first round if they'd picked a name out of a hat.