Dark cloud hovers over 1984 Padres
PHOENIX — When Braves Minor League manager Luis Salazar was recently struck in the face by a line drive and lost his left eye, it was another strange hit to the 1984 Padres, the first team in club history to win the National League pennant and ascend to the World Series. They lost in five games to the Tigers.
Salazar was a back up infielder, displaced at third base by an aging Craig Nettles, who was obtained in a trade with the Yankees just prior to the start of that regular season. This year, Salazar was standing in the dugout during a Spring Training game in Florida and didn’t know what hit him.
There is a dark cloud hovering over the ’84 Padres team and this was just the latest incident.
Starting pitcher Eric Show and second baseman Alan Wiggins died young, Show, at 37 of a drug overdose, Wiggins at 32, from AIDs linked to the injection of drugs.
Then there is the cancer cluster. Dave Dravecky lost his left (throwing) arm to cancer. Coach Jack Krol died of cancer related to his constant use of chewing tobacco. And Tony Gwynn, the NL batting champion that season and an eight-time winner in his 20-year career, is battling cancer for the same reason.
Phil Collier, the beat writer for the San Diego Union who covered that team, was diagnosed that year with prostate cancer and eventually died from it. Wayne Lockwood and Barry Lorge, both columnists for the Union back then, are also gone. Wayne had Parkinson’s and Barry died of cancer. Bob Chandler, a now retired Padres play-by-play announcer, is a prostate cancer survivor. I was the beat writer for the San Diego Tribune that season and I’ve survived colon cancer — not once, but twice. In another ironic twist, I’ve been blind in my left eye since a childhood accident.
Ray Kroc, the McDonald’s founder and club owner who saved the team for San Diego, had a major stroke and died before the start of that season. The Padres wore an “RAK” patch on their shoulders all that year to honor him. His wife and successor, Joan, died in 2003 because of a brain tumor.
With apologies to the 1998 Padres team that also went to World Series where they were swept by the Yankees, the postseason in ’84 is still the most exciting week of Major League Baseball ever played in San Diego. It was staged at the old ballpark in Mission Valley before it was expanded and enclosed for football in front of raucous crowds of almost 60,000 for every game.
It included the Padres’ come-from-behind victory over the Cubs in what was the final best-of-five NL Championship Series.
Steve Garvey won Game 4 in Mission Valley with a two-run walk off homer in the bottom of the ninth. In Game 5 there was Tim Flannery’s grounder that skidded through the legs of Leon Durham, the first baseman whose glove had been accidentally doused in Gatorade by Ryne Sandberg, the NL’s MVP that season. The Padres even split the first two World Series games, winning Game 2 at home over a Tigers team that won 111 games — including the postseason — and was clearly one for the ages. Unfortunately they lost the next three at old Tiger Stadium.
To those among the survivors — Dick Williams and Jack McKeon, Tim Lollar and Andy Hawkins, Steve Garvey and Puff Nettles, Goose Gossage and Garry Templeton, Kevin McReynolds and Carmelo Martinez, Craig Lefferts and the first Greg Harris, Ballard Smith and Dick Freeman, and of course, Bruce Bochy, Terry Kennedy and Tim Flannery — stay well and healthy.
And to Louie a speedy recovery. May the wind always be at your backs.