The Padres’ Five Greatest Pitchers
Randy Jones (1973-80)
The left-handed junkballer from up the freeway in Fullerton looked to be the latest in a line of frustrated would-be aces for the impotent, toddler editions of the Padres team, becoming the third 20-game loser in the team’s first six seasons when he logged an 8-22 mark in 1974. But Jones completely turned both his record and career around a year later, becoming the Padres’ first 20-game winner (at 20-12) while halving his earned run average from 4.45 to a National League-best 2.24, helping to take the Padres out of the NL West cellar for the first time in their existence.
Sporting a classic 1970s bushy perm that Padres play-by-play man Jerry Coleman once referred to as a “Karl Marx hairdo,” Jones followed up his breakout season with a phenomenal start to the 1976 season; he was 16-3 before the All-Star Game—which he also started and won—and, in June, tossed 68 straight innings without issuing a walk to tie Christy Mathewson’s NL record. Jones finished the campaign at 22-14 with a 2.74 ERA and led the NL with 315.1 innings and 25 complete games; he was an easy choice for the NL Cy Young Award.
Opponents simply couldn’t figure out how to master Jones, who rarely threw harder than 80 MPH. “Randy’s pitches are too good to take,” said Pittsburgh coach Bob Skinner, “and not good enough to hit.” When they did make contact off Jones, hitters often found themselves grounding into double plays; Jones led the NL three times in that department.
After his magnificence of the mid-1970s, Jones became injury-prone and never returned to All-Star form, failing to finish a season with a winning record over his final six years. A change of scenery in the early 1980s failed to stem his downfall, struggling to an 8-18 record and 4.69 ERA over two years with the New York Mets.
Jake Peavy (2002-09)
It’s easy to look at the career numbers of the right-handed fastball artist—two seasons with 4.00+ ERAs playing at Qualcomm Stadium, followed by five-plus years of more stellar numbers after the team moved into spacious Petco Park—and conclude that the pitcher-friendly conditions of the new ballpark gave more than just a bump to his results. Quite the contrary: Peavy was just as successful and tough to hit on the road as he was at Petco until his midseason trade to the Chicago White Sox in 2009.
With the Padres, Peavy won two ERA titles; a career-low 2.27 mark in 2004, and in 2007 with a 2.54 effort that was part of a Cy Young Award-winning performance, winning pitching’s triple crown with league highs also in wins (19, against just six losses) and strikeouts (240). His 2007 season was highlighted on April 25 in Arizona when he struck out a team-record 16 batters and at one point cut down nine straight Diamondbacks on strikes, falling just one short of Tom Seaver’s all-time record.
Peavy’s resume with the Padres is tarnished in that he lost both of his postseason starts (in 2005 and 2006) with San Diego, allowing 13 runs over 9.2 total innings. Additionally, Peavy underwhelmed in a 163rd game in 2007 at Colorado that decided the NL wild card; he allowed six runs in 6.1 innings as the Rockies won in extra innings, denying the Padres a shot at the playoffs.
Increased fragility led the Padres to be wary of Peavy’s long-term status, necessitating his trade to the White Sox; he left San Diego tied for second with Jones on the all-time Padres list with 92 wins.
Trevor Hoffman (1993-2008)
Padres fans were so fed up with the team’s blatant fire sale maneuvers in 1993 that, after star slugger Gary Sheffield was traded to Florida, some season ticket holders threatened to sue the team; little did they realize that the Sheffield deal would net, in Hoffman, a player who’d emerge as one of the greatest closers in history. Within a few years, the legalistic rants faded as Hoffman’s ninth-inning appearances, graced with the public address system blaring AC-DC’s Hell’s Bells, usually rang trouble for opponents and would become a popular Padres fixture for over 15 years.
Hoffman rarely suffered an off-season, reliably racking up once save over another with stunning consistency. What made Hoffman’s dependability all the more impressive was his ability to overcome a 10-MPH loss in velocity from his fastball, developing a fabulous change-up often described as one of the game’s best. Even two shoulder surgeries that kept him out for most of 2003 didn’t slow him down for the long haul, as he marched on to become the first major leaguer to record 500 career saves, and later, the first to reach 600. (Mariano Rivera has since passed his career total of 601.)
Twice, Hoffman led the NL in saves, including his signature year of 1998 when he lifted the Padres to a NL pennant with personal bests in 53 saves and a 1.48 ERA, holding opponents to an eye-opening .165 batting average. As with the other time he paced the league (with 46 saves in 2006), Hoffman finished second in the NL Cy Young Award vote.
A seven-time All-Star, Hoffman was let go by San Diego after 2008 in a move that left him bitter, and he showed the Padres that he had one good year left in him when he shined anew for Milwaukee in 2009 at age 41—posting 37 saves and a 1.83 ERA. However, the eventual disintegration came quick a year later, and Hoffman stepped down from the game—with a future place in the Hall of Fame all but assured.
Ed Whitson (1983-84, 1986-91)
In an up-and-down 15-year career, the no-nonsense right-hander enjoyed his happiest years with the Padres, going 14-8 with a 3.24 ERA during the Padres’ 1984 NL pennant-winning season—then returning to both San Diego and winning form late in the 1980s after a disastrous and mercifully brief turn with the New York Yankees.
Following early stints with Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Cleveland, Whitson seemed to find himself with the Padres in an initial, two-year tour of duty. That was capped with eight strong innings in a clutch Game Three start in the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs, keeping the Padres alive in a series they would win in the maximum five attempts. After the season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees; it was a big mistake. Despite a winning record (owing mostly to tremendous run support), Whitson was reviled and booed so badly at Yankee Stadium—he even received death threats—the Yankees had to pitch him exclusively on the road. The New York experience came to an ugly end when combative Yankee manager Billy Martin foolishly took Whitson on in a barfight—and lost, breaking an arm and suffering two cracked ribs.
Freed back to San Diego, Whitson quickly rediscovered peace and gradually gained his Mojo back, using excellent control that was even lower than his crisp 2.8 walks per nine innings over his career. He saved his best for the 1989-90 campaigns, winning a combined 30 games with an ERA of 2.63.
Gaylord Perry (1978-79)
The Padres were the fourth of eight teams the controversial Perry would play for throughout his long Hall-of-Fame career, and his stay in San Diego lasted only two years—almost two years, anyway. But it was not without a highly satisfying first season, in which he forged a terrific 21-6 record and 2.73 ERA in 1978 to win, at age 40, his second Cy Young Award; he thus became the first player to win Cys in both leagues, and the performance helped the Padres finish above .500 for the first time, ten years after they began business.
Perry came to the Padres from Texas in 1978 after Texas owner Brad Corbett, feeling that the aging pitcher’s best years were behind him, sent him off for a no-name player and $125,000. He was right, but only a year too early. With his great 1978 effort, Perry became the third pitcher (after Carl Mays and Pete Alexander) to record 20-win seasons for three different teams.
The 1979 season proceeded less ideally for Perry, who maintained a solid 3.06 ERA but could only win 12 of 23 decisions. He took out his anger on second-year Padres manager Roger Craig by publicly criticizing him; it all came to a head when Perry quit the team early in September, never to pitch again for the Padres. At his request, he was sent back to the Rangers in a trade that did neither team any good, as Perry himself began to finally show signs of advanced age and became more of a nomad, seeking any opportunity to perform; he finally hung up his cleats at the age of 45 in 1983 with 314 career wins.
San Diego Padres' Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Padres, decade by decade.
The Padres' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Padres' Five Greatest Games: A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Padres' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Padres' five greatest hitters? Find out here.
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