Moores leaves Padres with fond memories
Former owner presided over successful team, helped create Petco Park
DENVER -- Through all the ups and downs of 18 years of Padres ownership, John Moores retained his composure. On Thursday, as the team passed hands to Ron Fowler and the younger members of the O'Malley family, he couldn't any longer.Moores walked out of the room minutes after the league's owners voted unanimously to make the transfer and headed to the airport with his head up and his eyes straight ahead. "I had blinders on," Moores told MLB.com. "I didn't want anybody to think I was upset or anything." But upset he was. These were his mixed emotions: relief that his sale of the team over a more than three-year period was at an end, but remorse that at 68, he's moving on without baseball in his life.
To be sure, the Padres haven't officially transferred to new ownership. That won't happen for at least another 10-14 days, when the $800 million transaction closes. But Moores spent what he considered to be his final hours as majority owner having breakfast with members of the new ownership group and chatting with Selig in an empty room for 20 minutes prior to the meeting.The Commissioner and Moores both have a soft spot for each other as this era in Padres history comes winding toward closure. Moores spoke glowingly about his relationship with Selig. "Our conversation was terrific," Moores said. "We had our ups and downs, but we obviously agreed more than we disagreed. On this last transaction, he did the best thing for me, my kids and San Diego. So what the heck, I'm grateful." Ditto the Commissioner. "I saw him this morning and I got very emotional. I understand that," Selig said. "John did a lot of wonderful things for baseball. He was very helpful for me, during a time when things weren't frankly as great as they are right now. I know it's the right thing for him to do. Believe me, I like John Moores a lot. He did a lot for this sport. A lot." Moores bought 80 percent of the Padres for $80 million in the wake of the strike that ended the 1994 season and postseason, and then delayed the start of the 1995 season. Moores helped commission the now famous "Blue Ribbon" panel report that delineated the financial and competitive challenges for smaller-market teams. In 2002, he helped author the debt-service rule, the mainstay which now restricts clubs from borrowing money to pay down operational debt. In San Diego, Moores fought a nearly five-year battle through the courts that delayed the funding, construction and opening of Petco Park until 2004. Under his watch, the Padres won the National League West in 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2006. In 2007, they lost a play-in 163rd game to the Rockies at Coors Field on the last pitch. And in 2010, they missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Of course, in 1998, the Padres went to the World Series for only the second time in club history and were swept by the Yankees. The fact that they never won a World Series under his watch is no cause for disappointment, he said. "That '98 team was so special," Moores said. "I still don't know how they lose a game, but they obviously did. No, I don't have any regrets about on-field performance. I think we did pretty well. A couple of years ago, we were within a game of getting into the postseason against the Giants, who won it all. We probably should have had more success. Right now, we're in a [tough spot]. But it's baseball. It looks like the club is getting better. I predict that with my leaving, they're going to go on a winning streak." Off the field, Moores donated $30 million to the San Diego State athletic program to construct numerous state-of-the-art facilities. Separately, he built Tony Gwynn Stadium, where the Aztecs baseball team plays under the coaching tutelage of the legendary Hall of Famer and career Padre. There's a cancer center on the campus of UC San Diego Medical Center that he funded that bears his family name. Moores leaves the new Padres ownership with one of the most picturesque baseball parks in the country and a 20-year, $1.2 billion television contract. No wonder he had mixed emotions about his departure. Asked to sum up the whole thing, Moores said, choking back tears: "It was an out-of-body experience. It was more emotional than I thought it would be. I was on the phone [with former Padre Phil Nevin] afterward and I couldn't keep my voice from cracking. It's been 18 years. All I keep thinking about at this point is baseball. It's just weird. But it's time to move forward." And that's what Moores quickly did. In the moments after his departure, Selig peeked out of the meeting room looking for him. But he was long gone, from the premises and Major League Baseball, though he won't soon be forgotten.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.