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Padres GM legend Towers remembered

Architect of 1998 NL champions and four NL West champions

The room fell silent.

It was at the end of the first week of December in 2016, when Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame convened the New Era Committee in a hotel at Washington, D.C., to discuss additions to the Hall of Fame.

The room fell silent.

It was at the end of the first week of December in 2016, when Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame convened the New Era Committee in a hotel at Washington, D.C., to discuss additions to the Hall of Fame.

Former Padres GM Towers dies

Kevin Towers was supposed to be there. And he wasn't.

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson then announced that Towers was home in San Diego and doctors had advised him not to fly.    

This was not a meeting that Towers would have missed. Baseball executives, Hall of Famers and a few honored members of the media stared at one another in silence across the table.

Then the phone rang in the middle of the table. "I'm here," said the gravelly voice. 

It was Kevin Towers on a conference call from San Diego.   

"Sorry I'm not talking better," said Towers. "I've got this throat thing going on."   

There was not a word spoken about the Big C, just this "throat thing." Towers participated in the day-long meeting. At the end, he apologized for not being in the room. "I'm sure this will clear up," said Towers as he signed off.  

Tuesday morning, at the age of 56, Kevin Towers, the Padres' general manager from 1995-2009 and a member of the Padres' family for a quarter of a century, died of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Wife Kelley was at his side. 

Video: Castrovince shares memories of Kevin Towers

Towers, who never publicly acknowledged his fight against cancer, was a beloved figure in baseball. I've met thousands of people around the game over the years, and I've yet to find one who had a bad word to say about Kevin Towers.

Genuine, smart, funny, friendly, gregarious, honest, superstitious are all words that could describe Towers.

He was a giant slice of life.

To know Kevin Towers was to laugh with Kevin Towers. And if you knew him, he was more than happy to spend time with you. Baseball executives don't normally seek out and share stories with baseball writers. Towers did. He loved it.

Well, he loved so many things.    

Towers loved being around baseball and baseball players, who respected Towers for always being up front and honest -- to a fault.

Towers once told a player days before a trade "I might have to move you to make us better." And he did. The player later told me Towers was in tears when he officially told him of the yet-to-be-announced trade.

Kevin Towers spent time with the Padres as a Minor League pitcher, a Minor League coach, a scout, the scouting director and, finally, the Padres' seventh general manager.

Born and raised in Medford, Ore., Towers first visited San Diego County in 1979-80 as a pitcher at MiraCosta College. He then transferred to Brigham Young University, where he roomed with Cougars quarterback Jim McMahon and earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors.

In 1982, the Padres drafted Towers in the first round of the secondary phase of the June draft -- a round that no longer exists.

Towers spent seven seasons pitching in the Padres' Minor League system and was a Texas League All-Star in 1984. But his right-arm failed him.

Towers once joked about his playing career: "I went as far as my arm would take me. One day, my arm said, 'Ever think about being a scout?'"  

Towers loved scouting. Even as general manager of the Padres, he loved hitting the road to see amateur prospects. "I don't think being on the road as a scout ever leaves you," said the man who loved late-night breakfasts at Waffle Houses across the land.

The Padres have won two National League pennants and five NL West championships since their inception in 1969. They won one pennant and four of those division titles under Towers.

Towers' forte while in charge of the Padres was adding serviceable pitchers whose careers had been sidetracked by injuries or had been released by other teams. The list includes the likes of David Wells, Randy Wolf, Bob Tewksbury, etc.

Personal story:

Late in December of 2003, I was at a restaurant with my wife when I looked across the room and saw Towers in a booth with Wells. Naturally, I called Towers the next day. Were the Padres going to sign Wells, a free agent who had been offered a Minor League contract to remain with the Yankees?

Towers: "Bill, I have to ask you a favor. If this gets out, the Yankees will offer Wells a Major League contract. I have to keep this under wraps until we sign him. I promise, I will call you first."

Knowing Towers, I knew he was a man of his word. I didn't write about the meeting.

A week later, my home phone rang around 7 p.m.

Towers: "We signed Wells. Write it. But don't mention my name. I'm not saying a word until it is official tomorrow. But trust me, it's done."

I wrote it. And just after 9 a.m. the next morning, Towers confirmed the story. 

That was Kevin Towers. A man of his word.

Two more quick stories:

-- Towers was superstitious. The best example was his association with Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. Towers never watched Hoffman pitch the ninth inning in a save situation. He'd go to a back room or ride the elevator to the clubhouse where he waited in a corridor for the game to end. He'd even go sit in his car in the parking lot.

-- He didn't brag about the great trades and acquisitions he made. But he joked about his mistakes. Of the Randy Myers acquisition at the end of the 1998 season, Towers later joked that every general manager "should be allowed a do-over."

San Diego Padres