The year was 1999. The setting was the All-Star Game, at Boston's Fenway Park. The festivities were memorable, as Red Sox legend Ted Williams was honored on the field before the game and surrounded, adoringly, by the stars of the day.
Among them was Tony Gwynn, aka Mr. Padre, who helped Williams throw out the ceremonial first pitch. It also happened to be the last of 15 All-Star selections -- and 11th as a starter -- for Gwynn, who was sidelined for the game due to injury.
More than two decades later, Tatis has succeeded the beloved Gwynn as the face of the franchise in San Diego. And now he is poised to succeed Gwynn in another respect, too.
Major League Baseball released its first All-Star Ballot standings update on Monday. Among the storylines: Tatis has the fourth-most votes of any player and holds a commanding lead over the Cubs’ Javier Báez in the race to be the National League’s starting shortstop.
Barring a stunning reversal, Tatis would become the first Padres player to be voted in by the fans as an All-Star starter since Gwynn in 1999. That would end by far the longest active drought in the Majors, as well as one of the longest in All-Star history.
To be clear, the key words above are "voted in by the fans." The Padres have seen two players actually start an All-Star Game in that time: Jake Peavy on the mound in 2007 and Wil Myers at DH in ‘16. But both players were named to the starting lineup by managers, as fans do not vote for starting pitchers or NL designated hitters.
Sticking with players who have actually won the fan voting, the Padres have been waiting far longer than any other club.
Longest active droughts
(Not counting 2020)
20 seasons -- Padres (Last winner: Tony Gwynn, 1999)
5 seasons -- A’s (Last winner: Josh Donaldson, 2014)
5 seasons -- Phillies (Last winner: Chase Utley, 2014)
5 seasons -- Pirates (Last winner: Andrew McCutchen, 2014)
For the figures above, we’re not counting 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the season and forced the cancelation of the All-Star Game. Had the event taken place, though, Tatis may well have ended the drought then.
The previous year, he had announced his arrival on the big league stage in resounding fashion, batting .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases to finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year Award race, despite playing only 84 games. Tatis then posted similar numbers in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign -- picking up a Silver Slugger Award and top-five MVP finish -- before taking his game to yet another level in 2021.
Still only 22 years old, Tatis entered Monday’s action leading the NL in home runs (19) and stolen bases (13), despite missing 18 games. A dramatic grand slam on Sunday against the Mets lifted his slugging percentage to a gaudy .654.
With numbers that spectacular and the sheer star power to match, Tatis’ initial voting results didn’t exactly come as a surprise. But it has been an uphill battle for any Padres player since Gwynn retired. Only two teams have gone longer without having an All-Star voting winner since fans returned to the ballot box for good in 1970. (Before then, voting responsibility bounced back and forth between fans and managers/coaches/players).
Longest droughts since 1970
21 seasons -- White Sox, 1997-2017
21 seasons -- Astros, 1974-94
20 seasons -- Padres, 2000-19^
18 seasons -- Brewers, 1989-2006
17 seasons -- Expos, 1985-2001
16 seasons -- Blue Jays, 1995-2010
16 seasons -- Angels, 1987-2002
15 seasons -- Indians, 2002-16
15 seasons -- Tigers, 1989-2003
^Not counting 2020
The Astros set the record, going 21 seasons between outfielder César Cedeño’s win in 1973 and second baseman Craig Biggio claiming his first of four straight balloting victories in 1995. The White Sox matched them before José Abreu put a stop to that in 2018, becoming the club’s first starter since the days of Frank Thomas.
The Padres made a run at that mark, no doubt facing an uphill battle due to playing in a smaller, West Coast market, but also fielding teams that largely lacked the sort of Tatis-caliber stars who can transcend those challenges.
During the drought, the Padres got just three individual seasons with 35-plus homers and two with more than 6.0 WAR by position players. A Friars hitter won a Silver Slugger Award only twice in that span and finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting just four times, with zero top-three finishes. (That changed last year, with Manny Machado and Tatis placing third and fourth, respectively, while both claimed Silver Sluggers).
That’s all in the past now. It’s a new era in “Slam Diego.” The beautiful brown is back, and so too may be the sight of a Padre running out onto the field to begin an All-Star Game. If Tatis has anything to say about it, it’s a sight that will become a common one.