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Remembering Colbert as HR is mark eclipsed

Two different eras, ballparks, players
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

You might say Hunter Renfroe eclipsed both one of the oldest and newest records in the Padres' record book with his 25th homer Monday night.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

You might say Hunter Renfroe eclipsed both one of the oldest and newest records in the Padres' record book with his 25th homer Monday night.

Renfroe's 25 homer is the Padres' rookie record, eclipsing the 24 first baseman Nate Colbert hit during the Padres inaugural season of 1969.

For some reason, the Padres' record books didn't reflect that until recently. Just before the All-Star break, Elias reported Renfroe had set the Padres' record for home runs by a rookie in the first half of the season -- eclipsing the record set by Colbert in 1969.

That sent everyone scrambling to the record books. And sure enough, Colbert was officially a rookie in 1969 when he hit .255 with 20 doubles, nine triples and 24 homers for 66 RBIs and 64 runs scored.

Ted Sizemore won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1969. Coco LaBoy was second. Colbert did not receive a vote. It is interesting to reflect back on Colbert's 1969 season in light of Renfroe breaking his record.

As for comparisons? It's hard to draw many. The players and times are considerably different.

Colbert, a founding member of the Padres' Hall of Fame (with Randy Jones and Ray Kroc) in 1969, was 23 when he was a rookie in 1969. A ninth-round pick in the expansion draft to stock the Padres (and Montreal Expos), Colbert was not the Padres' Opening Day first baseman.

That honor fell to Bill Davis, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound left-handed slugger who the Padres acquired from Cleveland via a trade six days after the expansion draft. Davis had impressive home run numbers in the minors. But after 11 starts, he lost his starting job to Colbert. Davis' Major League career ended with the Padres on May 26. He hit .175 (10-for-57) with no homers and 10 RBIs.

Colbert was the offensive cornerstone of that first Padres team.

He hit 24 of the 99 homers the Padres had in 1969. He drove in 14 percent of the 468 runs they scored. He had a hand in 23 percent of the runs scored by the Padres.

Now, factor in the original dimensions of San Diego Stadium in Mission Valley. It was 330 feet to each foul line. It was 420 feet to center and 375 feet to each power alley. And the symmetrical field had a 17-foot high wall -- from foul pole to foul pole. And like Petco Park when it opened, the ball didn't carry in night games.

Like Renfroe, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Colbert was strong. When he hit 38 homers in 1970, it was said another 10 balls ricocheted off the distant walls. The 38 homers he hit in 1970 and '72 stood as the Padres' single-season record until Ken Caminiti hit 40 in 1996 -- when the fences had been both shortened and cut in half.

To this day, Colbert holds the Padres' career home run record with 173. He likely would have had more had not the torque from his swing led to back problems.

I was recently asked who was stronger, Colbert or Renfroe? I have no idea. Neither had any problem hitting for distance. Renfroe is the only player to put a home run on the roof of the Western Meatal Supply Co. building. And he has done it twice. They didn't keep home run distances when Colbert was playing, but one of his drives once broke a seat in the left field stands. Renfroe, who was 25 during his rookie season, broke Colbert's record in 74 fewer plate appearances.

But Colbert had an edge in Renfroe in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He had a 2.6 WAR as a rookie compared to Renfroe's 0.8.

Here's hoping Renfroe has the type of career Colbert had.

NOTE WORTHY

Manuel Margot extended his on-base streak to a career-high nine games Tuesday night with a base hit to center field in the third inning. During that stretch since Sept. 16, Margot is hitting .324 (11-for-34) with three walks, three runs, two doubles, a triple, a RBI, three stolen bases and three multihit efforts.

Renfroe is hitting .333 (22-for-66) with seven runs, six doubles, five homers and 15 RBI along with a 1.014 OPS in 17 career games against the Dodgers.

Christian Villanueva has homered in each of his last four starts. He was 2-for-4 with a homer Tuesday. Since joining the Padres after the end of Triple-A El Paso's season, Villanueva has hit .391 (9-for-23) with the four homers, five runs scored and seven RBIs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

San Diego Padres