San Diego the place to be for skipper Melvin

November 1st, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- Nearly four weeks ago, the Padres set out about their search for a manager, and they aimed high. The front office pieced together a list of candidates from across the sport, and one name stood out: Bob Melvin.

"Bob," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller, "was at the top of the list."

Sure enough, 26 days after the team parted ways with former manager Jayce Tingler, a glowing Preller sat next to Melvin at the dais in the Petco Park auditorium. He'd gotten his man -- the three-time Manager of the Year Award winner, widely considered one of the top skippers in the sport.

At his introductory press conference on Monday, Melvin spoke and fielded questions for nearly half an hour. He kept coming back to one central theme. For everything Melvin has accomplished in his baseball career, he's yet to win a World Series as a manager. The Padres have yet to win a World Series as a franchise. Melvin viewed it as the perfect marriage to accomplish those goals.

"The next big thing for this team and this town and this organization is getting to the postseason, going deep in it and wanting and expecting to win a World Series," Melvin said. "Just how passionate they were to win [stands out]. That's where I am in my career, too."

Hiring Melvin away from Oakland was nothing short of a coup for the Padres, who were searching for a manager with a presence. Melvin is almost universally revered by his former players. His baseball acumen spans both new-school and old-school. He’s known for an even-keeled persona and a straightforward tone in his dialogue with players. The Padres loved all of it.

At some point earlier this month, Preller made a phone call to A's vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane -- standard operating procedure when one team wants to hire from another. The A's needed to grant the Padres permission to speak with Melvin, and at first, the chances didn’t seem great.

"When I reached out to Billy and broached the topic, the first thing he told me was, really, 'No chance, go to hell,'" Preller said, half-jokingly. "But his main thought, to me, was wanting to do what's best for Bob, which you don't hear a lot in this industry. ... A lot of credit goes to the Oakland A's."

Shortly thereafter, Beane brought up the possibility with Melvin, who noted that, yes, he would be interested in at least exploring the opportunity.

"Sometimes, it just becomes time," Melvin said. "I was lucky enough to manage that team for 10-plus seasons. ... I was absolutely as fortunate as you could be to manage that team, but there comes a time where you know it doesn't go forever."

Melvin wasn't sure how the interview process would play out. He'd studied the Padres from afar -- loved the ballpark, the city and the roster. He recalled playing in San Diego on a Tuesday night in July in front of a packed house and how he was blown away by the energy.

Still, Melvin didn't know much about the inner workings of a team that had started so strong in 2021 only to collapse down the stretch. Melvin needed to do his own bit of homework through the interview process to figure out whether the Padres were the right fit. Both sides resolved to keep the courtship quiet, acknowledging the possibility that it might not come to fruition.

They did so expertly. When news broke of Melvin’s hire last week, it was a stunner that few in the baseball world saw coming. Even Melvin himself seemed awed at the possibility when he was en route to the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona to meet with Preller for the first time.

"It was a bit of a surprise, and it was almost surreal, the fact that I was going to be talking to another team," Melvin said.

On Monday, Melvin noted that he was blown away by Preller's thoroughness, particularly his understanding of all levels of the organization.

Over the course of the next week and a half, the two had dinner several times in the Peoria area, where they discussed their vision. Those dinners, Melvin said, went for hours.

"They're flicking the lights to grab [Preller’s] attention at 11:30, because we're having these long baseball conversations," Melvin said.

Ultimately, those conversations came back to one thing: getting the Padres -- a championship-starved franchise -- over the hump. Twenty-one managers have been unable to do so.

Their 22nd manager inherits a roster flush with talent, headlined by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The Padres won just 79 games this past season, but with a healthy pitching staff and a few moves around the edges of that roster, they expect to be contenders under a manager with the pedigree of Melvin. (Melvin has, after all, reached the postseason seven times in 18 years, working with substantially lower payrolls. That’s one more playoff appearance than the Padres have in their 53-year history.)

The hiring process happened quickly. Deep down, Melvin said, he knew the fit was right practically from the moment he began talks with the Padres' front office. On his 60th birthday last Thursday, Melvin and the Padres agreed in principle on a three-year contract.

"I had a great feeling, from the beginning, about it culminating in a day like this," Melvin said. "I couldn't be happier. ... It's all about winning at this point, when you have a roster like that and have all the people to give you the resources and the backing to do it. I don't know that there's a better destination in baseball to be able to come to. I'm a lucky man."