Nate Colbert, Padres' all-time HR leader, dies at 76

January 6th, 2023

, a revered slugger on the Padres’ inaugural 1969 team and widely regarded as the franchise’s first true star player, has died at the age of 76, the team announced Thursday night.

No player in the 54-season history of the franchise hit more home runs than Colbert's 163 in a Padres uniform from 1969-74 (Adrián González is second with 161, followed by Phil Nevin's 156, Dave Winfield's 154 and Tony Gwynn's 135).

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Padres Hall of Famer Nate Colbert," Padres chairman Peter Seidler said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to his wife, Kasey, and the entire Colbert family at this very difficult time. An original member of the Padres in 1969, Nate was a trailblazer in the San Diego sports community. He was a three-time National League All-Star in brown and gold and became the Padres all-time home run king (163), a record that still stands today. Nate was devoted to his community off the field as well, dedicating his time to disadvantaged youth through his ministry. He was a magnetic person who will be dearly missed.”

In baseball lore, Colbert is perhaps best known for authoring one of the greatest single days at the plate in the sport’s history. On Aug. 1, 1972, in Atlanta, Colbert launched five home runs in a doubleheader, tying him with Stan Musial for the most in a day -- a record that hasn’t been matched since. He knocked in 13 runs across those two games, also a single-day record, and his 22 total bases were one more than Musial’s record of 21, set in 1954.

A St. Louis native, Colbert was born on April 9, 1946, and attended Sumner High School, just north of Sportsman’s Park. As fate would have it, an 8-year-old Colbert was in attendance in 1954 to witness Musial’s feat. Eighteen years later, he carved his own slice of history by matching Musial’s home run total (on a day he’d been famously battling back trouble and wasn’t certain he’d be healthy enough to play).

That day would serve as the perfect encapsulation of Colbert’s prowess at the plate. A fearsome power hitter who regularly launched titanic blasts, Colbert averaged 30 home runs per season for the Padres from 1969-73, even while the team played its home games at spacious San Diego Stadium.

His five-homer outburst was part of a spectacular 1972 season, perhaps the best in Colbert’s 10-year big league career, which also included stints in Houston, Detroit, Montreal and Oakland. He launched a career-high-tying 38 home runs and finished eighth in voting for the National League MVP Award in '72.

Originally signed out of high school by his hometown Cardinals in 1964, Colbert was selected by the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft the following year. He made his MLB debut with Houston in 1966, appearing in 19 games and going 0-for-7. He hit .151 in 56 plate appearances with the Astros in '68 before being selected by the Padres in that year's Expansion Draft.

Colbert's career took off in San Diego, where he entrenched himself as the team’s regular first baseman, while occasionally playing some left field. He batted .253/.331/.469 in his six seasons and was selected as an All-Star three times in that span, while reaching the 20-homer mark in five consecutive years. (Only González has matched that feat for the Padres.)

Back troubles hampered Colbert the rest of his playing career. The Padres traded him to the Tigers prior to the 1975 season, and in June of that year, the Expos purchased his contract from Detroit after he hit just .147 with four homers in 156 at-bats. He didn't fare much better with Montreal, hitting .182 with six homers in 121 at-bats before being released midway through the 1976 season. Colbert then signed with the A's, but he only appeared in two games for Oakland in what would be the final two games of his career.

Despite having his career cut short due to injury, Colbert finished with a .772 OPS (119 OPS+) and 173 homers in 10 seasons. He was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 1999, alongside legendary left-hander Randy Jones and former owner Ray Kroc.