Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, November 15, 2023 -- "The Choice Is Yours"


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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: The Choice Is Yours
Vol. 15, No. 137
November 15, 2023

Peter Seidler, the owner of the San Diego Padres, died on Tuesday. Seidler was part of a group that bought the Padres in 2012. He moved into the chairman role in 2020 and over the last three years became the face of the team’s efforts to bring a championship to San Diego.

Under Seidler’s leadership, the Padres’ payroll jumped from $143 million in 2019 to $216 million in 2021 and $296 million, third in MLB, in 2023. Responding to peer criticism earlier this year, Seidler said, “I don't spend too much time, if any, thinking about what other people are thinking. Truly, I care about what we're thinking in this room in San Diego. To me, it just feels great.”

“We believe we have a great chance to go after that trophy and to deliver San Diego its first parade.’’ 

Seidler did not get that parade through the streets of San Diego, but his approach did create a different sort of parade: through the turnstiles. The 2022 team sold just shy of three million tickets, the team’s most since 2004. The 2023 set the franchise record with 3.27 million tickets sold, second only to the Dodgers in that category. The Padres have never been more popular in San Diego, and it’s mostly because of Seidler’s willingness to spend money to generate excitement about the team, to put a winner on the field.

Seidler set himself apart by caring about the next win more than he did the next dollar. A grandson of Walter O’Malley, nephew of Peter O’Malley, and wealthy enough through his private equity firm to buy into a baseball team, Seidler didn’t need to sweat whether the Padres made or lost money in a given quarter, a given season. This doesn’t separate him from 29 other owners, all of whom, whether individual or corporate, are wealthy enough that the short-term financial fortunes of their baseball team make little difference to their lives, to their bottom lines. 

The reaction to Seidler’s passing reflected the impact he’d had. Yu Darvish, traded to San Diego in 2021, showed up at Petco Park to pay his respects. Darvish posted to Twitter/X that “Peter was a truly wonderful human being, and being in his presence was always a blessing.” Long-time San Diego scribe Dennis Lin wrote, “He will be remembered as an owner who indeed treated the Padres as a social institution, who lifted the franchise to unprecedented prominence, and who set himself apart until the end.” Padres CEO Erik Greupner, in a statement, said, “His impact on the city of San Diego and the baseball world will be felt for generations. His generous spirit is now firmly embedded in the fabric of the Padres. Although he was our Chairman and owner, Peter was at his core a Padres fan. He will be dearly missed."

Wonderful. Blessing. Social Institution. Impact. Generous. Missed. 

I doubt we’ll read those words in the hours after John Fisher passes.

See, Fisher was also in the news yesterday. Down in Arlington, Texas, for the owners’ meetings, at which his peers are expected to rubber-stamp his plan to move the A’s to the smallest market in baseball, Fisher had a conversation with a group of A’s fans who had come to the meeting in a last-ditch effort to prevent the move. Bob Nightengale reported that Fisher told those fans, “It’s been a lot worse for me than for you.”

It’s been a lot worse for me than for you.

The biggest accomplishment of John Fisher’s life was the moment of his birth, to the co-founders of The Gap. He went to Phillips Exeter and Princeton and Stanford, and then became president of a family investment company. He bought a piece of the Giants with family money, and he later bought the A’s alongside Lew Wolff. The next dime he earns that isn’t in some way related to his surname will be his first. Gaining sole ownership of the A’s in 2016, Fisher proceeded to run the team down in an effort to extort a publicly-funded mallpark and real-estate boondoggle from Oakland. Having only gotten commitments for $425 million in funding and $500 million in reimbursements to that end, Fisher worked out a deal for less than half of that in Nevada. Thank goodness for rich parents.

It’s been a lot worse for me than for you.

The thing about great wealth is that it allows you to define your own life. The destitute, the poor, the great mass in the middle, even people of moderate or considerable success are all, to one degree or another, dependent upon others. I’ve made a nice little career, and the list of people to whom I’m indebted runs deep into three figures. I’ve been knocked around by industry trends and bad luck and outright malice. I have not had complete control, and I doubt very many of you reading this have, either.

The wealthy, though, the .01%, they can chart their path as they wish, their deep reserves serving as both a battering ram to success and a cushion against failure. With the sort of wealth people like Seidler and Fisher are born into, you can do anything you want with your life, and in doing so, you can determine how people regard you. The people who own baseball teams are all in this group, and for any one of them to say to a fan “It’s been a lot worse for me than for you” isn’t just insulting, it’s barely human.

Peter Seidler and John Fisher were both born on third base. One decided to steal home, and the other decided to just steal.