Anyone who’s ever been a sports fan has had moments when they wanted to scream at a team for playing poorly. And, it’s probably safe to say, anyone who’s ever owned a sports team has had many of those moments too, and, in all likelihood, has sometimes been unable to resist an in-the-moment urge to let it fly in the private confines of a locker room or office.
But despite the occasional media leak, or faux-tough public comments about the on-field product, most owners keep these things private. And then there’s former Padres owner Ray Kroc, who in 1974 let out his McFury over the public address system — during a game and in front of 39,000 fans.
During the April 9, 1974, home opener against the Astros, Kroc, who was in just his fourth game as Padres owner and was better known as the founder of McDonald’s, apparently couldn’t take it anymore during the eighth inning of San Diego’s 9-5 loss to Houston.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I suffer with you,” Kroc, 72, blared over the PA system — just before a streaker ran on the field and hogged some attention. “Get that streaker off the field. Throw him in jail.”
Kroc, undeterred, continued.
“I have good news and bad news,” he told the crowd, according to a Sporting News report at the time. “The good news is that the Dodgers drew 31,000 for their opener and we’ve drawn 39,000 for ours. The bad news is that this is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen.”
The crowd roared with approval.
As Kroc put the team on blast, the Padres were minutes from an 0-4 start to the 1974 season. Their game against Houston had been ugly from the beginning, as starting pitcher Steve Arlin allowed six hits and five earned runs in the first inning, kicking off his season with a 45.00 ERA. But none of this was a surprise, except to Kroc.
When he bought the team, Kroc was seen somewhat as a savior for baseball in San Diego. In their five seasons of existence, the Padres had lost 100 or more games three times. In 1973, the team finished 60-102, so Kroc, apparently feeling optimistic, expected better days ahead. But in the first three games of 1974, the Padres were outscored 25-2. Still, Kroc seemed hopeful.
“With your help, and God’s help, we’ll give ’em hell tonight,” he told the crowd during pre-game ceremonies.
The Astros received no hell.
By the eighth inning, Kroc might’ve been second-guessing himself, which perhaps is what prompted him to spit fire over the PA system. His players weren’t pleased, obviously.
“I wish Mr. Kroc hadn’t done that,” Padres slugger and future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey told reporters after the game. “I’ve never heard anything like that in my 19 years in baseball. None of us likes being called stupid. We’re pros and we’re doing the best we can. His words will ring in the players’ ears for a long time.”
Astros players were equally taken aback.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Houston pitcher Claude Osteen said. “He’ll have to learn that you can’t buy success in this game.”
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and MLBPA executive Marvin Miller both demanded apologies. Kroc obliged, later saying his comments were fueled by a desire to put his customers first, like at McDonald’s. He also said that the streaker who interrupted him “just added gas to the fire.”
“I used a bad choice of words, and I’m sorry,” he said. “I was bitterly disappointed and embarrassed before almost 40,000 people. I should have said the team wasn’t playing good ball and have urged the fans to stick with us, we’ll get better. In fact, I shouldn’t have gone on (the PA system) at all. But once you say a thing, you’re stuck with it.”
He continued: “[The stupid baseball comment] was kind of a figure of speech. It was nothing personal. I’m afraid I talked without thinking.”
And, finally: “I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot” in San Diego.
Though one might think it near-impossible to recover from such a first impression, Kroc somehow pulled it off. The Padres didn’t win much during Kroc’s tenure as owner — they again went 60-102 in 1974 — but he owned the team until his death in 1984, a season in which San Diego went to the World Series — with commemorative “RAK” initials on their sleeves. He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 1999.
Unfortunately, there’s no video available of Kroc’s big microphone performance on April 9, 1974, so the full experience is left up to our imaginations. But here’s video of him throwing out the first pitch at the 1978 All-Star Game.
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