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That time Padres owner Ray Kroc got on the PA system and called his team ‘stupid’

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.

Harsh.

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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Kiper and McShay draft dueling 22-man superteams of NFL prospects

    Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.

  • ESPN College Football and NFL Draft Analyst
  • Joined ESPN in 2006
  • Played quarterback in high school and was a backup QB for the University of Richmond.

How much talent is there in the 2020 NFL draft class? You could fill two super rosters with the high-caliber prospects. So that’s exactly what we did.

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MLB Network morning show crew still giving fans their baseball fix

On a typical April morning, the reporter, the anchor and the ex-player would gather at the MLB Network studios to recap the previous night's baseball games and discuss the day's hot topics. 

But due to the coronavirus outbreak, this year has been anything but typical for Lauren Shehadi, Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa – the hosts of the network’s popular morning show, "MLB Central." They’re still getting together, but they’re doing so from their homes – Shehadi in Maine, Flores in New Jersey and DeRosa in Georgia.

“It should be baseball season right now. I want to talk about baseball,” says DeRosa, who played 16 seasons in the majors, in an interview with USA TODAY Sports. “I’m just fired up that we took this step to at least put ourselves back out there. It’s a glimmer of hope. That’s the way I look at it.”

MLB Central hosts (L-R) Mark DeRosa, Lauren Shehadi and Robert Flores can't broadcast from the MLB Network studios during the coronavirus shutdown, so they're getting together for digital segments three times per week. (Photo: MLB Network)

The digital-only version of MLB Central airs three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Unlike the full three-hour breakfast buffet that usually appears on television, this is more of an appetizer.

“Sports fans are so starved for anything to serve as a distraction to what is some really grim news,” Flores says. “I think we’ve done a good job … to give people a distraction, an escape and just put a smile on their face, even if it’s for 10 minutes.”

The discussion topics are mostly fun and light-hearted, emphasizing the trio’s chemistry.

“You’d be hard-pressed if you walked into our studios to know if we’re taping or not. It’s the same kind of banter on- or off-camera,” Shehadi says.

Which five people can @LaurenShehadi, @RoFlo, @markdero7 & the @TheMayorsOffice not wait to see back on the field? #MLBCentral

Hint: One of them is “Cookie Belltts” 😂 pic.twitter.com/49dqmfnxPF

The main questions fans want answered these days are when baseball will return and what it will look like when it does. From his experience, DeRosa says most position players will need 40 competitive at-bats – around two to three weeks – before they’re ready to play real games. But that’s where the similarity to past seasons will likely end.

“This is an opportunity within the game to take some chances,” he says. “If there are no fans, can we mic the players? Is there going to be an electronic strike zone? Some different innovations that they can take a look at moving forward when it does return to complete normalcy?”

If the regular season has to be trimmed, Shehadi is intrigued by the possibility of expanding the playoffs.

“I don’t know that there’s anything more exciting than a wild-card game. If there’s more of those or a best-of-three (series) where the manager’s every single move has to be calculated and every single move matters … That is so much fun to watch,” she says. “Watching a wild-card game is my favorite thing in sports, so any more of that is a beautiful thing in my opinion.”

As a former player, DeRosa says working with Shehadi and Flores has helped him see the game from a different perspective. “The old-school version of me would say, ‘No, I don’t want expanded playoffs. You have to earn the right to get in.’ The new-school way of me is thinking, like Lauren, ‘Those wild-card games. There ain’t nothing better. If I can get more of that, I’m in.’ ”

Figuring out which teams will make the playoffs is always a fun topic. Flores thinks the Tampa Bay Rays will be there, possibly unseating the New York Yankees as AL East champs. Shehadi believes the Cincinnati Reds have a great shot in a “wide open” NL Central. And DeRosa can’t wait to see the excitement in Chicago, where the White Sox will be “super-interesting” and his former teammate David Ross (“I think he’ll be amazing!”) is taking over as the Cubs’ new manager.

Even though it may be a while before any of those predictions can be judged, Flores says it helps to at least be able to look ahead to when things are a bit closer to normal.

“Traditionally, baseball has had a very important role in being there for the country in various times of despair,” he says. “We all want to see the game back.” 

Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

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How Premier League players took it to owners and helped the coronavirus cause directly

This is the Morning Win.  Nate Scott is filling in for Andy Nesbitt this week.

Soccer players in England have been stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to how to best support their country's fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but have come up with a brilliant solution that also strikes back at unfair demands put on them by the owners.

Let's dive in: In England, the Premier League is the biggest sporting league by a mile, and there was real pressure on the players to do their part.

It reached the point where the league asked players to take a 30% pay cut while the league was suspended due to the global outbreak of coronavirus. The players' union rejected it.

There was danger in doing this, of course. By rejecting pay cuts, Premier League players were opening themselves up to the argument that they were being greedy, and heartless, and not willing to part with their money in a time of trouble.

But Wayne Rooney of all people ended up writing a column in The Times about this, and his argument was a sound one — Sure, he wrote, he'd be happy to give money to a worthy cause. But he asked: Why are players taking a cut to give money back not to healthcare workers or team employees, but rather to the team owners, most of whom are billionaires?

Rooney's argument was simple: I'm happy to donate money, as long as I know where the money is going. If it's going to team employees or healthcare workers, by all means. But, he argued, I'm not giving it back to the team owners with nothing but an assurance that they'll do the right thing.

By asking players to take a pay cut, Rooney and many Premier League players argued, the Premier League was essentially saying that the team owners knew better what to do with the money than these simple footballers.

So the players took control back. The captains for all the Premier League teams linked up and formed #PlayersTogether, an initiative where professional soccer players would make large, joint donations to NHS England, the governing body for health services in the country.

In doing so, the players will most likely give up similar money to what they would have gotten in a pay cut, and instead of essentially returning the money to the owners, they're getting it to the frontline workers who are fighting coronavirus in their country.

It was smart, it makes them look good, and it shows how complex these issues are. Well done to them.

Thursday's Big Winner: Tom Brady

QB Tom Brady (Photo: David Butler II, USA TODAY Sports)

Brady gave a wide-ranging interview with Howard Stern where he actually said some interesting things. (Some problematic things, too.) But most notably, Brady opened up on his marriage to Gisele, and how it was family issues that led to him missing offseason workouts the last two seasons, and nothing to do with Bill Belichick.

Quick Hits: New Raiders stadium, Dinwiddie for GM, NFL Draft issues

– We've got footage of the new, wild Raiders stadium in Las Vegas.

– Spencer Dinwiddie has a plan to fix the Bulls, and it involves trading for himself (and Kevin Durant)

– The NFL Draft, held virtually, is already running into all sorts of problems.

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Tom Brady foreshadowed Patriots exit throughout 2019 season

Looking back, September 25th was the day when Tom Brady made it as clear as he could about what his future in New England looked like.

Speaking to his friend Jim Gray on Westwood One radio, Brady was asked specifically if he objected to Antonio Brown being released by the club after a little over a one-week stay.

"The reality is I don’t make any personnel decisions," said Brady. "I don’t decide to sign players, I don’t decide to trade them, I don’t decide to release them, I don’t decide to draft them. I don’t get asked. I show up and I do my job. I’m an employee like everyone else."

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The "I’m an employee" refrain played a few more times before the season ended, and you could almost see Brady distancing himself from the Patriots during this time. His demeanor during press conferences changed; he was moodier and unwilling to play "the game" during exchanges with reporters. A number of those sessions were cut short by the player himself, not PR. While that had happened on occasion, it became a more regular occurrence this past season. But there was that Brady, and then the one who would speak to a national audience every Monday and Thursday with Gray. Brady would entertain similar questions to the ones he received from the regular media corp, although even more pointed and direct. Veteran Brady watchers — yours truly included — wondered if these questions were approved, allowing Gray to be the heavy hitter and then for Brady to deflect? Gray denied it. But clearly, the road to an exit was being paved, something Brady willingly offered when asked Wednesday morning during a two-plus hour interview with Howard Stern.

"I don’t think there was a final, final decision until it happened," he said. "But I probably knew before the start of last season that it was my last year. I knew that it was just — our time was coming to an end."

Brady’s appearance on Stern led to a revelatory interview, with Brady opening the curtains a little more on his personal life, including the admission that he and wife Giselle Bundchen had a rocky time in their marriage a couple years ago and that perhaps that’s what led to Brady skipping OTAs the last two seasons. The 42-year-old also had no problem dropping the occasional F-bomb. Hey, he’s human after all. But from the football perspective, it all led back to his relationships in New England and what happened.

Make no mistake, it was an odd ending, unnecessarily drawn out. Three of the game’s biggest power brokers — owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and Brady himself — were unable to get into the same room and agree that this union — one that may never be matched in the history of professional football — had run its course. Perhaps that’s because Kraft didn’t believe that was true. He made it clear he would have loved to see "Tommy" retire as a lifetime Patriot. But time had run out on that dream — Brady outgrowing Belichick’s master plan, both in performance and — perhaps — in a greater willingness by the quarterback to put himself and his interests ahead of the team. Nothing egregious but just enough to erode some of the structure that had been built and sustained. Had he earned the right? Perhaps, but it was a departure from the norm, a norm that led Belichick to recall that, "Tom was not just a player who bought into our program. He was one of its original creators."

But what happens when one of those creator’s tone changes and sets the bar in a different spot? The answer is simple: time for a new beginning for all parties. That doesn’t diminish what was accomplished. Never should. And Brady’s comments to Stern about who was more responsible for the organization’s unprecedented success was telling.

"I think it’s a pretty s—- argument that people would say that," Brady said when asked whether he or Belichick carried more weight in that run. "I can’t do his job and he can’t do mine. So, the fact that you could say, ‘Would I be successful without him?’ The same level of success, I don’t believe I would have been.

"But I feel the same and vice versa, as well. To have him allow me to be the best I can be, I’m grateful for that, and I very much believe he feels the same about me because we’ve expressed that to each other."

Now, as Brady says, it is time for something new and all the challenges that it brings. For Belichick and the Patriots, they too have questions to answer but for the first time in two decades, those queries will have to be fielded without Brady under center. But should legacies be altered? No. They are cemented in stone.

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi.

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New York Mets announcer Gary Cohen pokes fun at Houston Astros in ‘virtual’ broadcast

To make up for the lack of baseball, Sportsnet New York (SNY) — the television home of the New York Mets — is simulating the team's regular season on the MLB The Show 20 video game. 

On Tuesday night, with virtual Jacob deGrom toeing the rubber against the Houston Astros and their ace Justin Verlander, SNY added a wrinkle by having its broadcast team of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez on the call. 

Around the middle innings, Cohen — the play-by-play man — couldn't help himself and made a joke alluding to the Astros' scandal-ridden offseason. 

"You can hear very little from the crowd tonight. It almost feels like you're playing in a library," Cohen said, setting up the punchline. "Which would mean that any sound that might be emanating from the dugout, say, the sound of a trash can being banged, would be quite formidable."

The shade from Gare 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/uXtZCoYSM0

An MLB investigation during the offseason revealed an elaborate, player-driven electronic sign-stealing operation used by the Astros during 2017, the year they won the World Series, and during most of 2018, including the playoffs. 

One of the scheme's techniques involved players signaling the incoming pitch to the hitter at the plate by banging a trash can near the dugout. 

The Mets won Tuesday's simulation 2-1, and 1-0 in the burn department. 

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Wagner 'really confident' Seahawks will win NFC West

The conference the Seattle Seahawks are preparing to battle in 2020 looks drastically different than the one from a season ago.

But linebacker Bobby Wagner doesn’t believe that should alter the impact the Seahawks will have in any way.

During an appearance on ESPN’s First Take Wednesday morning, the six-time Pro Bowler and 2010s All-Decade Team honoree was asked how his team, fresh off an 11-5 campaign, can compete in a re-tooled NFC that now includes Tom Brady, DeAndre Hopkins and a number of revamped, still improving rosters.

It could just be the offseason bravado talking but, judging by his answer, Wagner would have no issue doubling — and tripling — down on his claims should anyone revisit them in the future.

"I feel really confident. Obviously, Russell [Wilson] is an amazing quarterback; the things that he does on the field are just amazing. Like you said, he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks in our game," Wagner said. "We’re confident on that side. I feel like from the defensive standpoint, there’s a lot of room for improvement. We have to play a little bit better. I feel like if we make those changes and make those improvements, I still feel like we’ll be the team to beat."

Prior to last season, the Seahawks acquired defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in hopes of shoring up that side of the ball. And while Clowney, who may not be returning to Seattle, helped in some regards, the defense didn’t quite live up to its full potential. After ranking 16th in total defense in 2018, Seattle dropped to 26th in 2019; they also tied for the second fewest sacks (28) after tying for 11th two seasons ago with 43.

Even with all of the regular season success Seattle had, including handing the 49ers their first loss in Week 10, they fell short of winning the NFC West. Now, the ‘Hawks will have to bypass an even hungrier Niners squad, a retooling Rams team and a young Cardinals group that now includes Hopkins and a sophomore year version of Kyler Murray.

As is the case with every year, they will have to work their way from the inside out to get to where they want to go. Wagner framing that outcome as more of a foregone conclusion than a hopeful goal only makes the spotlight brighter for Seattle.

"First, we’ve got to win the NFC West, which I feel like we’re confident we’re gonna do, and then we move on from there. Those guys have great teams but at the end of the day, it’s just paper. You’ve got to prove it on the field."

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Yankees legend Gehrig’s bat auctioned for $1M

  • ESPN staff writer
  • Joined ESPN in 2011
  • Graduated from Central Michigan

A bat used by New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig that dated back to 1924 was sold for $1,025,000 by Heritage Auctions in Dallas this past week.

The auction house initially had the item up for auction in the February lot with a $950,000 reserve.

The bat did not meet the reserve, but Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage, Chris Ivy, says a private buyer came in after the auction to purchase the item.

“We had been discussing the bat with (the buyer) over several conversations the last couple weeks,” Ivy said. “He decided to pull the trigger last week and make the purchase.”

The bat had traded hands privately before this sale, but had never been sold publicly or at auction.

Ivy says this bat is the most significant Gehrig bat in the hobby because it is the bat Gehrig sent back to Hillerich & Bradsby, who made Louisville Slugger bats, when he joined the Yankees in 1924. Gehrig sent it back to the company to use it as a model to make any other bats the company produced for him.

“He sent this one back and said, ‘like the specs, I like the length, I like this weight and I like how this bat was created in the factory,'” Ivy said. “So he sent it back, which is when they dated it on April 22, 1925 and said this is the bat I want you to use to create my future bats.”

The million dollars plus that the bat was able to sell for makes it rare in itself as Ivy says only a handful of sports items can fetch that price. The bat Babe Ruth used to hit his first home run at Yankee Stadium sold in 2004 for $1.3 million and a game worn Gehrig jersey in the February lot at Heritage Auctions sold for $870,000.

“We actually sold a 1937 Lou Gehrig jersey in a different auction. It was worn multiple games,” Ivy said. “Typically in that time, they would only wear four jerseys for an entire season; two home and two road jerseys and they would alternate. We sold that in August of last year for $2.58 million.”

As far as Gehrig bats go, Ivy says the most expensive bat the auction house had sold from the former great had been in the $400,000 range. This one eclipsing that mark made noise throughout the industry and set a new mark for valuable baseball memorabilia.

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Brees: ‘American people need sports right now’

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

Drew Brees said Wednesday on “The Ellen Show” that he thinks “the American people need sports right now.” The New Orleans Saints quarterback is also eager to return to the field this fall so he can compete against new NFC South rival Tom Brady.

“Yeah, well, the division just got a little bit better, didn’t it?” Brees said with a laugh when asked about Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “And in addition to that, Teddy Bridgewater — who played so well for us with the Saints last year when I got hurt — he’s now the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. So our division has Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and myself with the Saints.

“It’s always been a very challenging division, and it just kicked up a notch.”

Brees and his wife, Brittany, discussed a variety of topics with host Ellen DeGeneres, including home-schooling their four children and their $5 million pledge to help Louisiana get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Brees said he hopes that sports can return and be part of the recovery process.

“That’s typically something that’s really brought us through a lot of tough situations throughout our country,” Brees said. “I think people have been able to lean on their local sports teams or national teams to just unite them and get their minds off the challenges of daily life or daily struggle.

“We don’t even have that right now, and I think that’s another reason why this is so tough. And obviously we hope that football can be back to normal — or this can be back to normal so that we can play real football.”

Brees talked about the possibility of playing games in empty stadiums, saying he had never thought about the idea of playing without fans before and that it would be “really weird.”

“From Texas high school football, through college in the Big Ten, to games now in the Superdome, you’re used to those loud, electric atmospheres,” Brees said. “And so I think it would be really weird. Maybe you just click in and you’re in the zone.

“But I tell you where the fans really help is whenever you get hit and knocked down and you’re wondering what happened, you just listen to the sound of the fans and they usually tell you whether the ball was complete or not. So that was one big benefit; obviously, we miss out on that. But it would be really weird. I hope we’re obviously beyond that, and we can get back to that level of normalcy.”

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Jeff Reinebold breaks down the contract concerns for NFL coaches

Jeff Reinebold admits there is an element of concern among the NFL’s coaching circles in regards to their contracts amid the fight against coronavirus.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has already reshaped the NFL’s offseason, with all team facilities currently closed and travel restricted at a time when scouts and coaches would typically be meeting with draft prospects.

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Teams have also faced difficulties in conducting player physicals during free agency, while those under new head coaches were unable to begin offseason workouts on April 6 as scheduled. As a result, it looks increasingly likely teams with returning head coaches will miss their proposed April 20 start.

Speaking on this week’s Inside the Huddle, Reinebold, who is also Special Teams Coordinator for CFL team Hamilton Tiger Cats, broke down the issues facing NFL coaches at this time.

“It is really amazing. This is so much uncharted territory now,” said Reinebold.

“What’s really interesting is what’s going on with the coaches contracts because there was language in the contracts, there’s a term they use ‘force majeure’ which has to do with ‘acts of god’. Some contracts have that clause in them, some don’t.

“But a number of the contracts that the coaches signed these past offseasons because the clubs had to protect themselves against a walkout or a lockout, there are some things.

“The players are protected by the collective bargaining agreement but there is no coaches union.”

Teams operations remain limited and there is no clear indication of when coaches will be permitted to meet up with their players, some of which they will be meeting for the first time.

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Many coaches have still been busy working remotely as they speak with draft prospects over the phone or via video chat. It’s for the difference in contracts that could see some miss out financially while others do not.

“This is the Packers,” explained Reinebold. “First a salary hold back generally applies if it happens in the offseason, the Packers can elect to hold up to 20 per cent of each pay check’s gross amount, then they must give the coaches 30 days advanced notice if they intend to do this.

“This is the really interesting one. If in fact they go back to work then the hold back for the minus in the salary reduction, some teams will pay the back, some teams won’t.”

He added: “What’s even more interesting is the fact the Packers retain the option to extend the coach’s contract for one year at the current salary level only if the 2020 NFL season in its entirety is not played and that means they have to give you 60 days notice, but then you’re locked in for one more year without them equalling the playing field.

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