All things being equal, Adrian Gonzalez should have been one of the biggest names in San Diego sports history.
As it is, he is having a fine career and it looks like his Dodgers might cruise to the World Series this year. Granted, he is injured right now and not expected to come back for another month and Cody Bellinger is hitting like a slugging superstar at first in his place. But chances are when Gonzalez gets healthy, he will go to first, Bellinger back to the outfield and the Dodgers will go deep into October.
But this card reminds us that he was a Padre. He was a great Padre. And while he has given the Dodgers 5 1/2 solid years, he was the MAN in San Diego for 5 and the team was a contender for 3 of those years.
Adrian was born in San Diego, which is perfect, and grew up in Tijuana Mexico and Bonita California. He lived in a baseball family. His dad played for the Mexican national team and his brother briefly played for the Padres.
While attending Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California, he became a standout baseball star and was projected to go in the first round of the 2000 draft. The Marlins had the number one overall pick and used it to select Gonzalez. It was, in retrospect, a solid first pick. Chase Utley and Adam Wainwright were also available. Of the first 14 picks, only Gonzalez and Rocco Baldelli had a career WAR above 1.
If you don’t remember Gonzalez playing for the Marlins, don’t be alarmed. He never played in the majors with them. He played 2000, 2001 and 2002, hitting well and moving his way up the system to Miami, or Florida, or whatever the team was caled then.
But a wrist injury dampened his status and in 2003, at the age of 21, Gonzalez was included in a package that brought Ugueth Urbina to Florida from Texas. Urbina helped the Marlins win the World Series that year and later was arrested for attempted murder, but I digress.
Now in the Texas system, Gonzalez regained his stroke at Triple A Oklahoma in 2004 and earned call ups to Texas in 2004 and 2005.
But the Rangers already had Mark Teixeira at first base and once again, the one time number one overall pick did not have a home. Then home came for him.
The Padres had Ryan Klesko at first base when they won the 2005 NL West with 82 wins. But an injury opened the door for Gonzalez, whom the Padres got in 5 player swap that included Adam Eaton and Termel Sledge among others.
A full time player, Gonzalez got in 156 games, homering 24 times in one of the toughest home run ballparks in the league, batting .304 and posting an OPS of .862. In late July, he was named player of the week. And down the stretch, he was magnificent, batting .365 with an OPS of .993 in September.
The Padres won their second straight division title and had home field advantage over the Cardinals, who stumbled into the post season. Gonzalez batted .357 in the Division Series but with no extra base hits, no runs batted in and the Cardinals upset them in 4.
But the next year, Gonzalez came out of the gate screaming, seeing his April 2007 OPS finish at .909. The Padres got involved in a tight NL West race with Arizona and Los Angeles, with Colorado lurking on the fringes.
Between May 20 and July 25, they were between a 1 1/2 games back or 1 1/2 games in front every single day except for one day they were 2 games up.
By August, the Padres fell behind Arizona by 5 games but sparked by Gonzalez and his .969 OPS in August, came roaring back. On September 3, the Padres were in first place by themselves. Going into the final weekend, they were a game back of the Diamondbacks for the NL West and home field advantage throughout the NL post season. But after losing two games to Milwaukee, not only did they let the Diamondbacks clinch but they forced a one game playoff to the streaking Rockies for the Wild Card.
All people remember about that game is Trevor Hoffman letting up 3 runs in the bottom of the 13th to win it. Nobody remembers Gonzalez reached base 4 times, doubled and homered, driving in 4 runs himself. The Padres sat out the playoffs and those same Rockies won the pennant.
Gonzalez continued his All Star level output in 2008 and 2009 even as his team faltered.
In 2009, he hit an unheard of 40 homers while calling PetCo his home. He also led the league with 119 walks to boost his .958 OPS.
In 2010, the Padres got off to a 15-8 start and finished the month in first place. By June, both Gonzalez and the Padres were on a roll. Gonzalez had a 1.097 OPS for the month and San Diego expanded their NL West lead to 4 1/2 games. By late August, the Padres were up by 6 1/2 games, watching the Braves and Giants fight for the Wild Card while images of a PetCo World Series danced in their heads.
Then, out of nowhere, came a 10 game losing streak. The Padres were still in first place by themselves when the streak came to a close, but it allowed the Giants and Braves back in it.
As late as September 25th, the Padres were in first place alone. Then they lost 4 of 5 and went to San Francisco needing to sweep the Giants to tie for the West and for the Braves to lose to get a Wild Card.
They took 2 of 3 from the Giants but lost on the final day of the season. The Braves also lost and the Padres were on the outside looking in to the post season. The Giants won the World Series that year.
Gonzalez was going into his final year of his deal in San Diego. The native of the city was a big part of making the Padres relevant in most of the seasons he played there. But his pricetag was going to be too high. Instead of signing him for life and keeping him in San Diego for the long haul, like with Tony Gwynn or Trevor Hoffman, they shipped him off to Boston.
Casey Kelly was supposed to be the big fish in that trade for San Diego. He did not amount to much. Anthony Rizzo was also in the deal, but he flourished in Chicago, not with the Padres.
Gonzalez’s time in Boston was marred by the fact that the team did a huge faceplant in September and they were eliminated at the end of the season. Gonzalez’s response of “I guess God did not want the Red Sox in the playoffs” did not go over well with the fans nor the media.
He was also on the lackluster 2012 Red Sox team that was bloated and filled with unlikable overpaid stars. Gonzalez became associated with the ill will fans had for those two teams. Statistically, he played well with the Red Sox, even leading the league with 213 hits in 2011.
Put his stats next to a fan favorite like Kevin Millar and you will be surprised.
But at the end of 2012, the Red Sox needed a reset and shipped off some of their priciest contracts to LA, including Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. The Red Sox didn’t get much in return except more money to spend and a reset that helped them win the 2013 World Series.
In LA, Gonzalez played on a team that was eliminated on the final weekend of the season. (Seeing a pattern here?)
Since then, he has been in the post season every year. He hit a homer in every single round he has played in as a Dodger. They have yet to make it past Game 6 of the NLCS with Clayton Kershaw losing that game in 2013 and 2016. But if they do win it all, Gonzalez will be remembered as a Dodger champion.
I can’t help but wish he did all of this with the Padres. Even just through 2015. There is something about playing 10 years with a team in the free agency era.
It isn’t like he has already won that title in LA or has an adoring fan base in Boston. It would have been nice to see him as a Padre for at least the bulk of his career.
It was the role he was born to play.