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Suffering an Identity Crisis

Phil Plantier was running late for a spring training TV interview and needed a game jersey. Someone fished one out of a trunk and handed it to the Padre outfielder. He quickly buttoned it and headed out the clubhouse door. As he left, a name was faintly visible on the back of the jersey—a Faded blue imprint left by letters that had been torn off the shirt. It said SHEFFIELD. That's the trouble with the Padres. They are still marked more by what they've lost than by what they have.

Since the first week of September 1992, when San Diego was only seven games out of first place, the team has traded or lost to free agency Randy Myers, Benito Santiago, Tony Fernandez, Greg Harris, Bruce Hurst, Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield. Those left behind after the purge showed their enthusiasm by mailing in an 8-21 finish to last season, dragging the team to a franchise-worst 43 games out of first place.

"Some of our players bought into the thinking that, hey, we're not a very good ball club," manager Jim Riggleman says. "It was easy for some people to use all the changes as an excuse. Now I think we're past that."

Sure enough, pitcher Andy Benes walked into camp one day wearing a T-shirt that read THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL. In uniform, though, the Padres sometimes looked suspiciously uninterested and just as dysfunctional as they did a year ago. After one week of the exhibition schedule, they were playing so poorly that they called an emergency players-only meeting. Veterans Bip Roberts and Harold Reynolds, neither of whom played with the club last year, aired out the younger players for mental mistakes and for giving up whenever the team fell behind early in the spring games. "I sat there and just nodded my head to everything they said," says Tony Gwynn, the senior Padre. "They were right."

Gwynn, Benes and Roberts have to provide leadership for an otherwise woefully inexperienced team (those three players' combined annual salary of $7.75 million represents more than half the team payroll). San Diego's biggest weakness is not having an established starting pitcher behind Benes.

The outlook is better for the teams offense especially if talented centerfielder Derek Bell continues to mature and Roberts stays healthy Rookie first baseman Dave Staton, 25, could emerge as a force too. After having shoulder surgery in September 1992, he returned last season to hit 30 home runs in only 312 at bat; with the Padres and three minor league teams.

Staton has the power potential of Plantier, who blossomed last year after being rescued from Boston and a personality clash with Red Sox manager Butch Hobson. Plantier tied Dave Winfield's franchise record for home runs by an outfielder (34) while driving in 100 runs. He did most of that damage in the second half of last season, when he finally learned to control his temper.

"Well, you'll still see a little snappage now and then, just not as much." Plantier says. "I know I've got to prove that last year wasn't a fluke."

Maybe then he'll even earn a name for himself.




Roberts's addition ended a year of subtraction.