Peter Seidler Broke All the Rules, And Became San Diego's Sports Savior

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The San Diego Padres announced chairman Peter Seidler died on Tuesday at 63 years old. It immediately sent America's Finest City into mourning. A bright, sunny, 70-degree day became one of sorrow. It's not overstating things to say Seidler saved sports in San Diego and became a hero to its citizens in the process. He was everything a sports franchise owner should be, the stuff fans dream of. His loss is incalculable, not just to the Padres, but to the city of San Diego.

I think it's worth saying up front, I'm a San Diego native. I know a lot of people who've met Seidler over the years and it's impossible to find anyone who will say a bad word about him. He was intelligent, compassionate and cared deeply about the people of this town. He wasn't just a great franchise owner, he was an incredible person. And we feel his loss even more for that reason.

Seidler was the grandson of legendary Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley. He was baseball royalty. When he and uncle Peter O'Malley teamed up with Ron Fowler to buy the Padres in 2012, a new day began for the franchise. He took over as chairman and largest stakeholder in 2020 and proceeded to break every accepted rule for a "small market" team.

When Dean Spanos opted to rip the hearts out of San Diego sports fans by moving the Chargers to Los Angeles, Seidler and the Padres stepped in to fill that void. They spent money to bring and keep players in San Diego in a way no other ownership group had. They invested in the team, the stadium and the town. And we loved them for it.

Money didn't matter to Seidler, winning did. Spanos represented the worst of sports ownership. He pinched pennies, scammed San Diego for more money at every turn, then held the city hostage for years before moving his team north to a city that didn't want it (and still doesn't). Seidler spent lavishly, kept his promises, didn't care about turning a profit and wanted nothing more than to provide a top level product this city could be proud of. He recognized he had an obligation to his team's fans, when most owners feel fans owe something to their franchises. He scoffed at the notion of being a "small market" franchise. To him, "small market" was a mentality, not a real constraint.

In almost every case, Seidler told conventional wisdom to go f--k itself. He signed big names, kept his young superstars with massive contracts rather than trade them to bigger markets, and chased greatness with an aggression rarely seen in sports. He was everything San Diego needed him to be.

Money was no object in the pursuit of a championship. Seidler handed nine-figure contracts to Manny Machado (twice), Fernando Tatis Jr., Eric Hosmer, Joe Musgrove, Xander Bogaerts and Yu Darvish, approved massive trades for Juan Soto, Josh Hader and Blake Snell, and spent heavily to build a top-level farm system. In December of 2022 after the Bogaerts signing, I asked a Padres source how they planned to afford their $200-plus million payroll in such a small TV market. The reply was eye-opening: "Well, Seidler's a billionaire, so..."

That was Peter Seidler in a nutshell. He had the money, why wouldn't he spend it to help his team and repay its loyal fans? Other owners seemed flabbergasted by that mentality. He was making the rest of them look bad and they didn't approve of it. Rob Manfred commented on the Padres' spending, as did competitors. In a world where MLB owners reward garbage human beings like John Fisher for his terrible behavior, Seidler was loathed for acting in the interest of his fans. He didn't play the game their way and they hated it.

After the Chargers left, San Diego looked dead in the water as a major sports town. Seidler proved definitively that if you actually invest and put an exciting product on the field, fans will reward you. In 2014, the Padres ranked 20th in attendance leaguewide, averaging 27,103 per game. In 2023, they finished second in total attendance (3,271,554) behind the Dodgers and third in average attendance (40,389) behind LA and the Yankees. It has been a remarkable turnaround that proved if you build a contender, fans will come.

On October 16, 2022, the Padres beat the heavily-favored Dodgers in the playoffs to advance to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 24 years. The atmosphere in Petco Park that night was absolutely electric. It was one of the craziest, most raucous baseball crowds you'll ever see. Despite a late-inning rain squall, fans stayed put, then poured out into the streets to celebrate when it was all over. It was one of the greatest moments in San Diego sports history. Peter Seidler was the author of it all.

That level of fan support no doubt had an impact on Major League Soccer's decision to award San Diego an expansion franchise for 2025. The city is an attractive sports destination again and that's all because of the Padres' turnaround.

Peter Seidler was exactly what my hometown needed. He bucked convention, pursued a championship harder than any owner in sports and helped transform the city and fans he loved passionately. He leaves a huge hole at the center of San Diego's heart.

There's only one way for the Padres to honor Seidler's legacy: Keep going in his image and with his mentality. Pursue a championship at all costs until one finally comes to the city. And do it in memory of the man who saved sports in San Diego.