I am a former sports editor who's been a baseball fan for over 30 years. I'm predominantly a Cleveland Indians fan, but enjoy all 30 teams!
Who Are the Greatest San Diego Padres Players of All-Time?
The San Diego Padres may not be the most well-known or successful franchise in Major League Baseball history, but they have still produced a handful of superstar players. The Friars have compiled an all-time record of 3,784–4,412 and only have six postseason appearances in 52 seasons, though two of those resulted in National League pennants. And while the Padres have finished last in their division 20 times and haven’t had a winning record from 2011 to '19, they’re still a franchise worth celebrating—and one that'd found a resurgence with young talent.
There have been 13 Hall of Famers to play for the Padres—though only Tony Gwynn, Trevor Hoffman, and Dave Winfield played predominantly with the franchise—and 17 players have made multiple All-Star appearances in a San Diego uniform.
Selection Criteria for This List
Narrowing down the top five players in San Diego Padres history got a little tricky after establishing the top three. Many players have the credentials needed to be included on the list, so I added a handful of honorable-mention candidates after the top five. The criteria used to develop this list included:
- Legacy Honors (Hall of Fame, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Star, etc.)
- On-Field Success (league leader, playoff appearances, records, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Padres, percentage of career with the Padres, etc.)
Only games played with the Padres are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Greg Maddux would be a great choice on a list about the Atlanta Braves, his two seasons in San Diego won’t make the cut here. Now, without further ado, let's count down the top five players in San Diego Padres history!
5. Randy Jones (1974–80)
After a dud of a rookie season in 1974, Randy Jones got turned around in a big way. Jones posted a paltry 8-22 record in his first season, but then captured the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1975, when he recorded 20 wins and led the league with a 2.24 earned-run average. One year later, he was the National League's Cy Young Award winner following a 22-win campaign, and he also was superb defensively, committing no errors on 112 chances. His 22 wins and 22 losses both remain single-season franchise records.
He was an All-Star in 1975 and 1976. He earned the save in the 1975 game, then started in 1976 by coming into the All-Star break with a record 16 victories on the mound. Following the 1976 season, he had surgery to repair a nerve injury in his arm, and was never able to regain his dominance. He stayed with the Padres until 1980, when he was traded to the New York Mets. He later played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and retired in 1982. In his seven seasons in San Diego, Jones had a 92-105 record, with a 3.30 ERA and 677 strikeouts. He is the only pitcher ever to win a Cy Young Award but have a losing win-loss record for his career.
4. Jake Peavy (2002-09)
The best starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres in recent years was Jake Peavy, who is most known for unanimously winning the Cy Young Award in 2007 when he earned the pitching Triple Crown. Peavy led the National League with 19 wins, 240 strikeouts, and a 2.54 earned-run average that season to become just the eighth player since 1969 to accomplish the feat. That was far from his only successful season in San Diego, however, as he recorded an ERA under 3.00 in four of his 7½ years with the Padres. He compiled a 92-68 record on the West Coast and struck out 1,348 batters over 1,342⅔ innings.
In 2006, Peavy was named a captain for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and he pitched the U.S. to a win in the opening game of the event, which was played in San Diego. Peavy was a two-time All-Star (2005 and '07) and twice led the league in strikeouts and ERA, including a career-low 2.27 mark in 2004. After the 2007 season, Peavy signed a four-year extension worth $52 million, which was the largest contract ever handed out by the Padres. In the middle of the 2009 season, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He went on to play for the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants before retiring in 2016.
3. Dave Winfield (1973-80)
Dave Winfield became a Hall of Famer, but his legendary career that started in San Diego almost never happened. Winfield is one of six athletes to ever be selected in a draft in three different professional sports (he was also selected by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings), but chose to build a baseball career. The first seven seasons of that career were spent in San Diego, where he established himself as a power-hitting outfielder.
He made the All-Star team for the first time 1977, which was the first of four straight seasons that he hit at least 20 home runs to close out his tenure with the Padres. Winfield signed with the New York Yankees following the 1980 season, but he didn't leave the Padres empty-handed. Winfield appeared in four All-Star games, won two Gold Gloves, and hit 154 home runs with San Diego. In addition to the Yankees, he played for the California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Cleveland Indians before retiring in 1995. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001 after appearing on 84.5 percent of the ballots in his first year of eligibility, and wears a Padres hat on his plaque.
2. Trevor Hoffman (1993-2008)
An underappreciated but dominant closer, Trevor Hoffman dazzled the San Diego fan base for 16 seasons. He only led the league in saves twice, but recorded at least 40 in nine seasons. Hoffman became the first reliever in Major League history to reach 500 and 600 career saves, and held the career saves record from 2006-2011. He finished his career with 601 saves, including 552 with the Padres, which were preceded by his entrance song, "Hell's Bells" by AC/DC.
Hoffman became one of the few closers to be inducted to the Hall of Fame when he was sent in with 79.9 percent of the vote on his third try in 2018. He was a seven-time All-Star and twice finished as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting. He recorded at least 30 saves in 14 seasons (13 with the Padres). Hoffman was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, but was then taken in the 1992 Expansion Draft by the Florida Marlins. In the middle of the 1993 season, he came to San Diego as part of the Gary Sheffield trade, and along with Tony Gwynn, became a face of the franchise. He played two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers after leaving the Padres in 2008.
1. Tony Gwynn (1982-2001)
One of the greatest hitters of all-time was Tony Gwynn, and he blessed the San Diego fan base by playing his entire career there. As an astounding contact hitter, Gwynn hit .338 over a 20-year career, locking up his Hall of Fame induction on the first ballot in 2007 with 97.6 percent of the vote. "Mr. Padre" led the National League in hitting a record-tying eight times, including a career-high .394 average in the strike-shortened 1994 season and three other seasons at .368 or better. Gwynn had 3,141 career hits, and had over 200 hits in a season five times. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is that Gwynn struck out just 434 times in his career, an average of once every 5.6 games.
Gwynn was selected to the All-Star game 15 times, earned seven Silver Sluggers, and won five Gold Gloves in right field. He's the only player to have played in both World Series in which the Padres have appeared (1984 and 1998), though they lost both times. Gwynn holds most of San Diego's single-season and career offensive franchise records, and he's the only player in baseball history to hit at least .300 in 19 straight seasons.
The following are a handful of players who left an indelible mark on the San Diego Padres but fell just outside of the top five of all-time.
Adrian Gonzalez (2006-10)
Labeled as a can't-miss prospect after the Florida Marlins selected him as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008, Adrian Gonzalez took a little longer than expected to develop. Once he finally arrived in his native San Diego and got consistent playing time, however, he became a star. He made three straight All-Star teams from 2008-10, slugged 40 homers in 2009, and hit 161 home run over his six seasons with the Padres. He was then traded to the Boston Red Sox and played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets until he retired in 2018.
Nate Colbert (1969-74)
The Padres haven't had a prominent slugger in their history, which leaves Nate Colbert as the franchise's all-time leader in home runs. A player taken from the Houston Astros in the 1968 Expansion Draft, Colbert smashed 163 home runs in his San Diego career, and finished eighth in the 1972 Most Valuable Player voting after hitting 38 homers. Colbert is perhaps best known for hitting five home runs and driving in a record 13 runs during a doubleheader in 1972, and he was an All-Star each season from 1971-73. After his San Diego career ended, Colbert played for the Detroit Tigers, Montreal Expos and Oakland Athletics until his retirement in 1976.
Benito Santiago (1986-92)
A steady force behind home plate, Benito Santiago was among the best catchers in the National League during his seven years in San Diego. He unanimously won the league's Rookie of the Year award in 1987, and then made four straight All-Star teams from 1989-92. Santiago added three Gold Gloves (1988-90) and four Silver Slugger awards (1987-88, 1990-91) while with the Padres. After becoming the highest-paid catcher in baseball in 1992, he elected to sign with the expansion Florida Marlins for the 1993 season. He'd continue to play until 2005, spending time with seven other teams along the way.
Can Fernando Tatis Jr. Become the Greatest Player in Padres History?
Perhaps the most exciting player in the current MLB landscape is Fernando Tatis Jr., the starting shortstop for the Padres. Despite having played in just 139 games over his first two seasons, San Diego gave the young superstar a 14-year contract extension worth $340 million before the 2021 season. If he is able to continue playing as he has thus far and remains in San Diego for the life of his contract, it's definitely possible Tatis Jr. could eventually be in the conversation about the greatest player in Padres history.
© 2019 Andrew Harner