When I was in high school, my cousin from San Diego would visit for a week or so during summer breaks. We didn’t have a whole lot in common, mainly because he was from the big city on the west coast and I was from small town in the midwest. One thing that we did share, however, was a love of baseball and baseball cards, particularly a love of our hometown teams. For him, it was the Padres. For me, the Reds.
I’m not sure how it came up, but one day I remember him dropping a bombshell on me one time that the Padres almost moved to Washington D.C. I remember being confused as I’d never heard the story before. After looking it up, I realized that the story was true and there were actually cards that Topps printed in the 1974 set that documented this curiosity. These cards had Padres colors but with the team labeled simply as “Washington Nat’l League” as the team’s new name had yet to be determined.
One of my current collecting quests is to put together the whole set of these cards. Currently I’ve got six of them, all of which I’ll document here, along with some player and/or team info as I go.
By the time the 1974 season rolled around, the Padres were bad. The most wins they’d managed to muster in a season was 63 in 1970, and in 1973 they went 60-102 under manager Don Zimmer. This team card represents what was thought to have been the last Padres team when it was all but confirmed that the team was moving to Washington.
However, the sale to new owner Joseph Danzansky got tied up in legal action, and Ray Kroc (yes, that Ray Kroc) stepped in and saved the franchise. For the record, the 1974 Padres squad went and identical 60-102 under new manager John McNamara.
Vicente Romo was a well-traveled pitcher by the time he landed in San Diego via a trade with the White Sox. In his two years with the Padres, he was 7-8 with a 4.08 ERA over 103 appearances (all but two in relief). After the 1974 season, he was out of the majors and played in the Mexico until he briefly resurfaced with the Dodgers in 1982.
Fred Kendall was one of the original Padres and spent pretty much his whole career in the down in the 619 (that’s the San Diego area code for those not in the know) with the exception of 1977 (Cleveland) and 1978 (Boston). In 1974, he hit .231/.308/.333 with 8 homers and 45 RBI. You may also know him as the father of longtime Pirates catcher Jason Kendall.
Nate Colbert was another of the original Padres and was coming off three straight All-Star campaigns in 1974. His batting average slipped dramatically in 1974 from .270 the year prior to .207. After the ’74 season, he was traded to Detroit and then bounced from there to Montreal and finally two games with Oakland in 1976.
Glenn Beckert had spent his whole career with the Cubs before a November 1973 trade to the Padres. His time in San Diego was not a happy one. Hampered by injuries, he only played 73 total games for the Padres, the majority of which were in 1974 and then was released by the club in April 1975.
And now, we come to the final Washington card in my collection and most notable Washington card overall, Willie McCovey. I think it’s pretty cool that there’s this Washington variation card of a Hall of Famer floating around in the 1974 Topps set and when I got back into collecting this was the first single I bought from the card shop. I found it digging through a vintage bin and promptly snatched it up. Old “Stretch” spent about 2 1/2 seasons with the Padres and clubbed 52 of his 521 career homers with them. Also, could you imagine McCovey playing in Washington, DC? I can’t.
If you’re like me and are interested in collecting the whole run, there are 15 cards to this set:
#32 Johnny Grubb
#53 Fred Kendall
#77 Rich Troedson
#102 Bill Grief
#125 Nate Colbert
#148 Dave Hilton
#173 Randy Jones
#197 Vicente Romo
#226 Padres Team Card
#241 Glenn Beckert
#250 Willie McCovey
#309 Dave Roberts
#364 Clarence Gaston
#387 Rich Morales
#599 Rookie Pitchers – Ron Diorio/Dave Friesleben/Frank Riccelli/Greg Shanahan