SAN DIEGO — The Padres welcomed the 16th and 17th members of the team’s Hall of Fame on Thursday evening as longtime broadcaster Ted Leitner and former CEO Larry Lucchino were inducted during a pregame ceremony at Petco Park.
“This is the single greatest honor of my professional life,” Leitner told the fans before the Padres’ series opener against the Giants.
Said Lucchino: “We should all feel some sense of pride that the Padres’ future is bright indeed.”
Lucchino served as the president and CEO from the time John Moores purchased the franchise after the 1994 season through the 2001 season. He was the driving force behind the concept and construction of Petco Park, which opened in 2004 after Lucchino moved on to the Red Sox.
Leitner was behind the mic for 41 Padres seasons, from 1980-2020, including all six years the club reached the postseason.
Leitner recounted how he was brought into the booth when Jerry Coleman — a 2001 Padres Hall of Fame inductee — was hired as manager for a season. After Coleman directed the team to a last-place finish, the front office ended the managerial experiment and gave Coleman his broadcasting job back. Leiter was the odd man out — until Coleman stepped in on his behalf and lobbied team owner Ray Kroc to expand the broadcast team and keep Leitner.
“That’s why I’m here,” Leitner said. “That’s why I had 41 years of Padres baseball.”
Lucchino came aboard Moores’ ownership team in the wake of a Padres “fire sale” that saw the club cut salary and move such star players as Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Bruce Hurst and Benito Santiago. The 1994 Padres had MLB’s worst record, 47-70, and attendance, 953,886. Baseball was in the middle of a labor stoppage, to boot. Winning fans back was an uphill struggle.
“The stone was at the bottom of the hill,” Lucchino said. “It took a lot of work.”
That work happened quickly. As Moores and Lucchino came in, general manager Randy Smith was closing a trade that brought third baseman Ken Caminiti and center fielder Steve Finley to San Diego. Bruce Bochy was named manager a couple months earlier. And Smith pulled a few embers out of that fire sale — Trevor Hoffman and Andy Ashby among them.
When Smith resigned after the 1995 season, Lucchino made one of the key decisions of his tenure in San Diego. Scouting director Kevin Towers was on the search committee that interviewed outside candidates. Lucchino decided that the guy asking questions would make a better GM than the guys answering them. Towers was promoted and built an NL West title team in 1996 and the NL champs in 1998.
That 1998 success was crucial to the passage of a public vote in November 1998 that showed San Diegans supported public financing of Petco Park.
“I saw in K.T. the essential element of general managers — the ability to evaluate others,” Lucchino recalled. “It’s not about taking good notes. It’s not about public speaking. It’s about being able to evaluate people.”
Towers held the job for 15 years and preceded Lucchino into the Padres Hall of Fame by four years.
Leitner and Lucchino have been added to the Padres Hall of Fame display behind left-center field at Petco Park. Of the team HOF’s 17 members, eight played for the Major League club. Eight, including Lucchino, Moores and Coleman, impacted the franchise as owners, executives, broadcasters or managers. San Diego native Ted Williams, who played for the Minor League Padres from 1936-37 and served in the U.S. Marines during World War II and the Korean War, was inducted in 2016.