SAN DIEGO — It took some cajoling and some soul-searching, but Dave Stewart has agreed to become the Padres’ pitching coach.
When Dan Warthen was fired one day after the season, Padres general manager Kevin Towers turned to Stewart. But Stewart, who was working as a special assistant to Towers, wasn’t sure he wanted the job.
Stewart’s stated goal is to become a GM someday, and he wasn’t sure returning to uniform fit with those plans. And he had another concern.
As a black executive, Stewart felt a responsibility to others who might follow. So he sought advise from several other minorities in baseball front offices, including Yankees GM Bob Watson, Mets assistant GM Omar Minaya, White Sox VP Ken Williams and Cub minor-league director Dave Wilder.
“I wanted to find out what the perception would be, if going back to uniform would be seen as a step back,” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon. “I didn’t want to do anything that would make it more difficult for somebody else to open doors. But in talking to everybody, they said this would help me complete the package, give me a more well-rounded background.”
Before agreeing to take the job, Stewart got assurance from the Padres that he could continue with his current duties during the offseason. He has been a valued adviser to Towers on player personnel moves, but Stewart also has a key role in the team’s efforts to increase its presence in Latin America. He has helped develop working agreements with teams in the Dominican Republic and in Mexico.
“During the winter months, I’ll still be doing what I’m doing now,” Stewart said. “I’ll be working on Latin America, working on the six-year free agents, going to the GM meetings.
“Returning to the field might give me more options. I might want to look at managing down the line.”
The Padres completed last season with a 4.98 ERA, second-worst in the National League and worst in franchise history. Towers was upset about the lack of progress made by the likes of Joey Hamilton, Sean Bergman, Andy Ashby and Tim Worrell and fired Warthen.
Towers tabbed Stewart because he would like Padres pitchers to develop some of the competitive spirit Stewart had during his prime playing days with the Oakland Athletics.
“He has a terrific presence about him,” Towers told reporters in Cleveland, where he was attending the World Series. “He has so much to teach, from the mental side of the game to setting up hitters to approaching the game well before it starts.”
An official announcement on Stewart will be made after the World Series, once final details on his contract have been worked out.
Stewart, 40, went 168-129 in 15 years with Los Angeles, Texas, Oakland and Toronto. He was 8-0 for his career in American League Championship Series play and was MVP of the 1989 World Series.
His ability and approach on the mound can’t be questioned. But will he be able to get the Padres to duplicate it as pitching coach?
For that answer, Stewart again sought advice — this time from St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, his former boss in Oakland. La Russa told him he had all the essentials to become a successful pitching coach.
“He said one of my strengths is that I understand situational pitching,” Stewart said. “I know how to approach a game and set up hitters.”
That is among Warthen’s strengths, too. But he was unable to get Padres pitchers to follow the game plan last season. And Towers was unhappy with more than that. With the exception of Ashby and closer Trevor Hoffman, Towers found fault with the pitchers’ work ethic. That’s why he wanted a no-nonsense guy like Stewart in the job.
“Mentally, Stewart said, “now I feel I want to do this job. I want to make a difference, help these guys do what they’re capable of doing.”
Published in the North County Times on Oct. 22, 1997.