Welcoming Williams, Caminiti to Padres Hall of Fame

Starting pitching on a roll; Wallace, Norris starting to heat up

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

There are not nearly as many questions as I thought there might be. But they are out there.

Ted Williams? Padres Hall of Fame? Huh?

Well, put me down as someone who likes the idea of inducting both Williams and Ken Caminiti into the Padres Hall of Fame. And I know, I am a contributor to several Padres information outlets.

But I liked the Williams idea from the day the possibility was run past me several months ago.

Despite his issues, Caminiti had the strongest backing of any nominee from the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Caminiti, the only Padre ever to be voted the National League Most Valuable Player Award, was indeed a unique commodity as a hitter, a fielder and a leader in the clubhouse. His teammates revered Caminiti, who threw everything he had into every chance to play baseball.

He played third base like a linebacker. If the wall stood between him and the ball, he'd literally try to run through it. He didn't just dive for balls to his left and right, he plunged into the ground. Caminiti put so much of himself into every play of every game that his body took a terrible beating.

There was many a day that Bruce Bochy was late in filing lineup cards because there was a question about Caminiti's physical availability. Caminiti would poke his head inside the door to the manager's office and say "I'm in." Caminiti didn't sit when he should have . . . and his teammates knew it.

His devotion to the Padres went far beyond the "Snickers Game" in Mexico. Caminiti was one tough dude every day he put on the uniform.

Did Caminiti have demons? Unquestionably. They led to his early death. But he was also one of the few players of his era to admit he used steroids. Actually, baseball owes him a "thank you." Caminiti let everyone know the game had a problem, because he had a problem.

I'm glad Caminiti will have his night on Aug. 6. I applaud his inclusion into the Padres Hall of Fame.

And I'm equally happy to see Williams honored.

Yes, 99.9 percent of the people in the world of baseball see Ted as a Hall of Famer from the Boston Red Sox.

But he was a San Diegan. And he returned often to San Diego. Remember the 1992 All-Star Game here and the immediate friendship he struck with Tony Gwynn. Tony did. And Ted returned to San Diego several times before November of 1998 to lend his support to the building of what is now Petco Park.

I'm more of a historian, however. I love turning back the clock. The year 1936 was crucial to baseball in San Diego. Less than five years earlier, a Minor League owner folded a fledgling Class D team in San Diego saying "San Diego was a terrible baseball town."

But in 1936 Frank "Hardrock" Lane decided to move his Pacific Coast League franchise to San Diego. And Williams was a senior at Hoover High.

In June, as Williams was preparing to graduate from high school, the Padres asked the 17-year-old to join them. Williams was big news even as a high school player. Lane figured his presence in the Padres lineup would give his franchise a needed boost.

Lane was right. Williams moved straight from Hoover High to the Padres. At the age of 17, he was the youngest player in the PCL by four years and 10 years younger than the league average. The following year he hit .291 with 23 homers . . . as an 18-year-old in what many then called baseball's "third Major League."

Of course, Lane soon sold Williams to the Red Sox. The rest is Boston history. But Williams is the greatest baseball player every born in San Diego. And he was a Padre.

Notes from the scorebook

• Williams will be inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame on July 1 to coincide with the formal opening of the Padres Hall of Fame on K Street. When it opens, Padres history will be chronicled -- all the way back to those 1936 Padres of the PCL.

• Right-hander Colin Rea allowed one run on three hits in eight-plus innings Thursday night in his longest outing as a Padres starter.   Padres starting pitchers have a 1.83 earned run average over the last seven games against the Dodgers, Rockies and Mets -- allowing nine runs on 32 hits and 16 walks with 33 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. And over the last 22 games, Padres starters have a 2.70 ERA.

• Third baseman Brett Wallace, who was inserted at third because offense is a priority over defense at the moment, is 5-for-9 with three doubles and a homer and three RBIs in the past three games to raise his batting average from .154 to .257.

• Catcher Derek Norris was 3-for-3 with a double, his second homer of the season and a walk Thursday night to end a 3-for-38 drought since April 20.