Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bad ping pong

Donald Sterling's ghost is still haunting San Diego. The ghost's latest victim: The Padres.

When major league baseball last month staged its first "competitive balance" lottery, a Clipperslike result ensued for San Diego's team. The Padres hoped to get a draft pick in the 30s next year. They instead received the 70th selection, and that after seeing No. 34 go miraculously to their rivals in Arizona. "We have not exactly had the horseshoe this year," Padres GM Josh Byrnes told me.

The lottery was created as a sop to the teams either in the 10 smallest markets or the bottom 10 in revenues. The Padres and Diamondbacks, both double-qualifiers, were among the 13 teams eligible for one of the charitable draft picks. Because the lottery was weighted to favor the teams with more losses in 2011, the Padres, coming off a 71-91 season, were a top-5 candidate to land in the A group of picks from 32-37, a penthouse compared to the B group at 70-75.

The Diamondbacks had almost no chance of landing in the A group. The defending National West champs had 94 victories in 2011, sixth-most in MLB.

Channeling Sterling, the longtime Clippers owner who moved his NBA franchise from San Diego to Los Angeles, where draft-day failures have remained a specialty, the lottery handlers plucked six consecutive clusters of ping pong balls that didn't bear the SD logo.

The Diamondbacks had just a 2.6 percent chance of landing the first selection, wrote MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, yet the lottery gods favored them with the third pick.

Byrnes said the details are fuzzy to him now, but the way he remembered it, "our logo was on 13 percent of the balls as compared to three percent for Arizona."

NBA teams go into the draft lottery clutching talismans for good luck. I asked Byrnes if Padres officials did the same.

"We did not do anything for good luck," he said. "Maybe we should've had the Friar attend."

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