Towers spent 26 years with organization
SAN DIEGO -- Kevin Towers, a gunslinger if ever there was one, marveled at how he always managed to stay one step ahead of the posse.
He never got fired from a job while growing up in Medford, Ore., he said; never got cut from a team, released as a professional ballplayer or fired from any of the baseball jobs he held before becoming the San Diego Padres' general manager in November 1995.
"Today they got me," Towers said about getting fired by Jeff Moorad, who has been vice chairman and CEO since late March, when his ownership group took over 35 percent of the team from John Moores.
At 14 seasons, Towers was the longest-tenured general manager with the same organization in the big leagues. He'd spent 26 years in the Padres' organization, coming aboard as a first-round draft pick in June 1982. He'd also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates for two seasons.
After Towers took over as GM, the Padres won four NL West titles and made it to the 1998 World Series, where they were swept by the Yankees.
The beginning of the end came about three weeks ago, when Moorad told Towers he planned to conduct a GM search, although he wasn't 100 percent sure at that point that he was going to go down that path.
Towers said he was stunned, especially since the Padres were rebounding from a dismal start.
"We really didn't get into any details. I speculated more than anything that it was probably more about just their own guy," Towers said. "He never really told me exactly what the reason was, but I've been around long enough to kind of understand probably why."
Moorad said the Padres need to do a better job in scouting and player development, but that wasn't the overriding reason Towers was fired.
"It's more due to where we want to be in the future," Moorad said. "That's the focus. It's about who we want to be going forward, as opposed to every move and transaction that's occurred in the past."
Asked to be more specific, Moorad said: "We want to have a team that can consistently compete for the NL West. Once you get into the postseason, anything can happen. But we want to have a chance to win each and every year. That's the goal."
The Padres won division titles in 1996 and '98, and 2005-06 under Towers. They missed winning the wild card in 2007 by losing a 13-inning tiebreaker game at Colorado. Last year, they lost 99 games.
San Diego is 36-24 since July 24, allowing them to move into fourth place in the division ahead of Arizona, where Moorad was CEO before resigning to pursue the purchase of the Padres.
Asked if he was looking for his own guy, Moorad said: "No, I don't think that's right. I have a prototype in mind, and with all due respect to Kevin, that prototype represents a set of skills and abilities that are probably a bit different than he has and more in sync with where we want to be in the future."
Moorad said he's interviewed three candidates so far. He said there are no in-house candidates, which would eliminate Paul DePodesta, the former Los Angeles Dodgers GM who's been in the Padres' front office since 2006.
A Diamondbacks spokesman said the Padres haven't sought permission to interview Arizona executive Jerry DiPoto.
Towers is known as a seat-of-the-pants, throwback kind of guy, a gunslinger.
"That's the way I was taught the game, and I believe in it," said Towers, 47, a right-hander who blew out his elbow and never reached the big leagues. "When I think of a gunslinger, I think of a guy that shoots first, or throws the first punch, he wins the battle. K.T. was always about winning the battle."
Towers said he's already heard from seven or eight GMs about perhaps working as an advance scout or in some other capacity.
Towers is under contract for 2010 for nearly $2 million. Moorad said he didn't want Towers to be a lame duck in 2010, so he had to decide whether to extend his contract or fire him. Towers' salary may have had something to do with that decision.
Towers was promoted from scouting director to GM in November 1995 after Randy Smith left for the Tigers.
"He was one of my best hires in all of my years in baseball," said Larry Lucchino, the Padres' CEO back then who serves in the same capacity with the Boston Red Sox. "He's one of the best-liked and well-respected guys in all of baseball."
Towers choked up a bit while discussing the people he worked for and the players he had.
Towers pitched in the organization when Gwynn was beginning his climb to stardom, and he attended Gwynn's Hall of Fame induction in 2007.
Although Hoffman became baseball's career saves leader while with the Padres, Towers never actually saw him pitch. He was always too nervous, so he'd usually wait out the final three outs in the clubhouse.
"I didn't get to see him close, but by God, I heard those bells ringing when I was downstairs," Towers said, referring to the AC/DC's "Hells Bells" that always accompanied a Hoffman save situation at home. "I knew that when I heard bells ringing, good things were going to happen. I knew it was going to be an exciting clubhouse."
He had only two managers in 14 seasons, Bruce Bochy and Bud Black.
Black attended the news conference, in full uniform. Bochy, in his third season as San Francisco's manager, watched an internal TV feed from the nearby visitors' clubhouse.
"When I first heard the news, I was stunned," Bochy said. "Some things you think are going to be a constant, and that's Kevin being GM here. Kevin's done some great things for the organization and should be very proud of what he accomplished in his tenure."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press