Back in 1995, then Padres President Larry Lucchino began molding this franchise into what you see today. We have Lucchino to thank for Petco Park and more importantly the Padres STAYING in San Diego. Another key move to get the Padres back into the spotlight was in 1997, when he formed a partnership with Cox Cable/Channel 4 to broadcast more Padres games per season than ever before. And the first TV guy is our guest today on the Fro WATN series...Mel Proctor! From 1997-2001 Proctor was the TV voice of Padres baseball where he called some of the most important moments in Padres history. From the magical '98 season to Tony Gwynn's 3,000th hit to Gwynn's final game to Rickey Henderson's 3,000th hit, Proctor's voice can be heard calling the play by play. We discuss the genius of Larry Lucchino, what it was like working with rookie announcer Mark Grant and as a basketball announcer what does he think of the whole Lebron ordeal?
RJ's Fro: What have you been up to since leaving San Diego?
Mel Proctor: We never left San Diego. When I left the Padres in 2001, we made a decision to stay here because we were tired of moving and our kids were in school at the time. We love San Diego and don't plan to leave. For three years, I commuted to L.A. to do Clippers' basketball on radio and then in 2005, I spent the summer in Washington D.C. doing TV for the Washington Nationals.
RJ's Fro: How did you get into broadcasting?
Mel Proctor: I was working as a writer-editor at NFL Films in Philadelphia and got to know network announcers like Charlie Jones, Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier. I thought their jobs seemed more fun than being in a dark editing room. So, I talked a suburban radio station into hiring me for $15 per game to broadcast high school sports. About a year later, I was offered a full-time job as Sports Director for WEEZ radio in Chester, Pa., doing sports talk and play-by-play of high school and college games. Then, I went to Hawaii on vacation and loved it so much, that I looked for a job. I was hired by KGMB radio and TV where I spent five years broadcasting Hawaii Islanders baseball (Padres' farm team) as well as University of Hawaii basketball and football and WFL games for the Hawaiians.
RJ's Fro: Larry Lucchino has been called the "Smartest Man in Baseball" by not only Padres owner John Moores, but by many in baseball as well. I'm assuming he was responsible for you coming to San Diego from Baltimore in 1997. Tell me what it was like working with him and does he deserve that title?
Mel Proctor: I had worked with Larry for many years in Baltimore when I did TV play-by-play for the Orioles. When Larry and Charles Steinberg visited from San Diego, I was very envious of their sun tans and had always wanted to live in San Diego. I loved working·with Larry and welcomed the chance to do so again and in 1997 when I was hired to do Padres' TV for Channel 4.
He is not only the best baseball executive but the best executive in pro sports. Larry is a visionary. In Baltimore, he was a major force in getting Camden Yards built. In San Diego, he did things like putting palm trees around the outfield fence which made the drab Q look like Shangra La on television. He reached out to Mexico and provided buses to and from games. He's extremely creative and constantly comes up with new ideas. When he was here, the Pads started giving away quality items on Saturday nights and fans lined up by the thousands. He and·Charles Steinberg, and their staffs, made going to a Padres' game an experience. Attendance increased every year while he was team President. Petco Park is great but if Larry had not been pushed out by John Moores, it would have been·the crown jewel of major league ballparks.·Getting rid of Larry Lucchino was the worst decision the Padres ever made; the franchise hasn't been the same since and look at the success he's had in Boston.
RJ's Fro: You came to San Diego just in time for THE season (1998). In a year where there was tons of highs, can you name one moment that stood out above all the others as the defining moment of that season?
Mel Proctor: On September 12, 1998, 60,823 fans packed Qualcomm Stadium hoping to see the Padres clinch the N.L. West against the Dodgers. The Dodgers took a 7-0 lead to a quiet crowd. The Padres cut it to 7-3 in the fifth as the crowd began to stir. Then in the sixth, the Padres loaded the bases as fans rocked the stadium. The crowd got even louder when Greg Myers walked to make it 7-4. It was like the crowd took over the game and willed the Padres to win. You could feel Dodgers' pitchers tightening up under pressure as they walked Padres hitters and then Andy Sheets was hit by a pitch, forcing in a run and it was 7-5. A bases loaded walk made it 7-6, Quilvio Veras' sac fly tied the game at 7-7 and then Greg Vaughn lined a hit to center as the Padres took an 8-7 lead. Trevor Hoffman pitched a scoreless ninth and got the save as the Padres clinched the N.L. West. I have never seen a crowd take over and intimidate big league pitchers like the fans did that night.
RJ's Fro: You had the job of breaking in rookie announcer Mark "Mud" Grant in 1997. There has to be some stories from those first couple of seasons?
Mel Proctor: I loved working with both Mark Grant and Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe educated fans about baseball and Mud entertained them. In Milwaukee, when a Brewer hit a homerun, "Bernie the Brewer," would slide down into supposedly a vat of beer. But when Greg Vaughn homered for the Pads, Bernie the Brewer came down the slide as Mark and I looked at each other. What was going on? Was Milwaukee honoring former Brewer Greg Vaughn or did someone just make a mistake. As Bernie the Brewer touched down and then popped the head off of his costume, there was Mark Grant.· Our producer Scott Hecht and Mud had taped a bit before the game with Mud putting on Bernie the Brewer's outfit. It was hilarious.
RJ's Fro: You've been in the booth for a number of great moments in baseball history. Tony Gwynn & Rickey Henderson's 3,000th hit games and Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak, which you've called your favorite baseball memory. So lets go in a different direction, what is your favorite most off-the-wall, bizarre, call of all-time?
Mel Proctor: A couple stand out.· Milwaukee's Terry Francona was at the plate and was being walked intentionally. It was apparent that he and plate umpire Ken Kaiser were arguing about something during the at bat. Just as Francona took ball four, Kaiser threw him out of the game. Francona told me later that they were arguing about something that happened in a previous game.
In Baltimore, Cal Ripken hit a drive to deep left center. Cleveland's Brad Komminsk leaped at the wall and then disappeared. He caught the ball but since he'd fallen over the fence and was out of the park, it was ruled a homerun.
In San Diego, Florida's A.J. Burnett threw a no-hitter but walked nine batters. He was in trouble every inning but somehow did not give up a hit.
RJ's Fro: Not only have you worked in baseball (Rangers, Orioles, Padres, Nationals) but you've also called basketball (Bullets/Nets/Clippers) games as well. So I have to ask you.....what do you think of the whole Lebron ordeal?
Mel Proctor: He is going from one of the best players in the NBA to becoming a total jerk.· "The Decision," on ESPN was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen. So far, the LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh package hasn't worked too well. Basketball is a team game. The Heat don't have a true post player or a point guard, the two most important positions and Wade and James basically play the same position. James appears to have no respect for coach Eric Spoelstra and if the Heat don't start winning, the coach will be gone with Pat Riley back on the bench.
RJ's Fro: In an 2007 article in the San Diego Union Tribune you said of your last game with the Padres in 2001 that “I knew I was done. I felt like saying something, thanking the fans, but that was Tony's last game and I couldn't infringe on that. It was his day, so I didn't even mention it.” Well now is your chance to let the fans of San Diego know what you wanted to say that day.
Mel Proctor: Yes, it was Tony Gwynn's final game and mine. I wanted to thank the fans for their support but I didn't want to do anything that might detract·from Tony's last game. Actually, I wrote a letter to Padres fans* which appeared in both the UT and the North County Times. I wanted to thank them because our ratings had been the highest in baseball and so many·· people had written in to support me when word got out that I was leaving. The U.T. even conducted a poll: "Should Mel Proctor remain as Padres' announcer?" and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of me remaining. With my support system gone (Larry Lucchino) Channel 4 saw a chance to get rid of me because they thought I was making too much money and was Lucchino's guy. If Larry had remained, I would still be there.
RJ's Fro: Thanks for your time Mel!
*EDIT - Here is a copy of that letter