Peter Seidler, a man who often walks around with a baseball in his hands, who dresses more modestly than his employees and spends an unprecedented amount on a small media market, is unlike any other owner of a major-league franchise. He set himself apart from the start, the way he got into that exclusive club.
In an interview two years ago, Seidler recalled being “locked in my house” in late 2011. That year, she began undergoing chemotherapy and other home treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He remembers physically feeling “OK” and being “extremely bored.” A baseball team happened to be for sale down the highway from the then-Los Angeles-area resident. So Seidler, a successful private equity investor and scion of the family that moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Chavez Ravine, asked for more information about the San Diego Padres.
Curiosity turned into determination.
“It struck me as I was looking at the materials,” Seidler said in the 2021 interview. “With my background in private equity, I’ve seen a lot of great companies and been a part of them. But something about professional sports, to repeat what I first heard from Commissioner (Bud) Selig, baseball is a social institution, and always has been. I believe to this day it is America’s pastime, and the impact of the San Diego Padres on the city and county of San Diego is something that no other business can have. And that’s important to me.”
Seidler died Tuesday morning. He is 63 years old. He will be remembered as an owner who truly treated the Padres as a social institution, who lifted the franchise to unprecedented prominence, and who singled himself out to the end.
“Peter is probably the most positive person I’ve ever met,” Ron Fowler, who worked with Seidler to buy the Padres in 2012, said Tuesday afternoon. “To say he saw the cup as half full is probably an understatement. I think he saw it close to three-quarters full. He saw the possibilities, the upside of everything.
“He always said things could be fixed or ‘it will happen.’ He is very positive in how he looks at people, problems, everything. He always sees the good. I think that was the way he was in relationships, that’s the way he was in business, and obviously it serves him well.”
My heart aches with the sad news of Peter Seidler’s passing. I’m sure everyone who knew him would agree with me when I say that Peter was a truly wonderful man, and being in his presence was always a blessing.
He is a teacher of life, and has taught me countless…
— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 14, 2023
In an industry known for its pursuit of cold, hard profits, Seidler is a beloved figure, even as he helped make Petco Park one of baseball’s most popular destinations. A few years ago, he felt more confident after a second bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Padres subsequently signed Eric Hosmer to the franchise’s first nine-figure contract. They signed Manny Machado to San Diego’s first $300 million deal — briefly the largest deal in North American sports history — and later retained Machado with a $350 million contract. They showed Seidler’s desire to win, again and again, with similarly lucrative commitments to Fernando Tatis Jr., Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Xander Bogaerts. They put up the franchise’s first nine-figure payroll, including a $249 million total this past Opening Day. (As recently as 2012, months before Seidler and Fowler bought the team, the Padres had a $55 million payroll.)
Seidler’s big swings led to high-profile misfires in 2019, 2021 and 2023, but his resolve remained intact throughout. His rising financial expenditure proved that. His health struggles inform his approach. And his efforts away from the field provided more evidence.
Addressing homelessness in San Diego has become Seidler’s personal mission. Some of those attempts became public knowledge, such as his founding of the “Tuesday Group” and his involvement in Lucky Duck Foundation. Some of his efforts were more private. Seidler, for example, used to take long evening walks not far from the coast of San Diego. Along the way, he often stops to talk to the homeless — to listen and seek greater understanding of one of the community’s major crises.
“He was passionate about it,” Fowler said. “One time I said, ‘Peter, I think it’s the government’s responsibility to do this honestly. … It seems like one step forward some days and two steps back. But you have to have your positive attitude.’ Otherwise, I think he would have found it, but he just kept at it.”
The Padres, of course, are Seidler’s full-time project. His passion was obvious even before he bought the team. In early 2012, when Fowler and Seidler met in person for the first time, the latter had recently completed cancer treatment. He looked so weak that Fowler wondered if Seidler would need immediate medical attention. However, Seidler proved undeterred, taking methodical notes on a legal pad as he spoke with Fowler, a former minority owner of the Padres.
“I thought, why is he trying to buy a baseball team now? Why isn’t he trying to make it back?” said Fowler. “But he wanted to buy a baseball team.”
Around the same time, Seidler attended his first game at Petco Park. In the 2021 interview, he recalled the weight he lost from chemotherapy. He remembered feeling cold.
He also recalled being fascinated by the beauty of the ballpark and the surrounding city, a city that had never celebrated a major sports championship. He remembers being inspired.
“That might have been the moment I got serious,” Seidler recalls.
In the years that followed, Seidler repeatedly proved his promise. Along the way, he befriends the man who built Petco Park. They bond over shared experiences.
“He wanted to win because he was a great sportsman, and great sportsmen want to win,” said former Padres president and CEO Larry Lucchino, himself a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. “But he wants to do something for the city, no doubt.
“He was an amazing baseball man and an even more remarkable person, and I’m pissed that he was taken from us so early in life.”
Peter Seidler never got what he wanted: San Diego’s first major sports championship. But on Tuesday, as Fowler and Lucchino and others around baseball paid tribute to a man who treated the Padres as a social institution, Seidler’s legacy was clear: In some ways, he was the perfect owner.
— Jake Garegnani (@JakeGaregnani) November 14, 2023
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(Seidler photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)