Northwest League (1973-1982)
Born: 1973 – Affiliation change from Hawaii Islanders to San Diego Padres.
Died: September 4, 1982 – The Padres relocate to Tri-Cities, WA.
Stadium: Borleske Stadium
The Walla Walla Padres were the short-season Class A farm club of the San Diego Padres for ten summers from 1973 through 1982. Walla Walla is a city of approximately 30,000 in southeastern Washington state. Prior to the Padres arrival in 1973, the city hosted Northwest League baseball for four seasons under affiliations with the Philadelphia Phillies (1969-1971) and the Hawaii Islanders (1972) of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.
The original owner of the Walla Walla Padres was Verne Russell, who broadcast the team’s games on his local easy listening radio station KUJ. In 1975, Russell sold both the station and the Padres to Jim Nelly. Nelly converted KUJ to a Top 40 station and handed off the Padres to his wife, Pat Nelly, who ran the ball club as General Manager. She erected a billboard on the outfield wall at Borleske Stadium that read “Peppermint Patty Loves Her Padres”.
Under Pat Nelly’s regime, the ball club had an unusually contentious relationship with the local newspaper, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. When Nelly finally sold the club in 1982 after years of poor attendance, Sunday Sports Editor Ed Clendaniel opined:
“Never in my life have I seen nor ever hope to see again a shoddier or less professional operation than the Walla Walla Padres since Pat Nelly took over as owner in 1975.”
Clendaniel wasn’t alone in his opinion. Staff writer Skip Nichols regularly excoriated Nelly for her penny-pinching operation of the franchise, which included cancelling the team’s game broadcasts on KUJ in the late 1970’s.
Pat Nelly sold the club during the 1982 season to a Piscataway, New Jersey group fronted by a long-time baseball manager, executive and scout named Mal Fichman. Fichman took possession of the club’s assets in early September 1982 and immediately moved the franchise to Richland, Washington, where it became known as the Tri-Cities Triplets (1983-1986).
Upon the departure of the Padres, Walla Walla immediately got a new, unaffiliated expansion team in the Northwest League for the 1983 season. The new club was known as the Walla Walla Bears, but lasted only one season. Pro baseball has never returned to Walla Walla since the demise of the Bears in late 1983.
Key Walla Walla Padres players included future Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith (1977) and Tony Gwynn (1981). Other notables include the late Eric Show (1978), John Kruk (1981) and Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams (1982).
Pitcher Eric Show died on March 16, 1994 at age 37. (New York Times obituary).
Northwest League Programs
“Walla Walla – Padre divorce took a very long seven years”, Ed Clendaniel, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, September 19, 1982.