Peter Seidler, a man who often walked around cradling a baseball in his hands, who dressed more modestly than his employees and who spent unprecedented amounts of money in a smallish media market, was unlike any other owner of a major-league franchise. He set himself apart from the beginning, with the manner in which he entered that exclusive club.
In an interview two years ago, Seidler recalled being “locked in my house” in late 2011. That year, he had begun undergoing chemotherapy and other in-home treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He remembered feeling physically “OK” and “terribly bored.” A baseball team down the highway from the then-Los Angeles-area resident happened to be for sale. So Seidler, a successful private equity investor and a scion of the family that moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Chavez Ravine, asked for more information about the San Diego Padres.
Curiosity soon turned into determination.
“That hit me as I looked at the materials,” Seidler said in the 2021 interview. “With my background in private equity, I’d seen a lot of terrific companies and been a part of them. But one thing about professional sports, to reiterate what I first heard from Commissioner (Bud) Selig, baseball is a social institution, and it always has been. I believe to this day it’s America’s pastime, and the impact that the San Diego Padres can have on the city and county of San Diego is something like no other business can have. And that was important to me.”
Seidler died Tuesday morning. He was 63. He will be remembered as an owner who indeed treated the Padres as a social institution, who lifted the franchise to unprecedented prominence, and who set himself apart until the end.
“Peter was probably the most positive person I knew,” Ron Fowler, who teamed with Seidler to buy the Padres in 2012, said Tuesday afternoon. “To say he saw the cup as half-full is probably a misstatement. I think he saw it close to three-quarters full. He saw the possibilities, the upside in everything.
“He always said things could be fixed or ‘this will happen.’ He just was extremely positive with how he looked at people, problems, everything. He always saw the good. I think that was the way he was in relationships, that’s the way he was in business, and obviously it served him well.”
My heart hurts with the unfortunate news of Peter Seidler’s passing. I’m sure everyone that knew him would agree with me when I say Peter was a truly wonderful human being, and being in his presence was always a blessing.
He was a teacher of life, and 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 profit, Seidler was a beloved figure, even as he helped turn Petco Park into one of baseball’s most popular destinations. Several years ago, he emerged further emboldened 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 pact in North American sports history — and later retained Machado with a $350 million contract. They demonstrated Seidler’s desire to win, over and over, with similarly lucrative commitments to Fernando Tatis Jr., Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Xander Bogaerts. They fielded the franchise’s first nine-figure payrolls, including a $249 million sum 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 determination remained intact throughout. His escalating financial expenditures proved that. His health struggles informed his approach. And his endeavors away from the field supplied more evidence.
Addressing homelessness in San Diego became Seidler’s personal mission. Some of those attempts were known to the public, such as his founding of the “Tuesday Group” and his involvement with the Lucky Duck Foundation. Some of his efforts were more private. Seidler, for instance, got into the habit of taking lengthy late-night walks not far from the San Diego coast. Along the way, he frequently stopped to converse with the homeless — to listen and seek a greater understanding of one of the community’s foremost crises.
“He was passionate about it,” Fowler said. “One time I said, ‘Peter, I think it’s the responsibility of government to frankly do this. … It seems to be one step forward some days and two steps back. But you need to have your positive attitude.’ Otherwise, I think he’d find it very frustrating, but he just kept on going after it.”
The Padres, of course, were Seidler’s full-time project. His passion was obvious even before he purchased 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 frail that Fowler wondered if Seidler would require immediate medical attention. Yet Seidler proved undeterred, taking methodical notes on a legal pad as he spoke with Fowler, a preexisting minority owner of the Padres.
“My thought was, why is he trying to buy a baseball team right now? Why isn’t he trying to recover?” Fowler said. “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 remembered the weight he had lost from chemotherapy. He remembered feeling cold.
He also remembered being captivated by the beauty of the ballpark and the surrounding city, one that had never celebrated a major sports championship. He remembered feeling inspired.
“That might have been the moment I got serious,” Seidler later recalled.
In the years that followed, Seidler repeatedly proved his commitment. Along the way, he befriended the man who built Petco Park. They bonded over shared experience.
“I think it has probably made both of us better people than we might have been, as ironic as that is to say about something as heinous as cancer,” former Padres president and CEO Larry Luchino, himself a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, said in 2021. “I think he’s got a perspective on life that is highly, highly admirable, and he’s got a perspective on baseball that means he wants to win. And while he has some perspective about life, his baseball flame is still roaring.”
Peter Seidler never got to experience what he so desperately wanted: San Diego’s first major sports championship. But on Tuesday, as Fowler and Darvish 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 ideal owner.
— Jake Garegnani (@JakeGaregnani) November 14, 2023
(Photo of Seidler: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)