By John R. Lamb

The pettiness of Team John Moores

After all the glowing reports in the mainstream media about the first official week of Major League Baseball at downtown's Petco Park, it may come as a surprise just how minor league the team's front office behaved on opening day.

Then again, the fact that Bruce Henderson, unofficial pain in the backside to local sports moguls who seek public subsidy for their expensive fields of dreams, was barred by Padres executives from entering the ballpark grounds to participate in the pre-game media buildup to the inaugural contest shouldn't surprise anyone, either.

For Henderson, it's all part and parcel to his image among sports fanatics and team sycophants as the local antichrist of big-time athletics, the party pooper of professional sports.

Last Sunday, Henderson agreed to meet CityBeat at the entrance of Petco Park to recount his opening-day experience, which originally was to include morning interviews on KPBS radio's "These Days" program and during a ballpark walk-through on KSWB Channel 5/69 for the 10 p.m. news broadcast.

Of the KSWB stint, Henderson said, "They were going to go around the stadium and talk to people, and they just wanted to have both points of view. I said I'd be happy to do that."

Jeff Powers, the KSWB nighttime news anchor who wanted Henderson's opposing views, said he e-mailed Padres executives seeking permission to invite the former councilman-turned-activist to Petco. Those executives, Powers said, "respectfully declined."

"I don't want to throw the Padres under the bus here, but they were just not comfortable with that," Powers told CityBeat this week. Powers said he just wanted the reporting to be balanced. "Everyone has a voice, but his particularly, while very unpopular, represented a sentiment in the community. And I think that's an important side to the story."

Pam Hardy, senior producer of "These Days," expressed a similar intent for the two-hour, live-remote, opening-day broadcast and got a similar response from Padres mucky-mucks. "My reaction is that it was a rather silly decision," she said, "[The Padres] "˜won,' and the stadium is built! Wouldn't they want to show it off to him? ... But they told me he would have to buy a ticket like anyone else. Too bad."

Henderson, for his part, seemed unaffected by the Padres' rejection. "To be honest with you, there are lots of things I can do with my day. So I wasn't terribly unhappy."

He said he hadn't planned on going to opening day anyway, and he pointed out that he did participate in the KPBS discussion by phone from his home. Padres spokesman Luis Garcia declined to comment on the Henderson ban but did say he is more than welcome to buy a ticket and enjoy the ballpark.

Did he fear retribution from Padres fans, who rarely have kind words for the attorney they blame most for the delays in completing Petco Park? These fans, interestingly, rarely blame Padres owner John Moores, whose financial dealings with former City Councilmember Valerie Stallings lead to a federal investigation that halted construction for a solid year.

(That episode ended with Stallings pleading guilty to federal misdemeanor charges related to taking gifts from Moores and her resignation from the City Council. Moores was never prosecuted for his involvement. Henderson for years has suggested a cover-up, saying he was "disturbed" that the investigation never mentioned Stallings calling Moores after City Council closed sessions to offer confidential information.)

Naturally, there was some hesitation, Henderson said. If he had gone to the game and if "people started to drink heavily, you know, you might have a confrontation somewhere."

Fighting sports teams' desire for "corporate welfare," as he likes to call it, does bring out the ugly side of some San Diegans. While taking on the Chargers, Henderson explained, "they actually had huge rallies with Chargers girls, and they had people get up and call for the crowd to go out and find me and tar and feather me. They really got people worked up, and there I became a little worried for my own personal safety."

He said it's not as bad with Padres fans, "but again, you get a group of 10, 15 guys who start getting drunk, and you never know where confrontations are going to go. And who knows whether the guards would really try to protect me."

Asked if it has ever come to blows, Henderson hesitated. "Well, I did have one person almost drive off the road trying to run me over once, but who knows whether they were just yelling and swerved by accident. I was ready to jump, I'll tell you that."

The worst part, he said, "about the vilification is that it upsets my wife. With me, I expect it because that's one of the great tragedies of human society. When people can't really debate you on the issues, like the Padres can't and the city can't, they vilify you. It's like Khrushchev back in the U.N. pounding the shoe-anything to divert attention from the horror of communism."

Added Henderson, "The key thing is that I'm in a position where it's extremely difficult for guys like John Moores to hurt me.... The bottom line is that I've never blamed Alex Spanos or John Moores. I mean, if you're the owner of the Padres, why not go to the city and ask for money? That's perfectly expected.

"But the issue is whether your elected officials stand up to these people and whether the checks and balances that compel public officials to stand up to these people work."

The recent resignations of the city auditor and city manager, he said, would suggest otherwise. "Of course, the city's attitude is, "˜It's everyone else's fault but ours.'"

The point he's tried to make over the years, Henderson said, is that these fancy sport complexes don't come without a price. "There are really tremendous social costs that have resulted from the fact that we've dumped all this money into this facility. John Moores goes around and crows how this is a success by any measure. My response is, he could have afforded to do this himself."

Just remember one thing: The next time you curse the potholed road that jerked your tires out of alignment or why your neighborhood park looks shabbier than in years past, much of the blame must rest on city leaders who thought less of fixing the little things than lining the pockets of John Moores.

Will Alex Spanos be next? Not without eluding the obstacle that is Bruce Henderson.

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