Padres Social Hour is an entity that means much more to the hardcore fanbase and to Padres Twitter than to the average fan. Ratings are low to non-existent, shows begin while most people are at work or sitting in traffic, the show can’t be streamed to iPhones, there’s no option for audio streaming at work, and the 1710 AM simulcast barely extends past La Jolla. But to the Padres enthusiast, Padres Social Hour is a focal point for discussion, and a chance for fans to feel that they are interacting with the team, assuming they don’t use a Wayne Partello blacklisted Twitter handle (ahem). Jesse Agler held down the seat for two years before accepting his inevitable ascension to broadcaster, and Mike Janela was brought in, seemingly out of nowhere. At the time of the hiring, I’d expected one of the local names that now pop up as co-hosts to be named the new host: Ben Higgins or Mike Grace were my two top choices. But Padres Chief Marketing Officer Wayne Partello went a different route, hand selecting a fresh face from New York, and stoking fan fears that the Partello/Dee regime was too East Coast focused.
I was critical of Mike early on for seemingly following in the path of several other Padres Social Hour co-hosts and choosing to engage in combat with fans that shared differing views from the official Padres talking points. In Mike’s case, he argued with fans during Spring Training that saw the writing on the wall of a terribly performing 2016 Padres team, holding to the official pre-#FireMikeDee narrative of “We think we are competing for a playoff berth and will not rebuild”. I was worried that Mike was having early issues with balancing the inherent job of being a paid Padres PR mouthpiece, and engaging and entertaining fans with his digital and PadresSH work.
It’s fair to say, Janela came into his own, really meshing with the PadresSH staff and co-hosts, producing interesting topics, and trying to innovate pre-recorded segments that were very entertaining. I think he found the balance between shill and trusted voice, it just took a couple months. And so, with Padres Social Hour host duties being handled better than ever (grouchy former journalists in denial about becoming a team paid PR shill not withstanding), it came as a shock last week when Janela announced on Twitter that he and the Padres had separated ways with just over a month left in the season. No reasons were given, although Dennis Lin reported, and then deleted (this always seems like something that happens when the subject’s PR group doesn’t like what was written, not necessarily that i wasn’t true) that it was financially motivated. Other than that, the Padres made no official announcement, and there has been no follow up by the local media as to what happened.
After recording a podcast with Mike last night, I found him to be forthright, honest, and interesting, which were the values that made him an engaging host in the first place. We learned that he wasn’t really given reason for the firing, other than they “wanted to try new things” before the season ended. I read between the lines and believe he’s being fairly compensated for the separation, and with his talent and experience, I’m sure Mike will land on his feet. But as usual with the Padres, they’ve decided that saying nothing is the best route to bury the story, which as we learned from the Gay Men’s Chorus debacle, works in the exact opposite fashion. Meanwhile my Twitter DMs and mentions are filled with people asking for answers and raising all kinds of speculation and rumors, which shouldn’t be surprising, because when you welcome a show into your home daily, those people become more than a TV personality, they are a part of your life. And it doesn’t help that Janela is especially personable and accessible on Twitter.
But besides the timing, the most baffling part of this is that the host seat wasn’t the problem with Padres Social Hour. The shift to having two co-hosts took too much focus off of the host, reducing the impact of his personality, and forcing him into more of a facilitator role. It shows some distrust from upper management to think Janela couldn’t carry the show. He could. Instead, with two co-hosts, the fairly small pool of co-hosts was reused much more often, putting hosts like Bill Center and his distaste for the viewers and fans on the couch more often. Having to expand the pool of co-hosts opened it up to local journalists, who receive payment from the Padres for co-hosting, and creating real journalistic integrity and ethical issues for their day job covering the team as journalists (did I mention my professional specialty is managing organizational and individual conflicts of interest?).
To close out the Mike Janela era with the Padres, I truly believe that he should have been given more time. Pulling the plug this soon and this impatiently really harkens to upper management changing course quickly and frequently at the baseball operations level (until hopefully this summer). The total silence from the Padres on the issue creates self perpetuating rumor mills leading to conspiracies (I’ve heard a lot of them now) that Janela didn’t tow the party line well enough and they want more of a yes man, Janela tweets about wrestling too much, Janela is literally a flesh eating alien from out of space. Again, I’ve heard it all. But from us here at Gwynntelligence, we will miss Mike, we hope he lands on his feet quickly, and we are confident that he will go on to bigger and better things, ideally with more competent managers contributing to his career.