(KGTV) - Gunslinger. Dumpster Diver. Sludge Merchant. Kevin Towers either embraced or gave himself all three of those nicknames during his tenure as Padres General Manager from 1995 to 2009. That tells you a little something about the humility of the man who put together four of the Padres' five playoff teams in their nearly 50-year history.
Towers passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 56 following a 14-month battle with a rare and deadly form of thyroid cancer.
"Dumpster diving" was the term Towers used for finding baseball talent where other general managers saw only trash. It was a skill that helped the Padres compensate during several years with smaller-than-average MLB payrolls.
"Sludge merchant" was the brutally honest nickname Towers gave himself when his job required him to peddle bloated contracts of marginal players and still try and get something in return when he made a trade with a fellow GM. Sometimes, he was willing to take back just about anything in a deal. Towers once traded catcher Sean Mulligan to the Cleveland Indians for a little bit of cash and a treadmill.
But my favorite nickname for K.T. was "Gunslinger." He wasn't afraid to pull the trigger on a big trade -- like when he sent top prospect Derrek Lee to the Florida Marlins before the 1998 season for a one-year rental of ace pitcher Kevin Brown -- a move that propelled the Padres to the World Series.
He also wasn't afraid to shoot from the hip in interviews, giving candid and insightful answers to the media, fans, or anyone else who ended up sharing a glass of red wine or a beer with one of baseball's most down-to-earth executives.
One time in the early 2000's, I was hosting a radio show from the back patio at the Peoria Sports Complex during the annual Padres family picnic. Adult beverages were being consumed as players and coaches sat down for casual interviews. Near the end of the show, KT grabbed a microphone and shared stories and behind-the-scenes information on what was going on at Padres Spring Training.
Another general manager might have gotten in some hot water for such candid commentary, but Kevin Towers was always a straight shooter. Who could get mad at K.T. for being exactly what he always was -- a real person? Not a stuffed shirt executive, but a scout, a fan of the game, and the guy you always hoped would join you for a round at the closest watering hole in Peoria or San Diego.
I'm sad for K.T.'s family and the Padres organization. Mostly, though, I'm sad for all the great stories Towers was going to tell at the baseball old folks' home in about 25 years. He was going to be the life of the party.