The decision that still haunts Padres to this day

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Three days before the 2004 draft was held, then-San Diego scouting director Bill Gayton had made up his mind. After weighing the pros and cons of right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver of Long Beach State and shortstop Stephen Drew of Florida State, he decided he would take Drew with the first pick overall that year.

Then Gayton found out it wasn’t his choice. Drew was represented by agent Scott Boras and it was no secret it would take $6 million or so to get a deal done. Padres owner John Moores didn’t feel any player was worth that much money, so he vetoed not only Drew, but also Weaver, who also was a Boras client.

Next thing Gayton knew, not only had his top two choices been eliminated, but so had everybody on his top 10 list of candidates for the draft, including Vanderbilt pitcher Jeremy Sowers who was his next target. So Gayton was being forced to take Matt Bush, an undersized shortstop from San Diego. Moores because he envisioned a positive reaction to the local kid, whose agent was Jeff Moorad. Yes, that Jeff Moorad, who later reappeared as the head of a group that agreed to buy the Padres franchise from Moores. He recently stepped down as the team’s CEO because of his inability to gain approval for ownership by the other MLB owners.

Instead of “overpaying” an eventual All-Star like Drew, the Padres wound up wasting $3.15 million on Bush.

And it is a decision that haunts not only the Padres but all of baseball to this day.

Steve Chilcott, a catcher who the New York Mets selected over Reggie Jackson, with the No. 1 pick in the 1966 draft, and Brien Taylor, a left-handed pitcher the New York Yankees took with the first pick in 1991, are the only two players taken No. 1 overall in the baseball draft to retire without spending a day in the big leagues.

Add Bush to the list.

He hasn’t retired.

His career, however, is done.

Chilcott spent six injury-plagued years in the Mets system before hanging it up, and went into the home-building business.

He is the lucky one.

Taylor, who had an electric arm, never fully recovered from a barroom brawl injury. Since retiring after a decade of life in the minor leagues, he has run into a series of legal battles, including his arrest earlier this month on charges of trafficking cocaine.

And then there is Bush, whose latest misadventure with alcohol landed him in jail in Charlotte County, Fla., last week on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. An SUV he was allegedly driving struck a motorcycle driven by a 72-year-old Tony Tafuno, who is hospitalized in intensive care with a brain hemorrhage, collapsed lung, broken back, broken wrist and broken ribs.

Fortunately Tafuno was wearing a helmet. It kept his skull from being crushed when the wheel of the SUV ran over Tafuno’s head when Bush fled the scene.

Bond was set in excess of $1 million for Bush, who faces a May 21 arraignment.

It is not the first time Bush has found himself in trouble.

But this time, maybe, Bush won’t have anybody come to his rescue.

This time, maybe, Bush is going to have to answer for his actions.

And this time, maybe, Bush will be shocked into being held accountable for what he has done.

Originally signed by the Padres as a shortstop, Bush was trying to reinvent himself as a pitcher, and after spending last season in the Tampa Bay farm system was in spring training with the Rays this year, creating hope that his big league dream would eventually be met.

He was told a week ago that he was being sent to Triple-A, which was no surprise, but he also was told that there was a strong belief he would be called up at some point in the coming season.

That, however, changed after his latest escapade. The Rays announced on Sunday that Bush, whose blood-alcohol content tested at .18, was being let go by the franchise.

That’s strike three for Bush, who was earlier released by the Padres and Toronto.

And it would seem he is definitely out of luck.

For too long his athletic skills had allowed for him to get second chances, evaluators hoping they could help Bush deal with his demons, and then reap the reward of his physical talents.

It hasn’t worked.

There are those in the Padres organization, in fact, who say that San Diego should have released him the day he signed his contract. Bush was introduced to the crowd at Petco Park, and along with his family, enjoyed a big-league game from the owner’s box. His plan to join the Padres Arizona Summer League team two days after that, however, was put on hold while club officials reconsidered his signing.

Seems that stadium security cameras had recorded members of Bush’s party removing items from Moores’ suite, including silverware.

Two weeks later, he finally showed up in Arizona, and was suspended almost immediately for a fight at a Peoria, Ariz., nightclub with a bouncer, who would not allow the 18-year-old into the establishment.

After hitting .221 and committing 38 errors at Low A Fort Wayne in 2005, he suffered a broken ankle just 78 plate appearances into the 2006 season, and after struggling to hit .204 in the opening months of 2007 at High A Lake Elsinore he decided to make the transition to pitching.

A torn ligament in his elbow forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery, and while he was rehabbing in Arizona in 2008 he was involved in another barroom brawl. The next winter, after a drunken incident on the campus of Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Calif., in which he fought with members of the boys’ lacrosse team, Bush was released by San Diego on Feb. 5, 2009.

Within days after he was released, Bush signed with Toronto, but the Blue Jays washed their hands of him before the end of spring training when he was involved in another altercation.

Bush returned to San Diego, and on June 29, 2009, he was arrived again, this time for throwing objects at passing cars, resulting in charges of assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, driving with a suspended license, vandalism and driving under the influence.

He was ordered to undergo a 120-day alcohol rehab session, and placed on three years of probation.

“When I drink alcohol I become another person, which I do not like,” Bush told the court in a prepared statement.

In the spring of 2010, Tampa Bay decided to give him another chance in baseball. He was clean for two years, and there was a belief among the folks in Tampa Bay that Bush would finally make it to the big leagues.

Then the reality of the challenge that Bush faces, and can’t handle, returned last week.

This time it would seem Bush has been thrown a curve that he cannot handle.

And nobody can help him out of the mess this time.

Finally, Bush is going to be forced to deal with the demons on his own.