“Major League Baseball today mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn, the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement on Monday. “…For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the National Pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.”
I’m not quite the baseball fan I used to be 15-20 years ago, but I saw Gwynn play live when I worked at the Glendale News-Press from 1990-1995 and used to attend Dodger games when I got a chance to cover them when a local player like Brett Butler was playing.
The only other player that could compare to Gwynn when it comes to hitting and being a contact hitter was Wade Boggs. Not power, but just the art of hitting in general. Gwynn was a master at looping a hit between the shortstop and third baseman, he had the speed to turn a routine single into a double and was also a master at the ever-popular infield single.
He was one of the best players I ever saw play. And better than that, he was a kind and congenial person, like Selig mentioned in his press release. I met him in the locker room several times and always wanted to get a quote because he was generous with his time and he never looked down at you like some athletes did. He never seemed to mind talking about the game of baseball and he always had a kind word. He never looked at talking with the media as a chore.
Gwynn was a hall of fame outfielder who never had to leave California. He played basketball at Long Beach Poly and went to San Diego State as a highly recruited point guard. He was convinced to try out for the baseball team by shortstop Bobby Meacham in 1979 and the rest, as they say, is history.
During his professional career with the San Diego Padres he stroked 3,141 hits, smacked 543 doubles, swiped 319 stolen bases, and had a .338 batting average. He was a 15-time All-Star and eight-time batting champion (Ty Cobb was the only player with more). He only had 434 strikeouts in his career, he was the textbook definition of a contact hitter, he put the ball in play.
He wasn’t just an amazing offensive player either, he was the recipient of five Golden Gloves and was an excellent defensive player. Gwynn was inducted into the MLB HOF in 2007.
Gwynn was an extremely loyal player and stayed in San Diego rather than leave and chase a ring in a bigger city. He was with the Padres from the moment he was drafted in the third round of the 1981 draft he played in the Padres only two world series appearances. He was also drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, but he opted for a career in baseball instead.
He continued his career after retiring from baseball when he became the head coach at San Diego State in 2001, his alma mater. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and took a short break but he returned to coach the Aztecs and even signed a one-year extension last Wednesday.
RIP Tony. You’ll be missed.
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