My heart sank when I learned that San Diego Padres legend Tony Gwynn passed away of cancer today at the age of 54.
I don’t say this lightly, but Gwynn was the greatest pure hitter in National League history. Gwynn won eight NL batting titles joining Honus Wagner as the only men to have accomplished that feat in the history of the Senior Circuit. In the strike shortened season of 1994, Gwynn hit .394. What could have been? If anyone could have hit .400, it was Gwynn. After hitting .289 in his rookie season of 1982, Gwynn never hit below .309 for the next 19 seasons. His lifetime batting average was .338. On seven occasions, Gwynn led the NL in hits and finished with 3,141 career hits.
Gwynn spent his entire big league career with the San Diego Padres and was known as both Mr. Padre and Mr. San Diego. He was named to 16 NL All-Star teams and would score the winning run in the 1994 mid-summer classic which gave the NL its first All-Star Game triumph since 1987. Gwynn never won a World Series rings, but was an integral part of the NL pennant winners in 1984 and 1998. At the beginning of his career, Gwynn was not a great defensive outfielder, but he worked at it and eventually became a premier right fielder. Gwynn would win 5 NL Gold Glove awards for his defense.
Gwynn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Cal Ripken, Jr. The BBWAA gave Gwynn with 97.6% of the vote.
After his playing career, Gwynn spent time as a broadcaster with the Padres and ESPN. He would later coach college baseball at San Diego State and would coach the likes of current Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
Gwynn’s younger brother Chris played 10 seasons in the bigs, mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals. He would join his big brother in San Diego in his final season in 1996 when the Padres won the NL West. Gwynn’s son Tony, Jr. has played in the bigs since 2006 with the Milwaukee Brewers, Dodgers, Padres and currently plays with the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2010, Gwynn was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer which he believed was a result of years using smokeless tobacco. Notwithstanding this diagnosis, Gwynn’s death is still a tremendous shock.
One of my everlasting regrets of my life is never having seen him play in person. Gwynn collected his 3,000th hit in Montreal. I did consider making the trek from Ottawa to see this achievement, but didn’t get my act together. It’s a shame that scarcely 13,500 people witnessed baseball history and that I wasn’t among them. But I was alive to see one of the best to ever put an uniform and hit a baseball.
Tony Gwynn conducted himself in an exemplary manner both on and off the field. As such, he will be missed by the people of San Diego and baseball fans the world over.