Baseball lost one of the great ones yesterday. And one of the good guys, too. These days in sports, that seems almost as important to me.

Plate discipline may have been made famous by Ted Williams, but Tony Gwynn perfected it. It’s why Reds fans in particular should appreciate the legacy of Mr. Padre, even as he was not one of our own here in Reds Country.

Cincinnati knows hitting. Whether it was Pete Rose watching a pitch all the way into the catcher’s worn mitt or Joey Votto’s unflinching fearlessness at the prospect of two strikes, knowing that every pitch he sees brings him closer to unpacking a pitcher’s secrets—we in the Queen City appreciate great eyes and great hands at the plate. Tony Gwynn had all that and more. He wielded a bat the way a food critic wields a fork. He could do with a 30″ piece of lumber what Aretha Franklin could do with a song—hit a baseball the way Aretha could hit notes—at will. He took the measure of every pitcher who had the audacity to think he could get the ball from mound to mitt without Gwynn having something to say about it.

Gwynn’s first game in the majors in July of 1982, he had the luck of playing against Rose, then playing for the Phillies. Gwynn singled and doubled in his debut and after arriving at second base, Rose is reputed to have said, “Hey kid, what are you trying to do? Catch me all in one night?”

You can read the details about Tony Gwynn and his relentless pursuit of hitting perfection in other places. About a career that saw Greg Maddux fail to strike Tony out so much as one time. About a career that saw Gwynn hit .338, which made him one of only three players to hit for that high of an average playing after 1938, Williams and Gerhig being the other two. For a five year period between 1993 and 1997, Gwynn hit an unbelievable .368. And during that same stretch, he hit .335 with two strikes on him. Let it be known that Tony Gwynn never struck out more than 40 times in a season. Getting Gwynn to walk back to the dugout from home plate was akin to crossing Santa Monica Boulevard blindfolded at rush hour. You can do it, but good luck.

Gwynn did what Johnny Bench did. He played his entire career for one team, eschewing larger contracts in the process. It made him beloved in San Diego. He even flummoxed sabermatricians everywhere, whom know there are no clutch hitters in Baseball.

As large as all  of his numbers surely are, his personality was that much larger. His smile was his special gift. So, it comes as no surprise that cancer—being the bastard that is is—came after what was best about Tony Gwynn. Attacking his salivary gland via the sin of smokeless tobacco, the disease even robbed Gwynn of his smile at one point. You wonder if the Players’ Association will do now what they should have done years ago—outlaw the practice of “dipping” in major league dugouts and clubhouses.

It’s the least they could do to honor the memory of one of the greatest hitters—and greatest men—Baseball has ever seen.

8 Responses

  1. Dale Pearl

    He was truly one of the greats. It was hard not to cheer for Tony. The world is a bit colder without his warm smile in it, he will be missed.

  2. Richard Fitch

    There was a room near his locker in Jack Murphy Stadium.He had his video setup there. The Padres didn’t pay for it, either. He did.

  3. vegastypo

    A columnist once wrote that you could blindfold Gwynn, spin him around until he was good and dizzy, stick a bat in his hands and he’d still hit a single through the hole at short!

    I got a chance to meet Gwynn when I was covering a few UNLV baseball games, in the same conference as San Diego State. My interactions with him weren’t lengthy, but he really did come across just as good-natured and personable as you typically hear about. And he LOVED to talk about hitting!! ……. RIP Tony Gwynn.

  4. Skatedog

    Tony is one of my favorite players ever, great hitter, great attitude, all around good guy. I was listening to Mike & Mike on espn this morning & they interviewed Goose Gosage about Gywnn. Goose said something very interesting about Gywnn & how in 86 when he had to move to 4th in the batting order to try & help the team, Gywnn confessed that the move affected his hitting approach, & he hit for a little more power but, his batting average slipped. Now I’m trying to stay out of heated discussions this year lol, but if the great Tony Gywnn says batting orders matter, & where he bats in the line up, does affect him, then that’s good enough for me to acknowledge batting orders & where you bat in the order does affect hitters.

  5. Vicferrari

    Any Hal Morris fans out there?, I believe it was 1991 and he was on deck during the last out of the season (a lost one at that)… He lost a batting title based on if he could have got that hit in the missed AB. Morris was a great Red for a few seasons, Gwynn is a legend

  6. 666wolverine

    RIP Mr. Padre. Such a class act and one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen in person play this wonderful game. When Cincinnati was looking for a hitting coach I was actually hoping they would go after Gwynn for the job. He was nothing but class and played baseball the right way. The world lost a great human and Tony will be missed.

  7. big5ed

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a baseball fan who didn’t like Tony Gwynn. In fact, I can’t remember anybody saying a bad word about him.

  8. Chaswell

    Career slugging .459 never had a 20 homer season, only had 10 or more homers in five seasons.