Tony Gwynn is one of those exceptions.
Tony died today after a battle with cancer. Upon hearing the news, I could not help but reflect in admiration; not only for his jaw-dropping abilities on the field, but for the way he conducted himself off it. To put it in Yankee-terms, Tony was “Jeteresque”.
“Mr. Padre” spent every one of his 20 Major League seasons with the San Diego Padres. He, like Jeter, is one of the few ballplayers in the past thirty years to stay with a single team. But, the similarities don’t end there.
Gwynn was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2007, getting named on all but 13 ballots. He held a .338 lifetime batting average and won the NL batting crown eight times. He finished his career with 3141 hits and in 15 of his 20 seasons Gwynn was named an All-Star. He won seven Silver Slugger awards and five Gold Gloves. His post season average was .306, and while he never was on a World Champion, he hit .371 in the two World Series which he took part (including .500 against the Yankees in 1998).
Numbers and longevity aside, Gwynn always conducted himself with class. It seemed that every time I saw him on TV he had a smile on his face, and when he talked baseball he oozed with an unequalled knowledge and passion for the game. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with more genuine love for baseball.
As a lifelong Yankees fan, I cannot imagine what my Padre counterparts feel right now. Gwynn was San Diego’s Derek Jeter. He always played the game the right way – something difficult to do in the era of PEDs - and always seemed to say and do the right things. So beloved was Tony that San Diego State University (where he played baseball and basketball) renamed its baseball stadium to “Tony Gwynn Stadium”. A small tribute to a man who gave baseball so much.
Today’s baseball games will have a little less meaning, but the memories of his play and lessons in class that Tony Gwynn left behind will carry from generation to generation.