The baseball world has lost one of its all-time greats, and on this day, baseball fans worldwide will mourn the passing of the legendary, Tony Gwynn. It is a sad day in the city of San Diego, and throughout MLB as the Hall of Famer has lost his long battle with cancer. At 54-years-old, the great Tony Gwynn is dead, and a part of baseball’s historic pastime is gone from this earth way before its time.
There is no mistaking Gwynn’s brilliance with the bat, as evidenced by his .338 career batting average, and eight battle titles during his remarkable 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres. While past generations had the pleasure of seeing players like Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial, generation x and y had the great pleasure of seeing “Mr. Padre” in all of his glory. Unlike many players which came before and after him, Gwynn was a pure, line drive hitter and prided himself in driving the ball to the opposite field, choosing to hit for average, as opposed to yanking the ball over the right field wall. With his stocky, 5’11 frame, Gwynn had the ability to hit the long ball, but he chose instead to use his remarkable bat control to give pitchers fits, and hit the ball to all parts of the field.
Gwynn, a product of San Diego State was drafted in the third round of the MLB draft, number 58 overall by the Padres in 1981 and went on to play his entire career for the Friars. In his 20 seasons, he racked up 3,141 total hits, 543 doubles, and managed to strikeout just 434 times in 10,232 total plate appearances. He became the consummate hitter, and throughout his career he solidified himself as the most consistent hitter in MLB, and one of the most difficult outs in all of baseball. “Mr. Padre,” could have easily been given the title “Mr. Hitter,” or “Mr. Consistent,” as he failed to eclipse the .300 mark just once; that coming during his rookie season in 1982. From there on out, he never batted below .309, and never struck out more than 40 times in a season.
His greatest season as a hitter came during his push to eclipse the .400 mark; a feat which has not been accomplished since Ted Williams hit .406 in the 1941. During the 1994 season, Gwynn managed 165 hits in 419 official at-bats, falling just shy of .400, finishing the shortened season at .394. Twenty seasons later, nobody has flirted with the .400 mark like Gwynn did during the historic ’94 season.
Gwynn’s excellence at the plate was a thing of beauty, and anyone who ever had the chance to see him hit must have felt as though they were seeing the master. He was the Michaelangelo of hitting, and while his skills at the bat speak for themselves, it was also his five Gold Gloves as a right fielder which helped solidify “Mr. Padre” as a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2007.
It is not often that a player’s brilliance off the field can match that of their on-field accomplishments, especially with Gwynn-like numbers, but Tony Gwynn managed to be just as special away from the diamond. He was honored with the Branch Rickey award in 1995, The Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1998, and the Roberto Clemente Award in 1999; an award which is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
Tony Gwynn, who was currently on a medical leave as the coach at San Diego State died Monday morning at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, California. The baseball world loses one of the best ever, and in a sports world where players bounce from team to team, nobody exemplified class and loyalty as much as “Mr. Padre.” He will be sorely missed throughout the baseball community, yet his name will live forever alongside some of baseball’s greatest, and his retired number 19 will always fly high above Petco Park. It will be a constant reminder of the greatness of Tony Gwynn, both as a player and a human being.
Commentary by Johnny Caito