Tony Gwynn

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This article is about the former MLB player and Baseball Hall of Famer. For his son, who is also an MLB player, see Tony Gwynn, Jr..
Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn 2011.jpg
Gwynn at the 2011 Hall of Fame induction parade
Right fielder
Born: (1960-05-09)May 9, 1960
Los Angeles, California
Died: June 16, 2014(2014-06-16) (aged 54)
Poway, California
Batted: Left Threw: Left
MLB debut
July 19, 1982 for the San Diego Padres
Last MLB appearance
October 7, 2001 for the San Diego Padres
Career statistics
Batting average .338
Hits 3,141
Home runs 135
Runs batted in 1,138
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Induction 2007
Vote 97.6% (first ballot)

Anthony Keith "Tony" Gwynn, Sr. (May 9, 1960 – June 16, 2014), nicknamed "Mr. Padre", was an American professional baseball right fielder who played 20 seasons (1982–2001) in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the San Diego Padres. The left-handed hitting Gwynn won eight batting titles in his career, tied for the second-most in MLB history. He is considered one of the best and most consistent hitters in baseball history. He was a 15-time All-Star, recognized for his skills both on offense and defense with seven Silver Slugger Awards and five Gold Glove Awards. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility.

Gwynn attended college at San Diego State University (SDSU), where he played both college baseball and college basketball for the San Diego State Aztecs. He was selected by the Padres in the third round of the 1981 MLB Draft as the 58th overall pick. Gwynn played in the World Series in both 1984 and 1998, the only two World Series appearances in San Diego's franchise history. He had a .338 career batting average and never hit below .309 in any full season, in addition to batting .371 in World Series games. Gwynn accumulated 3,141 career hits as a contact hitter, one of just ten players to reach the 3,000 hit club while only playing for one team.

Following his retirement, the Padres retired his jersey number 19 in 2004. He became the head baseball coach at his alma mater, and also spent time as a baseball analyst. Gwynn died on June 16, 2014 of salivary gland cancer.

Early life[edit]

Gwynn was born in Los Angeles, California, to Charles and Vendella Gwynn.[1] He was 9 when his family moved to Long Beach, California,[2] where he grew up with older brother Charles, who became a teacher, and younger brother Chris, who also became an MLB player.[1][3] Gwynn's father worked at a warehouse from 7:30 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., and he also coached Pop Warner football and Little League Baseball; his mother worked at the post office from 5:30 P.M. until 3:00 A.M. His parents instilled in him the value of being prepared. He filled his time playing mostly basketball, which was his favorite sport.[1][2][4][5] Gwynn went to Los Angeles Dodgers games and watched his hero, Willie Davis. Davis was a Dodgers outfielder who had twice as many stolen bases as home runs (398 SB, 182 HR) in his career. Gwynn admired Davis for being black, left-handed, and "aggressive but under control"; he admired Davis' work habits.[6] Later, he would check the box scores in the newspaper every morning to follow high-average hitters like Pete Rose, George Brett and Rod Carew.[7] Gwynn attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School before arriving at SDSU in 1977 as a highly recruited basketball point guard.[8][9]

Gwynn was a standout basketball player in both high school (pictured) and college.

He did not play baseball his first year at San Diego State in order to concentrate on basketball. He joined the Aztecs baseball team in 1979 when then-freshman shortstop Bobby Meacham, who knew Gwynn from his high school days, convinced SDSU baseball coach Jim Dietz to give Gwynn a chance to compete.[8] Dietz was looking for replacements for two outfielders who were injured riding bicycles after being struck by an automobile.[10] Gwynn became a two-sport star, playing three seasons of baseball and four of basketball. In baseball he primarily was a left fielder and designated hitter at San Diego State. Gwynn hit .301 his first season, but said he "stunk defensively."[11] He was a two-time All-American outfielder his final two seasons after leading the team in hitting. In 1980 Gwynn hit .423 with six home runs and 29 runs batted in (RBI) and was named third-team All-American by Baseball News. The next season he was a first-team All-American after batting .416 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI. He also was named a first-team all-WAC outfielder.[8]

Playing basketball Gwynn set the Aztecs basketball record for assists in a game (18), season (221), and career (590).[8][9] A skilled playmaker,[2] he was twice named to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) basketball all-conference Second Team, and he averaged 8.8 points per game his senior year.[5] He is the only player in the conference's history to earn all-conference honors in two sports.[12] Playing point guard developed Gwynn's baseball skills, as the dribbling strengthened his wrists—avoiding what he called "slow bat syndrome"—and his quickness improved his base running.[4] He could dunk a basketball, and he was able to run 60 yards (55 m) in 6.7 seconds; he had a quick first step in either sport.[13]

Professional baseball career[edit]

Minor leagues (1981–1982)[edit]

The San Diego Padres selected Gwynn in the third round of the 1981 Major League Baseball Draft with the 58th overall pick. Later that day, Gwynn was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the 10th round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft.[12] He chose to play baseball in what he termed a "practical" decision, citing his physical battles pushing and fighting against larger players such as Charles Bradley while playing WAC basketball.[5]

Gwynn was noted for constantly studying his swing, always looking for ways to improve his hitting. Gwynn began using smaller bats while playing his first season of professional ball for the Walla Walla Padres, San Diego's Class A Minor League Baseball affiliate, in 1981, because he was having trouble adapting to wood bats and wanted something of a similar weight to the aluminum bats he used in college. Even though Gwynn was batting .360 at the time, he felt that larger bats were hampering him because he had to choke up so far.

He hit .331 with 12 homers and 17 stolen bases in just 42 games for Walla Walla, earning him most valuable player honors for the Northwest League, before finishing the season in Class AA with Amarillo for 23 games while batting .462.[12][14]

Major leagues (1982–2001)[edit]

1982–1983[edit]

Gwynn was promoted from the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders and debuted for the Padres on July 19, 1982. He started in center field against the Philadelphia Phillies; in his fourth at-bat, Gwynn got his first major league hit—a double—against reliever Sid Monge. Rose, who was the Phillies first baseman and became the MLB all-time hit leader, told Gwynn, "Congratulations. Don't catch me in one night."[15] Five weeks later, he injured his left wrist diving for a ball against Pittsburgh, and missed three weeks while on the disabled list (DL).[16] He finished his rookie season batting .289 in 54 games in 1982, the only season in his career he hit below .300.[17]

He reinjured his wrist playing winter ball in Puerto Rico and started 1983 on the DL.[15][16] He missed the first two months of the season and struggled after his return,[17] and his average fell as low as .229 by July 29.[18] He asked his wife to record the games before a road trip, and he began using video recording to review his at-bats. After looking at the tapes and correcting his swing during batting practice, he became a believer in using video.[15] He said video "turned around my career".[19] He heated up to a .309 average for his shortened season; he would only hit that low again once, in 1990.

1984–1986[edit]

In his first full season in 1984, San Diego won their first National League (NL) West title. Gwynn was elected to start in his first All-Star Game, and he won his first batting title with a .351 average along with 71 runs batted in (RBI), and 33 stolen bases (SB); he had only 23 strikeouts in 606 at-bats. He finished third in the balloting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) behind Chicago Cubs winner Ryne Sandberg and runner-up Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets.[20][21][22] He had 213 hits, breaking the Padres record of 194 set by Gene Richards in 1980.[20] Gwynn hit second in the Padres batting order, and benefited from the higher number of fastballs opposing pitchers threw in response to the speedy Alan Wiggins (70 SB) being on base.[23] He hit above .400 when Wiggins, the Padres' leadoff hitter, was on base ahead of him.[24] "Anybody can hit a fastball," said Gwynn.[25] The Padres won the first NL pennant in its team history, defeating the Cubs in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) before losing the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. Gwynn batted .368 in the NLCS and his one-out single in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 set up Steve Garvey's game-winning homer.[20] Gwynn hit .263 (5-for-19) in the World Series,[26] and flew out to Tigers left fielder Larry Herndon for the final out of the fall classic.[27] During the offseason, Gwynn took less money to stay in San Diego by signing a 6-year, $4.6 million contract with the Padres.[28][29]

Wiggins entered drug rehab in 1985 and was traded later in the season to the Baltimore Orioles, resulting in Gwynn seeing fewer fastballs and more breaking balls. Gwynn said it took him a month to realize the change in opponents' strategy, and a while to adjust.[15][30] His average was under .300 into June, when he got hot but then sprained his wrist on June 27 in a collision with Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia. Still, Gwynn was named with seven other Padres to the 1985 All-Star Game. San Diego was leading the NL West at the time, but finished the season in third place. After Gwynn's wrist healed, he hit .339 after the start of August and finished the season with the fourth highest average in the NL (.317).[23][30][31]

Gwynn played a career-high 160 games in 1986. He scored 100 runs for the first time, and tied for the NL lead (107). He set then-career highs for doubles (33), homers (14) and steals (37).[32][33] On September 20 against Houston, he became the fifth NL player that century with five stolen bases in a game. He finished third in hitting (.329) after leading for most of the season. He hit only .296 in September, and he regretted paying too much attention to Tim Raines and Steve Sax, who were previously trailing him. Gwynn was honored for his defense with his first Gold Glove after leading the league in total chances and putouts (337); his 19 assists fell one short of the league high.[33]

1987–1989[edit]

In the Padres home opener in 1987, Marvell Wynne, Gwynn, and John Kruk hit back-to-back-to-back homers to start the game for San Diego, the first time an MLB team had led off a game with three consecutive home runs.[34] In June, he had 44 hits in 93 at-bats for a .473 average, the best month in his career.[35] That year, he had two five-hit games, the first of eight in his career.[36] Gwynn won his second batting title that season after hitting .370. It was the highest average in the NL since Stan Musial hit .376 in 1948. He also stole 56 bases and became the first NL player to hit .370 and steal 50 bases.[a][36] Gwynn never went more than eight at-bats without recording a hit, and he had a hit in 82 percent of the 155 games he batted. His 218 hits also led the league.[36] He was second in the league in stolen bases, triples (13), and on-base percentage (.447); he also ranked fourth in runs scored (119) and 10th in walks with a career-high 82.[32][38] His average, hits, runs and triples were all Padre records.[36] He finished eighth in the voting for NL MVP, but decided against altering his hitting style to hit more home runs to earn more respect. The same year, Wade Boggs in the American League (AL) won his fourth batting title in five years, hitting .363 with 24 home runs, but finished ninth in MVP voting.[39]

During the last three months of the 1987 season, a finger on Gwynn's left hand would lock when he gripped a bat. It would come open barely enough for the bat to slip out from his grip. He had surgery on the hand during Spring Training the following season. Early in 1988, Gwynn was on the DL for 21 days after spraining his thumb after tripping rounding first base in Pittsburgh.[40] He was hitting .246 as late as July 2, 1988, but won the championship with a .313 average.[15] Gwynn batted .406 in July and .367 in the last 73 games of the season. He denied that injuries impacted his hitting, instead attributing his struggles to "mechanics".[40] His .313 average was the lowest to win a title in NL history. In the 112 years before, only nine batting leaders hit below .330. For the 25 years ending in 1988, batting leaders averaged .343. Gwynn hit 119 points higher with runners on base (.382) than with the bases empty (.263), the largest differential in the NL that season.[40] He tied Pedro Guerrero for the highest average with runners in scoring position (.371).[41][42][b] During the season, Jack McKeon replaced Larry Bowa as Padres manager and moved Gwynn from right to center field.[43] Gwynn also reached 1,000 career hits on April 22 with a single off Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros.[15]

In the 1989 season, he was hurting in September while he was in the race for another batting title. His right toe made it hard for him to put a shoe on, and his left Achilles tendon was sore and prevented him from pushing off properly when swinging. His batting average dropped, but he insisted on playing until his manager forced him to sit out for two games. Gwynn went 3-for-4 twice in the last weekend of the season to pass Will Clark for the title. "I lost to the best," Clark said.[44] Gwynn became the first NL player to win three consecutive batting titles since Musial in 1950–52.[45] In December 1989, Gwynn fell to being the seventh-highest-paid Padre at $1 million a year, and he questioned the team's salary structure.[46] He felt he deserved more money than players like Jack Clark, who signed a lucrative deal with the New York Yankees before being traded to San Diego.[47] Gwynn's request for a contract renegotiation was denied.[48]

1990–1992[edit]

Gwynn's 1990 Gold Glove award

Widely respected by his peers and known as one of the most dedicated players in baseball, Gwynn in 1990 was accused by some teammates of being selfish and caring more about his batting average than winning.[46][49][50] First baseman Jack Clark, most notably, stated that Gwynn should be swinging with runners in scoring position instead of bunting and protecting his batting average.[46] Clark did not approve of Gwynn bunting with runners on first and second with nobody out, while Gwynn felt he was advancing runners for the team's "game changers"—Clark and Joe Carter—which was consistent with Manager Jack McKeon's style.[51] Gwynn said he resorted to bunting to advance the runners because he was not a good pull hitter.[52] "No one bothers Tony Gwynn because he wins batting titles, but the Padres finish fourth or fifth every year," said Clark, who also stirred controversy on his prior teams.[46][53] Teammates Mike Pagliarulo and Garry Templeton sided with Clark,[54] who also said Gwynn was "50 pounds overweight", attributing to his lower stolen base total.[55]

Stung by the criticism, Gwynn was miserable the rest of the season and became withdrawn and distrustful among his teammates. Conscious of being perceived as selfish, he altered his hitting style by attempting to pull the ball to move runners in situations where he would normally hit to the opposite field.[46][54] Rumors that he might be traded affected his play.[56] In September, Gwynn was upset when a figurine of his likeness was hanging in effigy in the Padres' dugout. The Padres said a groundskeeper was responsible, but Gwynn believed it was a cover-up.[57] After breaking his right index finger mid-month in Atlanta while trying to make a catch at the wall, Gwynn missed the final 19 games of the season.[56] He left the team for the season to avoid contact with the media and teammates.[58] He was further upset that neither management nor other teammates came to his defense at the time.[59] He later regretted saying he wanted to avoid his teammates in general instead of being more specific which ones he was referring to.[46] "It just involved one great guy, and that's Tony Gwynn, and anything they want to say about Tony Gwynn is going to be news. It got all blown out of proportion," Carter said.[60] Gwynn countered, "I've been doing the same things my whole career, playing the same way. Now, why is it an issue? Because Jack Clark says it is."[61] Gwynn finished the season batting .309, ranking sixth in the league but the lowest average of any full season in his career;[46] he had entered the season with a .332 career average.[47] However, his 72 RBI that season were a then-career high.[61] He also began experiencing soreness and swelling in his left knee. The cartilage under his kneecap was wearing out, which doctors attributed to his playing basketball and baseball year-round for seven years from high school through college.[16][56]

Clark and Gwynn said they could continue to play together, but Clark that offseason signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent instead of San Diego.[46][62] Gwynn felt appeciated after he was signed to a three-year contract extension for $12.25 million, including a $1 million signing bonus.[46] McKeon praised Gwynn, saying, "He's one of the most unselfish players I've ever managed. In '89, when he was going for a batting title, he was giving himself up to move runners along." Baseball Hall of Fame member Dick Williams, who managed Gwynn from 1982 through 1985, said of Gwynn, "I don't think I've ever had a player who worked harder, cared more and was more deserving of his awards."[46] Clark continued to criticize him, which Gwynn attributed to jealousy.[57] Gwynn responded with his own criticism of Clark: "Let's talk about him walking 104 times, being a No. 4 hitter. Let's talk about his not flying on team flights. Let's talk about him getting booted out of games on a called strike three."[63] In 1992, Gwynn sympathized with Clark, who filed for bankruptcy after bad loans by his agent; Gwynn experienced the same financial problems in 1987. "I really appreciated the things Tony said about my situation," Clark said.[64]

Gwynn in 1991 passed Gene Richards as the Padres' all-time leader in steals and triples. He reached a season-high batting average of .373 in June, he was voted into the All-Star game. His left knee began causing problems before the break, and he hit only .243 after the All-Star game and missing games starting in late August. He had arthroscopic surgery to clean out the knee and smooth the articular cartilage, missing the final 21 games.[56]

"People can say what they want to say about me. I know I've never driven in a lot of runs. That stat never has been that important to me. But who in this league is better at putting the bat on the ball? Nobody."

—Tony Gwynn, 1991[65]

In 1992 Gwynn ended the season on the DL for the third straight year. On September 8 in a 16-inning game in San Francisco against the Giants, he had the third five-hit game of his career and his first since 1987. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the same game, and played just four more innings the rest of the season. He required arthroscopic surgery on the knee.[66] Gwynn met Hall of Famer Ted Williams for the first time during the 1992 All-Star Game. At the time, Gwynn considered himself to be an accomplished hitter, content to hit singles and doubles.[67] Williams called Gwynn "a big guy", capable of hitting for more power. He chided Gwynn for using a "toothpick" for a bat.[66] His encounter with Williams spurred him to think more about hitting, and he began to hit for more power.[67] "I've never been a home run guy, never been a big RBI guy, but from that point to the end of my career, I was much better at it," said Gwynn.[68]

1993–1997[edit]

Gwynn entered the 1993 season anticipating he would be better after his past two surgeries. He incorporated Williams' advice into his swing. The Padres lost 101 games in 1993, the team's worst record during Gwynn's career.[69] The team that season traded most of its star players—including Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, and Tony Fernández—in fire sales.[70] Gwynn finished with a .358 average, the then-second best average of his career, but Colorado's Andrés Galarraga won the title at .370. Gwynn was affected early by a sprained thumb, but he hit .400 (76-for-190) over the second half of the season. He had the only six-hit game of his career on August 4 against the Giants. He might have gone 7–for–7 if not for an excellent play at first base by Will Clark.[69] On August 6, Gwynn had his 2,000th hit with a single off Colorado Rockies lefthander Bruce Ruffin.[15] His last game was September 5 before undergoing arthroscopic surgery to clear "loose bodies" from his knee. It was the fourth consecutive year his season ended early, and the third straight season it was due to left knee surgery.[69] After the season, Gwynn's father, Charles, died young at the age of 57 from heart problems.[1][70][71] Two days earlier, Charles had argued with Gwynn that he should leave San Diego, questioning the Padres' commitment to winning. Gwynn eventually concluded, "No, I like it here, I should stay."[15][66] He contemplated leaving baseball after his father's death; however, he recalled his father always telling him to "never be a quitter, work hard."[1]

For years during Gwynn's career, media preseason predictions declared that "this season" he would become the first hitter to hit .400 since Williams in 1941.[72] Relatively heathy in 1994,[70] Gwynn batted .394, his career high and the highest in the National League since Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930;[2] he also had a league-leading .454 on-base percentage.[17] Gwynn was batting .475 though 10 games in August and .423 since the second half when the season ended prematurely on August 11 due to the baseball strike.[73][74] That year he pulled the ball with greater regularity, and his 12 homers in 419 at-bats was a higher rate than in 1986 when he hit a then-career high 14 homers in 642 at-bats.[75] He won another batting title (.368) in 1995. For the second straight year, he did not go longer than two games without a hit. He led the NL in batting with runners in scoring position (.394), and he had a then-career high 90 RBI.[32][76] Gwynn hit in 15 straight games in July, his longest hitting streak since his 18-game run in 1988. He hit 28-for-65 (.431) with 15 RBI during the streak.[76]

In 1996 the Padres won the division and reached the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.[1][35] On September 28, Gwynn hit a patented single between third base and shortstop to score two runs and break a 2–2 tie in the eighth against the Dodgers to clinch a playoff berth for the Padres. He called it his most memorable regular-season hit until his 3,000th career hit.[35] Gwynn's brother, Chris, also played for San Diego that season and hit the game-winner in the final game of the season in extra innings, completing a three-game sweep over Los Angeles to win the division. Chris had only hit .169 entering the game, and some fans were convinced that he was on the team only because of his brother. Earlier in the week, Gwynn had criticized fans for booing his brother.[1] "Today, I'm just Chris Gwynn's anonymous brother," said Gwynn, who also won his seventh batting title that day.[77] Although he was four plate appearances (PAs) short of the minimum to qualify for the title, MLB Rule 10.22(a)—also known as the Tony Gwynn rule—allowed hitless at-bats to be added to his record to qualify. Gwynn, who batted .353 in 498 PAs, would have dropped to .349 with the extra at-bats, still five points better than second-place Ellis Burks' .344.[78] Gwynn called this the worst injury season of his career. His hurt heel in April was diagnosed as an inflamed bursa sac. He tried multiple shoes to alleviate the pain, and was on the DL for a month at midseason. He played the rest of the year in pain, and surgery after the season revealed a 40 percent tear (or fraying) at the top of his right Achilles' tendon.[16]

Shoes worn by Gwynn in 1997, when he batted .372

In April 1997, Gwynn signed a three-year contract extension for $12.6 million.[79] That season, Gwynn reached career highs with 17 home runs and 119 runs batted in. He batted .372 for his eighth batting title, second only to Ty Cobb (12).[72] He led the NL in hits for the seventh time, tying Rose's record. The 220 hits led the majors, and was both a personal and a team record. Gwynn led MLB with a .459 average with runners in scoring position. In his 16th season, he became the oldest major leaguer to reach 100 RBI for the first time. His RBI total was the second highest in club history. He also hit a career-high and Padre record of 49 doubles, ranking second in the league.[32][80] On June 7, Gwynn hit his 100th career home run off of Donne Wall of Houston, becoming the third Padre to reach the mark.[80]

1998–2001[edit]

In 1998, Gwynn batted .321 and helped the Padres win a franchise-record 98 games and their second pennant.[12] He continued his trend of hitting for more power with 16 homers.[72] The Padres reached the World Series in 1998 after defeating the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves in the playoffs. However, the Padres lost to the Yankees in a four-game sweep, despite Gwynn hitting .500 (8-for-16) in the series;[2][17] the rest of the team batted only .203.[12] Gwynn hit a home run in the opening game at Yankee Stadium against pitcher David Wells, which he calls his favorite hit and highlight of his career. "That's the biggest game in the world, a World Series game. And the fact that it was in New York in Yankee Stadium. I'll remember that forever," he said.[81]

Calf injuries force Gwynn to miss 44 games in the first half of 1999.[12] As he approached 3,000 career hits in July 1999, two unidentified Padres said there was too much focus on reaching the milestone. Additionally, Jim Leyritz, after being traded from the Padres to the Yankees, said Gwynn lacked the "intangibles" of a team player.[82] In the next game in San Diego, Padres fans gave Gwynn a standing ovation after he was removed for a pinch runner following his 2,994 hit.[83] Gwynn approached 3,000 hits on the road, first playing in a series against the St. Louis Cardinals. On August 4, Gwynn collected three hits, including a grand slam, to reach 2,998 hits, receiving a standing ovation from the St. Louis crowd after each hit.[84] The following day, Gwynn collected hit number 2,999 in the same game that the Cardinals' Mark McGwire hit his 500th home run.[85] Gwynn got his 3,000th hit on August 6 with a single in the first inning off Montreal Expos pitcher Dan Smith. He had four hits in the game. His 2,000th hit was also on August 6, which is also the birthday of Gwynn's mother.[86] The milestone was delayed by a left calf injury that sent Gwynn to the DL twice that season. He reached 3,000 in 2,284 games, the third-fewest games among the 22 players to reach the mark behind Cobb (2,135) and Nap Lajoie (2,224).[86] No player born after 1900 got there in fewer games or at-bats (8,874) than Gwynn.[87]

Gwynn in 2001.

Gwynn, who turned 40 in 2000, had a knee injury that season which required surgery and limited him to 36 games.[79] He re-signed with the Padres for 2001, agreeing to a one-year, $2 million contract with a chance to earn another $3.7 million in performance incentives.[88] However, he was hampered that season by hamstring problems to his right leg, which had been his "good leg".[79][89] He missed 64 games due to two stints on the DL in the first half of the season. After returning, he began having problems with his right knee. He was limited to pinch-hitting duties and started only one game after mid-July due to a torn meniscus in the right knee.[16][89][90] Gwynn formally announced on June 28 that he would retire at the end of the season. He received an ovation at each stadium the Padres played on the road, and he was honored as a non-playing squad member at the 2001 All-Star Game. Gwynn finished the season with a .324 average, his 19th consecutive season batting at least 300.[32][89]

Player profile[edit]

Gwynn's physical appearance defied his athleticism. He stood 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) and weighed 200 pounds (91 kg), thick around the middle and thighs. His roly-poly frame was a self-described "body by Betty Crocker", a reference to the food product brand.[21][91] His knee injuries over his career prompted the Padres organization, media, and fans to question his weight and conditioning. Gwynn said his biggest problem might have been not fitting people's profile of what an athlete should look like. Gwynn said he had "a football player's body", with his father, grandfather and brothers also being big.[16] Gwynn said his hitting style put a lot of torque on his knees. He had 13 operations in his career, eight involving his knees.[16] Limited by injuries, he played over 135 games just once in his final 11 seasons.[12] Gwynn used to run a great deal to keep in shape, but his last five years were mostly limited to working out in the gym.[16] U-T San Diego wrote that his actual weight was under-reported during the latter part of his career.[92]

A Tony Gwynn game-used and autographed baseball bat.

Among Gwynn's primary strengths was his patience in allowing the ball to reach the strike zone before starting his swing;[93] he rarely struck out.[94] His bats were as small as anyone used during his career. The small and light bats allowed him to wait longer before committing to his swing; he was rarely fooled by a pitch.[93] In college, Gwynn used a 32-inch, 31-ounce aluminum baseball bat. He had to switch to wooden bats as a professional.[95] In the first 12 years of his MLB career, Gwynn used a 32 12-inch, 31-ounce bat. In his final eight years, he employed a 33-inch, 30 12-ounce bat.[c][93] Gwynn wanted his wooden bats light like his aluminum bat in college. Instead of having the barrel of his bats shaved, as many batters do, he had them "cupped", with the end of the barrel hollowed out like the bottom of a wine bottle.[95] His bat control made him a good hit-and-run batter,[96] although some former teammates complained he would swing for a hit even when a player was trying to steal, depriving his teammate of a stolen base.[97][98] Gwynn was an aggressive hitter, sometimes swinging at balls out of the strike zone.[99] His philosophy was to "see the ball and react".[100] He rarely recognized the rotation of the ball, and did not look to the pitcher's arm speed for clues.[101] He had excellent 20–10 vision that later decreased to 20–15. He tried wearing glasses around 1994 but stopped, fearing he "looked like a dork".[13] Gwynn's peripheral vision allowed him to stare directly at the pitcher and still adjust his hitting based on the defense's setup, even if players shifted before the pitch was released.[102]

Gwynn was able to hit the ball to all fields,[103] but liked to hit balls the opposite way to the left, between third base and shortstop. Gwynn dubbed it the "5.5 hole", since baseball scorekeeping designates third base using a 5 and shortstop with a 6.[104] He preferred an outside pitch, waiting as long as possible and using his strong wrists to quickly hit the ball.[105] He became a complete hitter after following Ted Willams' advice to drive inside pitches instead of finessing them,[19] which Gwynn learned he could do without sacrificing his average.[103] He was not considered a home run hitter, reaching double-figures just five times, but he was a gap hitter with power to drive hits between outfielders.[17][106] Opposing outfielders typically played him deep.[107] Gwynn initially thought that home runs were "boring", and he concentrated on his craft of making contact. However, Williams convinced him to turn on inside fastballs more and capitalize on his strength and power pitchers pitching him inside. Forty-three of Gwynn's 135 career home runs were in his final three full seasons (1997–99).[7]

He was a leading base stealer in the first half of his career.[17] As he grew slower in later years due to injuries, Gwynn would anticipate pitchers' moves and would sometimes steal bases by breaking for second base before the pitcher started delivering the ball to the hitter.[102] Defensively, he improved considerably and was among the best right fielders at quickly going to the line, cutting the ball off, and throwing to second base. He worked on his defense, constantly checking right field walls in ballparks to study how balls bounced off them. His running ability also helped him on defense.[93][108] When he entered the majors, Gwynn was not a very good right fielder nor an accurate thrower. For a long time, he worked on his defense harder than he did his hitting.[33] His arm was not particularly strong, but he learned to use his body to build momentum into his throws.[109]

In an era before laptops and tablets, Gwynn bought his own video equipment and lugged it from town to town along with tapes of his games.[110][111] His wife traveled with a Betamax video cassette recorder that was the size of a suitcase to tape his at-bats.[37] Few hitters were as meticulous as Gwynn with his detailed notebooks and videotape, which he spent hours studying.[72] He studied pitchers, watching them in the bullpen and on television or video, to learn their tendencies on every count. He spent hours watching video and analyzing his swing frame by frame. He had one tape of each team, which included his at-bats against that team in the season.[14][112] "Tony taught me more about hitting than I ever taught him," said Merv Rettenmund, his hitting coach for nine years with the Padres.[19]

Gwynn spoke with a twang in his high-pitched voice, often filled with an infectious childlike laughter.[74][113][114] He possessed a cheerful personality, being friendly towards others while being critical of himself.[91] His demeanor was even-keeled; Rettenmund said, "You couldn't tell if [Gwynn had] gone 3-for-3 or 0-for-3."[115] After the death of his father in 1993, Gwynn followed his father's advice and became more outspoken and more of a team leader.[1]

Post-baseball honors[edit]

PadresRetired19.png
Tony Gwynn's number 19 was retired by the San Diego Padres in 2004.

In 1997, SDSU's baseball facility, Smith Stadium, was extensively renovated with $4 million from Padres owner John Moores. At Moores's request, the stadium was renamed Tony Gwynn Stadium.

He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 2002, and the team retired his No. 19 in 2004.[116]

In 2007, a 9 12-foot (2.9 m), 1,200-pound (540 kg) bronze statue of Gwynn was unveiled in the park just beyond Petco Park's outfield.[117][118] A plaque on the front reads: "Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre." At the base on the back is a quote from his father: "If you work hard, good things will happen."[103] The address of Petco Park is 19 Tony Gwynn Drive.[117]

Hall of Fame[edit]

On January 9, 2007, Gwynn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, being selected on 532 out of 545 ballots (97.61%), the seventh highest percentage in Hall of Fame voting history.[108] He was inducted alongside Cal Ripken, Jr. on July 29, 2007. Ripken and Gwynn are two of the 46 players in the Hall of Fame who played their entire major league career for only one team. Both were elected almost unanimously in their first year of eligibility.[74]

The Gwynn-Ripken induction weekend was notable for a number of attendance records, which were announced during the ceremony. 14,000 people visited the Hall of Fame Museum on July 28, a record number for a single-day. Baseball attendance for all games played on July 28 also set a single-day record. The induction ceremony also had the greatest collection of living Hall-of-Famers, 53, present for a ceremony. A record crowd estimated at 75,000 attended the induction ceremony, shattering the previous record of 25,000 in 1999. In 2002, Gwynn was also inducted by the San Diego Hall of Champions into the Breitbard Hall of Fame honoring San Diego's finest athletes both on and off the playing surface.[119] Prior to his induction into the Hall of Fame on July 20, 2007, Gwynn appeared on a Wheaties box.

Legacy[edit]

Gwynn was known as "Mr. Padre."

Gwynn was a 15-time All-Star, voted 11 times by fans to be a starter.[94] He accumulated 3,141 hits and a career batting average of .338. The New York Times called Gwynn "arguably the best pure hitter of his generation".[120] Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, against whom Gwynn had more hits than any other pitcher, called him "the best pure hitter in the game. Easily."[d][35] A 1997 Sports Illustrated cover declared Gwynn as "The Best Hitter Since Ted Williams."[12] Gwynn won eight NL batting titles, tying him with Honus Wagner for the league record— second only to all-time Major League leader Ty Cobb, who won 12 AL titles.[72][108] He finished in the top 10 in batting for 15 consecutive seasons.[32][108] From 1984 though 1997, he finished in the top five in all but one season (1990), when he missed it by one hit.[32][87] He recorded five of the 14 highest season averages since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.[79] Gwynn hit above .300 in an NL-record 19 consecutive seasons, exceeded only by Cobb (23).[7][89] The only season Gwynn failed to bat .300 was his first, when he hit .289 in 54 games.[79] Seven times he batted over .350, the most of any player since World War II.[12] He hit above .350 for five consecutive years (1993–1997)—averaging .368 in that span—while leading the league each season except 1993, when he hit .358 to finish second.[79][93] The four consecutive NL batting titles he won starting in 1994 had not been matched since Hornsby won six straight beginning in 1920.[121] Gwynn is the only major leaguer to win four batting titles each in two separate decades.[122] Six times he led the NL in both batting average and hits.[20]

Gwynn's .338 career average is the highest of any player who began his career after World War II, and ranks 17th all-time;[93][123] he and Williams are the only ones of the top-17 to play after 1938.[93] Gwynn also had the highest career average of any player with 3,000 hits who was born after 1900.[87] Playing in an era when around 75 batters struck out 100 times in a season, Gwynn never struck out more than 40 times a year.[93] He had eight seasons, including six consecutive, when he had fewer than 20 strikeouts.[87] He struck out only 434 times in his whole career, or just once every 21 at-bats.[94] He is one of five players with more than 500 doubles and fewer than 500 strikeouts in their career.[e] Gwynn stole 318 bases in his career, with a high of 56 and a four-year stretch when he averaged 40.[93][124] Only four players in MLB history had 300 steals and a career batting average of at least .338; Gwynn was the only one of the four to have played since 1928.[f][93] He was also just the 10th player to retire with over 3,000 hit and 300 steals.[12] Gwynn in 1999 was the first National League player to reach 3,000 hits since Lou Brock in August 1979. Seven American Leaguers reached the mark after Brock and before Gwynn; all but one played at least 400 games as a designated hitter.[125] "If you want to do it in the National League, you have to play a position," Gwynn said. "It's been 20 years since anybody has been able to do it. That tells you how tough it is to do it in this league."[86]

Gwynn was the 11th player to collect all 3,000 hits with one team. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals and Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers were the last to achieve the milestone for one team in 1992.[86] He played his entire career for San Diego, a rarity for his generation.[126] "In this era it doesn't happen. It takes a little bit of loyalty and luck. It also takes the organization wanting a player to stay with the club," said Gwynn.[79] Gwynn regularly took less money to keep his family rooted in San Diego, which prompted criticism from the Major League Baseball Players Association for his setting a lower market value for other star hitters;[17][29] He never earned more than $6.3 million in a season, or signed a contract valued over $12.25 million.[12] Only 17 MLB players have played at least 20 seasons with one club.[108] Gwynn is widely considered the greatest Padres player ever.[94] “There’s simply no bigger figure in baseball that San Diego’s ever had,” said former teammate Trevor Hoffman.[74]

His career paralleled that of Wade Boggs, who also debuted in the major leagues in 1982. Gwynn and Boggs were the premier contact hitters in an era dominated by home runs. They both won multiple batting titles—Gwynn's eight to Boggs's five—and each won four straight to join Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Carew as the only players to do so. Gwynn and Boggs each hit over .350 in four straight seasons, the only players to do so since 1931. They joined Brock and Carew as the only players whose careers ended after World War II who finished with 3,000 hits and fewer than 160 home runs.[15][86] Gwynn, though, had a career slugging percentage of .459, higher than comparable contemporaries such as Boggs, Brock, Carew, and Rose. Among that group, he had more RBIs (1,138) than everyone but Rose.[127]

Gwynn used video to study his swing before it became common in baseball.[2] When he began the practice in 1983, MLB teams were years away from using video for scouting.[74] Hoffman said that Gwynn "revolutionized video in baseball.”[74] Gwynn prospered during the steroid era of baseball. While other players were transforming their physiques over a single offseason, his body grew pudgier and rounder. While no longer the base stealer or defensive player he was early in his career, he continued to excel as a hitter.[128] In 2005, Sporting News ranked him No. 57 on the list of their 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and he was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.[94]

Despite his fame, Gwynn was renowned for his dignity and modesty. He was honored for his character and humanitarianism with the 1995 Branch Rickey Award, the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award,[37] which USA Today called "baseball's Triple Crown of humanity and kindness."[111] Tom Verducci of SI.com called Gwynn "an ambassador not just for the game of baseball but for mankind."[37]

Personal life[edit]

Gwynn was married to Alicia Gwynn, and was the father of rhythm-and-blues singer Anisha Nicole and major league outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr., whose major league debut (with the Milwaukee Brewers) and first major league hit on July 19, 2006 came 24 years to the day of his father's first major league hit—each Gwynn hit a double.[129] Gwynn also had four grandchildren. His brother, Chris, was also a major league outfielder.[130] Both Chris and Tony, Jr. played with the Padres during their careers. Until Gwynn's death he split time between homes in Poway, California and Fishers, Indiana.[131]

Post-playing career[edit]

Gwynn in 2006

Following his playing career, Gwynn was the baseball head coach at SDSU for 12 seasons, compiling a 363–363 record including three Mountain West Conference championships and three NCAA Tournament appearances.[132][133] During his last season playing for the Padres in 2001, he lobbied for the coaching position after Jim Dietz announced he would step down after the 2002 season. In September 2001, Gwynn signed a three-year contract with his alma mater to be an unpaid volunteer coach for 2002 with a base salary of $100,000 starting in 2003.[134] In the five-year period 2007–2011, the baseball team was penalized with a reduction in scholarships for failing to meet the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate.[135] However, Gwynn's teams improved their academic performance for the five years ending in 2012.[136] The Aztecs finished .500 or better in five of Gwynn's final seven seasons, and they qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times in his final six seasons.[132]

Gwynn's bout with cancer caused him to miss time intermittently. He missed the start of the 2012 season after undergoing surgery, and missed games in 2013 while involved with a clinical trial. Days before his death in June 2014, he was given a one-year contract extension although he had been on a leave of absence since March while recovering from cancer treatment.[113][137]

Gwynn was also a broadcaster, working as a game and studio analyst for ESPN.[2] He also worked postseason games on TBS, and served as an expert analyst for Yahoo! Sports.[133] He also served as color analyst for Padres games on Channel 4 in San Diego and later Fox Sports San Diego.[138][139]

In May 2012, Gwynn joined a group led by movie producer Thomas Tull to bid on purchasing the Padres from Moores.[117] Gwynn had no financial stake in the group,[118][140] and Tull withdrew his bid in June.[140]

Health and death[edit]

Gwynn had three procedures to remove noncancerous growths from his parotid gland since 1997. In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer of a salivary gland and had lymph nodes and tumors from the gland removed.[141][142][143] The operation left his face partially paralyzed on the right side, leaving him unable to smile.[144] Later that year, he underwent eight weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.[143] He was declared cancer free afterwards, and also regained his ability to smile.[144] Additional surgery was performed in 2012 to remove more cancerous growth and address nerve damage.[143] Gwynn attributed the cancer to the dipping tobacco habit that he had since playing rookie ball in Walla Walla in 1981.[144] Doctors, however, stated that studies had not linked parotid cancer with use of chewing tobacco.[141][143][144]

Memorial for Gwynn at his statue in Petco Park

After his playing career ended, Gwynn's weight peaked at 330 pounds (150 kg), and he underwent adjustable gastric banding surgery in 2009 in an attempt to lose weight. He did not closely adhere to the diet, and his weight loss began to stall. His weight problem led to a slipped disc in his back that affected a nerve down his leg in 2010. He needed a walker before he had the damaged disc removed to cure the pain while walking. Later, he experienced a loss of taste for food during radiation therapy for his cancer, and while being limited to a liquid diet, he lost 80 pounds (36 kg), all of which he regained after he resumed eating solid foods.[145]

During another round of cancer treatments in April 2014, a mishap occurred in which Gwynn lost oxygen and was barely able to move. He was sent to rehabilitation to learn how to walk again.[71] On June 16, 2014, Gwynn died at Pomerado Hospital in Poway due to complications from his cancer. He was 54 years old.[111][113][146] His heart had stopped the night before on Father's Day, when paramedics were called, and he was rushed from his home to the hospital.[70][111]

A public memorial service was held for Gwynn at Petco Park on June 26, 2014. The service was attended by 23,229 fans, who heard tributes to Gwynn from baseball and civic leaders, and from Gwynn's family.[147]

Baseball achievements[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

Award/Honor # of Times Dates Refs
NL batting champion 8 1984, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 [32]
NL All-Star 15 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 [32]
NL Silver Slugger 7 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1997 [32]
NL Gold Glove 5 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 [32]
Roberto Clemente Award 1 1999 [32]
Lou Gehrig Memorial Award 1 1998 [32]
Branch Rickey Award 1 1995 [32]

Records[edit]

Gwynn No. 19 shirts on display
Major League records
Accomplishment Record Refs
Most 5-hit games in a season 4[i] (1993) [149]
National League records
Accomplishment Record Refs
Most batting titles 8[i] [122]
Most seasons leading league in hits 7[ii] [122]
Most consecutive seasons batting .300 or better 19 [7]
Most seasons leading league in singles 7 [122]
  1. ^ Tied with Honus Wagner
  2. ^ Tied with Pete Rose
Padres records
Accomplishment Record Refs
Highest batting average, career .338 [150]
Highest batting average, season .394 (1994) [150]
Highest on-base percentage, season .454 (1994) [150]
Most games played, career 2,440 [150]
Most at bats, career 9,288 [150]
Most plate appearances, career 10,232 [150]
Most runs scored, career 1,383 [150]
Most hits, career 3,141 [150]
Most hits, season 220 (1997) [150]
Most total bases, career 4,259 [150]
Most doubles, career 543 [150]
Most doubles, season 49 (1997) [150]
Most triples, career 85 [150]
Most triples, season 13[i] (1987) [150]
Most runs batted in, career 1,138 [150]
Most walks, career 790 [150]
Most stolen bases, career 319 [150]
  1. ^ Tied with Dave Roberts

Career statistics[edit]

Tony Gwynn Drive outside of Petco Park.
  • Bold indicates Padres all-time leader
AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG
.338 2,440 9,288 1,383 3,141 543 85 135 1,138 790 434 319 118 .388 .459

Milestone hits[edit]

Hit # Date & Opponent Pitcher Type of Hit Ref
1 July 19, 1982 vs. Philadelphia Sid Monge Double [151]
500 August 18, 1985 vs. Atlanta Craig McMurtry Single
1,000 April 22, 1988 vs. Houston Nolan Ryan Single
1,135^ September 17, 1988 @ Atlanta Jim Acker Single [152]
1,500 August 15, 1990 vs. Montreal Steve Frey Single [151]
2,000 August 6, 1993 vs. Colorado Bruce Ruffin Single
2,500 August 14, 1996 @ Cincinnati Héctor Carrasco Single
3,000 August 6, 1999 @ Montreal Dan Smith Single
3,141* October 6, 2001 vs. Colorado Gabe White Double [113]
  • ^ Became the Padres all-time leader surpassing Dave Winfield (1973–80).[153]
  • * Final of career

Bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Other major leaguers include George Sisler, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Benny Kauff.[37]
  2. ^ Baseball-reference.com lists his average in scoring position as .371, not .382 as in Men at Work. .382 was his average with runners on base.
  3. ^ In comparison, slugger Babe Ruth used bats ranging 44 to 52 ounces. Ernie Banks hit 512 career home runs using a 32 ounce bat.[95]
  4. ^ Gwynn hit 39-for-94 (.415) with no strikeouts in his career against Maddux.[87]
  5. ^ Others include Paul Waner, Charlie Gehringer, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie.[37]
  6. ^ The others are Cobb, Lajoie, and Tris Speaker.

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Will, George F. (1990). Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. MacMillian. p. 164. ISBN 0-02-628470-7. 
  4. ^ a b Will 1990, pp.164–5
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  6. ^ Will 1990, p.228
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  11. ^ Cushman 2006, p. 136.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jaffe, Jay (June 16, 2014). "Tony Gwynn, a pioneer, a legend and a Hall of Famer, dies at age 54". SI.com. Archived from the original on September 6, 2014. 
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Further reading[edit]

  • Mitchell, Jane. One on One: My Journey With Hall of Famers, Fan Favorites, And Rising Stars. Sweet Dreams Publishing, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9824461-7-1.

External links[edit]