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.

About The Author

Father. Iowa born, Kentucky raised, NYC finished. I write about baseball. I wonder what Willie Shakespeare would have written had he met Willie Mays. Richard resides in protective custody at an undisclosed location in New Jersey.

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17 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. preacherj

    I don’t remember the year, but this is one of my favorite Tony stats:
    AB: 535
    K: 15
    Just let that sink in for a minute.

    He also had a year where he hit close to .460 with RISP. 99 RBI’s from that alone. Not a small sample size.

    His son’s first major league hit came 24 years to the day that his father’s did. They were both doubles.

    He was also a 5 time Gold Glover. He could do it all on the field. One of the greatest hitters of all time. And by all accounts, a great man.

  3. Steve Mancuso

    Gwynn was hitting .394 (and going up) on August 11 in 1994 when there was a work stoppage. It would have been a heck of a September watching him chase .400.

    • WVRedlegs

      Tony Gwynn was a scientist when it came to hitting. I would like to think with all of the information available to today’s hitters, if all of that would have been available just 25 years ago to Gwynn, that we’d be talking about Gwynn in a little different light. I think he would have reached .400 at least once. That 1994 work stoppage, lockout, strike, or whatever you want to call it, rob us fans of more than just a World Series and a possible Reds post-season. Gwynn’s pursuit of .400 would have been a joy to watch, as he was a joy to watch play the game.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Junior had 40 home runs (Matt Williams had 43) in 1994, at a time when breaking 60 was still an honorable and seemingly impossible accomplishment.

      • preacherj

        I’ve heard stories that Gwynn would bring the old style big digital VCR’s on the road with him with a collection of tapes and watch every AB he had against whatever pitcher he was set to oppose. He would be in his room after every game disecting the game pitch by pitch. It’s said he spent as much time during the season on studying as he did on hitting. Talk about a work ethic.

      • 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.

      • MrRed

        Interesting thought, WV. Now would all of that info that theoretically could have been at Gwynn’s disposal also come along with the advanced scouting metrics and defensive shifts? I think it would have been tough for him to reach .400 after all but it sure would have been fun watching.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. MikeC

    There are so many amazing stats in Gwynn’s career. Read in another article that he had more 4 hit games than 2 strikeout games in his career.

  9. 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.

  10. Chaswell

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

  11. pinson343

    One of my favorite players ever. On mlbnetwork they played an audio of him talking with Ted Williams about hitting, wow. Like Joey Votto, a scientific hitter who studied Williams’ book and applied it.

    More than a great hitter, he was a great player. Excellent OFer. He would hit according to the situation, I remember his hitting a game winning HR (against the Mets I think) as I was listening on the radio.

    According to seemingly everyone who knew him, an even better man than he was a player.