Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gwynn: One of a Kind

Heaven added a legit hitter to their lineup on Monday (June 16th), with the passing of Tony Gwynn.

I don't know where to start, I don't want this article to sound repeated or regurgitated, but at the same time it's difficult not to talk about the stats or his infectious smile, voice & laugh. Anthony Keith Gwynn, known to the fans and baseball world as Tony Gwynn, was in a class all by himself when it came to class, he never thought about bolting San Diego, even when he could have easily made more money elsewhere. He never bolted town for a winning franchise like the New York Yankees, in which they had a great shot every year to win a World Series. He played for a city that truly respected him, a city that was known to honor heroes (the city shows it's respect for service members, maybe more than any other franchise), a city that treated Gwynn as family, and Gwynn felt the same way for this town, this is where his family lived, the way he looked at it, why would anyone want to leave here?

He played his college career in San Diego for the San Diego State Aztecs in which he also had a great college basketball career, leaving SDSU as the team's all-time assists leader, he was drafted by the San Diego Padres & San Diego Clippers on the same day.

Luckily for me, and other baseball fans, he chose baseball. Tony Gwynn was possibly the hardest working hitter since Ted Willliams. It was common knowledge that he studied film religiously, so much that one of his nicknames was "Captain Video" -- most players never understood why he studied as much as he did, how much better can this guy get? How much more could he possibly improve? His lifetime batting average of .338 ranks as the second-highest since World War II, and would finish with 3,141 career hits. Added weight later in his career, would lead to shortened seasons and time out of action with bad knees -- Gwynn would point to the fact that he couldn't lay off the Twinkies & was glad he chose baseball over the NBA, because he would have not lasted long.

There was a time when Gwynn was a feared base runner, in which he compiled a career total of 319 stolen bases, with a career-high 56 steals during his 1987 campaign. During a six-year stretch he would also win 5 Gold Gloves.
Gwynn - Cool in shades.

I fell onto Tony Gwynn probably sometime in 1983 initially, I remember "This Week in Baseball" doing a segment of Gwynn, and I was just getting into baseball, I just played T-Ball a couple years ago and was starting to play Recreational Summer Leagues during this time. During the show, I was taken back on his wonderful smile, good-natured attitude, and on how hard he worked at being a good hitter -- his career was just starting to take off, and it really stuck with me. I remember the first card I ever owned of his, his 1985 Topps Baseball card, I remembered the fact he also just played us (the Detroit Tigers) in the 1984 World Series, I remember liking the 85' Topps in general (still one of my absolute favorites) and thinking how cool he looked in shades -- of course, this is before 1992 when he started rocking out the Oakley's.

I easily own over 500 Tony Gwynn Baseball Cards, I have a few of his rookie cards (as well as duplicates of those), I always felt if I bought myself a custom-made Detroit Tigers jersey, it would be the classic white uniforms with the English D, with my last name "Baier" on back with the number 19. I once pondered the #76, for my birth year, but for me and especially at this moment, the #19 reigns supreme.

I also remember a time when my friends from our neighborhood started doubting Gwynn's future when his batting averages starting dipping in 1990 through 1992, batting averages of .309 & back to back seasons of .317 -- this following three consecutive batting titles from 1987-1989. Then in 1993, came .358. After that could be one of the most impressive four-year stretches in hitting after 1938. Gwynn would win four consecutive batting titles with batting averages of .394, .368, .353 & .372 -- let me note that he was up against some tough hitters like Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Colorado's hitters who constantly competed for high batting averages, among the likes of Barry Larkin, Mark Grace and Gary Sheffield who were consistently in the batting average leaders at this time.

I also remember Jack Clark, oh how I hated Jack Clark! Clark led the charge among some teammates that Gwynn cared about his batting titles more than winning in 1990. Clark continued to call Gwynn selfish, which is funny considering everywhere Clark went he created waves -- plus this is the same Clark who has gone elsewhere signing huge contracts (for back then) which he never lived up to. The players that sided with Clark were most notably Mike Pagliarulo and Garry Templeton. Never cared much for Templeton either, who ran himself out of St.Louis by flipping off his home crowd, and was traded for future Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith, than he would go on to disappoint San Diego fans with a dramatic drop in numbers compared to how he played in St. Louis. The remainder of the 1990 season was a wash for Gwynn, who was hurt by his teammates, and eventually avoided them the remainder of the season, in which he would bat .309 (his lowest batting average for a full season). Clark (of course) bolted for more money in Boston, as San Diego awarded their best player in Gwynn with a 3-year, $12.25 million deal (with a $1 million signing bonus).

One of my favorite memories had to be Tony Gwynn scoring the winning run during the 1994 All-Star Game during the bottom of the 10th, on a ball hit by Moises Alou -- the victory ended a losing streak for the National League, who have not won a All-Star Game since 1987. The game seemed to give the fans one last thing to cheer about, fans knew of the probable & eventual Players Strike to take place starting in mid-August.

Gwynn of course, to San Diego is known as "Mr.Padre" -- there is no other player in the history of the San Diego Padres that even comes close. During the time of his retirement, he owned the top spot in 10 of the team's offensive categories. There is a wonderful statue of him out in front of the Padres' current home of Petco Park.

Career Achievements & Facts.
  • Attended College at San Diego State University, which he played Baseball & Basketball (which actually was his favorite sport) for the Aztecs.
  • In Basketball, he was a highly recruited point guard in high school before landing at SDSU, where he would set records for assists in a game, season & career. Two-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) All-Conference Second Team
  • Played as a Left Fielder & DH for San Diego State, who were looking for two outfield replacements on the Baseball team when Gwynn joined. He would hit .301 his first season & end up being a two-time All-American outfielder his final two years for the Aztecs, after leading the team in hitting.
  • Named Third-Team All-American by Baseball News (1980).
  • Named First-Team All-American by Baseball News (1981).
  • Named First-Team Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Outfielder (1981).
Tony Gwynn's 1983 Topps Rookie Card.
  • Selected by the San Diego Padres in the 3rd Round (#58 overall) of the 1981 Major League Baseball Draft. Same day was selected by the San Diego Clippers of the NBA in the 10th Round.
  • Spent time at Class A Walla Walla from 1981-1982.
  • Promoted from Triple A Hawaii & made MLB debut on July 19, 1982. Started center field and would earn his first big-league hit (double) during his 4th at-bat.
  • Rookie-year 1982 would be the only season he batted below .300, and that was .289 -- he would never bat below .300 in any full-season during his career.
1984: The first of many big years for Tony.
  • 1984: First full-season, he would win first N.L. Batting Title (.351) while be elected to first All-Star Game while helping the San Diego Padres to their first N.L. West Division Title, as well as their first National League Championship as they fell in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in 5 games.
  • Finished 3rd in N.L. MVP voting (1984), closest he would come to winning the award.
  • Signs deal for "less money" with Padres after 84' season: 6 years for a total of $4.6 million.
  • Won first Gold Glove (1986), leading putouts & total chances; 2nd with 19 assists.
  • Became 5th N.L. Player during the century with 5 Stolen Bases in a single-game.
Gwynn & Boggs: The two best hitters in the game at 1987 All-Star Game.
  • Best hitting month of his career, June 1987: Batting .473 (44-for-93).
  • 1987 Season: Wins his second N.L. Batting Title with .370 average, highest batting average since Stan Musial's .376 in 1948. Steals career high 56 bases, making him first-ever N.L. player to hit at least .370 with 50+ stolen bases. Posts two 5-hit games during season, with a career-high 1.022 OPS.
  • Gwynn would win second consecutive N.L. Batting Title in 1988 with lowest batting average ever for a National League Batting Champion, with .313 mark. Gwynn missed 21 games on DL at beginning of season (injuring thumb on play in Pittsburgh) -- he was batting .246 as of July 2, 1988.
  • Recorded 1,000th career hit off of Nolan Ryan on April 22nd, 1988.
  • Gwynn wins 3rd straight N.L. Batting Title (4th overall) in 1989, playing with a sore left Achilles Tendon, he would go 3-for-4 twice during the season's final weekend to edge Will Clark with .336 average.
  • December 1989: Falls to 7th highest-paid San Diego Padre, after acquiring Jack Clark from New York Yankees in a trade.
Gwynn's 1987 Silver Slugger Award Display.
  • A controversial season between Gwynn and teammate Jack Clark (as mentioned above), finishing with career-low .309 average for the 1990 season. After the season, Clark signs with Boston, Gwynn signs new deal with Padres, making him highest-paid Padre for a total of $12.25 million (over 3 years).
Gwynn's 1990 Score - Dream Team -- Getting a little heavier.

Gwynn starts rockin' out the Oakleys (circa 1992).
  • 1991: Passed Gene Richards as all-time leader in triples & stolen bases for the San Diego Padres. Batted .373 at All-Star Break, but batted only .243 after break due to bad knee.
  • Meets Ted Williams for the very first time during 1992 All-Star Game.
  • Finished 1993 with second-best (at the time) batting average of his career at .358, despite the Padres' "fire sale" of players such as Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tony Fernandez & others.
  • 2,000th career hit on August 6th, 1993.
1995 Fleer Ultra - Hitting Machine.
  • Gwynn's .394 batting average in the strike-shortened season was highest in National League since Bill Terry hit .401 during 1930 season. 5th National League Batting Title & start of four consecutive batting titles to come.
  • 6th N.L. Batting Title in 1995 (.368).
  • Branch Rickey Award Winner in 1995.
  • Wins 7th Batting Title (.353) in 1996, as the San Diego Padres reach the playoffs for the first time since their World Series season of 1984.
  • Wins 8th N.L. Batting Title (2nd to only Ty Cobb) with .372 average -- four straight batting titles. Also had 17 HR & 119 RBI's, with 49 doubles.
  • Becomes 3rd Padre to hit 100 career HR's on June 7th, 1997.
Gwynn on cover of 1997 SI.
  • Batted .321 with 16 HRs to help the Padres win their second National League Pennant in 1998, only to be swept in four games to one of the best teams in MLB history, the 1998 New York Yankees.
  • Gwynn's 1998 World Series stats: batted .500 in 16 at-bats, including a HR off of David Wells in Game 1.
  • Lou Gehrig Memorial Award Winner in 1998.
  • 3,000th Career hit came on August 6th, 1999 off of Expos' reliever Dan Smith in Montreal. The 2,284 games it took to get there was the third-fewest amount of games in the 22-man club of the 3,000 hit club.
  • Winner of the Roberto Clemente Award in 1999.
  • Turned 40 in 2000. Hampered by injuries at the end of his career, on June 28th, 2001 he announced he would retire at the end of the season, he would go on to hit .324 for the season, his 19th consecutive season of batting at least .300 for the season.

  • Inducted into the Padres' Hall of Fame in 2002.
  • Jersey #19 was retired by the San Diego Padres in 2004.
  • 9 1/2 foot statue unveiled in Petco Park, 2007. reads "Tony Gwynn, Mr.Padre" with a quote his dad used to repeat "If you work hard, good things will happen."
  • On January 9, 2007 was elected into Baseball Hall of Fame, inducted with Cal Ripken, Jr. on July 28th, bringing in record crowd of 14,000+ people.

  • 15-time N.L. All-Star (Voted to start by fans in 11 of the games).
  • 8-time N.L. Batting Champion (1984, 1987-1989, 1994-1997).
  • 5-time Gold Glove Winner (1986-1987, 1989-1991).
  • 7-time Silver Slugger Award Winner (1984, 1986-1987, 1989, 1994-1995, 1997).
  • 15 consecutive seasons in Top 10 for season batting averages.

  • .338 career batting average with 3,141 career hits.
  • 135 Home Runs for career.
  • 1,138 RBI
  • Led league in singles & hits - seven times.
  • Padres' all-time hit leader, passed Dave Winfield for top spot way back in 1998, setting the new mark at the time 1,135 hits, would hit a little more than 2,000 more hits.

Tony, you will be forever missed.

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