Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn, a Hall of Fame baseball player known as one of the game's all-time best hitters, died Monday, June 16, after a multiyear battle with salivary gland cancer. He was 54.He was the friend Ted Williams asked to help him make the last throw of his life.

He faced Greg Maddux 107 times, hitting .415 and never striking out.  Maddux once explained to Tom Boswell how he used changing speeds to get batters out which worked on everyone "Except that [expletive] Tony Gwynn".

He was an artist with the bat, winning eight batting titles, hitting .338 (second highest in the last 70 years) and elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He will forever be one of the great "what-if's" of baseball.  On August 11, 1994 he was hitting .394 when the season ended with the players' strike.  Could he have been the first man to hit .400 since his friend Ted Williams in 1941?  Tony had no doubt; here he is reflecting on that season:

He was one of three players featured in George Will's classic work, Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball.

He sounded like a California surfer dude (he grew up in Long Beach) and was one of the most respected and well liked people in baseball.  You can read one appreciation from USA Today sportswriter Bob Nightengale.  Here's an excerpt:

I loved Tony Gwynn. Who didn't?
Once you met him, you couldn't help but fall in love with him.
That infectious laugh. That perpetual smile. That warm embrace.
He was the greatest pure hitter I ever had the privilege of covering as a baseball beat writer.
He was also the greatest person I ever had the privilege of covering.
And let's hope Joe Posnanski does a piece on Tony.  Well, just went and checked again before putting this post up and found that Mr Posnanski has published his thoughts which you can read here.  It starts:

When I was very young, we went to the Cleveland Museum of Art. There, I saw a woman standing in front of a painting, and she was actually crying. I don’t recall it being a sad painting. My mother leaned down to me and whispered, “See, the painting is so beautiful, it breaks her heart and makes her cry.”
This made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
But then, I had not yet seen Tony Gwynn hit a baseball.

He played his entire 20 year career with San Diego becoming Mr Padre and, in the process, wearing some of the ugliest uniforms in the history of baseball during the 1980s.
Gwynn, seen here in 1989, played his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres.
Gone way too early at 54 from salivary gland cancer which he blamed on chewing tobacco for so many of those years.

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