Tony Gwynn was one of the game’s most prolific hitters
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Most players spend a career working simply to put the bat on the ball.
And then there was Tony Gwynn – who led opposing pitchers to believe he was nearly incapable of a swing and a miss.
Gwynn died Monday, June 16 at the age of 54. An eight-time National League batting champion and 15-time All-Star, Gwynn mastered the art of contact in an era filled with swing-for-the-seats batters.
“Tony was a great ambassador for the game of baseball and a true professional. He epitomized what a professional athlete should be. He worked to be the best he could be, he played with a smile and always had time for the fans. He brought out the best in those who faced him. A true Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gwynn Family.” - Tom Glavine
“He was the best hitter of my era,” said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones.
Born Anthony Keith Gwynn on May 9, 1960, in Los Angeles, Calif., Gwynn’s athletic ability belied his stocky 5-foot-11, 185-pound body. He was a two-sport star at San Diego State, and was drafted by two pro teams in two pro leagues on the same day – June 10, 1981 – going to baseball’s San Diego Padres in the third round the NBA’s San Diego Clippers in the 10th round.
Gwynn’s bat brought him to the majors in 1982, and tireless work at the plate and in the outfield resulted in his first All-Star selection in 1984. That year, Gwynn led the National League with a .351 batting average and 213 hits – helping San Diego win its first NL pennant.
“This is an extraordinarily sad day. Tony was a Hall of Fame ballplayer but more importantly he was a wonderful man. Tony always had a big smile on his face and was one of the warmest and most genuine people I have ever had the honor of knowing. Like all baseball fans I will miss him very much and my thoughts are with his family today.” - Cal Ripken
“The promotion of Tony Gwynn to the majors proved to be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” said Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams, who managed the Padres in Gwynn’s first four big league seasons. “Nobody deserves success more.”
Gwynn’s smooth left-handed swing and uncanny bat control turned him into a line drive machine. He perfected a swing that resulted in countless sharp ground balls between the third baseman and the shortstop – an area Gwynn called the 5-point-5 hole. His endless work in the video room – watching and refining his swing – led to teammates tagging him “Captain Video.”
His efforts in right field and on the bases, meanwhile, resulted in five career Gold Glove Awards and 319 stolen bases.
“We’re talking about a guy who has a tremendous passion for the game,” said former Padres manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s always at the ballpark, always looking at videos. He (was) a student of the game.”
In 1994, Gwynn made a run at the .400 mark – ending with a .394 average when the strike halted the season in August. Then in 1998, Gwynn led the Padres back to the World Series. Though the Padres lost in both of Gwynn’s Fall Classic appearances, he hit .371 in the World Series – including .500 in San Diego’s four-game loss to the Yankees in 1998.
Gwynn recorded his 3,000th career hit in 1999, but was hampered by injuries the next two seasons before calling it a career. He played 20 seasons – all the with Padres – finishing with 3,141 hits, 1,383 runs and a .338 batting average, which ranks No. 18 on the all-time list and is the highest for any player who began his career after World War II. He struck out just 434 times, an average of 29 times per season.
“I’ve had a great time. It’s been a wonderful experience,” Gwynn said. “I love baseball, and I’ve had a ball.”