Gwynn’s draft day included baseball and basketball

Written by: Craig Muder

When Tony Gwynn was drafted by the San Diego Padres, the franchise was in the middle of its 12th losing season in its 13th year of play.

But on June 9, 1981, the addition of Gwynn changed the course of a team – and began a love affair between the player and a city.

Gwynn was taken in the third round of the MLB Draft by the Padres – but that was not the only good news he received that day. With their selection in the 10th round of the NBA Draft, the San Diego Clippers selected Gwynn – who had been a standout player for San Diego State in both sports.

“I’m happy to be drafted in both sports,” Gwynn told the Associated Press. “Baseball’s my sport, but I hate to give up basketball. I’m tempted to give it a try at the Clippers’ training camp.”

Gwynn hit .415 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI in 52 games for the Aztecs in 1981, capping a career where he hit .404 overall. On the basketball court, Gwynn was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference second-team pick and set school records for assists for a season and a career.

“I come out of basketball,” Gwynn told the Los Angeles Times, acknowledging that it was the sport he loved first. “But in both sports, I learned how to work hard, and I can tell it really paid off. It keeps paying off.”

But because of his 5-foot-11, 185-pound build, most scouts believed his future was on the diamond.

“He has the desire,” Padres general manager Jack McKeon told the L.A. Times, “and his best professional opportunity is in baseball. The Padres are his best chance.”

Even executives of the Clippers – who were in just their third season in San Diego after moving from Buffalo, and would move to Los Angeles after the 1983-84 season – felt that Gwynn’s best sport was baseball.

“He’s a great baseball player,” said Clippers general manager Ted Podleski, who took Gwynn in the 10th-and-final round of the NBA Draft. “But we felt he deserved to be drafted in the NBA.”

Eight days after being drafted by both MLB and the NBA, Gwynn chose baseball and signed with Padres. He reported to Walla Walla of the Class A Northwest League, where he hit .331 with 12 homers and 37 RBI in 42 games before earning a promotion to Double-A, where he hit .462.

After hitting .328 in a little more than half a season with Triple-A Hawaii in 1982, Gwynn was summoned to the big leagues.

“(General manager Jack) McKeon’s promotion of Tony Gwynn to the big leagues in my first year proved to be the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me,” Padres manager Dick Williams wrote in his 1990 biography “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.

Gwynn hit .289 during his rookie year of 1982, spending hours each day working on other facets of the game that did not come as easy – such as fielding and running. By 1984, Gwynn was hitting an NL-best .351 with 33 steals while leading the Padres to the National League pennant.

In 1986, he won the first of five Gold Glove Awards for his play in right field.

“I’ve got to work on my throwing arm,” Gwynn said immediately after being drafted by the Padres. “Because I’ve always played basketball, I haven’t had time to strengthen it for baseball.”

By 1984, Gwynn had the most assists (12) of any National League right fielder.

In 20 seasons with the Padres, Gwynn won a record eight NL batting titles (a mark he shares with Honus Wagner) and was named to 15 All-Star Games. He finished his career with a .338 batting average, 3,141 hits and 319 stolen bases.

He totaled more doubles (543) than strikeouts (434) en route to election to the Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player,” wrote Williams, who managed 21 big league seasons and was elected to the Hall in 2008, “who worked harder and cared more and was more deserving of his rewards.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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