It is with great sadness that we learned Monday of the passing of Anthony Keith Gwynn Sr., known to us all as “Tony,” after his years-long battle with cancer, at the age of 54. I always feel a tad uncomfortable when – upon the passing of someone famous – everyone and their mother hops on social media and acts as if they lost a family member or someone they knew personally and very well. However, sports is an entertainment business and when one of the entertainers has a skill and talent that is easily recognized by so many, that changes things. When a player shows loyalty to a city and community, a dedication to hard work and a commitment to excellence, all the while maintaining a great smile and infectious laugh, you take notice. Tony Gwynn was all of these things and so much more.
So often as sports fans, we love to have these “who is better” or “who is the greatest of all-time” debates (or at least ESPN’s debate culture has driven us toward such conversations). Furthermore, sport is sadly not averse to something typical of the world we live in today; those who are special and great and talented and unique often are not recognized – or at least fully recognized – until they pass. For better or worse, Mr. Gwynn’s passing has caused us all to recall his exploits, and oh how great he was.
- 3,141 hits – 19th most all-time (ALSO HIS JERSEY NUMBER THAT’S AWESOME)
- Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 with 97.6% of the vote.
- 15 All-Star Game appearances for the National League (T-6th most all-time)
- Seven Silver Slugger awards (T-3rd most all-time)
- Eight batting titles (Tied with Honus Wagner for the most all-time)
- Led the National League in WAR in 1987 — FG and BRef agree on this
- Five Gold Glove Awards
- Batting average greater than .350 in seven different seasons
- A career .338 batting average that ranks 20th all-time and the highest since Ted Williams retired in 1960.
- 543 doubles (28th all-time)
- 2,378 singles (10th all-time)
Lifetime versus Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Tony Gwynn hit .381 (101-for-265), with 19 BB & 3 SO. That’s a strikeout rate of .01045 %. #legend
— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) June 17, 2014
Tony Gwynn hit .300 in 18 consecutive seasons from 1983 to 2000. Only Ty Cobb (23 straight) had a longer such streak.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 17, 2014
- 4.2% strikeout rate (Since 1941 for batters with a minimum of 3,000 PA, 16th best. Min. 5,000 PA? 10th best strikeout rate.)
- Mark Reynolds had 434 strikeouts in 2009/10 combined. Tony Gwynn had 434 strikeouts in his entire career.
- 45 career 4+ hit games and only 34 career multi-strikeout games
- 107 career plate appearances against Greg Maddux and zero strikeouts, the most of any player to face Maddux. Second most? Juan Pierre at 41.
- 12th all-time in intentional walks with 203, a stat first tracked in 1955 (Credit to @AceballStats for the last three bullets).
One of the many things that made Gwynn unique in his greatness was he dedication to improving his craft. Gwynn is widely regarded as the first player to use video tape of games to learn and improve, including revising and improving his swing. The program “This Week In Baseball” did a piece on Gwynn’s film study in 1989, which can be viewed here.
And you know what else I learned today? The guy was a really good basketball player too! Tony Gwynn didn’t even head to San Diego State University to play baseball – he didn’t join the team until his sophomore season – he was recruited to play on the hardwood and play he did. Gwynn was the Aztecs point guard for four seasons, an All-WAC selection on two occasions and to this day remains the only player in Western Athletic Conference history to be recognized as an all-conference performer in two different sports. His records of 221 assists in 1979-80 (8.2 APG) and 590 career assists at SDSU (5.5 steals per game) both still stand as school records. His last basketball game in a San Diego State Aztec uniform? March 7, 1981 against New Mexico, when he would put up 16 points and 16 assists.
On September 21, 2001, Gwynn embarked on a new journey in his baseball life as he was announced as the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State, taking over for outgoing head coach Jim Dietz. Gwynn would be just the fourth head coach in Aztec history and managed his first game in 2003 after serving as assistant head coach under Dietz in 2002. Gwynn would go on to manage the Aztecs for 13 seasons, including this past year, compiling a career managerial record of 363-363, including above .500 seasons in five of the last seven years. Gwynn’s Aztecs saw particular success in 2004, when he was named conference coach of the year, and these last two seasons as the Aztecs won the Mountain West in all three of those years. The NCAA Regional appearances for San Diego State in 2013 & 2014 marked the first time since 1990 & 1991 that the school had reach the regional in back-to-back years. Mark Martinez, who has been on the Aztecs coaching staff since 2005 and took over most of the day-to-day duties for Gwynn this past season, is likely to be named the full-time coach in the coming weeks after the school announced earlier this month that Martinez would be the “Executive Head Coach.”
We’d be remiss to harp on all of the great things about Mr. Padre and not at least give some space to what led to his death: chewing tobacco. It’s still allowed in the major leagues, but it has been banned in minor league baseball and the NCAA. Ban or not – and yes, I’d say it needs to be banned – MLB players need to take notice. Cigarette usage in this country is far from what it once was because people know the ill effects and the significantly increased chance of death. Chewing Tobacco? It’s still tobacco. Come on guys. Let’s be smarter, and let’s set a better example for the future baseball players, the kids.
In a similar fashion to remarks I’ve come to utter about LeBron James recently, if chewing tobacco is the worst thing Tony Gwynn ever did then he lived an admirable life.
“I would always leave him feeling a lot better than before I had met him.” Vin Scully with some kind words on the late Tony Gwynn.
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) June 17, 2014
Every team’s fans have their beloved figures of whom other fans may understand and respect, but to their own fanbase there is a greater respect and admiration. Here in Seattle, we’ve had guys like Ken Griffey Jr, Ichiro, and Dave Niehaus. I can only imagine what Padres fans are feeling right now as their own legend has left this earth, and for that my thoughts are with them.
You’ll hear and read countless pieces and obituaries that will speak of his laugh and his smile. So yes, remember him not only for his exploits on the field, but the joy he brought to all of those around him.
I of course am not the only one who is writing about Mr. Gwynn this afternoon and evening, so here is a list of articles and tributes:
- The official tribute from MLB.com/SanDiegoPadres.com and Barry M. Bloom.
- Richard Goldstein of The New York Times penned their obituary.
- Tyler Kepner, also of the New York Times, wrote about Gwynn’s hard work, dedication, and consistency.
- The San Diego State University Aztecs media relations sent out this official release today.
- Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune penned this obituary.
- Kevin Acee, also of the Union-Tribune, wrote about Gwynn’s legacy and how he’ll be remembered.
- Over at ESPN, Buster Olney gave this commentary on Mr. Padre and his love of hitting.
- Also at the website of the mothership, Jerry Crasnick recalls a memorable conversation with the hall of famer.
- Richard Deitsch and Seth Wickersham recommended this piece from Tom Friend who wrote on ESPN.com on the use of fear as a motivator for Gwynn, and the pressure he put on himself.
- Paul Swydan of FanGraphs broke down the control with which Tony Gwynn played when in the batter’s box.
- Vin Scully describes what made Gwynn such a great man both on and off the field in this video clip.
- The always eloquent Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote about what a joy it was to watch Tony Gwynn play the game.
- Richard Justice wrote for MLB.com on what made Gwynn an “everyman,” his shining personality.
- Greg Johns of MLB.com captured the thoughts of the Mariners – including Lloyd McClendon and Joe Beimel – on Tony Gwynn.
- Jonah Keri of Grantland and author of “Up, Up and Away” gave us his take on the legendary Mr. Gwynn.
Again, our thoughts and prayers are with Tony Gwynn’s friends and family and we send our condolences to San Diego Padres fans everywhere as we’ve all lost one of the all-time greats but they’ve lost a personal hero.