Tony Gwynn

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Tony Gwynn

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Today is the birthday of the greatest player in San Diego Padre history.

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Anthony Keith Gwynn was born in Los Angeles, California, on this date in 1960, the middle of three sons born to Charles and Vandella Gwynn.  In 1969, the family moved to nearby Long Beach, where Charles took time away from his job as a warehouse worker to coach his sons in Pop Warner football and Little League baseball.  Gwynn played basketball and baseball at Long Beach Polytechnic and received scholarship offers from TCU, Cal State Fullerton and San Diego State.  He chose SDSU because it was the only school to allow him to play both sports.  An excellent playmaker, Gwynn was named to the All-Western Athletic Conference team as a point guard and is still the Aztec’s all-time assists leader.  In baseball, he was named All-America as an outfielder.  On June 10, 1981, Tony Gwynn was selected with the 58th overall pick of the MLB Amateur Draft, six spots behind John Elway, who was picked by the New York Yankees.  That same day, the San Diego Clippers selected him in the tenth round of the NBA Draft.

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Gwynn chose baseball and made his major league debut July 19, 1982, going two-for-four while driving in a run against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, was playing first base for the Phillies and told Gwynn, “Congratulations.  Don’t catch me in one night.”  His first full season came in 1984,  and Gwynn was named to the All-Star team while also winning the NL batting title and Silver Slugger Award.  The Padres earned a trip to the World Series, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.  It was the first of two World Series he would play in but a world championship would elude him for the duration of his 20 year career.  Over his career, he stole 317 bases, won five Gold Gloves as a right fielder, earned seven Silver Slugger Awards and led the National League in hitting eight times, tying him with Honus Wagner for the most career NL batting titles.  “I love to hit.  I can’t wait until it’s my turn.  I root for the other team to go down 1-2-3 so I can hit again.”  Gwynn revolutionized video in baseball, studying his swing mechanics, at-bats and opposing pitchers long before studying tape became commonplace.  He read Ted William’s masterpiece, The Science of Hitting, while in college and was called “the best hitter since Ted Williams” in a 1997 Sports Illustrated cover story.  An artisan with the bat, Gwynn hit above .300 in an NL-record 19 seasons.  He was particularly good on August 6—his mother’s birthday—collecting his 2,000 career hit on that date in 1993 and his 3,000th hit in 1999.

File Photo of Tony Gwynn
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Tony Gwynn was the greatest hitter of his generation.  He had season averages of .368, .370, .372 and .394—four of the top 12 batting seasons since the expansion era began in 1961.  The consummate contact hitter, Gwynn rarely struck out and had more four-hit games [45] than multi-strikeout games [34].  In 1995, he struck out only 15 times in 535 trips to the plate and had a streak of 39 games without a strikeout.  “Mr. Padre” played 20 seasons in San Diego, one of 17 players in MLB history to play 20 or more years with the same team.  His .338 career batting average was so solid that he could have gone hitless for two full seasons and not dipped below .300.  Every other hitter with a .338 career average or above started his career before 1940.  Gwynn never hit .400 for a season—his best was .394 during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign—but he hit .403 during a 179-game span between July 1993 and May 1995.  Mr. Gwynn averaged .350 for the last ten years of his career and, in 107 plate appearances, hit .415 against Hall of Famer Greg Maddox—one of the best pitchers of his time.  Gwynn played in 15 All-Star games but was not named to the team in 1988 despite leading the league in hitting.  His average was .302 in two-strike counts, over 40 points higher than Wade Boggs, who is number two on that list.  In 1999, Tony Gwynn won baseball’s triple crown of humanity and kindness, earning the Roberto Clemente Award, Branch Rickey Award and Lou Gehrig Memorial Award.  Tom Verducci wrote, “Tony Gwynn was an ambassador not just for the game of baseball but for humankind.”

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Mr. Gwynn played with his brother Chris and son Tony, Jr. with the Padres during his career.  Tony Gwynn, Jr. collected his first hit—a double—in his major league debut July 19, 2006, just as his father had exactly 24 years earlier.  In 2004, the San Diego Padres retired Tony Gwynn’s number 19.  In 2007, he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.  Sadly, Mr. Padre died of salivary gland cancer June 16, 2014, in Poway, California.  He was 54 years old.

 

“How do you defend a batter who hits the ball down the left field line, the right field line and up the middle?”

–          Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda

 

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