Monday we received sad news (though news many of us in San Diego knew was coming): Tony Gwynn died of cancer of the salivary glands at the age of 54.
This was sad news on several levels. He was much too young. We who love San Diego, baseball, or just loved watching a man who respected the game, his family, and himself with equal ferocity, will miss him.
He was a Los Angeles boy he grew up rooting for the Dodgers. After high school he came to San Diego State University where he played basketball and baseball. In 1981 he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 3rd round. After a year in the minor leagues he made his major league debut with the Padres on July 19, 1982. He never left. Even though he could have made much more money by moving to another team when he became a free agent, he decided to stay in San Diego.
From 1982 to his retirement at the end of the 2001 season he put up some incredible numbers. His career batting average was .338, with 3,141 hits (it’s assumed anyone with 3,000 career hits gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame). He made the All Star team 15 times and was the National League batting champion 8 times.
But the best thing about Tony was his character. He never stopped studying the game, even drawing the respect of the often prickly Ted Williams.
After his career he continued to contribute to the game coaching the SDSU baseball team. We knew things were bad in March when he asked for a leave of absence.
I had the pleasure to meet him several years ago at a charity event. We just spoke for a minute, but he made me feel like I was the only person in the room. You can read my account of that meeting here. Though he and his wife were the keynote speakers, they carried themselves with the kind of class I’d always heard about.
One final note: He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2007. A few months after that San Diego experienced a fire that destroyed dozens of homes. Tony put the word out that if anyone lost an autograph of his (from a picture to a baseball to a bat) in the fire, they should let him know and the would replace them. As an added bonus, he could put “HOF” on the autograph (Hall of Fame). The fire came close to his home and his showed his character in that he was concerned so much with the fans.
He was Mr. Padres and we will miss him.
God Bless Tony, and I’m glad you’ll be reunited with your father.