There is perhaps no player in the Major Leagues in the last half century who was as universally respected both on and off the field as Tony Gwynn. His career spanned nearly two decades, and he was beloved as one of the best hitters in baseball history, while he was as genuine a person as one could find in baseball.
His seemingly sudden death comes as a bit of a surprise. While it was no secret he had been dealing with health problems since his playing days ended, and even recently, it all came to an end so quickly. And his loss leaves a void across baseball.
Ask anyone who’s been around the game, and they will have a Tony Gwynn story. Whether they were those who played with him or against him, he was always respected as one of the good guys in the sport. He always had a caring and jovial personality no matter the situation.
But it’s not just players who Gwynn left a mark on. A number of baseball reporters say he is their favorite player of all-time. That may even say more than all the praise from fellow players. Baseball reporters are a notoriously tough group to please. That nearly every one felt nearly the same about Gwynn speaks volumes.
And the player they covered was one of the best of their generation. Simply on the surface, it was easy to see why he was one of the best pure hitters in baseball. 20 seasons. Eight batting titles. Seven Silver Slugger Awards. Five Gold Gloves. Eighteen All-Star appearances. It’s a resume nearly unrivaled by any other hitter.
But his career was even more remarkable when looking at numbers more than just those. Gwynn didn’t know how to strike out, averaging a superhuman 29 a season. He finished his career with a .338 average, and never hit below .309 in a single season. He even managed to hit an incredible .444/.433/.594 with the bases loaded. Those are just a few of the astounding stats the Gwynn turned in. The list goes on.
It was all more than enough to make him one of the clearest Hall of Fame inductees ever. His 97.61 percent of votes is the seventh-highest total in MLB history.
And when his playing days were over, he immediately transitioned into coaching, not being able to stay away from the game. He coached at San Diego State University, his alma mater, leading them to four NCAA tournaments.
Even with everything that he has accomplished in his career, one of his most memorable moments may have come before a game that didn’t even count. At the 1999 All-Star Game, two generations of greatness came together on the Fenway Park mound as Gwynn met Ted Williams and helped him throw out the first pitch. It was a moving moment that featured two of the greatest batsmen the game had ever seen.
But it’s just one of many magical moments that Gwynn has been a part of during his illustrious career. Though he is no longer with us, his place in history will always be safe. And he will always be Mr. Padre.