A legend says goodbye

    On Oct. 7, 2001, Tony Gwynn left baseball the same way he participated in it during his 20 years in the majors: He suited up, took the field and quietly went about his business.

    Pat Leung
    Guardian

    Gwynn was 0-for-1 in his final game as a big league hitter. A quiet grounder to short ended the career of one of baseball’s most prolific hitters. Through it all, Tony handled it with the same class that he had throughout his brilliant career in the big leagues.

    Sure, there was a big ceremony. Sure, he hugged his teammates after his last at-bat and gave a speech after the game, but his day was overshadowed by Bonds’ 73rd home run, Rickey Henderson’s 3,000th hit, and Cal Ripken’s retirement.

    The most impressive thing about his career had nothing to do with hits, batting titles or All-Star appearances. It was his stability. In a sporting era characterized by discontinuity and change — where players change teams annually in search of more money or better opportunity — Gwynn has not only been on the same team for 20 years, he has been in the same town his whole life.

    After graduating high school in San Diego, Gwynn attended San Diego State University and set records in baseball and basketball. He then went straight to the Padres and began his Hall of Fame career. Other than Gwynn, only five other National Leaguers have played on one team for 20 years.

    He defined the hackneyed terms “”class act,”” “”idol”” and “”superstar”” better than any other current baseball player. During the long stretches when the Padres had no chance of making the World Series or even the playoffs, Gwynn had plenty of opportunity and motive to leave for more money or a better shot at a championship. He chose to remain in his beloved San Diego.

    Even at the end of his playing career, Gwynn isn’t packing any bags. In a press conference Sept. 20, he confirmed that he will replace his old coach at SDSU, Jim Dietz. Gwynn is only the fourth baseball coach in SDSU history.

    And what a coach he’ll make. He is the Padres’ career leader in games, batting average, hits, runs, doubles, triples, RBIs and — surprisingly enough — stolen bases. He racked up over 3,000 hits, won eight batting titles and is the only person to have four batting titles in two different decades. He batted over .300 for 18 consecutive seasons. In his 20-year career, he hit safely in over 75 percent of the games he played in.

    The list stretches on and on: 15 All-Star games, a .371 career average in the World Series, eight five-hit games and one six-hit game. But one of the most impressive statistics is that Gwynn only struck out three times in a game once. He never struck out four times in a game.

    He was perhaps the greatest contact hitter of all time. I once watched an interview in which the reporter asked him what type of pitch the pitcher threw to him. Gwynn said that he never knows what the pitcher throws, but that he just sees the ball and reacts.

    He coined the term “”5.5 hole,”” which is the spot between the third baseman and the shortstop where he loved to hit the ball.

    Looking at him, one wouldn’t believe that he is an athlete. Gwynn is definitely on the portly side and has been lambasted in the past by critics for his weight. Yet he never let it bother him and always was able to joke about it. That he has five Gold Gloves proves that he was more than capable in the outfield.

    Gwynn became so consistently good that he was expected to be good all the time. His name was always there among the leaders, yet he was always bypassed by the media and fans for flashier players playing for better teams.

    Now he is gone, and Major League Baseball feels the loss of this hitting genius. The baseball world and the San Diego Padres lost a lot of heart and soul a few days ago. While better hitters may come along, few will ever be able to rival Gwynn in humility, patience and character.

    Tony Gwynn, although you may never have received the credit you deserved while you played, your accomplishments and achievements are appreciated, and someday — perhaps when you are inducted into the Hall of Fame — baseball will realize how well you represented excellence for all baseball players and for America’s pastime as well.

    See you in 2006 Tony. You deserve the honor as much as anybody.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $2505
    $5000
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $2505
    $5000
    Contributed
    Our Goal