Rembering Tony Gwynn, a Nice Guy and a Phenomenal Hitter

Listening to 97.3 FM The Fan a few days ago, co-hosts Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Chris Ello, shined the spotlight on Junior’s dad, Tony Gwynn, known affectionately as Mr. Padre.

It brought back so many memories of my many years watching the best pure hitter since Ted Williams.

Tony speaks at Hall of Fame Induction

Quite a tribute for Tony.  Inarguably, no one has come close to either Williams or Gwynn.

In a 2001 interview, New York Mets pitcher Al Leiter was asked just how to go about getting Gwynn out on a regular basis. Leiter’s responded, “You don’t. You don’t even think about it…”

True baseball fans learned that Gwynn would always watch videos of his at bats, time after time. Plus he would always take extra batting practice.

I was fortunate to see Tony play at San Diego Stadium throughout his 20-year career (throughout the Eighties and Nineties). And I attended his enshrinement 2007 Hall of Fame Induction in Cooperstown along with Cal Ripken Jr.

After Gwynn retired, he quickly became manager of the San Diego State University baseball team.  As an undergraduate student, he played for its baseball and basketball teams, excelling at both.  No surprise there.

Tony Gwynn was one of the greatest hitters in major league history. His eight batting titles are second only to Ty Cobb‘s 12, and, in the expansion era, no hitter with more than 125 plate appearances has hit for a higher career average than Gwynn’s .338, which he compiled over 10,232 PA. Over that same stretch, no player with 7,000 or more plate appearances struck out less frequently than Gwynn, who had just 434 Ks and whiffed once every 23.6 PA, or roughly once every four games over the course of his career.

Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn Jr., has allowed himself time to heal. He opened up to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports about his father and his legacy.

Gwynn Jr. started off the interview describing his reaction when he found out his dad was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer: “I’ll never forget. I was devastated. I broke down. You hear the word cancer negatively and it immediately comes to head and that’s all your thinking about.”

Image result for tony gwynn jr recent photos
Tony with son Tony Jr.

I spoke with Tony Sr. on two occasions. Once was at the Padres 1985 spring training. At the time training was held in Yuma, AZ a three-hour drive from San Diego, before moving to Peoria, about 13.5 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The next time I spoke briefly with Tony at a fundraising dinner in San Diego. He was there with wife, now widowed Alicia Gwynn. Can’t remember what the fundraiser was for, but do recall Tony being more than cooperative. Immediately, his demeanor and smile quickly put me at ease.

Throughout his MLB playing days, “I was struck by Tony’s blend of humbleness and showmanship. Did not reveal an ounce of pretense.he looked embarrassed, like he didn’t deserve the praise.” That’s what I wrote for the now defunct Elysian Fields Quarterly. 

October 7, 2001, the day the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan, ‘was Gwynn’s final day as a Major Leaguer. His knees prevented him from playing the field. In the ninth inning, the crowd roared to its feet when Number 19 strode to the plate to pinch hit. Gwynn rarely hit the first pitch. He drilled the first pitch. He grounded out to short.

Nevertheless, Padre fans shouted, “We love you, Tony! We love you!”

NOTE:  The Padres lost miserably  that day to the Colorado Rockies (14-5), but it mattered not to the 60,103 fans in San Diego Stadium.Tony_Gwynn_1984_jersey (4)



Tony Gwynn Monument @ Petco
Tony’s statue outside Petco Park.





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