Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre

When he went to San Diego State in the late 70's, Tony Gwynn dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. It looks like he took the right choice when he chose baseball. Gwynn turned out to be one of the best hitters in baseball history. He won 8 batting titles in 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres after they drafted him in 1981. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with cancer on Monday. Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and had part of his jaw removed in 2012. He blamed the cancer on his chewing tobacco habit.

Gwynn was a fan favorite and known as one of nicest guys in baseball. Like Ted Williams and Stan Musial, Gwynn spent his entire career with the Padres. He had chances to leave, but chose to stay. He even stayed during stretches when the Padres were terrible and selling off other players. Gwynn was also around for the good times, playing in both World Series the Padres have made. As a young player, he starred for the league champion 1984 Padres, and as a veteran played for the 1998 league champion Padres.  He is as revered in San Diego as Musial is in St. Louis or Williams in Boston. During his career, Gwynn made 15 All Star teams.

Film study was a new concept when Gwynn entered the league. He had a scientific outlook on hitting and would watch tapes of himself for hours to look for any mechanical flaws. Today, many batting coaches and players do the same. He rarely struck out, and never struck out more than 40 times in a season. Gwynn would often try to get hits in the "5.5 hole" between shortstop and third base. He was thought of as one of the smartest players in the league.

Gwynn was a good all around player in the first half of his career. He won 5 Gold Gloves during his career, his last coming in 1991. Gwynn also had some speed, stealing 319 bases over his career. Gwynn's career high was 56 in 1987. Even when he got bigger, his bat never cooled off. In the strike shortened 1994 season, Gwynn made a run at hitting .400. When the strike took place, Gwynn was batting .394, the highest since Williams hit .401 in 1941. Gwynn had a lifetime .338 batting average and only hit under .300 once during his rookie season.

Hitting for power wasn't part of Gwynn's game, but he wasn't just a punch and judy hitter. He finished with 543 career doubles, which is 28th all time. Gwynn mostly was a leadoff and second place hitter, but finished with 1138 career RBI's. He had a career high 117 RBI's during the 1997 season. Gwynn never won a MVP, but finished in the top ten in voting seven different times.

There isn't really a player with Gwynn's skill set in today's MLB. In today's game, especially with the sabermetricians, batting average isn't valued as much, walks are more emphasized, and strikeouts aren't as frowned on. Gwynn still was a patient hitter, finishing in the top ten in on base percentage 10 times. Ichiro Suzuki is the most similar player to Gwynn playing today, and he is in a part time role at age 40 with the Yankees. During his career, Gwynn was often compared to Wade Boggs and Kirby Puckett. He was also compared to past greats such as Rod Carew, Musial, Williams, Honus Wagner, and Ty Cobb. Speaking of Cobb, he was the only player to win more batting titles than Gwynn. Cobb won 12, and Gwynn is tied with Wagner for second place with 8. Gwynn finished his career with 3,141 hits, which is 19th all time.

There were many memorable moments of Gwynn's career, especially towards the end. He hit a home run of the facade of old Yankee Stadium in the first game of the 1998 World Series. He held up Ted Williams when he threw the first pitch of the 1999 All Star Game in Fenway Park. Gwynn also got his 3000th hit against the Montreal Expos that season. In the exciting 1994 All Star Game, Gwynn scored the winning run in a extra innings win for the National League. Early on his career, Gwynn had some key hits during the 1984 NLCS when the Padres came back from a 0-2 deficit to beat the Cubs in 5 games.

During Gwynn's career, the Padres were constantly trading their best players, but they never parted with Gwynn. Gwynn played with several Hall of Fame teammates including Goose Gossage, Roberto Alomar, and Rickey Henderson. He also played with All Stars such as Steve Garvey, John Kruk, Mark Davis, Joe Carter, Andy Benes, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Trevor Hoffman, Andy Ashby, Greg Vaughn, and Kevin Brown during his career. He saw several different managers come and go, from Dick Williams to Jack McKeon to Bruce Bochy. Three different ownership groups controlled the Padres during Gwynn's career. zHe holds almost all of the Padres hitting records(besides home runs), and has almost 2,000 more hits than Garry Templeton, who is second on the Padres all time hits list. Gwynn is definitely the best player in Padres history by far.

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