I watched Tony Gwynn play baseball for several years. Most of them were in his twilight years as far as the game goes, but that doesn’t take away from any of his many accomplishments during that time. I watched on television as he joined the 3,000 hit club, kept my eye on the newspaper every morning to keep an eye on his battle with Todd Helton as they battled to be the one to capture the elusive .400 batting average, and cheered every time he slapped that baseball through the 5.5 hole. (For the uninitiated, that would be the gap between the third baseman and the shortstop.) He was always in high spirits because he loved the game; but he loved the city more.
Considered one of the best hitters of his generation, Gwynn was also one of a very select group of players who played for one team for his entire career. He could have become a free agent at any time and joined a team with more money to spend on a roster full of all-stars. But it wasn’t about the money for him. Even if they couldn’t afford to give him what he was worth (compared to some other players in the league at the time), he loved the Padres and he loved his life in San Diego, and no amount of money was going to pull him away.
He may not have held any major league records, but he was one of the most consistent players to play the game, and he deserved everything he received, including his spot in the hall of fame and the retirement of his number within the Padres organization. I have no doubt that Gwynn’s presence in the game of baseball will always be remembered alongside the likes of greats like Ted Williams and Sholess Joe Jackson.
Tony Gwynn was only 54 years old upon his passing earlier today after a long battle with cancer. My heart goes out to his family and friends who will surely miss his abundant passion and positive charisma.