Tuesday, June 17, 2014

R.I.P. - Tony "Mr. Padre" Gwynn : Hall Of Famer, Greatest "Pure" Hitter of my Generation

 Most people that know me know I'm a "Yankees Guy", 
but I'm just a total Baseball Guy.
Very sad to have to write about the passing of the 
Greatest Hitter of my generation.
Sure I have always been an American League kind of guy, but everyone stops in there tracks when they see greatness. I hated (and still do) watching National League ball, pitchers hitting is a waste of time. I watched the Mets when the Padres came to town, just to see Tony hit. Just like I did with Pete Rose, I watched because I knew I was watching baseball history unfold.
I don't have a personal experience story as I just watched his career unfold on television, and through the numerous articles and covers that featured him in Sports Illustrated as well as other sports magazines.
This man had class as well as talent, 
something we rarely see these days.
He wasn't about the all-mighty buck, he stayed true to his team.
Rest In Peace Mr. Padre

Here is a great post by Todd McFarlane that was on social media about his experience knowing Tony Gwynn.

 My brief time with HALL OF FAMER, Tony Gwynn who passed away today! Tony gave me a memory I will remember for my lifetime. As a self professed baseball freak (I played ball as a kid, played PAC-10, coach and still play hardball) there have been a handful of special baseball moments in my life. Let me recant one of them for you:

Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn dies today at the young age of 54. During his career (all with the San Diego Padres, a rare occurance in todays sports world of cashing the highest dollar), he won the batting title 8 times!!! That means he was the best hitter in his

 league in 8 different seasons.

Well one day, in 2001, I was invited to a gathering by Major League Baseball to take a few swing against Roger Clemens (who was an All-Star at the time. As a baseball player and fan, this was going to be one of my baseball highlights.

When I arrived at the park, in Las Vegas, one of the first persons I met in the clubhouse was Mr.Gwynn (he was just winding down his career with the Padres. He was instantly gracious and funny and we talked baseball for a bit. Then he told me his two secrets to hitting (which I still teach to my players to this day). As a warm-up to getting ready to bat against Roger Clemens, each of us old men and women that had been invited got to take some practice swings to prepare.

Well, since I had played at a very high level in college, I have to say, I was by far the best hitter there. In fact, I kept lining balls into the banquet area they were 

setting up along the 1st base side (I'm a lefty hitter).
 And on my last warm up swing I hit the ball out of the
 park! Tony congratulated me and the other business
 men were in awe of well I was doing.

But, for me the best part was still to come...that was actually hitting against Clemens himself. Once Roger took the mound and was ready to throw to us old dudes, they went in alphabetical order, which gave me plenty of time to watch about a dozen other people try hitting off Clemens so I could get my timing down. I stood in the on deck circle for all 12 hitters getting prepared to finally have my turn. BUT I WAS READY!! Finally, they called my name. We were each to get 7 swings off of Clemens, so I had to make them count.

I dug in my cleats and stood in the batter's box with confidence , since Mr. Clemens was letting all the others hit decently. He pitched his first ball...SWISH! I had missed it! The next pitch was the same...SWISH! Wow, I thought to myself, I must be more nervous than I thought. Okay I still had 5 more swings. The next pitch...THUNK. The ball went about 25 feet. Then another THUNK and another. What was happening?!! It didn't make sense. Two more swings later I hit a couple of weak ground balls to second base and my turn was over.

After I was finished with my last swing, they took me to the mound to get a photo with Mr. Clemens. That was great, but as I walked away, I couldn't believe how terrible I had done. I kept replaying each swing in my head wishing I could do it over. Was I really that bad? And then I heard it...

Over in the corner was someone giggling to themselves so hard they couldn't contain themselves. It was Tony Gwynn. He waved me to
come over to see him. As I got closer he burst into loud, heartfelt laughter. Then he started to giggle again like a school yard girl. When I got up to him he said "Didn't do so swell today, did you?" I told him no and said I couldn't believe I didn't do better. Then he burst out laughing again. "You know why you didn't hit good?" he said, "Because after watching you hit in the warm ups, I went into the locker room and told Roger that when that McFARLANE guy gets up to bat, throw it harder to him than anyone else. He's pretty good." He thought that was the funniest thing there was, since he knew I had been timing all the other players ahead of me, but I didn't see that Clemens 'added' about 12 miles to his fastball when I was up at the plate. That's why I was so bad, because I was using the wrong timing. Still more laughter.

Finally I looked at him and said "Tony, I know that you are quite pleased with yourself right now, but you havehad over 10,000 at bats in the Major Leagues. 
This was going to be my only 7 swings against a major leaguer." He thought about it for a moment, getting serious for the first time. Then he started giggling again and put his arm around me and said "Then it's your fault, you shouldn't have hit so good in the warm ups." We hung around the rest of that afternoon together talking about families and life and , of course baseball. But what struck me the most that day wasn't that Tony played a cruel joke on me. It was that he even took enough interest in who I was that day to even WANT to play a joke on me. Like I was one of his long time friends!

That is the impression he left me with. That I was worth his time and that he talked to me like a peer. I was able to run into him a few more times after that and he always apologized for not letting me hit better against Roger. But what he never knew is the generosity of his character was far, far more lasting than me hitting a ball hard that day.

Rest well, dear Tony. You were one of the good ones.

Tony Gwynn, who banged out 3,141 hits during a Hall of Fame career spanning 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres, has died of cancer at age 54, it was announced Monday.

The lefty-swinging Gwynn, nicknamed Mr. Padre, had a career .338 batting average, won eight National League batting titles and played in the franchise's only two World Series.

He died early Monday morning at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, California, while surrounded by his family, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced.

"Major League Baseball today mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement Monday. "The greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life.

"... For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the National Pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched."

Gwynn had been signed to a one-year contract extension as the baseball coach at San Diego State on Wednesday. He had been on medical leave since late March while recovering from cancer treatment. He took over the program at his alma mater after the 2002 season.

Survivors include his wife, Alicia, daughter, Anisha, and son, Tony Jr., who plays with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gwynn Jr., who is hitting .155 in 52 games this season, was put on the bereavement list Monday.

 In a rarity in pro sports, Gwynn spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, choosing to stay rather than leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere. His terrific hand-eye coordination made him one of the game's greatest contact hitters. He excelled at hitting singles the other way, through the "5.5 hole" between third base and shortstop.

"There are no words to express what Tony means to this organization and this community," the Padres said in a statement. "More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community.

"He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart. On behalf of Padres fans everywhere, we mourn the loss of a friend, a teammate and a legend."

He was a 15-time All-Star and reached the coveted 200-hit mark in a season five times, and his .338 career average was 18th-best all time.

Gwynn hit safely in 1,838 games -- which amount to 75.3 percent of those in which he played. In addition, Gwynn had 951 multihit games, reached hitting streaks of at least 10 games on 33 different occasions and had only 34 multistrikeout games. In fact, he had only one career game with three or more strikeouts.

"I'll remember the cackle to his laugh. He was always laughing, always talking, always happy," said San Francisco Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, who was both a teammate and a coach of Gwynn. "The baseball world is going to miss one of the greats, and the world itself is going to miss one of the great men of mankind. He cared so much for other people. He had a work ethic unlike anybody else, and had a childlike demeanor of playing the game just because he loved it so much."

Gwynn batted .300 in each of his last 19 seasons, an MLB streak second only to Ty Cobb's.

Gwynn was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2007. His No. 19 was retired by the Padres in 2004, and a statue was erected in his honor at Petco Park.

"For more than a generation, the only thing more dependable in San Diego than sunshine was Tony Gwynn," Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler said. "No player ever has or ever will put on a Padres jersey without feeling the spirit and passion of #19."

Gwynn, who went into the Hall along with Cal Ripken Jr., was named on 532 of 545 votes cast (97.6 percent). He was also honored with the 1995 Branch Rickey Award, the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award.

"This is an extraordinarily sad day," Ripken Jr. said in a statement. "Tony was a Hall of Fame ballplayer but more importantly he was a wonderful man. Tony always had a big smile on his face and was one of the warmest and most genuine people I have ever had the honor of knowing. Like all baseball fans I will miss him very much and my thoughts are with his family today."

Gwynn homered off the facade at Yankee Stadium off San Diego native David Wells in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series and scored the winning run in the 1994 All-Star Game. He was hitting .394 when a players' strike ended the 1994 season, denying him a shot at becoming the first player to hit .400 since San Diego native Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Gwynn befriended Williams, and the two loved to talk about hitting. Gwynn steadied Williams when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the 1999 All-Star Game at Boston's Fenway Park.

Gwynn was a two-sport star at San Diego State in the late 1970s-early 1980s, playing point guard for the basketball team -- he still holds the school's game, season and career record for assists -- and outfielder for the baseball team.

Gwynn wanted to play in the NBA until realizing during his final year at San Diego State that baseball would be his ticket to the pros.

"I had no idea that all the things in my career were going to happen," he said shortly before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. "I sure didn't see it. I just know the good Lord blessed me with ability, blessed me with good eyesight and a good pair of hands, and then I worked at the rest."

He was a third-round draft pick of the Padres in 1981.

After spending parts of just two seasons in the minor leagues, he made his big league debut on July 19, 1982. Gwynn had two hits that night, including a double, against the Phillies. After doubling, Pete Rose, who had been trailing the play, said to Gwynn: "Hey, kid, what are you trying to do, catch me in one night?"

 This picture is how I will 
always remember Tony ..
Shooting it through the 5.5 hole ..

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