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There were, are, and will be very few like Tony Gwyn. Describing how he approached hitting a baseball is like getting into the mind of Picasso while painting.
Gwynn was not only a great baseball player, but a great man, and for this we celebrate his life.
Gwynn began his Major League Baseball career in 1982 and immediately opened eyes. His breakout season came in 1984, making him a house-hold name. He hit a remarkable .351 as a youngster and swiped 33 bags, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Not only did the individual accolades come fast, but team success as well, as the Padres won the National League pennant that season. If the team didn't run into Sparky Anderson’s Detroit Tigers (one of the best teams in baseball history), the Padres could be 1984 World Series Champs.
He was one of the greatest contact hitters of all-time. This is a concept that started to fade in the 1990’s as steroids came fast and furious. Only few names compare to this man, such as Rod Carew, Ted Williams and Pete Rose - all great professional hitters who did not need power to become a great player.
Perhaps his greatest year came in 1997. He hit an outrageous .372 and upped his power with 17 home runs and 119 runs batted in. The career .338 hitter thought of hitting as a science. He perfected his craft every day as a professional.
1998 was another banner year for “Mr. Padre.” He and the Padres once again won the National League pennant, but much like 1984, they again ran into one of the greatest teams in MLB history - the 1998 New York Yankees and were swept 4-0. Although Gwynn only reached the playoffs in three seasons, he made the most of it with a .306 career average.
In his career, he won eight batting titles and seven silver-sluggers. He is currently 19th on the all-time hit list with 3,141 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
Gwynn was a San Diego Padre, and nothing else. He respected San Diego and the city fell in love with their hero. Sports become a nasty venue as competitiveness gets the best of many. Without competitiveness and a little nasty-streak, greatness it tough to achieve. For Tony Gwynn however, he was able to become the best while maintaining the great character he always had.
Tony Gwynn, you will forever remain in San Diego’s heart forever.
image courtesy of Roger Wong/INFGoff.com