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R.I.P., Mr. Padre
June 16, 2014 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has died at age 54. In his 20 years with the San Diego Padres, Gwynn racked up over 3,100 hits, a .338 career batting average--the 18th-best of all time--and eight batting title, the second-most in Major League history.
posted by Cash4Lead (74 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here is Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame Induction Speech from 2007.

One of the reddit threads on Gwynn's death linked to this quote from fellow Hall of Famer Greg Maddox:
Maddux was convinced no hitter could tell the speed of a pitch with any meaningful accuracy. To demonstrate, he pointed at a road a quarter-mile away and said it was impossible to tell if a car was going 55, 65 or 75 mph unless there was another car nearby to offer a point of reference.

“You just can’t do it,” he said. Sometimes hitters can pick up differences in spin. They can identify pitches if there are different releases points or if a curveball starts with an upward hump as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. But if a pitcher can change speeds, every hitter is helpless, limited by human vision.

“Except,” Maddux said, “for that [expletive] Tony Gwynn.”
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posted by Jugwine at 9:28 AM on June 16 [30 favorites]


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posted by Elly Vortex at 9:31 AM on June 16


I sincerely believe that Gwynn was on his way to batting over .400 the year the baseball strike cut the season short. Damn that strike.


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posted by Atreides at 9:33 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Gwynn's son plays for the Phillies now, and their father/son relationship was just profiled this past Sunday: The Gwynn men: A son's love, a father's fight
posted by gladly at 9:35 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


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Fuck cancer. Fuck cancer.
posted by anastasiav at 9:41 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


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As I was reading this story, I got a voicemail that my great-grandfather has been moved to Hospice care. He took me to my first baseball game, Tony was one of the guys he loved to point at when people talked about players being 'worse today' than before. (The game we went to was in Cincinnati, before Tony was playing, by a couple years)

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posted by DigDoug at 9:41 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Aw shit.

After Tony was kinda-mostly-retired I went to a Padres game and he came out to pinch hit. The ovation he got was thunderous.

The baseball field at San Diego State is named after him and has been for a long time.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 AM on June 16


I sold thousands of my 1980's baseball cards a few years ago. Tony Gwynn's rookie card was one of the six cards I kept. One of my all time favorite players.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 9:47 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


If you didn't like Tony Gwynn, you didn't like baseball.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:49 AM on June 16 [25 favorites]


As close to a natural at the plate as there ever was.
posted by rocket88 at 9:57 AM on June 16


An all-time great. Watching Gwynn play was a beautiful thing. And, yeah, fuck cancer.

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posted by Thorzdad at 9:59 AM on June 16


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posted by fricto at 9:59 AM on June 16


A little bit of Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams talking about hitting. Their friendship was one of those really neat baseball things.

Such sad news today.

Weird fact of the day: only pitcher to strike out Gwynn three times in day? Bob Welch, who passed away last week.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:59 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


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posted by dudemanlives at 10:00 AM on June 16


The guy just never struck out. He struck out 434 times IN HIS 20 YEAR CAREER, once every 23 plate appearances. He had an otherworldly ability to control the bat, and was among the handful of best pure hitters the game has ever seen. I loved that he became close friends with Ted Williams.

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posted by ORthey at 10:00 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Tony Gwynn was my favorite ballplayer. I'm pretty sure I was the only kid in my small Pennsylvania hometown to feel that way. That high-pitched cackle, his early use of videotape to study hitters' tendencies, all those singles in the 5.5 hole... he was completely unique.

During my honeymoon in 1999, my wife and I attended a game in all 5 MLB parks in California. Our first game was at Jack Murphy Stadium, the final game before the road trip on which he reached his 3,000th hit, and he recorded his 2,992nd, 2,993rd and 2,994th hits that day. A family friend gave me her scorecard and it remains one of my treasured keepsakes from that special time.

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posted by cheapskatebay at 10:02 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Growing up an Oakland A's fan in the 1980's, I could tell that I had some awesome players to root for, and that something was slightly off. From looking at these guys in games and even just their baseball cards, something didn't sit exactly "right." Of course I was too young then to understand what I know now, but many players, including on my own team, were gaming the system and their own bodies.

Not Tony Gwynn. Players like him and others before and after him who play the game in it's purest form - and still give the cheaters a run for their money - have my my undying respect.

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posted by allkindsoftime at 10:03 AM on June 16


I coached about 8 seasons of youth baseball, and in every one I taught the Tony Gwynn "squash the bug" methodology of hitting. It made so much sense to me, and the kids understood it. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy too. A real loss, and not just for the baseball world.

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posted by COD at 10:06 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I grew up in San Diego in the 80s and 90s. The Padres were rarely to be taken seriously, but we always had Tony. It was always exciting to watch him play, he was extraordinarily gracious to the fans, and he just seemed such a decent human being. The entire town loved him, and he really did seem to love us back.

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posted by /\/\/\/ at 10:12 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Just devastating. I'm a San Diego native, too, and lived within walking distance of The Murph. Words cannot express what a hero he was to kids and adults during his heyday. Tony (he'll always be Tony to San Diego) didn't just hit the ball—he made the game accessible to all and drew San Diegans together. He made me proud to be a Padres fan, which is pretty much incredible.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:17 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Damn. A truly great hitter and a classy guy to boot.

RIP, Tony.
posted by jonmc at 10:26 AM on June 16


I don't personally believe in the afterlife, but I do enjoy the idea of Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams talking hitting and hitting fungoes together for all time.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:27 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


What a shame. Summers of my childhood were spent listening to Padres games on the radio, and occasionally going to the Murph. We lost a lot, but it sure was fun whenever Tony was at the plate. Thanks for all the smiles and the base hits, Mr. Gwynn!
posted by Existential Dread at 10:29 AM on June 16


I love the metaphor for life that baseball provides. When a class act like Tony Gwynn enters the Hall of Fame with a .338 lifetime batting average, I think to myself, that's all it takes? All you have to do is win 1 out of every 3 battles in life, or have 1 or 2 good days a week, and you're the stuff of legend? There's a deep message in that for me. What a beautiful game.

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posted by phaedon at 10:30 AM on June 16 [19 favorites]


The baseball field at San Diego State is named after him and has been for a long time.

Well, it's a fairly new thing (it was heavily rebuilt in 1997, around the same time they built the basketball arena), but it's been named for him for all of its existence.

Tony (he'll always be Tony to San Diego)

Even more succinct than that - he'll always be "T".
posted by LionIndex at 10:32 AM on June 16


He also stuck with the Padres through thick & thin. Damn.
posted by chavenet at 10:35 AM on June 16


Wait. Tony Gwynn? No, that's... What the fuck.
posted by Etrigan at 10:35 AM on June 16


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posted by drezdn at 10:42 AM on June 16


⚾︎.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:47 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Fuck cancer. Fuck cancer.
posted by anastasiav at 9:41 AM on June 16


Fuck the companies that market and sell chewing tobacco, which drastically increases the likelihood of the cancer that killed Mr. Gwynn.
posted by Awful Peice of Crap at 10:47 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


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Echoing the 'fuck cancer'. Just...ugh.
posted by Tknophobia at 10:51 AM on June 16


The cancer was in his right cheek.

"Gwynn had said that he believed the cancer was from chewing tobacco."
posted by mecran01 at 10:52 AM on June 16


Aww man, I had no idea he was sick. I am also a San Diego native and also grew up watching Tony Gwynn play. The man was a class act through and through--not just was he a phenomenal player but he also was super engaged with the community--and I guarantee you that being a black baseball player for (my beloved) perpetual losers the Padres meant it wasn't always easy.

Yeah, we loved him back.
posted by librarylis at 10:55 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


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Dang. I loved listening to Tony talk about baseball, or anything else.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:07 AM on June 16


It's hard to be any more superlative about the guy, but just about everything I've seen so far talks almost only about his hitting, although with good reason. When he came into the league, he was a legit 3.5 or 4 tool player, just lacking power. It's hard to imagine given the knee problems and his physique for the latter half of his career, but he was a base stealing threat at one point (he ended up with over 300) and won 5 gold gloves.
posted by LionIndex at 11:13 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


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posted by From Bklyn at 11:26 AM on June 16


If you'd like to see just a hint of what the guy meant to San Diego, the U-T has you covered: More than Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn was Mr. San Diego.
posted by librarylis at 11:26 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Jon Bois's tribute: "Tony Gwynn, baseball scientist, has died."

He is a role model for anyone who ever wants to defeat the universe.
posted by dismas at 11:26 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]


he made his big league debut on July 19, 1982. Gwynn had two hits that night, including a double, against the Philadelphia 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?”

Man, he was a legend from day one, and everyone knew it.

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posted by obscure simpsons reference at 11:28 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


The Art of Hitting shows up as out of print. On the radio this morning I heard a fellow say that his wife the softball coach says it is the best book on hitting for coaches. So now you have heard this fourth hand!

Hitting .400 is apparently over. The only guys I have heard to seriously chase .400 are George Brett and Tony Gwynn.
posted by bukvich at 11:29 AM on June 16


Posted this link on fb when I found out. It is bittersweet (the Yankees came back and won the game, then the series in 4 games), but that's all you get if you are a Padres fan: bittersweet moments. If my fragile memory is any guide, my entire youth was spent doing homework or playing with friends and then stopping every half hour or so because Tony was at the plate, watching or listening to Tony stroke a line drive into left field, and then getting back to other things.

The Padres will probably never win a World Series in my lifetime (let's face it) but we will always have all of those beautiful, perfect line drives. And, the occasional moon shot off of the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 11:30 AM on June 16


The story about him wanting to figure out the exact right way to hit a ball with a bat so he could hit a curving drive, and actually dedicating years of his life to the task, is just perfect.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:33 AM on June 16


Here's a nice appraisal from Paul Swydan at FanGraphs. Gwynn always seemed like one of the great human beings in baseball to me — and certainly the greatest contact hitter of his era.

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posted by RogerB at 11:34 AM on June 16


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posted by me3dia at 11:35 AM on June 16


Hitting .400 is apparently over. The only guys I have heard to seriously chase .400 are George Brett and Tony Gwynn.

He was at .394 when the Strike ended the season prematurely. The guy had .400 in his sights!
posted by Atreides at 11:46 AM on June 16


I always loved that little voice and its mismatch with those mighty arms.

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DigDoug, hang in there. Watch some highlights today, and go hug your grandpa if you can, or maybe call him.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:08 PM on June 16


In 323 AB vs. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn struck out a total of 3 times. Two vs. Glavine.

I also remember reading that during one season in the 90s that Gwynn swung and missed at a grand total of 13 times.

I love baseball, and I wish there were more players like him.

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posted by dry white toast at 12:24 PM on June 16


I've been heartbroken since I heard this news this morning. He was a classy guy who gave a lot to the Padres organization, SDSU and the San Diego community.

He loved San Diego and San Diego loved him. I'm headed to Petco for the Dodgers v. Padres this weekend. It'll be a teary ballpark for sure.

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posted by 26.2 at 12:39 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


dry white toast: I also remember reading that during one season in the 90s that Gwynn swung and missed at a grand total of 13 times.

That's nothing, Ryan Howard can do that in one night!
posted by tonycpsu at 12:39 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Like Maddux said, if they take the same path out of a pitchers hand, to most players a curve ball looks like a fastball looks like a change-up. To Gwynn, they all looked like beach balls, and to Howard they all look like that Bugs Bunny bit where he strikes out three different batters on one pitch.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:02 PM on June 16


The only guys I have heard to seriously chase .400 are George Brett and Tony Gwynn

John Olerud looked like he might back in 1993 for a while, but he sorta tapered off. .363 is nothing to sneeze at though.
posted by Hoopo at 1:19 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Great ballplayer, and seemed to be a very likeable person as well. Too bad he never got a World Series ring.

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posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:48 PM on June 16


Of all his impressive stats and accomplishments, Gwynn's strikeout numbers stand out the most to me. Never struck out more than 40 times in one season. Struck out 434 times in his entire career. Only 434 times.

In comparison, take for example, Drew Stubbs. In a three year period Stubbs struck out 539 times (2010, 2011, 2012).

Gwynn was amazing.
posted by cwest at 2:18 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Shit. One of my favorite players ever.

It's the rare athlete that is as accomplished, loyal, and genial as Tony Gwynn.

Professional sports was lucky to have him, not vice versa.
posted by ssmug at 3:55 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I had a moment of shock when I saw this earlier today. He's the first of the great baseball players of my childhood to die, I think (with all due respect to Rod Beck, of course).

And, yeah, fuck chewing tobacco and that part of baseball culture. When I was in college, chewing tobacco came up in German class for some reason and most of my classmates had no idea what it was, so maybe that's a good sign. (How they had no idea, I don't know. I guess it's not a standard topic of health class in California. But there was gum sold in pouches like chewing tobacco when I was a kid.)
posted by hoyland at 4:10 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The only guys I have heard to seriously chase .400 are George Brett and Tony Gwynn

John Olerud looked like he might back in 1993 for a while, but he sorta tapered off. .363 is nothing to sneeze at though.

Todd Helton was right there until September back in 2000. He ended up sliding a bit and ended up "only" at .372, and there's the Coors Field-sized asterisk next to that number, but still.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:58 PM on June 16


I think Len Dykstra may have hit .390 for half a season for the Phillies after he started juicing.

Gwynn was just astonishing. Heard tonight on the radio that he hit a robust .444 with the bases loaded.

I remember watching a segment on him once where it showed him in a video room studying tape of pitchers, which at the time was really an innovative practice.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:30 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 5:41 PM on June 16


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posted by synecdoche at 6:22 PM on June 16


!                                                                                 |    . \o/



Goodbye, Mr. Padre. You were one of the true greats.
posted by eriko at 8:43 PM on June 16


I literally yelled out loud when I read this this afternoon. I didn't even know he was sick.

RIP, awesome hitting guy.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:43 PM on June 16


If you want to see something spooky look at the career stat lines for Gwynn and George Brett at baseball-reference.com. If Gwynn wasn't eight years later you might think they were identical twins separated at birth. Career OPS .847 & .857.
posted by bukvich at 10:15 PM on June 16


Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:13 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


⚾︎
posted by Cranberry at 11:19 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


It's hard to imagine given the knee problems and his physique for the latter half of his career, but he was a base stealing threat at one point (he ended up with over 300) and won 5 gold gloves.

He was also a star point guard at SDSU.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:25 PM on June 16


I always loved watching him foul off pitches he didn't like. I don't think there's ever been anyone better at fouling off two strike pitches until he got something he could do something with. That's the type of thing that drives a pitcher insane.
posted by azpenguin at 5:51 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Goddamnit.

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posted by brand-gnu at 6:46 AM on June 17


He faced Greg Maddux 107 times, hit .415, and never struck out.

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posted by CitoyenK at 7:01 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


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He was one of my idols growing up. Vin Scully pointed out once that he had 5.5 written in marker on the toe of his right cleat. It was to remind him to aim the ball in the hole between third base and short. And damn if he didn't do just that as soon as Vin finished the story.

Tony Gwynn: professional hitter, gentleman, and all around class act.
posted by bluejayway at 9:42 AM on June 17


dry white toast: I also remember reading that during one season in the 90s that Gwynn swung and missed at a grand total of 13 times.

So, the thing about a guy as amazing as Tony Gwynn was is that stats like this that would seem ridiculous for anyone else actually sound plausible. So I looked it up, and, it turns out this one isn't quite correct, or it's at least a bit misleading.

baseball-reference.com has Gwynn's swinging strike percentage and total strike numbers in this table. Doing the math, there was actually a season where he only swung and missed 14 times, but that was the 2000 season when he was 40 years old and only appeared in 36 games. so not quite the same as having that many over a full season. In the following season, he only had 21 swing-and-miss strikes, but again, his number of plate appearances that year was so low that it's stretching the truth to say that was a big accomplishment. (I'm sure there were many relief pitchers who had zero swing-and-miss strikes during those years, but that doesn't make them great hitters.)

However.

In the seasons where he did have a good number of plate appearances, his swinging strike numbers were still amazing. He had 441 plate appearances in 1996 and only 37 swing-and-miss strikes. And in 1993, when he appeared in 122 games and had 529 plate appearances, he only swung and missed 44 times, which is an average of once every three games.

The consistency of his low swinging strike percentages (his worst year was 6.3% when the MLB average is around 14%) is just astounding, and I doubt it will ever be duplicated.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:37 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


You know, there's this impression that Gwynn was a pure singles hitter, and in some senses he was - we've covered the stories of his unparalleled bat control, the 5.5 hole, his insane contact rate, and all that. But it's worth pointing out that his 543 career doubles rank him 28th all-time in that category; throw in 85 triples (the dude was FAST at the beginning of his career) and 135 home runs, and you've got yourself a lifetime .459 lifetime slugging percentage. Not too shabby for a contact hitter.
posted by ORthey at 12:23 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


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posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:17 AM on June 18


I Was Tony Gwynn's Bat Boy
posted by tonycpsu at 7:17 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


What a story. Everything about the guy is so damn awesome.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:02 PM on June 19


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