Monday, June 16, 2014

Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn, (Sr.) the 8-time National League batting champion and Hall of Famer for the San Diego Padres, has died of cancer. He was just 54 years old. I don't really have the words to tell you how great he really was, or how sad I am, but I'll give it my best shot.

In 2001, my mother won season tickets for the Cardinals in a contest. I could only go to one game, and I chose the Padres. I knew that would be the end of the line for him, and I wanted to cheer for him in person. He didn't play that night, but he's quite simply the greatest hitter I've ever seen, and I was happy to know he was in the park. No one ever smiled as much as he did. I've never seen someone so excellent have so much fun playing baseball.

That same year, one of the columnists for ESPN wrote about what it was like to cover Gwynn, even though he didn't like to watch baseball himself. What can you say? He's Mr. Padre, the quintessential Nice Guy, the great ambassador, pretty much everything we want our sports heroes to be, yet they rarely are. Well, Mr. Gwynn made a fan and a friend out of that writer, and no one is surprised.

One absurd statistic I heard still blows my mind. His .338 career batting mark is staggering, but for his career average to drop below .300, he would have had to make an out 20,000 times in a row. (Most full-time hitters make roughly 600 plate appearances in a season.)

You couldn't get more universally beloved than this man. Did he ever get booed, anywhere? And if you did, you'd feel bad about it. Sometimes, the chiches are true, and this man was a living, breathing, embodiment of everything the grizzled cynics hate. Watching him was like watching Field of Dreams 6000 times, but it was real. Worth a note that the highest attendance ever recorded at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony was the year Tony went in.

I had to put the "Sr." in there, because his son made the big leagues. I can only imagine what Tony, Jr. feels right now. Be sad, but know also that how you regarded him isn't too far from how we all did, and maybe that's the greatest legacy of all.

Rest in peace, Tony. I hope to see you in glory.

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