My favorite baseball player of all time died yesterday. Mr Padre. Tony Gwynn.
I’m not a big stat head, so I can’t really rattle off all the ways he was good. I know he won eight batting titles and almost hit .400 in 1994, the strike year. He was a great fielder when he was young, and was awarded several Gold Gloves. He was one of only a handful of players in recent decades to spend his entire career with one team*. He’s far and away the best Padre player ever**.
He was also, by all accounts, a very nice man. I wish I had some personal story of meeting him, but I don’t. I’ve only seen him on the field.
I don’t actually care that much about stats- my current favorite Padre is Cameron Maybin, and he’s only rarely even playing. The reason Tony is my favorite doesn’t even have that much to do with baseball. It’s his attitude to playing.
I wish I could find the quote, and believe me, I have been searching for it, but I read an interview with Tony where the reporter was asking him- why don’t you go somewhere else and play? San Diego is underpaying you. Tony responded with something along the lines of- I like San Diego, because I like hitting singles, and if I went somewhere else the media would be on my case for not hitting home runs.
To me, this is the most perfectly San Diego thing anyone could ever say- because we San Diego fans aren’t clamoring for anyone to kill themselves for our amusement. Winning isn’t everything in San Diego. In fact, I’m not even sure it is a thing. WE LIVE IN SAN DIEGO. Asking for too much more than that seems like tempting the fates.
But all back-patting about how awesome our city is aside, I really admired Tony for saying this. Because sports, and almost everything else around us, tells us that we have to keep going for THE BEST. Reaching for something higher. Tony was reaching for something- a lot of hits, but that was his goal for Tony Gwynn, not ours. Tony knew what he wanted to do, and he found a place where he could be happy doing it. There’s nothing better than that.
*Trevor Hoffman, another great Padre, came close- he spent his first and last years with other teams.
**Dave Winfield was very good, but he only went into the Hall as a Padre as a snub to George Steinbrenner- he played more years with the Yankees than the Pads. And I don’t think he was as good as Tony.