RIP Mr Padre

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.

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4 comments

    1. A lovely tribute to Tony Gwynn. I hate cliches. But I think Tony was a “throwback” to the days when we had 16 teams in baseball and the grass was green. If you were a real baseball fan, you could recite the lineups of ALL 16 teams. It wasn’t unusual for players to spend their entire careers on one team. Most of our boys of summer were accessible to fans. Many lived in neighborhoods near the ball park in season. I met Tony Gywnn in Boston during the 90’s during an interview session. He seemed very much like one of my heroes from the 50’s. He was very down to earth and enjoyed my boyhood memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Tony said he would’ve loved playing with Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and the original boys of summer. Best of all, Tony told me he enjoyed spending a little time with a genuine baseball fan. I wish we’d had him on the Red Sox.

      1. I envy you Garry, like I said, I only saw him on the field. He was a great presence around San Diego, by all accounts and I know the owners should have paid him more, but us fans were really happy he stuck around. I’ve been reading tributes to him all week and it’s heartening to see that everyone has good things to say about him. Too many Steve Garvey or Kirby Puckett stories where you find out that someone wasn’t as nice as their image makes them out to be.

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