Tony Gwynn, the left-handed right fielder who starred at San Diego State and then for the San Diego Padres, passed away Monday morning after a four-year fight with salivary-gland cancer.
Gwynn’s death comes a day after he received a contract extension to coach the San Diego State Aztecs baseball team. The fifty-four-year-old San Diego legend had been on medical leave.
The bowling-ball shaped hitting machine batted .338 in twenty major league seasons, all with the Padres. He finished with 3,141 hits. In addition to his eight batting titles, Mr. Padre also collected seven Gold Gloves patrolling right field. The fifteen-time All-Star won induction into the Hall of Fame in 2007 on his first year of eligibility with 97.6 percent of the vote. Like the late Junior Seau, Gwynn played as a beloved San Diego staple as popular for his amiable personality as his on-field accomplishments.
Gwynn met fellow son of San Diego Ted Williams in the early 1980s. Williams encouraged Gwynn to use a larger bat and Gwynn drew inspiration from the Red Sox great, aiming to become as masterful at the plate in his age as the older man had been in his.”Everybody wants to know,” Williams said of the younger man in a conversation with him, “‘Is he going to hit .400?’ If anybody I got to bet on now I got to bet on Tony.” Gwynn came close, hitting .394 in the strike-shortened 1994 season.
The right fielder dominated the hits and batting average categories in the National League at a time when Wade Boggs did the same in the American League. Gwynn played in San Diego’s two World Series appearances. The franchise would lose both. Gwynn competed as a throwback, a player who could hit to all fields, a student of the game with enormous respect for its history, and, like counterpart Cal Ripken, a player who spent his entire career with one franchise during an era of free agency. The Padres retired #19 in 2004.
Two children–Tony Gwynn, Jr., a Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, and Anisha Nichole, a recording artist–survive the Padres great.