Growing up I played competitive baseball with Tony Gwynn’s son who was a few years older than me. In my college days, I played at USD and never lost touch with Tony.
I’m still in a daze this morning from the news that Tony Gwynn passed away at age 54. Most who know me are aware that he was my first hero. Before Batman, Luke Skywalker, and Indiana Jones, there was Tony Gwynn. I have never put much value into material possessions, but my autographed Louisville Slugger by Number 19 will stay with me always.
Tony’s hitting statistics were marvelous. The New York Times called him the “best hitter of his generation.” For twenty seasons he carved up opposing pitchers, winning the National League batting title 8 times. His career batting average was .338, the highest of any player who began his career after World War II. Kids who grew up in San Diego got to witness all of this firsthand. For Tony, hitting was as masterful as playing guitar was to Jimi Hendrix. But his character is what earned him the nickname Mr. Padre. He was the lowest paid player in sports for his ability. Electing to stay in a city that couldn’t afford him, which is unheard of in modern sports, he created the persona for the “grind it out” Padres in the late 80s and 90s. When he retired he stayed in town to take over as head coach of his Alma Mater San Diego State. I had the pleasure of playing youth baseball for a team he coached. Always approachable, I remember him staying after games to sign autographs for hours for the opposing players and their families. He’d let young pitchers strike him out on purpose to boost their confidence. He also had the most infectious laugh of anyone I’ve ever known. He was a “Baseball Man” with class. He taught us how to respect ourselves, and respect the game.
The sports writers will all have tributes far more eloquent than mine, but I’m not ashamed to say that I teared up this morning when I heard the news. Beyond his numbers, the best thing I can say is a quote from Mark Kreidler who said of Tony, “Every story told of his kindness understates the truth by half. Pure good.”
Looking at the legacy that he left is a great reminder to me and many of us to look at what we will be known for when we’re no longer here.
Academy Web Designer and Lover of Baseball
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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