When I was a teenager, my sister and I would spend Sunday afternoons listening to Casey Kasem count down the top 40 songs of the week. Casey’s upbeat yet soothing voice let us know the most popular songs in the land, and we sang along with every one of them.
When I was a young man, my friends Frank, Paul, Matt and I would marvel at the accomplishments of the most famous of all Padres, Tony Gwynn, or Fat Tony, as we lovingly called him.
With these two legends passing away just a day apart, it seems a fitting tribute to count down the Tony Gwynn Top 40, forty statistics, facts, and memories about the man that we all hold so dear in our hearts.
40. Tony Gwynn has the highest lifetime batting average of any player who retired in the last 53 years – .338. For two full generations, Tony has been the standard by which other players’ ability to get on base by base hit is measured. The highest batting average for active players is Miguel Cabrera’s .321.
39. The term “5.5 hole” was created for Tony Gwynn. Tony’s ability to so consistently slap that outside fastball in between the third baseman and shortstop was so great, the new baseball term was coined.
38. Tony Gwynn’s batting average in two World Series was .371.
37. Gwynn watched game film of himself hitting every day, long before anyone else was doing it. The best pure hitter of his generation always wanted to be better.
36. Tony hit over .350 seven times, .370 or better three times. Between 1993 and 1997, his worst BA was .353. He hit .368 over that five-year span. It has been 10 years since any player has hit that high in a single season, let alone over five seasons.
35. He collected both his 2,000th and 3,000th career hits on August 6. August 6 is his mother’s birthday.
34. Remember that home run off the façade in right field at Yankee Stadium in 1998? Awesome.
33. Tony wore number 19. His 3,141 hits are 19th all-time. He hit .300 in 19 consecutive seasons.
32. August 6, 1999. Gwynn’s 3,000th hit came in front of a tiny crowd at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Montreal was in the second of four consecutive 90+ loss seasons, and was not drawing fans at all. I remember a conversation with my friend Frank that I thought the park would be full for a legend’s 3,000th hit. I couldn’t imagine that everyone wouldn’t want to see the great Tony Gwynn reach this milestone. Unfortunately, Montreal fans did not turn out, and Gwynn’s landmark hit came in front of a crowd that was announced at 13,500, but was very likely well under 10,000.
31. Tony appeared in 15 All-Star games, 10th most of all-time.
30. Tony did not hit .300 every year of his career. In his rookie season, he hit .289. After that, he hit .300 every year. His 19 straight seasons over .300 is second only to Ty Cobb’s 23.
29. Gwynn was a stolen base machine in his 20s, and was still a very smart and capable baserunner later in his career. In 1987, he stole 56 bases while hitting .370. 10 year later, at age 37, he stole 12 bases. And he was a few pounds heavier then. He had 319 steals in his career, ranking him in the top 150 all-time.
28. The statue of Tony Gwynn at Petco Park has a quote from Gwynn’s father: “If you work hard, good things will happen.” Tony took his father’s words to heart. And good things happened.
27. In the last 11 years of his 20-year career, only once did he strike out more than 19 times in a season.
26. He struck out twice in a game only 34 times in his 2440 game career. He struck out three times in a game only once.
25. Thanks to Mike Oz at Big League Stew for this one: With 45 four-hit games and 34 two-strikeout games, it was more likely that Tony would get four hits in a game than strike out twice in a game.
24. He never struck out more than 40 times in a season. 434 Ks in his 20 year career. That’s less than once a week.
23. He had more doubles (535) than strikeouts.
22. Tony’s highest batting average against any pitcher was against Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. Gwynn hit .415 off Mad Dog over 94 at bats.
21. After his rookie year, he never hit below .309 in any year.
20. In the summer of 1994, I moved from Boston to San Diego. One of the most exciting things about this move for me was the fact that I would get to see the great Tony Gwynn in his pursuit of .400. My move date was in August, about a week after the strike began. I didn’t get to see Tony play until 1995, when he hit “only”.368. I still feel cheated by that strike.
Tomorrow: The Tony Gwynn Top 19.