On June 28th, 2001, Tony Gwynn announced to the San Diego Padres and their fans that he will retire at the end of the season. Why did he wait until halfway through the season to announce it? He didn’t want all the “fanfare” of a farewell tour. What we are seeing with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter is exactly what Gwynn didn’t want. That is the man he was. He was humble and it would have made him uncomfortable. He battled injuries throughout the 2001 season. He only appeared in 71 games in his final season, hitting .324 in 102 at-bats. He was held to pinch-hit duty much of the year.
The Padres finished the 2001 season 79-83. During the final series of the season, Tony Gwynn pinch-hit all 3 games. In his second to last game, he had a pinch-hit RBI double. He didn’t have a farewell tour, he didn’t want one. He was a humble man who just wanted to play the game that he loved in the city that he loved. He became eligible for the Hall 0f Fame in 2007 and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer by a vote of 97.6%.
On this day 13 years ago, Tony Gwynn saddened the city of San Diego with his announcement. It also was a cause for celebration, as we all still had 3 months of the season to watch him play. The game after his announcement, Qualcomm Stadium fit 60,830 people to watch Gwynn. The number was around the same for his last game as well. The city of San Diego adored him. They wanted to send him off right. Every chance they got, Padres fans chanted “Tony! Tony!”
13 years ago, we were able to step back and really enjoy a once-in-a-century phenomenon. We have had a similar experience these past 2 weeks. It’s the old saying “You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”