San Diego Padres’ great Tony Gywnn watches his home run leave the yard at Yankee Stadium, 1998. Mandatory Credit: boysofsummerblog.blogspot.com
On May 9th, 1960, the greatest San Diego athlete in history was born. Anthony Keith Gwynn is a hometown kid. He played his college ball (that includes basketball) at San Diego State University. He was an All-American in baseball and is the all-time assists leader for Aztecs basketball. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 3rd round of the 1981 draft. He made is major league debut in July of 1982. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Gwynn played 20 seasons (1982-2001) with the Padres, something that does not happen anymore. He was a 15-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glover winner, 7-time Silver Slugger award winner, 8-time batting champion and of course, he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He had 19 straight seasons of a .300 batting average or better, a National League record. He played on both of San Diego’s World Series teams, in 1984 and 1998. In 9 World Series games, he hit .400 with 14 hits, 1 HR, 3 RBI and 4 walks. Who could forget that home run he hit in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium? In 1994, he may have hit .400 had it not been for the strike. A little-known fact is that he led the majors in at-bats per strikeout 10 separate times. He was one tough guy to strike out. 1997 may have been his best year overall, he hit .372 with 220 hits and 119 RBI. He finished with 3,141 hits, 19th all-time. Everyone remembers where they were when he collected number 3,000 in Montreal. I was not yet 8 years old, but make no mistake, I remember Rick Sutcliffe’s call on Channel 4 loud and clear.
As a kid, I always pretended I was Tony Gwynn. I even copied his batting stance right up to varsity high school baseball. He is not only “Mr. Padre,” he is “Mr. San Diego.” He has the San Diego State baseball stadium named after him. He also has a beautiful statue in right center field at Petco Park. His #19 has been retired. I donned that number numerous times growing up in his honor. He has been the personification of loyalty and reliability. He is in his 12th year coaching SDSU baseball. He has taken a leave of absence to battle cancer and I think I speak for everyone when I say “Get well soon, Tony.” Happy 54th birthday to one of the greatest pure hitters in the history of baseball, and the greatest athlete in San Diego sports history.