Tony Gwynn: Professor and Practitioner of the Art of Hitting


The swing just happened. Tony Gwynn after more sweet contact at the plate. Mandatory credit goes to

Perhaps more than anyone before him, and more than many since, to Anthony Keith Gwynn, hitting was not simply a job, hitting was not just a routine, hitting was not even only a science, hitting was art.

Among the torrent of remembrances coming out about the greatest Padre of all time today, even a noted national NFL writer is joining in the chorus of well deserved praise for Tony Gwynn. His comments highlight what we all knew for years was one of the most special things about the greatest hitter this side of Ted Williams.

On Monday morning, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King tweeted about a special assignment to cover baseball in 1992 in the wake of the Padres moves that made their top four in the line-up Tony Fernandez, Gwynn, Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield. What followed was a quick reminder of how Gwynn took the craft of hitting to an entirely different level.

Tweets King: “[During a 90 minute interview] I mention I am coaching girls softball. ‘The tee is important. Get them to hit off the tee.’ He said.” The lesson in how to go about becoming a great hitter continued when the writer went to watch Gwynn take BP. “First thing he does is hit off a tee into a net. Then he does soft-toss. Kid’s stuff. But why he was great.”

Great indeed.

King went on to talk about in live BP how Gwynn would start by placing a ball down the left field line, then, over the span of 15 or so hits, he would have made his way to right field, slapping singles to each part of the diamond. A ritual many Padre fans who got to catch BP saw time and time again over his 20 years in the Major Leagues.

All of those on field rituals, practices and tune ups, coupled with his pioneering and tireless study of video of his own swing, combines to paint a picture, not just of a great hitter, but a tireless artist.

Even using glowing words like artist and craftsman to describe his hitting fails to due justice to the whole person of Tony Gwynn.

While he is in the consciousness of the sporting world because of that skill, he will remain in the hearts and minds of the people who knew him, and the thousands more who felt as though they did, for so many more important reasons. His gentlemanly grace. His contagious smile and laughter. His passion for the people who were his fans. His love and dedication to his family. All of that infinitely more important in the scheme of things than his 3,141 career hits.

And yet, the indelible image of his swing, the indelible image of his art, will remain in our mind’s forever. Because no one could use an oblong stick of wood to paint the baseball version of a masterpiece, time and time again, like our Mr. Padre could.