Today — June 16, 2014 — is a sad day for all of baseball. For someone who grew up watching baseball in the early 1990s, Tony Gwynn was definitely a player who had my interest. As a baseball card collector, I generally had a list of the top 10 to 15 players in the game whose cards I sought after every year, and Gwynn was always on the list.
It’s fun to look back at those cards now and see the consistency of one of the greatest pure hitters I’ve ever watched. Gwynn wasn’t going to blow you away with home runs and high RBI totals, but he knew how to put the bat on the ball, and he knew how to place it where the defenders weren’t standing.
Gwynn was no small dude either — especially when I was watching him in the mid-to-late ’90s — so what was even more amazing was watching this guy with a round midsection spread balls all over a baseball field.
My lasting memory of Gwynn was watching him and Cal Ripken in their last All-Star Game in 2001. While Ripken stole the show with a home run, that night was special for me as a fan because it was the first time that great players of my first generation of watching baseball were retiring.
Gwynn truly was an amazing, one-of-kind baseball talent. In an era where everyone was in awe of the long ball, Gwynn was putting on a hitting clinic that hadn’t been seen since the years of Ted Williams.
Looking back at Gwynn’s stats reminds you how remarkable of a player he was. He broke into the league in 1982 and hit .289 that season in just 190 at-bats. In the 19 seasons that followed, he never hit lower than .309 in any season. In 10 of those seasons he hit .329 or better.
Gwynn finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting seven times. Had he not played during a time where home run and RBI totals were magnified, he would have easily won at least one MVP award. In 1984, he finished third in the voting after hitting .351 with a .410 OBP. He walked 59 times that season and struck out just 23 times.
When you consider today’s high strikeout totals, it really is amazing to go back and look at Gwynn’s career totals. He never struck out more than 40 times in a single season. In 1995, when he was 35 years old, Gwynn struck out just 15 times in 577 plate appearances. That’s unfathomable in today’s game when guys like B.J. Upton are striking out 15 times a week.
For someone who is an old school-type baseball lover, I miss guys like Tony Gwynn — guys who emphasize putting the ball in play and limit the number of strikeouts. In my opinion, the game is lacking excitement today because of the strikeout numbers; we could use more guys like Tony Gwynn.
Gwynn made it to two World Series — in 1984 and 1998 — but lost both times despite being a .306 hitter in 27 playoff games.
Gwynn was voted for the All-Star Game 15 times, won the NL Batting Title eight times, won five Gold Gloves, eight Silver Slugger awards, led the league in OBP (.454) in 1994, runs scored (107) in 1986 and led the league in hits seven times, with his highest total coming in 1997 when he collected 220 hits.
Gwynn currently ranks 19th in baseball history in hits with 3,141 and sits in the 18th spot for the highest batting average of all time at .338.
The passing of Gwynn is sad for all of baseball for a lot of reasons. Those who knew him say he was a class act on and off the field, and I’ve never seen that to be false. But it’s also sad because our game may never see anyone quite like Tony Gwynn ever again. Today is a time to cherish the memories of Gwynn and the unique talent he brought to this great game.