By now everyone close to baseball knows of the passing of Padres legend Tony Gwynn. He died of oral cancer at the age of 54. Gwynn was taken far too young and he will forever be remembered as one hell of a player. However, he really is an undervalued player as far as I’m concerned. As most can see throughout most of my posts, I’m big on numbers when analyzing a player or team’s performance. But that’s the way baseball is and always has been. But I’m going to try and use a minimal amount of numbers to show the true greatness that is, was, and always will be Tony Gwynn.
To begin, Tony Gwynn was drafted originally as a basketball player out of San Diego State to the Los Angeles Clippers. Now he probably was no but I’m sure he played more consistently in both sports compared to Jordan who never really panned out as a good baseball player. But I’m not here to bash MJ. Gwynn was a phenomenal athlete and while in college playing baseball he was named an All-American twice. Gwynn chose to forego the NBA and instead sign with the San Diego Padres.
In his major league career, Gwynn is a member of the 3,000 hit club while hitting .338 lifetime and he never hit below .309 in a full season. Gwynn spent 20 years in the majors and was a fifteen-time all-star, eight-time National League batting champion as well as a five-time gold glove winner. Not to mention Gwynn won the Silver Slugger seven times on top of all those tremendous accomplishments.
What really intrigues me about Tony Gwynn though, is his work ethic. Gwynn would look in newspapers every morning to see how great hitters like Pete Rose were doing just to try and give himself a measuring stick to be better than. On top of that, Gwynn would have his wife tape his at-bats and he would go home that night from the ballpark and figure out what he did right and what he needs to adjust in his next game to improve his hitting. I guess hitting .309 or higher every year wasn’t enough.
One stat I will use that is a true testament to just how good of a hitter is comes from the obvious consistency Gwynn had in his approach. Gwynn had a career strikeout rate of just 4.24%. Paul Waner is the only other member of the 3,000 hit club to do better. Rest in peace, Tony. If there were ever a better role model for a young ballplayer to watch and admire, I want to know. Tony Gwynn had the work ethic, attitude, and love for the game like no other player.