It did not take long for the Diamondbacks to offer tributes to Tony Gwynn.
Joining the baseball world, thoughts, remembrance and stories flowed freely about one of the best hitters in the history of the game. Gwynn died early Monday from recurring bouts of cancer, but left an amazing legacy.
In and out of the hospitals over the past few years, Gwynn was just 54 when the final curtain was lowered on an extraordinary baseball career and an even better humanitarian track record.
“Tony was a gifted a baseball player but an even better person,” Diamondbacks general Kevin Towers said. “When I heard the news about Tony, it was losing a family member but for San Diego, an icon was lost.”
Gwynn’s resume is a composite of incredible numbers and lofty achievements. He played all 20 baseball seasons with the San Diego Padres and the reference to Gwynn as Mr. Padre seem far less appropriate than mandatory.
As early as last Friday, Towers received a call Gwynn was back in the hospital and his recurring battle with cancer was nearly at an end. Towers said things were not good and wanted to be kept informed. When the news broke Monday on Gwynn’s death, Towers was one of many who offered his thoughts.
While general manager of the Padres for 14 years, Towers spent seven and one-half years in Gwynn’s company on almost a daily basis. During that time, Towers said he cultivated and cherished the time with Gwynn both on and off the field.
“We knew what he did on the baseball field, but Tony was a gentle, kind man, a great family man who was never too high nor never too low,” Towers said. “He always made time for kids, signed autographs and was a great teammate. He always had a smile on his face and Tony Gwynn was just a very special person.”
As well, include in his stature a very special hitter.
In his 20-year career, Gwynn hit. 338, captured eight batting titles, appeared in 15 All-Star games, won five Gold Gloves, led the National League in hits eight times, and collected 3,141 hits, good for 19th all-time. As a crowning achievement, Gwynn was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 2007.
“(Gwynn) was a patient hitter with great hands,” said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. “His consistency as unreal. I didn’t know Tony all that well but I am very grateful for the opportunity to compete against him.”
Gibson, with Detroit, and Gwynn, with San Diego, crossed paths in the 1984 World Series, Gwynn’s second year in the majors. Though the Tigers took the Fall Classic, Gwynn managed a .263 average in the ‘84 Series, and that was the lowest in any post-season or regular season.
Curiously, Gwynn never won an MVP award, and the highest he finished was third in 1984. Yet, he did win baseball’s most prestigious award for off-the-activity field and that was Roberto Clemente Award in 1999.
As a hitter, he was nearly unmatched.
“Tony trusted his hands, knew the strike zone and knew what he was capable of doing,” Towers said. “Tony Gwynn was to hitting as Greg Maddux was to pitching.”
Before Gwynn arrived as the Padres’ third pick in the 1981 draft, the San Diego franchise was marred in mediocrity. From its’ inception in 1969 until Gwynn’s arrival as rookie in 1982, the Padres managed only a fourth place finish and that was twice. With Gwynn on the scene, fortunes dramatically change.
Within two years, the Padres advanced to the World Series against the Tigers and drew over 2,000,000 (in 1985) for the first time in history. With Gwynn leading the franchise, the Padres played credible baseball in the 1990s and finished in first place twice, including a 1998 trip back to the World Series.
“Tony put the Padres on the map,” Towers said. “As a player, he was so skilled with the bat that he could maneuver the ball wherever he wanted. The only other guy which comes to mind in his era with similar bat skills was Rod Carew.”
Gwynn’s death hit the San Diego sports community hard. Within the past three years, the area has lost Chargers’ Junior Seau, Hall of Fame player and Padres’ broadcaster Jerry Colemen and now Gwynn.
“There will not be another Tony Gwynn,” Towers added. “He was special, very special.”