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Legendary hitter Tony Gwynn dies of oral cancer at 54

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Tony Gwynn was the closest equivalent baseball had to Ted Williams in the late 20'th century. In virtually every season, Gwynn hit over .300 for the San Diego Padres, eventually leaving the game with 3,141 hits and a .338 career batting average. These Hall of Fame credentials were remembered anew on June 16, when Gwynn was mourned throughout the baseball world after his death from oral cancer at 54.

Gwynn also spent his last years coaching baseball at San Diego State University, as he took a medical leave in March. He had battled cancer for four years, having attributed his chewing tobacco habit as the cause of his disease. Nevertheless, the announcement of his death was sudden to the baseball community.

His son, Tony Gwynn Jr., went on "bereavement leave" from the Philadelphia Phillies to join his family. The Gwynns have been mainstays in the game of baseball for over 30 years, since Tony Sr. came up to the Padres in 1982. He only played 54 games in his rookie season and hit a mere .289 -- then never hit below .300 again.

Gwynn's breakout season came in 1984, when the Padres made it to their first World Series. He won his first of eight batting titles, later hitting a career high .394 in the strike shortened season of 1994 -- leaving his quest to be the first man to hit .400 since Williams as one of the biggest casualties of the strike.

His last batting title came in 1997, when he had a .372 average at 37 years old. The year after that, Gwynn made it to his second and last World Series, although he and the Padres only went 1-8 in those two Fall Classics -- yet they did face the legendary 1984 Detroit Tigers and 1998 New York Yankees in those seasons.

Other than in those years and 1996, Gwynn and the Padres never made the postseason together, as the star hitter often languished on mediocre teams. Yet he was one of those increasingly rare superstars who stayed with one team throughout his career, no matter how much they won, how small their market was or how much other teams may have offered. As such, whenever everyone thinks of the Padres and San Diego baseball, they will think of Gwynn first and foremost.

Gwynn is survived by his wife Alicia and other family members.


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