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Padres icon Tony Gwynn dies at 54

Tony Gwynn is celebrated at Tony Gwynn Day at Petco Park.
Tony Gwynn is celebrated at Tony Gwynn Day at Petco Park.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

San Diego Padres icon and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has died at the age of 54, it was announced Monday.

Gwynn, who had battled several forms of oral cancer in recent years, had taken a leave of absence from his coaching job at San Diego State to undergo treatment. Last week, Gwynn was given a contract extension by SDSU, but never appeared publicly. He died at a local hospital, surrounded by family. The cause of death was given as salivary gland cancer.

Gwynn retired after the 2001 season with 3,141 career hits and a lifetime batting average of .338, the highest for any player who debuted after World War II. He won eight batting titles, more than anyone other than Ty Cobb, and hit .394 in 1994, the season cut short by a work stoppage. Gwynn always said he felt he had a shot at batting .400 that year.

A left-handed batter, Gwynn was known for stroking the ball into left field between the third baseman and shortstop -- his self-proclaimed "5.5 hole." As videotape technology progressed, Gwynn used to carry his own videotape equipment on the road and carefully studied all his at-bats.

An unpolished outfielder when he came up, Gwynn turned himself into a fine right field, winning five Gold Glove awards. He also stole as many as 56 bases in a season.

Gwynn grew up in the Long Beach area of Los Angeles County, but has been associated with San Diego ever since he arrived at San Diego State to play both basketball and baseball in the late 1970s. Gwynn was drafted by pro basketball teams but felt his future lay in baseball. He was right.

Gwynn joined the Padres midway through the 1982 season, having just turned 22, and batted .289 in 54 games. For the next 19 seasons, he would never bat below .300. In the five-year period between 1993-97, Gwynn had batting averages of .358, .394, .368, .353 and .372 -- a five-year run that not even Ted Williams could match.

Gwynn remained with the Padres his entire career, despite some testy contract negotiations toward the end, when his knees were making it harder to play every day.

But beyond the dazzling statistics and baseball accomplishments, Gwynn was popular around San Diego for his amiable personality, ready smile and characteristic cackle. Gwynn was associated with many good causes in the area -- including Ronald McDonald House -- and was somewhat the anti-celebrity: He was approachable and mingled easily with fans.

Gwynn was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, alongside Cal Ripken Jr., another iconic player who spent his entire career with one team.

Gwynn is survived by his wife Alicia, son Anthony Jr., an outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies, and daughter Anisha, a professional singer.