“When I am dead and gone, all that will be left is the numbers. They will not remember how much heart a person had, or how consistent he was, they will just look at the numbers. And the numbers will tell them that I won eight batting titles; that I tied Honus Wagner for winning the most. The numbers will tell them that Wagner was a .345 lifetime hitter, and that I am a .340 lifetime hitter. So who was better? Honus Wagner. That is how it will be judged.” Tony Gwynn’s acknowledgement in The Art of Hitting
Tony Gwynn, the great San Diego Padres outfielder who passed away last week, was right about a lot of things, but he whiffed when it came to how he would be remembered. The outpouring of love and affection from San Diegans and the baseball world towards Gwynn and his family prove that Tony was more than just a collection of records; more than just a great Hall of Fame ballplayer.
For spending his entire career with the San Diego franchise he will always be known as a great Padre and Petco Park has his “Mr. Padre” statue to prove it. For his charitable and civic work he will always be thought of as a great San Diegan. But most important of all, for being an approachable superstar, an exemplary family man and a hard worker who got the most out of himself, Tony Gwynn will be remembered as a great man.
I am a native San Diegan. I am an Aztec (‘84, ‘94). I am a huge baseball and Padres fan. But I was unaware of Tony Gwynn until after he came up to the big league club in 1982. Shortly after his call up from the minors I had heard that a local sports reporter would be interviewing him. My expectation was that a 22-year-old rookie who’d had a few good at-bats would be acting cocky, mumble some clichés and that would be that.
Gwynn answered the first question and I was pleasantly surprised. Gwynn answered another one and I was intrigued by his thoughtful response and his cheerful, engaging, and intelligent demeanor. By the end of the interview he was chuckling his Tony Gwynn chuckle and I was a big fan.
We Padres fans have ascended nearly to the mountaintop in ‘84 and ’98, both times with Tony. Other than those two epic seasons, San Diegans have not had great teams and we have had a lot of bad ones. But over the last three-plus decades we always had Tony Gwynn here and that made me proud to be a Padres fan.
Thanks Tony. You were always much more than your numbers. I’ll miss you.