Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game of baseball, has passed away after a long time battle with salivary gland cancer. He was just 54 years of age.
Few would have guessed that Gwynn would be such a standout athlete from looking at him physically. He stood at just 5’11” and spent much of his career playing just south of 200 pounds. Yet, he was a two-way player with the San Diego State Aztecs playing both baseball and basketball. He was a four year starter for the Aztecs’ basketball team, finishing his career with school records in assists per game, season, and career. Twice he was named to the Western Athletic Conference’s all-conference team. Gwynn often credited his basketball career to helping with his baseball one, citing that all of the dribbling helped him develop quick wrists while his quickness on the court helped him on the base paths.
In June 1981 Gwynn was drafted with the 58th overall pick by the San Diego Padres. He’d be selected by the then San Diego Clippers in the 10th Round that same day, but elected to pursue a baseball career instead – a choice that certainly paid off.
Just thirteen months later Gwynn made his debut with the Padres but it wouldn’t be until 1984 that he’d step into the team’s lineup on a permanent basis. That season he’d win the first of his eight batting titles, hitting .351/.410.444, while helping lead the team to their first NL West division crown.
Gwynn spent twenty seasons in the Major Leagues, all with the Padres. He’d bat .338/.388/.459 for his career, with 3,141 hits and a mere 434 strikeouts.
He’d win seven Silver Slugger awards, four Gold Gloves, and would make 15 All Star Game appearances. Gwynn would be elected in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility.
The Padres retired his number 19 during the 2004 season and later unveiled a statue of Mr. Padre outside of Petco Park in 2007.
Gwynn’s cancer was first discovered in 2009, when a malignant tumor was removed from his right cheek. He’d blamed the cancer on a long time chewing tobacco habit. Working as the head baseball coach for San Diego State, his cancer returned twice with hit’s most recent occurrence in 2012. He’d undergo a second operation and begin radiation treatments to shrink the tumor. Gwynn took a leave of absence a year ago from the Aztecs, but had hoped to make his return.
Considered the greatest hitter to play the game since Ted Williams, the baseball world lost one of it’s greatest ambassadors today.