Tony Gwynn, RIP

“What you hoped Tony Gwynn was like, he was like.”

San Diego lost another icon this week. He fully deserves the many wonderful tributes and memorials he has received. Vin Scully’s is here. Perhaps the best one is here. But to those of us who live in San Diego, we feel like we lost a friend.

Obviously, Tony Gwynn was a great baseball player, a near-unanimous first ballot Hall-of-Famer. Greg Maddux once explained that you could trick any hitter into not being able to read the speed of a pitch — “Except for that f***ing Tony Gwynn.” It should be noted that Tony hit .415 against Maddux, the greatest pitcher of the last two decades and one of the greatest of all-time. He also hit .444 against John Smoltz, .390 against Curt Schilling, .333 against Pedro Martinez, and a paltry .303 against Tom Glavine. Even George Will waxed eloquent about TGwynn. “Just tell the catcher what’s coming,” the excellent Bret Saberhagen (against whom he hit .400) said when asked about the best approach to take with Tony. “Then throw the ball down the middle of the plate. Let him try to get himself out.”

Gwynn Maddux

Tony Gwynn was an accessible superstar. In “retirement” he coached baseball at his alma mater, San Diego State and broadcast Padres games. He lived (how I hate using the past tense) about a mile from me and I would see him “around.” He was unfailingly warm and gracious, the quintessential good guy. I remember him best at high school basketball games — his daughter and mine played on rival teams — trying to hide in plain sight as just another dad (who happened to be a terrific basketball player too).

Tony Gwynn is gone, far too soon. All the baseball world mourns. San Diego weeps. “What you hoped Tony Gwynn was like, he was like.”

4 thoughts on “Tony Gwynn, RIP

  1. “What you hoped Tony Gwynn was like, he was like.” I wish that was true for my experience with “meeting” Tony.
    While working as a caregiver, I was pushing my client in a wheelchair in downtown San Diego after leaving a rally for the beginning of construction for the Padres new downtown baseball field, Petco Park. The year must have been 1999—or 2000. It was bright afternoon sunlight, in the newly refurbished ‘Gaslamp’ district. Walking down the street the other way, coming right towards us, was Tony Gwynn. I told my client, John, “That’s Tony Gwynn!” We had paper and pen at the ready, because we’d anticipated possibly getting some autographs. My client held the paper towards Gwynn as he got close, and asked, “Tony, can I have your autograph?” Tony definitely saw us, and then turned around, ostensibly, to see if anybody else was watching what he was about to do. There was no one there, so Tony just kept walking. Gwynn didn’t pause to say a single word to a fan in a wheelchair (a terminal condition-fan BTW), who was asking for his autograph. Tony Gwynn just put his head down and walked on by. The only other professional athlete I’ve ever seen be so disgustingly rude to fans was Roger Staubach, at a Pro Bowl practice in San Diego in 1976. But Roger’s fans weren’t in a wheelchair. They were kids seeking autographs. All the other players were graciously signing, but Roger refused, until he was shamed into doing it by Ram linebacker Isaiah Robertson. I really wasn’t a kid, I was 20, and there were other people my age, and lot’s of younger kids. Staubach was clearly bothered he had to submit himself to signing. He wouldn’t even look at us. Roger uncomfortably rolled his eyes in the back of his head, and acted like he shouldn’t be expected to sign autographs for annoying, smelly children.

    Now back to TG. That experience with Tony Gwynn tarnished him in my eyes forever. I grew up in San Diego, but I’d only ever seen Tony from a seat at a ballgame, or watching him play on TV. This was my first chance to really see him NOT on TV. When those cameras were on, Tony Gwynn ALWAYS seemed like such a nice person. Funny, how that works.

  2. Since you are obviously not going to print my comment, let me tell you this. I’m absolutely POSITIVE Tony Gwynn was nice to everybody in his “club.” My caregiving client and I weren’t in that club.

    The absolutely TRUE story/post you won’t publish is evidence of how Tony treated those who weren’t in that club. Especially when there weren’t cameras or any other people around to chronicle Tony being a jerk.

      • My apologies for assuming after more than 15-minutes that the content of my first post had been rejected. And I’m truly sorry you lost your friend, Tony Gwynn. You ‘obviously’ cared about him. I’m pretty sure I’m right about that.

        Let me tell you about the friend I lost. My terminal caregiving client, who absolutely worshiped Tony Gwynn, died just a few months after Tony refused to sign his autograph—no—wait—I can’t actually say that—Refusing to sign an autograph would at least be somewhat human. Tony Gwynn acted like we weren’t even there. He shined us on like we were some sort of garbage.

        Even if Tony was on his way to some important gathering, I’m pretty sure the excuse, “I’m a couple minutes late because I stopped to sign 1-autograph for a guy in a wheelchair,” gets you off the hook with honors. It wouldn’t even have taken a couple minutes. And there was no one else around to ask for more autographs.

        Tony was my client’s hero! He loved him! And I loved him. I wish I did not have this memory to deal with. Tony’s death brought it all back. Hearing everybody say what a great guy Tony was—brought it back. I’m a life-long Padre fan, going back to PCL days, and this is not pleasant for me. RIP John Stefanelli.

        Maybe, what YOU think about Tony Gwynn is hardly obvious.

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