“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.”
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.”