What if the incomparable 20-year career of hit machine Tony Gwynn never happened?
What if this site stated that basketball was his first love in high school and it took his mother’s convincing to keep him on the diamond?
Want a real shocker?
Tony Gwynn went to San Diego State on a basketball scholarship and wasn’t selected in the MLB draft in 1977.
After keeping his promise to his mother and playing baseball in college, he was drafted in the third round by the San Diego Padres in 1981 and the rest is history.
There have always been players that can hit the ball exceptionally well — and then there’s Tony Gwynn, a technician who totally understood the assignment of impacting a game in the batter’s box, even before his Hall of Fame baseball career took place.
“I had no idea that all the things in my career were going to happen. I sure didn’t see it. I just know the good Lord blessed me with ability, blessed me with good eyesight and a good pair of hands, and then I worked at the rest.”
That’s putting it mildly. Good luck finding players of this era who match Gwynn’s eye and ability to reach base by spraying the ball all over the field.
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star (11 time starter) finished with 3,141 hits with a career batting average of .338. In the bright lights of the World Series, he was amazing hitting .371.
Gwynn’s eight NL batting titles tied him for the league record with Honus Wagner and second all time to Ty Cobb’s 12. When he didn’t win overall, he sure spent time near the top of the list. He was in the top 10 in league average for 15 consecutive seasons.
But it’s his connection to Ted Williams that defines Tony Gwynn’s legacy in MLB’s hitting Mount Rushmore.
According to baseball historians, Ted Williams is considered the greatest pure hitter in modern baseball. He’s still the last player to hit .400 in a season. His .406 batting average still holds to this day. Despite Rod Carew hitting .388 one season and George Brett finishing at .390 in 1980, no other player commanded the attention of baseball fans late into the season like Tony Gwynn did.
In one of the bigger “What Ifs?” in MLB history, while our MLBbro icon was chasing the magical .400 mark, the players association proposed a work stoppage in August. In his last series before the walkout, Tony Gwynn finished three hits short of .400, a number no one has come close to since.
Despite not eclipsing Williams’ mark, this MLBbro icon is definitely sitting at the table with the greatest hitters of all time. Gwynn owns five of the 14 highest batting averages since that .406 season back in 1941.
He is the only player since World War II to have seven seasons of batting over .350 (including five straight!) and to win four batting titles in two separate decades.
In 2007, Tony Gwynn was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
Sadly in 2014, the MLBbro icon passed from mouth cancer. But even in death, Mr. Padre made an impact even larger than his 20 years on the field.
Due to his habit of using smokeless tobacco — which contributed to his declining health — this tragedy provided awareness about the dangers of tobacco. So much so that MLB pushed for a ban in CBA talks at the time via CBS Sports.
“MLB pushed for a ban at the bargaining table at the last CBA talks, and while only one-third of MLB players use the stuff, it was said to be one of the last things to resolve on the table. A ban realistically never had much hope.”
“MLB is said by people involved in the talks to actually have ‘pushed very hard’ for the banning of smokeless tobacco in those discussions…”
“With a nod to the concept of MLB players as role models, the players did agree to a program to promote quitting, to keep usage discreet and to mandate spring mouth screenings. But smokeless tobacco, while banned at the minor league level, remains legal in the majors provided the can or tin isn’t visible.
“If it is visible, warnings and finings were laid out.”
Over time, smokeless tobacco, which was as much a staple to baseball as a bat or glove, has virtually disappeared from the game as we know it today. A legacy that probably means more to Tony Gwynn than any of his encyclopedia filled batting records he owns.
This past week was Tony Gwynn’s birthday on June 16th, MLBro.com wishes a happy birthday and continued Rest In Power to the greatest pure hitter of his generation and one of the greatest batting technicians of all time.