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Tony Gwynn, ‘Mr. Padre,’ Dies At 54

Evening Edition

Aired 6/16/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Jay Paris, San Diego sports writer

Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, San Diego sports talk show host, Sportswatch XX1090 AM

Jenny Bramer, San Diego State associate athletic director


Tony Gwynn, whose smile and swing defined baseball in San Diego for more than 30 years, has died. He was 54.

Known as "Mr. Padre" during and after his Hall of Fame career, Gwynn was one of only 17 players to have played at least 20 seasons with one Major League Baseball club.

"One of the things I'm proudest about is that I played for one team,” Gwynn said to in 2006. “My baseball card looks awesome because it has San Diego all the way down. I grew up in an environment where that kind of stuff was important."

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.

In a statement, the San Diego Padres said Gwynn's death was a huge loss to the community and the industry.

"There are no words to express what Tony means to this organization and this community. More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community. He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart. On behalf of Padres fans everywhere, we mourn the loss of a friend, a teammate and a legend."

VIDEO: Tony Gwynn says he's nervous about Hall of Fame induction.

In recent years, Gwynn battled numerous health issues, including cancer of a salivary gland, which required the removal of two lymph nodes in his neck in 2010. In February 2012, surgeons removed a facial nerve inside his right cheek because it was intertwined with a tumor. A nerve from Gwynn's neck was grafted in its place to help him eventually regain facial movement. Gwynn attributed his cancer to 30 years of dipping tobacco use.

A Long Beach native, Gywnn came to San Diego in 1977 on a basketball scholarship at San Diego State University, but he became a two-sport star soon after a former high school teammate urged then-Aztec baseball coach Jim Dietz to give Gwynn a look.

VIDEO: Watch Tony Gwynn speak at Hall of Fame induction.

Via the Eugene Register-Guard, July 26, 2007:

“Bobby Meacham played Connie Mack and Legion ball with Tony in the summer, and we were sort of short in the outfield, so Meacham told me there is a kid who wants to play baseball, and I said ‘Who is it?’” Dietz said. “He said ‘Tony Gwynn.’ He told me that he was a pretty good hitter, so I said, ‘If you see him, tell him to come by and see me.’”

According to the SDSU athletic department, Gwynn went on to become a two-time All-American as an outfielder after leading the Aztecs in hitting his final two seasons. In 1980, he hit .423 with six home runs and 29 runs batted in, earning third-team All-America honors from Baseball News.

The following year, Gwynn was selected as a first-team NCAA All-American after compiling a .416 batting average with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs. He was a first-team all-Western Athletic Conference outfielder as well, and his RBI total that season still ranks among the top-10 on the Aztec single-season list.”

Despite his accomplishments on the baseball diamond, Gwynn continued to play point guard for the Aztec basketball squad for four seasons and was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference team twice. He is the only athlete in WAC history to be named as an all-conference player in two sports and still holds SDSU's game, season and career records for assists.

From Gwynn’s bio on the SDSU athletics site:

One of Gwynn's legendary feats came during his final season at San Diego State. On Saturday, March 7, 1981, he concluded the basketball season with a 16-point, 16-assist performance at home against New Mexico. Two days later (Monday, March 9), he was on the baseball field for a doubleheader against Southern California College. In that twin bill, he went 3 for 7 with a double, three runs scored, five RBI and a stolen base. He recorded game-winning RBIs in both contests.

MORE: Fans remember Tony Gwynn.

SDSU Media Relations

San Diego State baseball coach Tony Gwynn stands in the dugout during a game in this undated photo.

Years later, Gwynn returned to SDSU to assist Dietz on the Aztecs bench until taking over the team following Dietz’s retirement in 2002.

Gwynn missed the second half of the 2014 season, in which the Aztecs won the Mountain West Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Regionals, while he dealt with his health problems.

Gwynn was selected by the Padres with the 58th overall pick in the 1981 draft. Later that afternoon, the then-San Diego Clippers called the two-sport star to say he had been chosen by the NBA team in the 10th round. He chose instead to follow his baseball career.

VIDEO: Tony Gwynn's 3,000th hit.

VIDEO: Tony Gwynn's 2,000th hit.

VIDEO: Tony Gwynn's 1,000th hit.

Gwynn went on to lead the Padres to the team's only two World Series appearances in 1984 and 1998. One of the game’s greatest contact-hitters, Gwynn retired from baseball in 2001 with a .338 career batting average and never hit below .309 in any full season. In 9,288 at-bats, Gwynn struck out only 434 times.

In 2001, the Padres retired his No. 19 jersey and three years later, the club named the street on which Petco Park is located to Tony Gwynn Drive in his honor. In 2007, the club also unveiled a statue of Gwynn in the Park at the Park. The Padres announced that the Tony Gwynn statue at Petco will remain open until 11:30 Monday and Tuesday night for fans who would like to pay their respects.  Fans may enter through the East Village Gate at Petco Park.

Gwynn is survived by his wife, Alicia; son, Anthony, who played college baseball at SDSU and professionally for the Milwaukee Brewers, Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies; daughter Anisha Nicole; and three grandchildren.

Gwynn career highlights

15-time All-Star: 1984–1987, 1989–1999

5-time Gold Glove Award: 1986, 1987, 1989–1991

7-time Silver Slugger Award: 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1997

Roberto Clemente Award: 1999

8-time NL batting champion: 1984, 1987–1989, 1994–1997

Baseball Hall of Fame: 2007 (first ballot; 97.6%)

The Associated Press contributed to this report. KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to the Midday and Evening Edition segments.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | June 16, 2014 at 8:53 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Good night, sweet prince

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Avatar for user 'KathyWard'

KathyWard | June 16, 2014 at 10:57 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Great tribute on a San Diego blog:

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Avatar for user 'whpickens'

whpickens | June 16, 2014 at 1:15 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

I was a kid with a strong interest in sports, especially baseball. Rarely missed hearing a Dodgers game after they came to LA from Brooklyn and Vince Scully was (still is) the play-by-play guy. Was a strong Dodgers fan and continue to be.

It was always a draw for me and many other fans in Dodger stadium when Tony Gwynn came there to play. The Padres had some other good players, some of them memorable, but no one with the incredibly smooth swing at bat, the smile, the hustle around the field--in short, the real "class," of Tony Gwynn. Frankly, LA fans were amazed that he could not be lured away from San Diego, by money or by the lure of playing on some "dynasty" World Series teams like the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Giants, whatever.

And he did all that with humor and modesty, and without muscle-ing up steroids or home run drugs. He just worked very hard at playing baseball and contributing to the community.

Sadly, his kind will not likely come this way again soon, to either MLB or most other professional sports.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | June 16, 2014 at 3:28 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

The tobacco industry kills another great person.

RIP Tony, we all will miss you.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | June 16, 2014 at 9:26 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

There's a small plaza in Havana called "La Esquina Caliente," which means "The Hot Corner" in Spanish, where baseball-crazed Cubans debate their national team and the finer points of the game from sunrise to sunset. They are very knowledgeable and know more about American baseball than most Americans.

The first time I visited La Esquina Caliente, there were about 25 guys debating whether or not their national team's shortstop should step aside for a younger player. I made my way to the center of the group just in time to say that their shortstop was still very good and could play for most Major League teams. Half the group disagreed and they asked me who I rooted for. They laughed when I said the Padres, with a few cackling that the Yankees had swept the Padres in 4 games just 2 months earlier. They kept giving me the business until one of them simply said, "Tony Gwynn." Those two words were enough to change the topic from how lousy the Padres had been historically to how great Tony Gwynn was. We talked about how he was going to get his 3000th hit soon and how he could hit any pitcher anytime. We sang his praises for a few more minutes until the conversation changed back to Cuba's shortstop.

That story is shorthand for what Tony Gwynn meant to baseball in general and San Diego in particular: He was our very own baseball legend and kept the Padres from being laughingstocks. "RIP Tony, we all will miss you." Indeed.

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