Saturday, February 03, 2018

Tony Gwynn

The MLB Network is currently running a terrific documentary on Tony Gwynn.  It made me cry.  So I thought I would re-post my tribute to Tony when he died four years ago.  You'll be able to see why I cried. 

I knew Tony Gwynn well. We were together for three years when I broadcast for the San Diego Padres and he was at the height of his career. You’ll be hearing and reading many tributes to TGwynn (as we called him) and every nice thing they say is true. What I want to do is share some personal recollections, show you some day-to-day examples of what a prince this man was.

One time we were playing the Giants in old Candlestick Park. My two kids, Matt & Annie, were with me at the park that day. It’s several hours before the game, me and my kids are sitting in the dugout and Tony saunters by. My son asks if he could have his autograph. Tony said sure. (Tony always said sure.) Matt looked around for a ball. There were a few old batting practice balls lying around so he picked up one of those. Tony said, “That’s not what you want. Wait here.” The Padres clubhouse was way down the rightfield line, past the foul pole. Tony ran all the way to the clubhouse and back with two brand new baseballs to sign for my kids.

For Matt's bar mitzvah Tony gave him one of his bats.  Way cooler than a Savings Bond.  
We all know Tony was a spectacular hitter. Eight-time batting champ. Hall of Famer.   But he never took anything for granted. When we were on the road he would bring a portable VHS player, hook it up to his TV in the room, set the timer for the game, and come back and study his at bats.

And he devoted the same effort to his fielding. We were in Pittsburgh once at old Three-Rivers Stadium. It was late September, the end of the season. The Padres had long since been eliminated (probably in August), as were the Pirates (July). This was a weekend series of utterly meaningless games. I got out to the park very early on Friday to begin my preparations for the series. The field was completely empty except for Tony in rightfield, throwing the ball off various parts of the wall to refamiliarize himself with how to play the carom in this particular outfield.

Tony was a great laugher, but the biggest laugh I ever got from him was just after we both were almost killed. He and I shared a cab to Shea Stadium in New York one afternoon. Somewhere in the streets of Queens the cabbie lost control and the cab did a full 360 spin before coming safely to a stop. Once we caught our breath I said to Tony, “You realize that if anything had happened the headline in all the papers and on all the news shows would be ‘Tony Gwynn and passenger killed in car accident.’ My life would be reduced to ‘passenger.’ “ Tony called me ‘passenger’ for the next two weeks.

He answered every question, he spoke to everyone who approached him, he was loyal to the city of San Diego even though he received larger offers from other teams – I can’t think of one bad thing he ever did.

Except one.

He used chewing tobacco. And it killed him at the way too tender age of 54.

One question I'm often asked is “Of all the baseball players that you’ve known, who’s your favorite?” My answer is always, “Tony Gwynn.” He’s my ultimate MVP – with the M standing for Mensch.

I was honored to be his passenger.

16 comments :

Doug said...

Thanks for reposting this, I didn't see it the first time. The show got to me too. The waterworks started at the phone call from the Hall of Fame and didn't stop until the show ended. Actually, they had stopped, but started again when Flannery got choked up on camera.

ScarletNumber said...

Ten years ago Jerry Seinfeld needed a jump start in New York City. The tabloids dutifully reported it while leaving out the person doing the jumping was Colin Quinn.

Michael said...

I couldn't watch for the reasons Doug mentioned and Ken talked about. As a Dodger fan, I thought of the old story that in Ebbets Field, where they booed everybody from the opposition, they would never boo Stan Musial because they respected him too much. Tony Gwynn was that way for me.

Mike Barer said...

Tony Gwinn played for the Walla Walla Padres. If I still lived there, I would have suggested that the baseball field there would be named after him.

VincentS said...

Thanks for sharing, Ken. Always knew Tony Gwynn was a class act.

Mike Barer said...

For all it's worth, I love your baseball posts.

Dave Wrighteous said...

What a beautiful tribute, Ken. Tony was an incredible player and an even more incredible person, gone way too soon..

Walt Patterson said...

Ken - A glowing tribute to an outstanding man, gone way too soon. I love your baseball stories - more please!

Kevin Johnston said...

I really enjoy reading all your posts but the sports related ones I especially look forward to. In my experience, celebrities are either truly good people or not so good. Bonnie Hunt smiled when I gave her a wave in passing once. Johnny Depp smiled when I said good evening to him in a Subway where he and I were the only two customers in the place.

He's not so well known these days, but I once met Bobby Lewis (who had a #1 hit with "Tossin' And Turnin') after a show he did. It was a killer show and he's still one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Donald Trump is a different story. I said "Good morning, Mister Trump" while walking past him while he was waiting to be picked up and he just flat out ignored me.

It was nice to reread this post and remember just how good Tony Gwynn was and what a gaping hole his death created.

Brian Phillips said...

One of the few professional baseball players that I ever met. My brother did some IT work for his wife. I'm here to say that...everything you said bores out everything that I witnessed. One of the nicest men and as a bonus, MAN what a ballplayer.

Steve Mazur said...

Great tribute to a great man! As a Padre fan since '69, Tony Gwynn is my absolute favorite player of all time.

Al in PDX said...

Caught that special the other night and enjoyed it. MLB analyst John Smoltz was talking about facing Gwynn, which sent me to Baseball Reference. Against the Braves' Hall of Fame trio, Gwynn fared pretty well. He hit .415 (in 107 plate appearances) vs. Greg Maddux, .303 against Tom Glavine (105 PA) and .444 against Smoltz (75 PA). That's 287 plate appearances against three Hall of Fame pitchers in their prime. And he struck out three times.

BobinVT said...

More evidence, not that we needed more, of what a great life you’ve led.

Ramsey said...

I could reread this post every day, Ken. I was born in 1979 in San Diego and raised there. Tony was my hero throughout my entire childhood and into college. You capture him so well.

DwWashburn said...

Tony was my third favorite player of all time. Only Bob Gibson and Pete Rose top him. A terrific talent and a truly gentle man. I remember him getting in trouble with the union because he was loyal to San Diego and took contracts that the union thought were too low.

I'm a Cardinal fan. When Tony was making his charge to 3,000 hits he visited St Louis. He told the local press that if he had his way he would like to hit number 3,000 in front of the Padre fans but if he had to hit it on the road he would prefer the Cardinals. And it's true. Tony got six hits in that series and the fans treated him like he was a home town player. Sadly, he only got 2,999 in St Louis while he got 3,000 in Montreal. The Expo crowd gave him a good ovation but nothing like what the Cardinal fans would have done.

Dayhew said...

I rarely ever have emotional reactions to the deaths of celebrities. After all, I don't personally know them, and people in my life die with far too much frequency. Tony is one year older than me. I am a Padre fan from day one, in the second grade, living in East SD, and seeing the inaugural Padre season in person. When he came up and the Padres went to the World Series in his first full year, I had a real hero. First player I watched through his whole career that made the HOF. When Tony died, I felt like a family member had passed. I still feel it in my heart when I think of his passing. Ironically, I had not felt that way, even in unbelievable 2016 with all the deaths, until the passing of your friend Dick Enberg. I also felt s if I knew him, and it was a very sad day.