The baseball Grim Reaper has been hard at work of late, but man; this one really stings.
I always really loved Tony Gwynn growing up as a kid. I loved the fact that in an era of steroid sluggers, a roly-poly line drive hitter could be so feared. I loved that he played his entire career in one uniform. The dude started raking the year I was born, and didn’t stop until the year I went to college.
I remember where I was in my life when I learned of a lot of the legends dying – Ted Williams, George Steinbrenner, Mickey Mantle. I’ll forever remember where I was when I learned that the greatest pure hitter of my childhood died. I came out of a meeting this morning and checked my phone, and I was shocked to see the news blip that Tony Gwynn had passed away at the age of 54 from salivary gland cancer.
Obviously, Gwynn’s ailments could have been brought on by his long-term use of smokeless tobacco. This is one of the few addictions that has afflicted me throughout my adult life since I played baseball. My connection to Gwynn runs deeper than simply saying I saw him play live once that August 15th day in 1992 in Cincinnati. It runs deeper than having a couple pages in my baseball card album as a kid dedicated to his Diamond Kings Donruss cards.
You see, Tony Gwynn should be reason enough that I never touch smokeless tobacco again. I wish I could sit here and say that him getting me to quit was his final parting gift to me; after all the wonderful memories like that 1994 season when he had so much magic. Like that 1998 the World Series when he hit .500, because Tony Gwynn is the type of hitter that gets a hit every other time up on the game’s grandest of stages. But the truth is, I don’t know if this will be enough to make me quit. It should be though, because the memories I have of Gwynn are nothing but pleasant.
When he spoke he sounded like an everyday guy, a nerd almost. Not a jock. Not like you would expect a lifetime .338 hitter to sound like. There probably isn’t a story anywhere on the large scary internet of Tony Gwynn being anything but pleasant to journalists and fans alike. He was a once in a lifetime hitter, but he was also a once in a lifetime person by all accounts.
It’s hard for me to me to grasp the concept that Gwynn really passed away today, because legendary figures like Gwynn just don’t seem to go out so quietly. Reports at this point are sparse – and while I am sure we will get a more in-depth story on this soon – there are no real details that Gwynn had taken a turn for the worse.
I will always remember that 1993 to 1997ish era where Tony Gwynn was one of the most dominating hitters in the sport I love. The Ted Williams of my generation, the closest thing I ever saw to The Splendid Splinter. His place in the game and his 3,141 hits will never be forgotten by this man. And hopefully someday when I consider of taking that next pinch of chew, I’ll think of Mr. Padre and throw my can away for the final time.