He was a tower of a man. In his hands, a baseball bat looked something like a twig. There was rarely an at bat that wasn’t textbook. He was a real life superhero, and for me, even more so, because he was a baseball player and he was black. Tony Gwynn.
I was never really a Tony Gwynn fan. Growing up, I favored the Mets. Now, perennial losers, but in the 80s, had life and in ’86, a championship to prove it. Gwynn, when I was a kid, was a monster from far away California, who delighted in destroying pitchers, not only on the Mets roster, but any other National League team that dared to foolishly send an arm against him. He was a villain. A guy you loved to boo, because you knew that he was eventually going to hit a ball… because he so rarely missed the ball. The other thing about loving to boo Tony Gwynn… you hated to boo Tony Gwynn. The guy was so damned nice. He was a role model and a humanitarian. He played clean, fair, and without the help of enhancement drugs. He was everything baseball is not anymore.
His numbers speak for themselves:
.338 Lifetime average
135 Home runs
1,138 Runs batted in
At a time when African Americans in baseball is at an all time low, there are few players, of any race, like Gwynn left. He was a role model that crossed racial barriers and simply a classy player. Baseball’s great loss is that Gwynn never returned to the MLB in a coaching or management capacity. Not that he didn’t try, but the MLB has never been big on blacks in management, despite their accomplishments on the field. It’s still a noticeable scar on the Major Leagues and needs to change. Post-baseball, Mr. Gwynn did find work as a head coach at SDSU an as an analyst for ESPN and TBS, but he was missed. It was painfully obvious, every time he appeared in front of San Diego Padres fans. Their deafening cheers never diminished, despite Gwynn never having on the city a championship. Fifteen-time All-Star, Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn was champion enough.