Tony, We’ll Miss You
When we were young and impressionable it used to be pretty easy to have heroes. Whether they were athletes, politicians, or even fictional “super-heroes” it was easy to focus on the great things they did. If they had flaws, they weren’t obvious. Members of the younger generations now have a much more difficult time finding heroes. These days it’s much harder to see people so positively because we know so much more – both good and bad – about them. Today, a president could not be confined to a wheelchair with more than 90% of the American public being unaware of it as was the case while FDR was president.
So it is with heartfelt sorrow that I reminisce about the great Tony Gwynn who had only one known vice – chewing tobacco (which ultimately led to his passing away from cancer). A few weeks ago, Mr. San Diego left us and we are all poorer for it. There are countless truly touching stories from a wide array of people whose lives were touched for the better by this baseball great. Bring a few tissues with you and browse the internet to see just how great he really was as a player, but more importantly, as a person.
I’ll just list a few of the traits that converted me to being a lifelong Tony Gwynn fan.
As a hitter there were none greater during his era. Even the best pitchers (Glavine, Maddox, Martinez) could not consistently get him out. He won 8 batting titles and batted above .300 for 19 years. As a fielder he also won 5 gold gloves. He even stole 56 bases one year. Despite all these accomplishments, nobody has ever heard about them from Tony. As I taught my children and the children I coached to be humble in success, there was no better role model than Tony, the greatest hitter of his era.
Due to his amazing success, Mr. Gwynn had numerous opportunities to move to other teams and make more money. Nevertheless, he turned down these offers and remained with the same team for 20 years. He also showed this same level of commitment in his charity work, family life, and preparation for baseball. Where a less committed person might ease off the hours and hours of studying to improve his performance, Tony kept up the hard work, recognizing that he might be the best in the game, but he could not be the best he could be if he eased off.
Tony had a frequent and contagious laugh which seemed a perfect match for his generous nature. If there is anyone about whom it can be said “he enjoyed the journey” it was Tony Gwynn. Despite the pressure of professional baseball or coaching a top division college team or raising a family in these difficult times, Tony never took himself or the vicissitudes of life too seriously. He would always take the time to laughingly share a story with old or new friends. Even at the end of a long day he’d make sure that no young child, awed just to be in his presence, was left with an empty autograph pad or a frown on his face.
The closest I ever came to meeting Tony were the few times I had good seats at a Padre game. However, he significantly impacted my life by allowing my children and the kids I coached in both baseball and softball to have an untainted hero. Everybody in San Diego, even non-baseball fans, knew what it meant to “do it like Tony would.” It meant to give it your all, but to do so humbly, and to have fun along the way. A perfect role model for both young and old has left us – felled by that one and only vice.