Some thoughts from writers on Tony Gwynn ...
He had a bat that he used only against pitchers who relied on soft stuff -- a special bat because it had so few grains. "Nine Grains of Pain," he called it, and he told me that if he got to the final weeks of the season and he had a shot to reach .400, he intended to use that bat in every game. In the world of hitters, this was like Clark Kent telling you he was about to jump into a phone booth. He had the smallest bat in the league, maybe the smallest hands, the softest handshake -- as if he were protecting the tools of his trade -- but the man was a superhero in the batter's box.
Gwynn was a fervent student of the game. He was one of the first players who dove into the video age. His wife would travel around with a video cassette player -- the old Betamax used in those days was as big as a suitcase -- and tape his at-bats. Gwynn would watch the tapes after games in his hotel room on the road. Sometimes he would cover the TV set with a sheet of plastic wrap and draw with a wax marker, often to make sure his head didn't move during his swing or that his body kept its center of balance.
In the premature end to Gwynn’s life we can also draw a parallel to [Junior] Seau.
As Seau's many struggles and, ultimately, his suicide in 2012, enflamed the focus on the effects of head trauma as well as the transition to life after retiring from the NFL, Gwynn traced his cancer to a decades-long use of smokeless tobacco.
At least, his passing should put an exclamation point on the horrific consequences of "dipping" and "chewing."
His son, major-leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr., quit chewing after his father’s cancer diagnosis in 2010. Fewer ballplayers use tobacco than maybe ever before. Yet the players’ union balked at baseball’s attempt to ban smokeless tobacco in 2011.
Maybe some reconsidering will be done. New union president Tony Clark is a San Diego native who noted Monday he grew up watching and being “inspired” by Gwynn. What better tribute than to take up this cause in his name?
It was a sneaky, sly smile, a smile that made Gwynn accessible to almost everyone. He would show up four hours before game time, sometimes with a couple of cheeseburgers, and he would do a very decent imitation of the happiest man on earth.
Gwynn said he learned something new every day at the ballpark and couldn't wait to get there. He greeted almost everyone who came through the door. Gwynn would tease them and laugh with them, or at them. He would dress slowly, as if enjoying every moment, as if he was determined to savor every minute he got to spend at the ballpark.
And Gwynn held court with anyone -- with teammates and reporters, with opposing players ... with anyone, really. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of people -- teammates, clubhouse attendants, front-office employees -- who are grieving because this remarkable man made all of them feel important.
Because of the increased coverage of baseball in the latter half of Gwynn's career, the mental image of him is skewed. In the end, he was a rotund singles hitter who could not contribute outside the batters' box, but he never lost his core skill. Gwynn hit .323 at 40, and .324 at 41. He probably could have been Julio Franco, slapping singles and serving as a dangerous pinch-hitter well into his forties. He didn't always look like a football coach, though. The Tony Gwynn who helped the Padres reach their first World Series in 1984 was fast, he covered ground in the outfield, he hit triples, he stole bases. Gwynn in his twenties was a different player, averaging 34 steals and nearly 50 attempts a year from 1984 through 1989, playing some center field as needed. Remember, he played basketball at San Diego State before leaving that sport behind.
Despite all of the accolades, Gwynn’s significance is probably downplayed quite a bit by WAR and sabermetrics in general. His 65.0 WAR ranks just 34th among outfielders, and some of those ahead of him -- like Tim Raines and Dwight Evans -- aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame. In addition to his ridiculous plate discipline, Gwynn posted positive career baserunning and fielding numbers as well. Even in his later years, when he wasn’t exactly the definition of svelte, Gwynn managed to be at least a scratch baserunner in eight of his nine final seasons. Gwynn knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do on the baseball field, and made sure to contribute to the utmost of his ability throughout. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and something that is probably not adequately captured by any metric. Simply put, as a baseball player, Gwynn was always in control.
I don't know how you grieve, and I'm not about to tell you how to, but I'm going to spend at least some of my mourning watching old Gwynn highlights where I can find them. MLB's YouTube page thankfully has some Gwynn, despite most of his career coming in a pre-YouTube era. Come appreciate Tony Gwynn with me by watching what made him so enjoyable during his career.
Finally, here's a feature from 1989 on "This Week in Baseball" where Gwynn discusses using videotape to study his swing.