When Tony Gwynn slashed a single into center field off Montreal Expos right-hander Dan Smith in the first inning at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 6, 1999, he became the first player to register his 3,000th MLB hit outside of the United States.
The historic hit came six years to the day after Gwynn had collected career hit No. 2,000 -- a single off Colorado Rockies pitcher Bruce Ruffin -- and made the San Diego Padres right fielder the first National Leaguer in 20 years to join the 3,000-hit club, as well as one of only 10 players to reach the mark while playing for only one team.
Making his history-making hits even sweeter was that they came on Gwynn’s mother’s birthday. Vandella Gwynn was on hand in Montreal to celebrate her son’s 3,000th hit -- one heck of a 64th birthday gift. She and a small but boisterous Montreal crowd of 13,540 gave the eight-time batting champ a long standing ovation, while Gwynn’s Padres teammates -- and his mom -- poured onto the field to congratulate him. Gwynn had three more hits in the game, a 12-10 win.
“When you talk about 3,000 hits, you talk about passion and a love for the game,” Gwynn said after the win. “I love playing the game.”
Gwynn’s path to 3,000 was remarkable in a number of ways. Jayson Stark put Gwynn's incredible numbers -- and his place in the 3,000-hit club pantheon -- into perspective:
No hitter born after 1900 reached 3,000 hits in fewer games (2,284) or at-bats (8,874) than Gwynn. In the history of baseball, only Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie got there faster -- and when they played, the gloves were made of the same material as those trains they rode on.
No 3,000-hit man who was born after 1900 had a higher career batting average than Gwynn (.338). In fact, according to the Elias Sports Bureau's Steve Hirdt, no hitter born since 1918 (i.e., since Ted Williams) has even gotten 2,000 hits and had an average this high.
No hitter who has played his entire career since the invention of the designated hitter has accumulated as many hits as Gwynn (3,141) without spending a large portion of his career in the American League. But Gwynn got every one of his hits in the National League. And he was proud of that.