Tim Kurkjian's Baseball Fix: Tony Gwynn's bat was his magic wand

Gwynn's birthday prompts stories from Kurkjian (1:26)

As May 9 would have been Tony Gwynn's 60th birthday, Tim Kurkjian tells stories in honor of the legendary Hall of Fame hitter. (1:26)

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we'll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1960, Tony Gwynn was born.

Hitting is so much about hand-eye coordination, and no one had more of it than Tony Gwynn. It is why he finished with a .338 average and eight batting titles; only Ty Cobb had more. It is why he hit .300 for 19 straight seasons; only Cobb had a longer streak. It is how he hit .368 for a five-year period; even Ted Williams didn't do that. And it is why Gwynn never struck out more than 40 times in a season, he had 297 three-hit games, one three-strikeout game.

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Gwynn's eyes were so good, he could see the split-fingered fastball grip used by Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds as soon Reynolds took the ball out of his glove. I asked if anyone else could see that. "I don't think so,'' he said. He said he could see Randy Johnson's slider so well, he thought it was easier for a left-handed hitter to hit Johnson's slider than a right-handed hitter. To which J.T Snow said, "Well, only Tony can say that.''

During batting practice before Game 1 of the 1998 World Series at Yankee Stadium, Gwynn, then 38, stormed out of the cage and yelled to no one in particular.

"I can't see at all like I used to!'' he said.

"What, is your vision now only 20/20?'' I asked.

"No,'' he said, "it's 20/15, and I can't see at all like I used to!''

Gwynn's hands were small; he played basketball for four years at San Diego State, but couldn't palm a ball. Because his hands were so small, he used a tiny bat: 33 inches, 30½ ounces. Gwynn referred to his bats as "Seven Grains of Pain." Gwynn was a magician at the plate, his bats were his wands. "Nowadays, some hitters use bats as more of a battering ram,'' said catcher Brad Ausmus, a teammate in San Diego. "Tony used his bats more as a paintbrush.''

One of those bats he used almost exclusively for the entire 1994 season, a season in which he batted .394, but because of the baseball strike that year, he was denied a shot to become the first player to hit .400 since Williams in 1941. Gwynn would only use another bat when he was facing a hard-throwing left-hander who might get the ball in on him, such as Jeff Fassero, and possibly break his bat.

"I loved that bat,'' Gwynn said. "The next spring training, I broke it taking batting practice on a back field against Peach [Padres coach Rob Picciolo]. I almost started to cry.''

"So did I,'' Picciolo said.

Other baseball notes for May 9

  • In 1888, Louisville's Elton "Icebox'' Chamberlain pitched the first seven innings of a game right-handed, the last two left-handed.

  • In 2010, the A's Dallas Braden threw the 19th perfect game in major league history. It came in his fourth season: His first complete game was a perfect game. Braden's grandmother remains such an integral part of his life. "She is the only one I wanted to see after I came off the mound,'' Braden said. "I couldn't find her. She wasn't in her seats. Then I found her, standing on top of the dugout, in her 60s. That was the highlight of my day.''

  • In 1979, pitcher Brandon Webb was born. His movement on his sinker was so violent, and so natural, teammates had trouble playing catch with him before a game.

  • In 1984, Harold Baines hit a walk-off homer off Chuck Porter in the 25th inning. Baines is a man of few words. After a walk-off homer, he was once asked by a TV reporter, "Well, you got all of that one.'' To which Baines replied, "Evidently.''

  • In 1984, Prince Fielder was born. It is why he wore No. 84 for his final team, the Rangers. He finished his career with 319 homers, exactly the same total as his father, Cecil.