Remembering the Top 10 Moments of Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame MLB Career
Baseball lost a legend today. Tony Gwynn, a Hall of Fame player, collegiate coach, father to current major leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr. and one of the most prolific hitters in the history of the sport, passed away at the age of 54 after a battle with salivary gland cancer, according to Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com.
With 20 special seasons to reflect on, Bleacher Report is here to reminisce about the most seminal moments in Gwynn's career. The career-long San Diego Padres outfielder, dubbed "Mr. Padre" over the years, retired after the 2001 season with a .338 batting average, 3,141 hits, two World Series appearances and one of the best left-handed swings in history.
The following is a trip down memory lane for a career and life that will be celebrated for a long time. The ranking order is subjective, so feel free to agree, disagree and add your favorites. Considering the achievements Gwynn racked up over the years, many more could have been added to the list.
10. Throwing the First Pitch to Tony Gwynn Jr.
For the Gwynn family, baseball was more than a business. It was a link between two generations, a father-and-son tandem, both of whom competed in the big leagues.
Tony Gwynn Jr., currently a reserve outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, had the chance to catch a first pitch from his father at Dodger Stadium prior to a game in 2011.
Despite all of Gwynn's on-field accolades during a majestic two-decade career, this list wouldn't be complete without a link to Gwynn Jr.
9. 1984 NLCS Victory over Chicago Cubs
Since becoming a major league franchise in 1969, the San Diego Padres have been known more for uniform color, beautiful weather and the special swing of Tony Gwynn than for actually competing for championships.
In 1984, during Gwynn's first full season as a starter, the Padres captured the National League pennant over the Chicago Cubs. Over the five-game series, Gwynn hit .368/.381/.526, including knocking home the eventual series-deciding run with a screaming liner past the glove of Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg.
8. 1998 NLCS Victory over Atlanta Braves
Fourteen years after San Diego's first NL pennant, the franchise returned to the World Series. Once again, Gwynn was a part of the run. By upsetting the Houston Astros in the NLDS and the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, Gwynn returned to the World Series for the second and final time in his career.
Since Gwynn retired in 2001, the Padres have made the postseason just twice (2005, 2006) and won a total of one postseason game. The two NLCS victories during his career represent the high-water mark for one of baseball's least successful franchises.
7. 1,000th Career Hit
Every illustrious career is marked by milestones. For Gwynn, the path to 3,141 hits was littered with over 2,000 singles. On April 22, 1988, one of those singles represented a career achievement. When Gwynn singled off of Astros starter Nolan Ryan, the all-time great hitter reached 1,000 career base hits.
In 67 plate appearances against the fellow Cooperstown-bound star, Gwynn hit .302 and struck out only nine times. Considering Ryan's 5,714 career strikeouts, Gwynn's ability to avoid double-digit career punchouts against him is a remarkable feat.
6. 2,000th Career Hit
On August 6, 1993, Tony Gwynn laced a single vs. Colorado Rockies pitcher Bruce Ruffin. That hit represented the 2,000th in his career and highlighted a run of dominance that baseball fans are unlikely to see again in the near future.
From 1993 through 1997—representing his age 33-37 seasons—Gwynn posted a .368 average. That mark is the second best ever for a player of that age, trailing only Tris Speaker's run of .370 from 1921 to 1925, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
In fact, Gwynn's run of excellence marks the only time a player of that age has hit that well since the 1930s.
5. Home Run in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series
Although Gwynn's Padres didn't capture the World Series in 1984 or 1998, losses to the superior Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, respectively, can't damage a special legacy. In Game 1 of the 1998 World Series, Gwynn did all he could to give the underdog Padres a chance, launching a home run to right field at Yankee Stadium.
That home run represented the only round-tripper of his postseason career. The Yankees swept the 1998 Padres in four games, but Gwynn did manage to hit .500 in a losing effort.
4. Chasing Ted Williams in the Summer of 1994
Few readers of this piece likely had the chance to watch both Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn over the course of their respective careers. The left-handed sluggers were among the best and most cerebral hitters in baseball history. While their baseball acumen will always be linked, the work stoppage of 1994 curtailed another possible connection: the .400 Club.
Williams, the last man to hit over .400 in a season, could have been matched by Gwynn if the 1994 season didn't end due to the players' strike.
In 1941, Williams hit .406 for the Boston Red Sox. On the last day of the 1994 season, Gwynn was hitting .394 for the Padres, including a robust .423 after the All-Star break. Baseball's best hitter wasn't just chasing Williams, he was poised to surpass him before September began.
3. Winning the 1994 All-Star Game
In 2014, despite the All-Star Game deciding home-field advantage, vitriol doesn't exist between the American and National League squads. In 1994, the old-school sentiment of AL vs. NL was beginning to dissipate, but winning still mattered greatly to each side.
With interleague play still three years away, television contracts and Internet coverage in their infancy and small markets still unable to watch great players on a nightly basis, the MLB All-Star Game represented a rare and unique national viewing stage.
Coming into the 1994 battle, the once-dominant NL had lost six consecutive All-Star Games. When Montreal Expos slugger Moises Alou hit a line drive into the gap, Gwynn hustled around from first base to restore order and give the NL a victory.
2. 3,000th Career Hit
As Gwynn's career wound down, baseball changed. Singles were no longer in vogue, and steroid-era sluggers overshadowed the talent and skill set of all-around stars. Nonetheless, Gwynn's accomplishment in 1999 stands the test of time.
With a single off of the Montreal Expos' Dan Smith on Aug. 6 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Gwynn became the 22nd member of 3,000-hit club. Since then, five others—Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio and Derek Jeter—have joined one of the most select groups in sports history.
1. Hall of Fame Induction
Finally, there's Gwynn's coronation into Cooperstown. In perhaps the simplest and most perfect opening line to any plaque in the Hall of Fame, Gwynn's bust opens with the following words: "An artisan with the bat whose daily pursuit of excellence..."
Those words summed up everything a baseball fan could want to know, learn and understand about one of the best hitters to ever play. From all accounts, anecdotes and stories, Gwynn was a great player and an even better person.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Padre.