Hall-of-famer Tony Gwynn dies at age 54

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SAN DIEGO — Tony Gwynn could handle a bat like few other major leaguers, whether it was driving the ball through the “5.5 hole” between third base and shortstop or hitting a home run off the facade in Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

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Members of the San Diego Chargers place flowers at the base of the Tony Gwynn "Mr. Padre" statue in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight time National League batting champion with the San Diego Padres and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. He was 54.  LENNY IGNELZI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
LENNY IGNELZI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Members of the San Diego Chargers place flowers at the base of the Tony Gwynn "Mr. Padre" statue in San Diego. Gwynn, an eight time National League batting champion with the San Diego Padres and a member of Baseball Hall of Fame, died Monday from cancer. He was 54.

He was a craftsman at the plate, whose sweet left-handed swing made him one of baseball’s greatest hitters.

Gwynn loved San Diego.

San Diego loved “Mr. Padre” right back.

Gwynn, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest athletes in San Diego’s history, died Monday of oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco. He was 54.

“Our city is a little darker today without him but immeasurably better because of him,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement.

In a rarity in pro sports, Gwynn played his whole career with the Padres, choosing to stay in the city where he was a two-sport star in college, rather than leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere.

His terrific hand-eye coordination made him one of the game’s greatest pure hitters. He had 3,141 hits – 18th on the all-time list – a career .338 average and won eight batting titles to tie Honus Wagner’s NL record.

He struck out only 434 times in 9,288 career at-bats. He played in San Diego’s only two World Series – batting a combined .371 – and was a 15-time All-Star.

Gwynn never hit below .309 in a full season. He spread out his batting titles from 1984, when he batted .351, to 1997, when he hit .372.

Gwynn was hitting .394 when a players’ strike ended the 1994 season, denying him a shot at becoming the first player to hit .400 since San Diego native Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Gwynn befriended Williams and the two loved to talk about hitting. Gwynn steadied Williams when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the 1999 All-Star Game at Boston’s Fenway Park.

Gwynn was known for his hearty laugh and warm personality. Every day at 4 p.m., Gwynn sat in the Padres’ dugout and talked baseball or anything else with the media.

Tim Flannery, who was teammates with Gwynn on the Padres’ 1984 World Series team and later was on San Diego’s coaching staff, said he’ll “remember the cackle to his laugh. He was always laughing, always talking, always happy.”

“The baseball world is going to miss one of the greats, and the world itself is going to miss one of the great men of mankind,” said Flannery, the San Francisco Giants’ third base coach. “He cared so much for other people. He had a work ethic unlike anybody else, and had a childlike demeanor of playing the game just because he loved it so much.”

Gwynn had been on a medical leave since late March from his job as baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater. He died at a hospital in suburban Poway, agent John Boggs said.

Gwynn’s wife, Alicia, and other family members were at his side when he died.

Gwynn’s son, Tony Jr., was with the Philadelphia Phillies, who later placed him on the bereavement list.

“Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor,” Gwynn Jr. tweeted. “I’m gonna miss u so much pops. I’m gonna do everything in my power to continue to ... Make u proud!”

Gwynn had two operations for cancer in his right cheek between August 2010 and February 2012. He had been in and out of the hospital and had spent time in a rehab facility, Boggs said.

“For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched,” Commissioner Bud Selig said.

Fans paid their respects by visiting the statue of Gwynn on a grassy knoll just beyond the outfield at Petco Park.

Gwynn was last with his San Diego State team on March 25 before beginning a leave of absence. His Aztecs rallied around a Gwynn bobblehead doll they would set near the bat rack during games, winning the Mountain West Conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA regionals.

Last week, SDSU announced it was extending Gwynn’s contract one season. The Aztecs play at Tony Gwynn Stadium, which was built in the mid-1990s with a $4 million donation by then-Padres owner John Moores.

Gwynn was born in Los Angeles on May 9, 1960, and attended high school in Long Beach.

He was a two-sport star at San Diego State in the late 1970s and early 1980s, playing point guard for the basketball team <0x2014> he still holds the game, season and career record for assists <0x2014> and in the outfield on the baseball team.

Gwynn always wanted to play in the NBA, until realizing during his final year at San Diego State that baseball would be the ticket to the pros.

He was drafted by both the Padres (third round) and San Diego Clippers (10th round) on the same day in 1981.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

“Major League Baseball today mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn, the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life.” – Commissioner Bud Selig

“Tony Gwynn was the best pure hitter I ever faced!” – Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux on Twitter. Gwynn faced Maddux 107 times and never struck out.

“More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community. He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart.” – San Diego Padres organization

“He was such a great ambassador to the game. He just always did such a great job of making himself available to the fans. He was not just a great teammate, but he was a great friend that we’re all going to miss.” – former teammate and manager Bruce Bochy, who now manages the San Francisco Giants

“Tony Gwynn once waited for me 40 minutes after a game when I was a rookie to talk hitting and that (talk) helped me for my whole career!!! The best pure hitter in my generation and even better man and that will be what’s missed most his character will surpass all his statistics.” – former major league outfielder Juan Pierre on Twitter

“Growing up in San Diego, I was inspired by Tony’s passion for excellence, and I was honored to have played against him as a major leaguer.” – Major League Baseball Players’ Association executive director and former major leaguer Tony Clark

“Tony was an icon and one of San Diego’s greatest sports legends. He was beloved by so many for his passion for life, his generosity and, of course, his laugh.” – San Diego Chargers President Dean Spanos. The team canceled its “Thank You San Diego” event Monday out of respect for Gwynn.

“A great ballplayer, adversary & human being.” – former major league star Tim Raines on Twitter

– Associated Press

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jimmymac
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jimmymac 06/17/14 - 01:07 pm
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GWINN
Unpublished

A class act who didn't chase the last buck. Not too many athletes today would do that.

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