Which sport should the kid with the afro pick? The NBA, where he figured he could make it for maybe a year? Or baseball, which he also played at San Diego State?
Eight NL batting titles, 3,141 hits and a gaudy .338 lifetime average later, Gwynn awaits the ultimate affirmation of that long-ago choice. On Tuesday, he's expected to be voted into the Hall of Fame after appearing on the ballot for the first time.
"I wasn't a real home run hitter, a big RBI guy," Gwynn, San Diego State's baseball coach, said during an interview at the cozy ballpark that bears his name. "My forte was putting the bat on the ball. To get into the Hall of Fame for me would just mean validation that I could be that kind of player and be very good at it and be rewarded for being that type of player.
"Since I've retired I think the game has put even more emphasis on being able to hit the ball out of the park, and that's a great thing to be able to do. But I think there's still a place in the game for that guy who can create stuff, who can put the bat on the ball, who can get on base hit, steal a base, score a run."
That was Gwynn, playing among big boppers in an era tarnished by steroids.
The only doubts about Gwynn are why he stayed with the Padres his entire 20-season career, through many more bad seasons than good.
He could have made more money elsewhere but was comfortable in San Diego, where the spotlight isn't as intense as in New York or Los Angeles.
A 15-time All-Star, Gwynn made a serious run at hitting .400 in 1994, topping out at .394 before the players went on strike Aug. 12.
The Padres were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1998 World Series and haven't been back since. Gwynn also played in the 1984 World Series, which San Diego lost in five games to Detroit.
After retiring in 2001, he spent a season as a volunteer assistant at SDSU, then took over as head coach. He's 113-132 in four seasons
His son, Tony Jr., played for him with the Aztecs, then made his major league debut last season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
- Won a record eight National League batting titles
- 15-time All-Star
- Highest post-WWII career batting avg.
- Won five Gold Gloves
- Manager of San Diego State