The day has been filled with anecdotes, stats and tears; fitting for the unequivocal best pure hitter since â€śThe Most Splendid of Splintersâ€ť himself â€“ the great Ted Williams. Tony Gwynn is gone, and the baseball world mourns the loss of one of the greatest ambassadors of the game.
Legacy-wise, one could look to the Silver Slugger awards, 15 All-Star appearances and batting titles, the 3,000+ hits, the legendary â€ś5.5 Holeâ€ť and deserved Hall of Fame induction, but to put it in a more astounding laymanâ€™s perspective, Gwynn could have ended his career with 1,199 consecutive outs (strikeouts/double-play grounders/bunts in the airâ€¦you name it) and STILL hit .300 for his career.
A pioneer in the study of perfecting the craft of hitting, Gwynn was unparalleled in the early use of videotape to meticulously locate aspects of his swing that needed tuning as well as his approach to counts, lowering the possibilities a pitcher might have to fool him on a given at-bat. He mentally and methodically prepared himself to face each pitcher and situation as much as possible, lugging the bulky mid-80â€™s video technology from city to city, recording each pitch, each nuance. With this advance from the standard â€śI see a pitch, I swingâ€ť mentality, #19 soon earned the nickname â€śCaptain Video.â€ť Just a few years later most teams would have videographers devoted to the practice.
A great friend of Ted Williams in later years, he carried none of Williamsâ€™ trademark vitriol and surly reputation. There are countless stories of Gwynnâ€™s approachability and general affable manner. He took the time to speak to media and fan alike. A favorite story is of an appearance at a San Francisco Nike store, where after three hours of signing autographs, the last person in line â€“ though the event was winding to a close â€“ asked Tony if he would stay for a minute longer. The man was playing in adult baseball leagues (not the minors or anything so organized). He had brought a set of pictures of his swing and had hoped Gwynn could take a look and perhaps give some pointers.
By this point in his career, Tony Gwynn had likely signed thousands of autographs, posed for another thousand pictures, and talked hitting another 10,000 times. But instead of understandably shoving off as any beleaguered aging star would be expected to, he merely said â€śGimme that book.â€ť He spent the next few minutes showing the man some different positions for his feet and hands, spending time to talk his most beloved subject: batting.
Tony Gwynn played parts of 19 seasons in San Diego. His first-ballot Hall of Fame status speaks for itself. His easygoing and polite and genial nature is a model for all players of all sports in all countries across all generations. Many San Diegans were lucky enough to see him in his prime and each has a tale to tell. The story is of how a talented and diligent man rose to the apex of a very difficult profession and remained dignified and most of all, human.
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