Year Inducted: 2007 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 532/545)
It’s always fun to see a player spend his entire career with one team, isn’t it? As fans, there’s nothing finer than watching a young player grow up in the team’s system, break out in the majors, play there for 20 years and then make it into the Hall of Fame. Other than hoisting a World Series Trophy, there’s no greater joy. Even for players like Ken Griffey, Jr that don’t play their entire careers with one team, they can become so incredibly linked that induction brings about euphoria. Such is the case of Tony Gwynn, the lifelong Padre.
Gwynn was one of the most masterful batsmen of his time. No player could control the strikezone like Gwynn could. In over 10,000 plate appearances Gwynn struck out 434 times, a feat done by 9 people and only one (Bill Buckner) that played at a similar time as Gwynn. Gwynn’s plate appearances were incredibly productive as well, resulting in 3141 hits in his career, a slash line of .338/.388/.459 and a wRC+ of 132 along with nearly every single record for the San Diego Padres. Early in his career, Gwynn was a dynamic baserunner and a very good fielder resulting in career totals of +11 runs (baserunning) and +12 runs (fielding) after a long aging process.
As most players age, their skills erode. Some go quickly, others go slowly. Gwynn’s fielding and baserunning suffered as he aged and battled injuries however he never stopped hitting. Gwynn hit .300 or better in all but one season in his career, his rookie campaign where he only played in a third of a season. Even while he was gimping around on bad knees his last two seasons, and limited to a total of 252 plate appearances, Gwynn hit over .320. The man knew what he could and couldn’t do on a ballfield (obviously he had little power with only 135 home runs, but still managed to stroke over 500 doubles) and maximized that ability as much as he could. Gwynn was one of the first hitters to really study video of pitchers in order to succeed, sometimes even during games themselves. He also was a good friend and student of Ted Williams, who would help Gwynn with his batting stance as well as which bat to use during a good portion of his career. When Williams opened his Hitters Hall of Fame in 1994, Gwynn was the only current player he invited (despite not being on Ted’s top 20 list).
Tony Gwynn was a class act as a person and as a ballplayer. The only thing holding him down in this study is the lack of home runs from a position that features Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and others that posted tremendous totals. But that shouldn’t take away from one of the greatest players ever, and certainly one who died too soon. Gwynn’s use of tobacco led to cancer and him dying back in 2014 at 54 years old. Gwynn’s memory lives on in San Diego as Petco Park (located at 19 Tony Gwynn Drive) is basically a giant shrine to the man that will always be Mr. Padre. A great player and the very definition of Hall of Famer.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/30/16 This Hall of Fame pitcher had a rough start to his career in the late 1910’s with the Yanks but found dominance in the 1920’s with the Dodgers.