I met Tony Gwynn in the summer of '83, when my cousin and I found a store that sold Topps baseball cards two packs for 25 cents.
I used every quarter I could hustle up on cards; I went to the store for neighbors, cleaned my room to get my allowance, whatever it took to expand my collection. My cousin and I would come up on doubles and triples and swap what we didn't have with each other.
That '83 series had some serious weight to it: Don Mattingly (whom I idolized as a kid), Wade Boggs, the Wheeze Kids (Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and Joe Morgan as Philadelphia Phillies), Cal Ripken Jr,. and my man Tony.
Sadly, my shoebox mysteriously disappeared when I left for college. I know it got trashed when my folks gave my room to my sister. Kind of reminded me of when we couldn't keep the dog anymore and they told me he ran away.
But those guys remain with me to this day—particularly Gwynn, who for some reason became my favorite player. I would read the box scores every morning just to see what he did. The more I learned about baseball, the more I came to appreciate players like Gwynn, Mattingly, and, today, Ichiro.
Give me the guys who hit for average. Sure, the long ball is nice; but the ability to put the ball in play anywhere on the field is just as exciting.
For twenty years, Tony Gwynn did it better than anyone. And this Sunday, his career will climax with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
From the two decades he spent in San Diego to his eight NL batting titles, Gwynn set a standard of consistency that few modern players can match. Here are some career stats to ponder:
- After batting .289 in his rookie year, Gwynn never hit below .309 in any full season.
- He struck out only 434 times in 9,288 career at bats.
- He tied the National League record for stolen bases in one game (five).
- He was batting .394 at the time of the 1994 strike...which left me and many others wondering what might have been.
I could go on about how much I enjoyed watching Gwynn, but I guess I'd come off as boring in an age when people are obsessed with Barry Bonds' pursuit of Hank Aaron s home run mark.
If nothing else, I just wanted to give my favorite baseball player some props for being a class act and one of the few standup guys in sports.
On Sunday, Tony joins baseball's immortals. The honor is well deserved.