Happy birthday to Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn

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Credit: AP Photo

A remembrance of the Padres’ Tony Gwynn on his birthday. 

I always jump at the opportunity to write about my favorite baseball player of all-time, Tony Gwynn. He made it cool to be a San Diegan and a Padres fan. Today would have been his 63rd birthday.

Being born in 1991, I was just a kid through his dominant years in the 1990s decade, but I think that made it that much more magical. I imitated his stance, whether it was in my backyard with a wiffleball bat or at the plate in a San Pasqual High School varsity game, donning 19 on my back. We had pictures of his swing in our batting cages, teaching us the proper way to swing and stay balanced at the plate.

Enough about me. This is about Tony Gwynn being the greatest Padre, and one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He needs no introduction to San Diegans and Padres fans, but let’s do it anyway.

15 All-Star selections, eight batting titles, seven Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves, and a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2007 are just some of the accolades Gwynn piled up in his 20-year career, all with the Padres.

To put his eight batting titles in perspective, future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is only halfway there with four. Only three players (Jose Altuve, DJ LeMahieu and Christian Yelich) have won multiple batting titles over the last seven seasons. Gwynn put separate streaks of three (1987-1989) and four (1994-1997) straight seasons with a batting title.

In fact, he won the award so much, now today’s batting champions in the National League earn the “Tony Gwynn National League Batting Champion” award.

If you put Gwynn’s numbers through modern sabermetics, you won’t be disappointed. He had a career 132 OPS+, his 69.2 WAR is better than Ernie Banks, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Dave Winfield, Willie McCovey, and Jackie Robinson, just to name a few.  He had the microscopic career strikeout rate of Ty Cobb (4.2%) and his 132 wRC+ is better than Ken Griffey Jr. and Roberto Clemente.

One of the most underrated parts of his career is that he played on both franchise National League championship teams that went to the World Series, in 1984 and 1998. He hit .316 in the 1984 playoffs with three doubles and .298 in the 1998 run. Of course, one of the highlights of his entire career was launching a go-ahead home run clanging off of the upper deck in right field of historic Yankee Stadium in the 1998 Fall Classic.

He batted .306 in 27 career postseason games.

Tony Gwynn was one of the best pure hitters in the history of the game, the best since Ted Williams. He got plenty of comparisons to the Red Sox legend. However, he accomplished something that Williams did not, and that was joining the 3,000 hit club (although Williams would have easily gotten there if he had not been so brave as to serve in the military during World War II), which is pretty much an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. He did just that on August 6, 1999 in Montreal.

And who could forget the moment in the 1999 All-Star Game when Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn got together in a warm reunion of legendary hitters from two different generations?

We all still remember where we were the day Gwynn passed away on June 16, 2014. We were glued to the TV and watched, through misty eyes, highlights of his career all over sports networks. There is a giant hole in the Padres’ organization now that he is gone and it will never, ever be filled. He was gone way too soon, at age 54, due to complications from salivary gland cancer.

Tony Gwynn stats are like the Chuck Norris facts of baseball. The amount of damage he did against the most elite pitching his era had to offer is astonishing. Especially, if they wore a Braves uniform. That vaunted trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz, all now Hall of Famers, were baffled by Gwynn’s superpowers at the plate.

In 270 career plate appearances against that historic trio, Gwynn batted .363 with just three strikeouts. He had as many triples against them as he did strikeouts.

He batted .302 against Nolan Ryan. He had a 1.193 OPS in 19 plate appearances against the late, great, Vida Blue. He had a .956 OPS against Curt Schilling.

The rest of the baseball world recognizes him as we do, as one of the best to ever do it.

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