Padres Special: You Shall Never Be Forgot

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

A GRANDFATHER passed away today.

The loving family man who was married with two children and three granddaughters died as a result of cancer.

He was just 54 years of age.

It’s doubtful whether the news of the passing of Anthony Keith ‘Tony’ Gwynn Sr will merit a mention on the sports pages in the UK.

But on the other side of the Pond, the death of Tony Gwynn has been met with universal sadness and mourning across all of American sports.

Tony’s passing has been acutely felt in San Diego where for two decades he was the face of the Padres, the southern Californian Major League Baseball team.

But he was much, much more than just a figurehead for the team. In a quite outstanding sporting career, he set or equalled a clutch of records that ultimately led to him being elected into the sport’s coveted Hall of Fame.

Tony joined the sport’s true elite in Cooperstown in 2007 on the first ballot of eligibility where he garnered almost 98% of the vote.

It defies logic why this figure wasn’t 100%.

For ‘Mr Padre’ was one of the greatest players ever to play the game of baseball.

After a glittering showing as a basketball player for the Aztecs college team, Tony chose to swap the court for the diamond, and from May 1982 until September 2001 he embarked on a quite magnificent career.

In a sport where hitting the ball fairly is considered the hardest feat of all – a round ball meeting a round bat – Tony’s dedication at the plate brought him a whole host of honours.

Mandatory Credit: Sporting News
Mandatory Credit: Sporting News

He won eight batting titles – tied for second-most in Major League Baseball history; he won seven Silver Slugger awards for the best batter in his position (right field); he claimed five Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess; he was chosen to represent the National League’s team in the annual All-Star Game in 18 of his 20 seasons; he banged out 3,141 base hits; and he finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .338, the second-highest of any player since the Second World War.

Quite apart from his individual awards, Tony was a selfless team player. And he played his part in the ball club’s only National League Pennant successes in 1984 and 1998 when they reached the World Series only to fall at that final hurdle.

In an era where money-grabbing mercenaries move teams before a hat has even been dropped, Tony was one of the rare shining beacons of loyalty to a ball club. He could well have won World Series titles with other sides like his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees, but he stayed true to San Diego for the entirety of his career – and the Padres’ fans loved him even more for that.

His iconic number 19 jersey was retired soon after he called it a career in the autumn of 2001, a most deserving accolade.

And six years later he enjoyed his moment in the upstate New York sunshine when along with the Baltimore Orioles’ legendary infielder Cal Ripken Jr – himself also a one-club man – he was officially enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

In 2010, after suffering some bouts of ill-health, Tony was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland. It was thought that chewing tobacco – a common habit of ball players – may have played a major cause in his illness. Tony showed great fortitude fighting the condition but it was one battle he just could not win.

Tony’s funeral is sure to be an incredible occasion for the city of San Diego. And his legacy will live on as youngsters playing Little League and professionals in the Major League somehow learn to copy one of the sport’s greatest exponents in hitting a baseball.

Rest In Peace, Tony. You will never be forgotten.

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