Monday, June 16, 2014

Rest In Peace Mr. Gwynn

This morning came word that Tony Gwynn, who played for the San Diego Padres for 20 years, passed away.  Right now, the internet is full of accolades of Mr. Gwynn, who was not just one of the best hitters ever, but the face of San Diego sports for two decades. As a Padres fan, I had to give my two cents.

The thing about San Diego is that for an older city (founded 1776), it is a relatively young city.  The Native Americans in our fair city were far too hostile for much more than token Spanish presence (they burned Mission San Diego de Alcala, and the Spanish never really rebuilt it; also, good for the Native Americans), the land was too arid for agriculture, and the hills of Julian never held that much gold. Until the 70's, the biggest industry in town was tuna fishing. Then it was the defense industry.  As a result, San Diego really didn't grow into a city until the 1970's and 1980's.  Even then, most of the people living here had come from someplace else.

So, to break through sports-wise in a town where virtually every adult grew up rooting for a non-San Diego team is tough.  Heck, San Diego teams still have problems with that.  But Tony Gwynn did not. He was the face of San Diego sports for two decades. Growing up in the 1980's, virtually every kid had their holy trinity of sports - Tony Gwynn, Dan Fouts, and Magic Johnson. As time went on, some of the trinity members changed - Dan Fouts' popularity got eclipsed by Junior Seau, and Kobe Bryant took over Magic Johnson's spot - but Tony Gwynn remained beloved. 

In my opinion, there are only two Padres that ever came close to taking Tony's place in the trinity - Ken Caminetti and Trevor Hoffman.  Of course, Caminetti's rise was fueled by steroids, something which could never be attributed to Gwynn.  Hoffman came close, but never could eclipse what Tony meant to the Padres. Of the players on the current Padres' roster, sadly, none come close.  

So what does it mean to be in the Trinity? Those were three players who's brilliance was unquestioned. For two solid decades, every kid wanted to be like Tony Gwynn. When Jack Clark badmouthed Tony Gwynn, we all wanted to run him out of town on a rail (and that's why he was traded away). If you wanted to start a fight in San Diego, the best way would be to say "Tony Gwynn sucks!"  Heck, I want to punch myself in the face for even writing that.  Add to his playing greatness that Mr. Gwynn was one of the most humble, honest, and decent human beings in baseball, and well, you can see how he was loved even after his retirement.  He was one of the few people who earned the right to use the f-word as a middle name - as in, "Do you know who I am, I'm Tony Fucking Gwynn!!!" and sound completely justified.* 

All in all, Mr. Gwynn's passing has hit me harder than Jerry Coleman's.  Jerry was an old guy even when I was a young, but Tony. . .he went too soon.  To his family, my condolences.  

*Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers in his generation, who got everyone out but Tony Gwynn (who owned him completely), referred to Mr. Gwynn as "that fucking Tony Gwynn."  As in, "I did x, and it works on every batter in the game. . .except for the fucking Tony Gwynn."  Don't know where that fits in this post, but its an awesome story.

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