Far, far too young. For a typical person, he is just another person who has died, but to the world of baseball and their fans, the news of Tony Gwynn‘s death was a punch to the gut. He had been battling cancer for some time, but Gwynn succumbed to the disease at the tender age of 54. San Diego and all of baseball mourns in the loss of a man who was just as loved for who he was as he was for the gifts that he displayed on the diamond over his 20-year career.
Tony Gwynn was a gift. His desire to achieve greatness was evident by the extreme methods and hours of video that he watched to refine his magnificent, sweet swing. He earned every one, and deserved more, of his 97.6 percent vote into Cooperstown in 2007, and the fact that he could sit and talk to Ted Williams about hitting and be just as qualified goes a long way in labeling how special Gwynn was as a player.
There are so many accolades that you could go over when remembering Gwynn – the eight batting titles, the five Gold Gloves, and even the 15 All-Star games; however, to get the real Gwynn, the well-respected and beloved Gwynn, you can focus on these:
1995 Branch Rickey Award: Recognizes professionals in Major League Baseball for exceptional community service.
1999 Roberto Clemente Award: Given annually to the Major League Baseball player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team”, as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media.
Baseball will continue to admire the insanity of the greatness that Gwynn showed on the diamond, but part of the reason that so many mourn the loss of Tony Gwynn is for what he has given to the game and for what he could have given to the game going forward. At 54, the lessons that he could have given so many more players about hitting, particularly at San Diego State (where he had managed for 12 seasons), could have continued to change the game that he changed forever during his playing days.
Baseball will remember “5.5” (for all of the times he went the opposite way between the third baseman and shortstop, which was written on his cleats), they will remember him holding Ted Williams as he threw out the first pitch at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston, they will remember the laugh, the sweet swing, and the voice and the amazing stories that it told and the amazing way that he could describe the craft of hitting a baseball.