Monday, July 16, 2007
Tony Gwynn Heads to the Hall, pt. 1
One of my favorite stories about Tony Gwynn includes some interesting cyclical aspects to it. On July 19, 1982, Padres prospect Tony Gwynn was promoted to play centerfield and given the start. On this particular the day, the Padres were playing a seemingly innocuous game in the midst of a season that would end up 81-81 for the year.
Playing first base for the Phillies that day was none other than the all-time hit champion, Pete Rose. Tony Gwynn's first hit in the majors was a double. His second hit of the evening a single, allowing Pete Rose to impart this piece of wisdom on the Padres new centerfielder: "Don't try and catch me all in one night." Tony Gwynn would never catch Rose (a record that still stands at 4,256 hits in a career) but that wasn't for a lack of trying. What I like best about this comment is the perception Rose had. Chances are he had seen many major leaguers make their debut and get their first hit. How many of them did he joking tell not to catch him in a night? Not many I'm guessing. My guess is he only said things like that to players he actually believed could do it. Tony Gwynn was one of those players.
The cyclical nature of this event doesn't stop at Rose and Gwynn. Tony Gwynn Jr. a promising young prospect in the Brewers organization, was brought up from the minors to make his debut on July 15th, 2006. Four days later, on July 19th against the Giants, and 24 years to the day of his father's first hit, Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a double as his first major league hit, just like pops.
Tony Gwynn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 9, 2007 by 97.6% of the vote, begging the question as to what is wrong with the other 2.4%. It is the second highest vote total in Hall of Fame history and it could not be for a more deserving individual. Tony Gwynn was a ballplayer, a student, and an ambassador for both the game and the city that has embraced him since that double in July, 1982.
In 12 days, amongst the biggest crowds ever seen by Cooperstown, Tony Gwynn alongside Cal Ripken Jr. will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As Tony Gwynn himself said on that January afternoon the day he heard about Cooperstown, the induction will be "vindication," showing that in this game there is room for the guy who hits singles and slaps the ball the other way.
In the upcoming post, Left Coast Bias will celebrate the great career of Mr. Padre with anecdotes and career stats. Today's career stat to highlight: 19 straight seasons of hitting over .300. Tony Gwynn hit below .300 only once in his career, his rookie season in which he played 54 games. Outside of his rookie year, Tony Gwynn never hit under .309 for a season. In 1994, Tony Gwynn hit .394, the highest National League batting average since 1930. Had the season not been shortened by the strike, Gwynn would have had a chance to hit .400, a mythical number not reached since Ted Williams. In the end, Gwynn wound up 3 hits short of .400 in the shortened season.
Tony Gwynn's career batting average of .338 is good enough for 17th on the all-time list. As Al Leiter would say: "The only way to pitch to Tony (Gwynn) is throw the ball down the middle and hope he hits it at someone."
The Padres plan to honor Tony Gwynn and his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame this upcoming weekend with a ceremony on Saturday and the unveiling of a statute for Tony Gwynn. I've had the chance to "meet" Tony Gwynn twice, using the term meet loosely of course. I was an honorary batboy in 1988 for the Padres, an event that was colossal in my mind and inconsequential I'm sure in his. But I met him and he shook my hand. Pretty cool. The greatest player in Padres history and, according to Sports Illustrated, the greatest hitter since Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn #19 is Mr. Padre.
To be Continued...
-The Padres open a 3-game series with the New York Mets. A great test this week in seeing exactly where the Padres sit in the National League hierarchy. The Mets are routinely considered the best in the National League and with good reason. Jose Reyes atop that lineup with Beltran and Delgado in the middle make for a formidable night. With San Diego's inability to throw out runners, keeping Reyes off base will be imperative.
-David Wells starts tonight, in the midst of his appeal for his suspension.
-The Padres avoided the sweep in Arizona thanks to Germano's gem. Heath Bell and Linebrink both got a scoreless inning of work in, rebounding from rough outings the day before.
-Brian Giles...STAY AT THE TOP OF THE LINEUP!!! Giles has been unstoppable atop that lineup, with an on-base pct of over .400 since making the move to the 1-hole.