On the TUNNEYSIDE of SPORTS July 7, 2014 #496 Up next…Mr. Padre #19
After further review…It was thrilling to see the 23,239 fans attend the ceremonies at Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres, one day recently. Oh, there wasn’t a ball game. But, fans sat for three hours to say farewell to “Mr. Padre” Tony Gwynn, who died of oral cancer June 16th.
The tributes flowed, along with tears, from MLB Hall of Famers, current and retired players, coaches, and former teammates – the variety was endless. Their words were not about Gwynn’s .338 lifetime time batting average or his 3,121 hits or five Gold Glove awards, or even those eight batting titles. No, they were more about the man inside Anthony Keith Gwynn.
There was a certain irony in his Gold Glove awards. When Gwynn began his major league career he was not a good fielder, he ran with a wobbly gate and threw with a mediocre arm. But he seemed to heed his own guidance, his words set in stone outside Petco Park: “If you work hard, good things will happen”.
Perhaps the most significant fact is that he remained a Padre throughout his 20-year career, playing in 2,440 games. He could have used free agency to find another T*E*A*M that might have paid him more money, but he didn’t (are you listening LeBron, et al.?). When Gwynn retired in 2001, he could have gone into broadcasting. His intelligence and baseball knowledge certainly would have commanded a high-level salary. But, he didn’t.
Instead, Gwynn became the head baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater. During his 12 years with the Aztecs, he gave back to baseball some of what he felt he owed – expert instruction, autographs, along with his signature smile for the lines of players and fans alike waiting to share a little time with Mr. Padre. He left behind many valuable lessons.
Not least was the one that figured in his fate. Tony Gwynn was a longtime user of smokeless tobacco, commonly referred to as “snuff”. Snuff and chewing tobacco are still used at most levels of baseball. Gwynn spoke of its dangers near the end of his life. While not illegal, MLB has asked its players and coaches to keep it out of sight of young fans.
Will you learn from the lessons left by Mr. Padre?
His new book “On the TunneySide of Sports is now available here.