Monday, June 16, 2014

Remembering a Singular Hitter and Personality

                   By ROSS NEWHAN

                   Every time I gaze at a major league infield I see the 5.5 hole that Tony Gwynn patent.

                   Every time I think back to the cramped San Diego clubhouse at Qualcomm Stadium I see Gwynn at his corner locker in non-stop conversation with one reporter or, perhaps, twenty reporters. The number didn't matter nor the subject.

                    Throw out a question and Gwynn took it and ran--as much a singular personality as he was a singular hitter.

                     As much San Diego as Derek Jeter is New York.

                      His parents talked loyalty and Gwynn listened---20 years with the Padres when, on more than    one occasion, he could have left and earned more.

                       As a baseball writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times I watched Gwynn from the press box, visited him in the clubhouse, during all of those 20 years and never tired of his inventiveness from the batter's box, his joy talking about it.

                      I am not now at the keyboard to break news. Tony Gwynn died Monday at 54.
                     His weakening condition from the cancer was well known. Yet, there is no way to prepare.

                     Gwynn dead at 54? Bob Welch at 57?

                     How fortunate I feel to have covered them both, known them both. The one, Welch, a laconic pro. The other, Gwynn, more gregarious, sometimes annoying a teammate or two with that non-stop talking or the sense that there were more runs to be batted in if he was willing to yield in his approach..

                     My son, David, was a teammate, sharing a lineup card on occasion in his first season in the big leagues.

                     "I wouldn't say he took me under his wing," David said after hearing of Gwynn's death, "but he treated me fine, and it was definitely an experience watching him hit.

                     "My biggest memory is watching him go seven for eight one day in St. Louis and seeing those great fans there give him a standing ovation. I mean, it was more than 5.5. It was foul line to foul line. Pretty remarkable."

                     Gwynn had 3,141 hits, a career average of .338.

                     If his body wasn't that of a svelte athlete, he stole 319 bases, won five Gold Gloves, and he helped pioneer the use of video---but only watching his positive performances and never the negative.

                    Of course, how many negatives are there in any Hall of Fame career?

                    And how does anyone compare hitters over more than a hundred years of the sport?

                    I only know what I saw, and Gwynn belonged among the best--and not strictly in the style of a Boggs or Ichiro.

                   I will miss him, have missed him, both on and off the field.





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