Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who notched more than 3,100 hits during a Major League Baseball career spanning two decades, passed away on Wednesday June 16th at age 54 following a battle with salivary gland cancer.
Gwynn, who underwent multiple surgeries during his playing career to remove growths from his mouth, was diagnosed with cancer in a salivary gland in 2010. He chalked it up to his heavy dipping tobacco habit, and through the years, if you are a Padre fan you can attest to the fact that it was rare to see Gwynn without a full cheek.
The condition had apparently worsened over the last months according to a CSN Philly story on Tony Gwynn Jr., published this past weekend:
“This has been the hardest of the four years he’s fought it, by far,” Tony Jr. said.
“When I left for spring training he was in a good spot, and now he’s not in that same spot, so from that standpoint I guess it has worsened. But in the big scheme of things, which is getting healthy so he can do the things he wants to do, I see light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t say that he does, but then again he’s the one going through this, and it’s tough on him.”
His .338 career batting average is the highest since Ted Williams retired from the Boston Red Sox in 1960 with a .344 average. Gwynn, who won a record eight National League batting titles and played in the franchise’s two World Series appearances, retired in 2001 and later coached for San Diego State University as he took over the program at his alma mater after the 2002 season.
“We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn,” the San Diego Padres posted on Twitter. “Rest in peace, Mr. Padre.”
“The whole experience was traumatic because I thought I had it beat, and dang, it came back,” Gwynn said during a visit to the Hall of Fame in 2012 for the induction ceremony.
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 alongside Orioles great Cal Ripken.
“For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched,” Commissioner Bud Selig said.
Gwynn was a two-sport star at San Diego State in the late 1970s-early 1980s, playing point guard for the basketball team — he still holds the game, season and career record for assists — and outfielder for the baseball team. Tony always wanted to play in the NBA, until realizing during his final year at San Diego State that baseball would be the ticket to the pros.
“I had no idea that all the things in my career were going to happen,” he said shortly before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “I sure didn’t see it. I just know the good Lord blessed me with ability, blessed me with good eyesight and a good pair of hands, and then I worked at the rest.”
He was a third-round draft pick of the Padres in 1981.
After spending parts of just two seasons in the minor leagues, he made his big league debut on July 19, 1982. Gwynn had two hits that night, including a double, against the Philadelphia Phillies. After doubling, Pete Rose, who had been trailing the play, said to Gwynn: “Hey, kid, what are you trying to do, catch me in one night?”
Gwynn is survived by his wife, Alicia, daughter Anisha and son Tony Jr., who plays for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Smokeless tobacco has since been banned in the NCAA and in the minor leagues. If nothing else, let Tony Gwynn’s legacy be a cautionary tale, and let the untimely death of one of baseball’s most beloved players save lives.