A complete loss
Many years ago, Major League Baseball put out a videotape that chronicled the events of the just-completed 1980s.
It was produced by The Sporting News and was given the ambitious title “Baseball in the ’80s.”
The video had features on the goings on of the sport during the decade, and featured an interview with Tony Gwynn, who at that time would have been about 29 years old.
“When you hear the name Tony Gwynn, all you hear about is hitting,” Gwynn said. “Hitting, hitting, hitting.”
While Gwynn – who died earlier this week – was revered for his great personality and infectious laugh, in this case he wasn’t smiling as he discussed his legacy.
“I just want to be remembered as a complete ballplayer,” he said. “That’s all.”
In the immediate aftermath of his death, much of the writing about Gwynn focused on three things: His hitting, his personality and his lifelong association with San Diego.
Those probably are the three most prominent thing when discussing Gwynn, who finished his career with a .338 lifetime batting average and 3,141 hits.
But there was more to the player.
He won four Gold Gloves.
He stole 30 or more bases three times, swiping a ridiculous 56 bases in 1987.
But if I remember anything about Gwynn, it would be the fact that he loved playing the game, and he didn’t mind showing people that he did.
That hit me in 1994, when Gwynn played in the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. It was a different time, when the differences between the American and National Leagues were more pronounced. The leagues only played each other during the All-Star Game and in the World Series. The American League had won the previous six Mid-Summer Classics, and Gwynn had been on five of those losing NL squads.
In 1994, the game was a glorified exhibition. Nothing was on the line.
But you could tell the game meant something to Gwynn. He started the game in centerfield, not his usual position, then proceeded to play all 10 innings.
With the game tied at 7 in the 10th, Gwynn led off the inning with a single to center. The next batter, Montreal’s Moises Alou, smacked a double to left center. Gwynn chugged home sliding in and winning the game.
Gwynn got up, smiled, and threw his right arm in the air. The following week’s Baseball Weekly featured a photo of Gwynn celebrating, with the headline “What a Game!”
Twenty years later, Gwynn is gone.
It’s been a sad couple of weeks for baseball. The sport lost legendary coach Don Zimmer, former Oakland A’s ace Bob Welch, and now Gwynn.
All of these guys were fixtures in the sport when I was growing up. Maybe it’s a reminder of the passage of time, but it isn’t, really. Welch and Gwynn were relatively young men.
In the end, it’s just sad.
Gwynn said he wanted to be remembered as a “complete ballplayer.”
He was, but he was so much more than that.
He was a smiling star, an ambassador for the game. He was a reminder that the sport is fun. Fun to watch, fun to play, fun to be a part of.
He will be missed.