It is with shock and complete sadness to learn that Hall of Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn has died.
Gwynn was one of the best hitters of all time, a man with an effortless, clean stroke that always seemed to make solid contact.
According to the report by ESPN, Gwynn had been on medical leave from his job as head coach at San Diego State in March while he was recovering from cancer treatment. He took over as the head coach at SDSU in 2002. He was 54.
"It's crushing to me as a someone who got to know him well," TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle said; the two faced each other often as members of the Mountain West Conference. "Not as a hitter, but as a coach, husband and father. Such a smart, caring man."
I had the chance to interview Gwynn one time - in the spring of 2001 at the Padres' practice facility outside of Phoenix. Since Gwynn was a childhood favorite, I had asked the Padres' PR people if they could ask him for a few minutes. Not knowing the Phoenix area at the time, or its traffic, I was more than a bit late.
When Gwynn came into the clubhouse, at the request of the Padres' PR people, he looked at me and he was clearly annoyed when he said: "You got 10 minutes."
He did not have to do this, but Gwynn had a reputation as a man who did not know how to say no. To anyone, including a doof' reporter.
This interview was the start before his final season, his 20th. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.
The following ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in July of '01. Here are the highlights:
On the changes of baseball in '01 compared to when he entered the league: "Everything is so scrutinized. You go 7-for-10 and you're a God. You go 0-for-10, it's 'They're paying him all that money! What's wrong?'"
On home runs: "They're devalued. Ten years ago, there were certain guys who could hit them, now everybody can. Instead of trying to determine what you have to do at the plate to be successful, everybody is focused on, 'I have to get bigger and stronger so I can hit home runs because that's how I'll get attention.'"
On the idea that he stole signs from second baseman to know what pitch was coming: "I've played 20 years; I don't want people telling me. We were in a game against Montreal and Gary Carter was catching. He told me, 'It's a fastball, and it's going to be in the middle of the plate.' I stepped out of the box laughing and the umpire was Doug Harvey and I told him, 'Man, he can't do this."
On whether he used the shadows in Game 5 of of the 1984 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs and pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, shadows fell on then-Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego enough to where a batter could see where the catcher was setting up: "I've heard that I looked back. That was in the sixth inning and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Rick was trying to hit the outside part of the plate because he's 0-2 in the count, and I got a base hit to left."
On what he did not like about MLB baseball: "I hate flying. I hate airplanes. Believe me, if I could take a bus or a car wherever I needed to go, I would. I hate hotels, I hate suitcases ... sometimes you hate all the attention that comes with doing this."
At the time of the interview, he had expressed an interest in coaching San Diego State: "I think I can be pretty successful. I think everyone knows I'm interested in the San Diego State job . If I don't get it, it's OK. There are other things out there I can do. It's been a great run. I never would have imagined 20 years ago that I'd be standing here 20 years later, talking about a career that has gone on so long."
On the the perfect final hit: "If I had my way, I'd love to hit a ground ball between shortstop and third base, with the third baseman diving for it and the shortstop diving for it. You'd round first and say, 'That's how it all started.' ... Of course, I'll probably hit a fly ball to left field because I chicken-winged and got my elbow up, but either way it goes, it's been great."
On the best pitcher he ever faced: "Nolan Ryan. When he was on, you absolutely couldn't hit him. I don't care, with a 99 mph fastball, a curveball and a great changeup, when he was on, he was impossible. When you have a guy throwing 99 and he can throw a changeup for a strike, it's over."
The reality of big market vs. small market: "It's not as bad as people make it out to be. It's big-revenue- against small-revenue clubs. Ten years ago, Cleveland was a small-market club, Seattle was and San Francisco was to a degree. None of those teams are now. It all goes in cycles."
The biggest misconception about Gwynn: "The thing with me is people think you're not an athlete because of how big you are. I think even though I'm not a rock, I've had a pretty good career."
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