Though there have been many faces of this franchise, none is more recognizable than Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn. He was truly the epitome of Padres baseball with his franchise and league records still carrying on the legacy he built in the City in Motion.
The San Diego Native
Surprisingly, Gwynn may have spent the majority of his life in San Diego but he was actually born two hours away in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until his college years that he would move south to play baseball and basketball for San Diego State University. While there, he earned all-conference honors in both sports in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) but it was baseball where he received All-American honors. Adding something like this to your young resume shows that you want to go places in your desired field and you will do whatever it takes to get there.
In 1981, he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the third round of the MLB draft and made his professional debut the year after. He was known to be a poor fielder in college but worked diligently to fix it and that showed in 1986 when he captured his first Gold Glove. Prior to this, he was able to grab his first batting title in 1984 after only being in the majors for three seasons. These two achievements in such an early part of his career were no doubt a slight taste of the man who would go on to be forever known as Mr. Padre.
His 20-year career encapsulated many historical feats including 3,000 hits, fifteen All-Star selections, seven silver sluggers, and eight batting titles. His contact at the plate was envied by many and unlike a majority of major league hitters, he maintained a batting average above .300 for nineteen straight seasons, an NL record. Most guys nowadays could only dream of pulling something like that off two seasons in a row let alone nineteen straight. Adding to his already immortalized career is the fact that he only struck out 434 times and his hitless streaks never went past eight games.
Aside from his on-field persona, when it came to contract discussions, he was always big on staying with a small market team and took pay cuts regularly just so he could continue playing somewhere he called home. This just gave fans another reason to love a player who showed what it meant to be dedicated, selfless, and loyal. He was also a revolutionizer when it came to changing the way baseball players are studied and observed by major league scouts.
One thing he did to improve his game was record himself batting and then study it to see what corrections could be made or how to work an at-bat. MLB was years from doing something like this in 1982 and what he did then went on to become a natural part of the scouting process and allowed scouts to witness players and their game on a whole other level. He did this so much throughout the years that he was eventually given the nickname “Captain Video” due to the nature of his professional study sessions.
A Legacy Worthwhile
Once he finished playing professional baseball, he then turned his sights on becoming the head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State University. In his 12 seasons at the helm, he compiled an even record of 363-363 which included three Mountain West Conference championships and three NCAA tournament appearances. His leadership was further tested when the NCAA hit the school with a reduction in scholarships because the team did not meet the Academic Progress Rate set by athletics association. For five straight seasons, he helped his players get their collective GPA up and again showed why he won three of MLB’s top humanitarian awards.
In June 2014, he passed away at the age of 54 after a continuous and rough journey dealing with complications of his radiation treatment due to salivary gland cancer. His weight struggles also attributed to his declining health and he was noted as saying that his cancer was caused by chewing tobacco in his early years of baseball in the minors but scientists said there is no link between the two. His death shocked the MLB world and many athletes across different sports expressed their sympathy for this untimely event with most people remembering him for who he was and would always be: Mr. Padre.
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