So his baseball life hadn't been perfect. Over the years, teammates were jealous of his popularity (see Jack Clark), and even upper management seemed threatened by him. Maybe he'd gotten too big in town for them. How he was never hired as the Padres' hitting coach is beyond me. They could've talked him out of coaching at San Diego State. They could've done more than just hire him as a broadcaster. John Moores, the owner when Tony retired, promised him a lifetime contract in 2001. But over the years, the two drifted apart.
It has ended badly and sadly. But I choose to remember the young Tony Gwynn, who despite his cherubic appearance, once stole 56 bases in a season. I remember him working on his defense in the offseason -- the same way Michael Jordan worked on his jumper -- and then earning five Gold Gloves. I remember doing a story on him and Don Mattingly in 1986, about a contest in which they were both supposed to hit a button when lights flashed -- to see who had the quickest reactions and the keenest eyesight. They were both in their prime at the time, and Mr. Padre whipped Mr. Yankee.
But I also will never forget that day at the hospital this April. Tony was trying to get his hands and arms to work again, and a therapist sat him in front of a series of lights -- just as he and Mattingly had done in '86. It had been 28 years. There had been three cancer surgeries, there had been weight gain. Tony was slow. He was frustrated. It wasn't fair. He used to have 20-10 vision; now he could barely see out of his right eye.
But he said he was hanging in, that he was looking forward to watching his Anthony play for the Phillies that night on TV. Just the sight of his kid trying to go to the 5.5 hole was enough to keep him upbeat. But first he wanted to take a rest. He was tired. So I said goodbye for the last time.
It was 2:30.