Legendary outfielder Tony Gwynn has died at 54 after a long battle with cancer, and he will be remembered for more than the athleticism and baseball acuity that he rode from one of the smallest sports markets in American to the hallowed Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. San Diego fans didn’t call him “Mr. Padre” for nothing, while the rest of us just marveled at a pure left-handed swing that was something to behold.
Here are five reasons everybody seemed to love Gwynn:
1. He seemed to get on base whenever he wanted.
Gwynn hit safely in 75 percent of the games in which he played during his career that ended in 2001, and he batted .300 in each of his last 19 seasons, a streak second only to Ty Cobb, according to The Associated Press. His eight batting titles tied for second-most in MLB history.
2. But it never went to his head.
One writer for the Salt Lake City Deseret News, after following Gwynn’s career from afar for a decade, put it this way in 1999: “Among today’s professional athletes, Gwynn is the guy in the Dockers.” The general consensus inside and outside of baseball is that no super-talented professional athlete was more humble in a world of super-sized egos.
Gwynn could have easily chased a bigger contract to another city, but stayed put in Southern California for his entire 20-year career.
3. He made his teammates better.
Gwynn played in the Padres’ only two World Series and was a 15-time All-Star.
4. He never forgot where he came from.
After he retired, the California native returned to his alma mater, unpaid for the first year, as the baseball coach at San Diego State, where he was on medical leave at the time of his death.
5. He never stopped smiling.
“But it was his infectious laugh, ever-present smile and humble disposition that made Mr. Padre a favorite in San Diego and an endearing figure to a nation of baseball fans,” Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement today after learning of Gwynn’s death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.