Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tony Gwynn in the Hall of Fame

Tony Gwynn is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today. It is fitting that he goes in with Cal Ripken, Jr., because they were both dedicated to the game, dedicated to their team (even to the detriment of salary, in Tony’s case, with 20 years on the Padres) and dedicated to being positive role models, no matter how corny that may sound. Gwynn practically embodies San Diego (even though he grew up in Long Beach) because he attended SDSU, played for the Padres his entire career, and now is the manager for SDSU’s baseball team, with the stadium named after him.

I’ve “met” him twice, if you count memorabilia shows in San Diego when I was a young teenager as “meeting.” He was a really nice guy, who kept smiling, chatting and shaking the hands of every teenager who handed him a baseball card to sign and told him how much they liked watching him play.

And he was. His numbers (and what if the 1994 strike hadn’t happened? He was hitting .394) are awesome. During his career, he had 3,141 hits, a .338 average (the highest for any player who started his career after WWII), eight batting titles and even five gold gloves on top of that, for a guy never heralded for fielding. A USA Today article says he “singled his way into Cooperstown.” That’s unfair and ignores his other numbers. In 1997, he batted .372 with 49 doubles, 17 homers, and a .547 slugging percentage. His lifetime slugging is .459. In contrast, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was much more a singles hitter, had a slugging percentage of .429. So yes, Gwynn slapped a lot of hits into what he called the “5.5 hole” (the space between 3B and SS) but he shouldn’t be viewed as a one-dimensional hitter.

But I don’t need to defend him too much, as there is no doubt that Tony Gwynn is one of the best players in major league history.


Justin Delacour 2:38 PM  

I recall that one year Gwynn hit over 20 homers.

But the game changed between Gwynn and Carew's time playing. I imagine that, if Pete Rose and Carew's prime had been in the '90s rather than the '70s, they would have hit with a bit more power as well.

Greg Weeks 4:47 PM  

No, the 17 was his max.

I would tend to agree with your second statement, though my point was only that Gwynn deserves to be seen as more than just a singles hitter. Pete Rose would've been interesting, because you know he would've done steroids like nobody's business.

Justin Delacour 5:32 PM  

Oops, you're right. Well, that's not that different than Carew and Rose, then. I believe Rose had a career high of 16 home runs and Carew of 14, but I'll have to check on that.

Greg Weeks 5:38 PM  

But if Rose started his career in the 1980s and had access to steroids...

Anonymous,  5:52 PM  

It was a pleasure to watch Gwynn all those years. He was quite a treasure.

On your "what if," had there been no strike in 1994, I imagine his batting average that season would have wound up closer to .380 than to .400. More opportunities--especially for someone who didn't walk much--would tend to depress the average, not increase the chance of raising it.

The career batting average, in his era, is astounding. And what was Ripken's? Under .280, right? I almost wish Ripken had not made it to 3,000 hits, but he would be a Hall of Famer, anyway, for the most HRs by a shortstop (before he was converted to third, evidently to save his body so that he could play in more games).

Back to Gwynn. Indeed, he was not one-dimensional. If all one (not you, Greg, but perhaps some of your younger readers) remembers is the portly fellow he became late in his career, one would be overlooking that he was fast when younger. He was one of the best defensive outfielders, and also a good baserunner in his youth. And he had a strong throwing arm.

And, you already mentioned all the "class act" cliches, so I didn't have to!

Justin Delacour 5:57 PM  

Yeah, Rose might have hit a bunch of homers in the modern age, with steroids.

But my guess is that, even without steroids, he would have changed his swing in the modern era and hit for more power. I don't watch much baseball nowadays, so I really can't say, but it seems like Rose's squatting stance and short compact swing wouldn't fly nowadays, especially for a guy who doesn't have that much speed. Maybe they would have been okay with Carew's really weird open batting stance (since he had speed), but I figure that Rose would have been expected to hit with more power.

Greg Weeks 5:59 PM  

C'mon, on this day give me my "what if"! Even if you're right, .380 would be amazing, and I wonder what kind of hit numbers he would've had.

Justin Delacour 6:01 PM  

He was one of the best defensive outfielders, and also a good baserunner in his youth. And he had a strong throwing arm.

What I recall is not that his arm was strong but rather that he got rid of the ball quickly. As right fielders go, his arm was a bit weak, but he made up for it with a quick release.

Anonymous,  10:36 PM  

Today was a great day for any Padres fan, right up there with the two World Series appearances. Only people from San Diego really understand how worshipped Gwynn was for 20 years. And his support is not only because he was one of the greatest hitters ever, but because he always handled himself as the guy next door.

It does, however, make me feel old thata guy whose rookie year I can remember is now in Cooperstown.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP