San Diego Padres – Tony Gwynn and the Will to Win
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The San Diego Padres have been playing in the Major Leagues since their inaugural season of 1969, when they joined the league in a four-team expansion. The team’s early struggles – they were last in the National League West for their first season, and repeated that dismal feat for the next five seasons as well – helped to quell much of the early excitement that surrounded the team’s creation. It would not be until the mid 1980s that the Padres would experience the type of glory that the fans had expected. Indeed, the arrival of Anthony Gwynn, the talented right fielder, seemed to provide a spark that turned the team’s fortunes toward success – eventually leading to two National League Pennants. The first was won in 1984, with the second being won fourteen years later.
In hitting, consistency is the key
There have been many great sluggers in the annals of Major League Baseball, during both the dead and live-ball eras. The modern era, however, thrives on the long ball, and home runs seem to be the measure of a player’s power. In that respect, a player like Gwynn would have thrived even more in the dead-ball era where home runs were scarcer. His game was never one based on power, and he never broke the 17 home run mark in a season. Rather, Gwynn was a true contact hitter whose batting average was consistently at or above .309 in each season he played. In fact, over the course of his career – which included more than 9,000 times at the plate, he only struck out a total of 434 times.
The lifetime student of the game
Never content to rest on past accomplishments, Gwynn made no secret of his thirst for more baseball knowledge. He would listen to any advice and seek any counsel in his efforts to both study and improve his batting swing so that he could be an even more effective hitter. While others around him used the larger, heavier bats, Gwynn preferred the smaller Louisville Sluggers because they felt similar to the weight he was used to in his college days. The difference in size and weight may have influenced his ability to hit home runs to some degree, but it certainly never seemed to diminish his ability to make contact with the ball and place it into the field of play.
Hall of Fame numbers
During his long career, Gwynn had more than 3,000 hits. Of his 135 home runs, 3 were with the bases loaded, and 19 more were with two runners on base. Another 39 scored two runs, with 74 of them taking place with the bases empty. Though his home run numbers are something less than impressive by today’s standards, his timing is not. In fact, 99 out of those 135 home runs were hit by Gwynn in situations in which his Padres were trailing in the game or tied. If nothing else, Gwynn’s home runs were always driven out of the park just when the team most needed the boost – a shining example of his ever-present will to win.