Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, died Monday after a long battle with salivary gland cancer. He was 54 years old.
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, eight-time batting champion and five-time Gold Glover, was known for his infectious personality, humble twang and high-pitched cackle. What you might not know, however, is that Gwynn studied more film than any player in his era.
“He studied video voraciously before video became a thing in baseball,” Bleacher Report MLB columnist Scott Miller said on Ferrall on the Bench. “In the second part of his career in the late-80s, he had two lockers in old Jack Murphy Stadium. In the one locker, he had the old VCRs (from) way back when. He would take that on the road with him, he would hook up his VCR in the hotel room in Chicago or St. Louis or New York, and he would have his own VHS tapes and he’d tape the game and he’d watch his at-bats and he’d watch pitchers and he’d study them.”
“And today, every team has a video coordinator,” Miller continued. “Every player has immediate access to watch their last at-bat. Players today watch at-bats in the middle of the game. You may have Cameron Maybin lead off the second inning with a line drive to shortstop and while the Padres continue to bat in the rest of the second, he may go down the tunnel to the TV monitor and immediately call up the at-bat he finished two minutes ago (if he was stumped by a pitch he saw). That’s the way the game’s played today.”
“Back in Tony Gwynn’s day, there were no video coordinator. Nobody looked at video. Everybody thought he was a weirdo for bringing his VHS machines on the road.”
But Gwynn had the last laugh. A career .338 hitter with 3,141 hits, he was as good of a hitter as Miller ever saw – even though he didn’t have the home runs (135) of many of his contemporaries, like, say, Barry Bonds (762).
“That’s one more crime, I think, of the steroid generation,” Miller said. “Some of these numbers became cartoon numbers – (to the point where) even people like Hank Aaron and Roger Maris became mere afterthoughts, let alone a guy like Tony Gwynn, who wasn’t a home run hitter. All of a sudden in the Steroid Era, if you didn’t hit 85 home runs a year, you really were nothing. Gwynn was not a home run hitter, but still, other than Bobby Bonds, I’ve not seen anybody come close to Tony Gwynn. He was a magician with the bat, and it was just phenomenal.”
Gwynn’s personality wasn’t too bad, either.
“Never a nicer guy,” Miller said. “Totally down to earth. I mean, who else would go into the Hall of Fame and make millions and millions of dollars over their career and then retire and then love the game so much he would go back to his alma mater to coach baseball? And that’s what Tony Gwynn did at San Diego State. There were days he would drive a little riding mower to drag the infield himself. No airs about this guy at all.”
Gwynn was also a reporter’s best friend, someone who was willing to give any quote for any story whenever it was needed.
“He made everybody that came within his orbit feel as if they were special, they were a friend of his, they were an equal of his,” Miller said. “You cannot say enough about him being a Hall of Fame person as well as a Hall of Fame player.”