Remembering Mr. Padre
#19: Tony Gwynn's jersey from the 1998 World Series against the Yankees. The number 19 was retired by Major League Baseball in 2002 in his honor.
When we asked you to reflect on the legacy of Tony Gwynn, the stories poured in. Whether from a Major League bigwig or former teammate, a regular dad or longtime fan, a benefactor or local sportswriter, every memory goes back to his character—how, aside from the hitting, fielding, and base-stealing, he had a huge, happy heart. Tony looked us in the eye, helped us out, encouraged us, taught us lessons, and worked harder than everyone. There is no greater feeling than to be loved, and we all felt like Tony loved us. He cared about our town and our team enough to stay when most would have moved on. He made the team our team. From an entire generation of baseball fans, this is our tribute and thanks to number 19 in our scorecard, number one in our hearts.
Former editor, San Diego Metropolitan
I was working at the Coronado News when the Padres had the magical 1984 season. When the season was over, Cox Communications had a party that included key advertisers and small newspaper reporters, along with members of the Padres. I was there pretty early. Most of the players were back in the VIP room. Tony comes walking out alone and we started chatting. I told him I had watched him play basketball at San Diego State, where we were both students at the time, but barely knew he was a baseball player. I congratulated him on hitting .351 and he was like, “Yeah, I still can’t believe it.” Absolutely zero arrogance during our conversation. None. Zip. Zilch.
Former Padres teammate
Tony had his own hit-and-run sign while he was up at bat. I’d lead off and Tony batted second. If I got on first, he would give me the sign. And while he was busy watching to see what pitch he was getting, he was also looking to see which infielder was covering second. And whichever one was, he hit it in that hole.
Former San Francisco Giants bat boy, 1992–1996
I remember him always wanting in on any prank or practical joke he could come up with, always asking bat boys to get him his left-handed bat, or demanding the keys to the batter’s box and sending kids on a wild-goose chase for them. Who was I to question Tony Gwynn at 13 years old? One day, he’d just taken money off of his teammates playing a card game called Casino. As they were getting up from the table, he asked me if I wanted to play. I told him I had work to get done before the game. So he told our clubhouse manager that I was indisposed, and then said he would play for only $20 a game. I only had something like $6 in my wallet, so he spotted me a $50, and I pretty much thought I was the coolest kid around—14 years old, playing cards in an MLB clubhouse with Tony freaking Gwynn. I like to say I won $20 playing cards with him, which was my take-home, but given that he spotted me $50...
More than 20,000 fans gathered to pay tribute to Gwynn during his public memorial at Petco Park.
Nathan Kiah Richards
I became a Padres fan in 1982, and I’ve never lived in San Diego. Tony Gwynn made me a fan. I used to go see the Padres play the Giants at Candlestick Park. Being the only Padres fan in right field, I would call out to Tony, and he would always make eye contact, smile, and wave. The surrounding Giants fans would always give him respect and cheer for him, too. Even the opposing fans loved him.
Jessica Settle Cunningham
When I was 10, I was at a game super early at Jack Murphy Stadium watching batting practice. I remember all these kids, mainly older and mainly boys, were pushing and shoving to say hi to Tony as he walked by. They were all getting autographs, and I kept getting pushed back further and further. He pulled out a ball from his glove, signed it, and said, “Nope, this is for the little lady,” and handed it to me. Made my day, plus I felt super cool in front of all those older boys.
Sportscaster, Fox 5
In 1996 I was a young reporter at WREX in Rockford, Illinois. It was the Chicago Cubs’ home opener against the Padres. The big news was Ryne Sandberg had come out of retirement. While the media mobbed him, I spotted Tony Gwynn doing an interview with one reporter. Tony was talking about the tall infield grass at Wrigley Field, and why Mark Grace was never going to win a batting title because he hits so many ground balls. I interrupted with a question. Tony distinctly informed me that as soon as he was done with this other reporter, he’d answer my questions. That was my first etiquette lesson. When the other reporter was done, Tony gave me his full attention and answered every one of my questions.
Radio analyst and former MLB pitcher
I’ll never forget facing him on the mound. I was with the Chicago Cubs. Greg Maddux had just finished telling me he had no idea how to get this guy out. That was all I could think about when Tony stepped into the box.
Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton
Veteran sports radio voice
I remember walking into a very quiet clubhouse after Tony was stuck in a batting slump (0-for-7) over a two-game period. He was digging around deep into his locker stall, tossing equipment (shoes, bats, gloves, hitting gloves) all over the floor. “I’ll be with you in a minute, Hacksaw,” he said. I stood by and asked, “What are you looking
for?” His response: “Base hits.”
Gwynn’s longtime agent and business partner
We’d go to do an appearance and Tony would turn to me and say, “Just one autograph per person, right?” And I’d nod my head. And then a little boy would come up and put three balls down on the table. And I’d say, “Sorry, just one autograph per person.” Then Tony would look at me, and look at the little boy and say, “Don’t listen to him. He’s not in charge.”
Boston Red Sox president, former San Diego Padres president
After the strike year of 1995, we wanted to do something to reconnect with fans. We came up with the Padres Scholars idea, where we’d give middle school kids money to go to college. With all ideas like this, we went to Tony first. He was our barometer on community relations, and we wanted to get his reaction. He not only loved the idea, he wrote a five-figure check on the spot to show how much he supported the program. And then, he walked around the clubhouse and got other players to buy in.
Always generous with fans, Gwynn reaches out to the crowd on the evening of his final game in 2001.
MLB DebutJuly 19, 1982 (age 22)
Appearances in All-Star Games15
(Only Pete Rose had more, with 10)
Entrance to Hall of Fame2007
(Seventh-highest voting percentage, with 97.61%)
Career Stolen Bases319
Longest streak to not strike out39 consecutive games (1995)
Career Batting Average.338
(Every other hitter with an average of .338 or above started his career before 1940)
Principal, The Kitchen Agency
I was working for Cox Communications in 2009 as the VP/General Manager overseeing the Padres TV telecasts. I’d occasionally bring my children to ballgames. During this particular game, my son, Connor, was with me in the broadcast booth, visiting with Tony and Mark Grant. Tony started asking my son all about his Little League games. He wanted to see Connor’s batting stance, and gave him pointers. Connor was over the moon. As their conversation was concluding, Tony reached into a small bag he had beside his chair and pulled out a pair of worn batting gloves, saying, “These are mine and I want you to use them.” The gloves were way too large for Connor’s hands. He’s kept them in a special pocket in his baseball bag all this time, though. This year was the first Little League season when the gloves actually fit. He wore them every time he batted.
Former Padres employee
When I worked for the Padres, I had interviewed for a job with another team. I took the call in an office right next to where Tony would sit and sign the items sent to him and read fan mail. He came in to do that. Well, when I opened the door and squealed, “I got the job!” I felt bad that I interrupted him, apologized, and turned away to leave him to it. But he asked me about the job, what I would be doing, and everything else a person with genuine interest would ask. Then he stood, stuck out his hand, wished me well, and said the other team was lucky to get me. That is just a small fraction, of a small fraction of the wonderful person that he was. He really did care about the people he met. The man was so much more than just a ball player and his death has left a hole in this town and in the world.
Pitcher, New York Yankees
In high school, I wore number 19 to honor him. One game, he came to watch Adam Jones play, trying to recruit him to come to college instead of signing. I pitched that day and Coach liked what he saw. Because of him seeing me that day I got to go to SDSU with a scholarship, the only place I wanted to go. One day, I wanted to get my pops something nice for his birthday, I didn’t have the money and I asked Coach if he could get me in contact with Oakley and get a discount on some sunglasses. He just took the sunglasses off his cap, cleaned them, and gave them to me, saying “Here, give these to your pops.” Coach believed in me. He told me he knew I’d make it. That I had what it takes. I don’t think he understood how much that meant to me. But I did make sure he knew I loved and respected him, giving him a hug whenever I saw him. Loyalty is something I consider so important in a person’s character, and one part of Coach that will live forever in the many people he mentored throughout his shortened life.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Fellow 2007 MLB Hall of Fame inductee
Tony is a wonderful person, and I was excited to enter the Hall of Fame with him. I believe Tony and I both placed a high value in being in one place for our entire careers. Most of the time a player doesn’t have a say in it, but it worked out for us.
TV voice of the Padres, 1997–2001
Tony really revolutionized the video aspect of the hitting game. He used his own money to buy video equipment so he could watch every one of his at-bats. Now every team does this, but it started with Tony. He worked hard every single day in the batting cages. He was there before everybody in the morning—every day.
I used to work for the Jumbotron team by running the cord for the camera guy. This was in 1996. We had to get to the stadium really early to set up. I was eating in the press box and heard this crack of a bat coming from the field. I looked down and it was Tony Gwynn hitting ball after ball after ball from a batting tee. I remember thinking that was what little tee-ballers did, not the greatest hitter I’d ever known. Many years later, I was working in the ballpark press box as a writer. Tony’s son had just been traded to the Padres. I looked down on the field, and again, the only ones down there way before game time working on fundamentals were Tony and his son.
Fans created a memorial around Tony Gwynn’s statue at Petco Park.
Chrisanna Weech Johnson
When Tony Jr. was in high school, Tony Sr. arranged for school-colored Nikes for each of the boy and girl basketball players, all levels. And he pulled up in his SUV and delivered them himself. No fanfare. Just handing out shoes to the kids. At least he can hit some in heaven, and Jerry Coleman can Hang a Star on them over and over.
Arizona Diamondbacks general manager; former Padres general manager, 1995–2009
I would have been run out of town if I ever even thought of trading number 19! He was as close to being untouchable as any Padre I ever had. The negotiations with Tony were different than others. He NEVER wanted to leave this city or organization, and he always rolled his contract additional years before he entered his last year for that reason. He took significantly less to remain in SD because he loved it here. Tony was often my sounding board before I made a trade. Who better than Tony to either validate a deal or squash it? I had that type of confidence in his evaluation skills, and knew that he would know if a particular player’s character would fit well in our clubhouse. Also, I loved to play poker with Tony on road trips. By winning, it allowed me to eat like a big leaguer on the road!
Baseball coach, San Diego State University
He was our colleague and friend and he was family. But we called him Coach Gwynn. The teacher. He understood being a student athlete was challenging. But he taught his core value: Do it right. He taught players to respect the game, to respect people, and to do it with class.
One of Gywnn’s bats from the 1998 World Series. He notched a career-high batting average of .394 in 1994.
I remember the first time I met him at an autograph signing. I was speechless as he talked to me and called me by name. One year later, I took my son to meet him and get an autograph. My son had the same response meeting his hero. Tony remembered me from the previous year. We were both dumbfounded. The look of awe and love on my son’s face was priceless and a shared memory we will never forget.
Nancy A. Jefferis
I’ve only ever had three living heroes and Tony was one. As a lifetime SDSU Men’s Basketball season ticket holder, I always remember Tony from his days on the court. He was so exciting to watch. Tony played 100 percent and then some. You could tell just by watching him that he was going to be a leader. This city was so fortunate when Tony decided to stay in San Diego. My best memory is when I finally got the chance about six years ago to shake his hand. He was always so approachable. He will be remembered as a truly great representative of our fine city.
Morning weather anchor, Fox 5
Tony was doing Padres play-by-play with Matt Vasgersian. After my pregame show live shot I sat down with them in the box. I said to Matt, “Why won’t you get married?” Tony looked at me, laughed, turned around in his chair toward Matt and said, “Yeah, Matt, why won’t you get married?” He meant it. I could see Tony had family values. As Tony and I snickered and teased Matt for not settling down, what I was feeling from Tony was pride and happiness with his own family. Tony was in love with his family. He wanted for Matt what he had for himself.
San Diego County Supervisor
Tony and I had a long and warm relationship. Except one night. The University of San Diego was opening its new baseball stadium and I was invited to throw out the first pitch. The opponent: San Diego State University. The way Tony glared at me, I don’t think he was too happy seeing me that night.
I remember paying an ungodly amount of money, at least for a college kid, for field seats to Tony’s last game in 2001. After I bought the tickets, 9/11 happened and MLB pushed out the schedule, so I had to buy a second set of tickets to see Tony’s last game, which also ended up being the game Ricky Henderson got his 3,000th hit. Tony, Jerry Coleman, and Junior Seau were really big parts of growing up in San Diego in the ’80s and ’90s. He’s a legend.
Gwynn with his wife, Alicia, at their daughter Anisha’s wedding in 2009.
Thanks to Ron Donoho, San Diego Padres, and San Diego Hall of Champions for their contributions.