Tony Gwynn, who banged out 3,141 hits during a Hall of Fame career spanning 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres, has died of cancer at age 54, it was announced Monday.
The lefty-swinging Gwynn, nicknamed Mr. Padre, had a career .338 batting average, won eight National League batting titles and played in the franchise’s only two World Series.
He died early Monday morning at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, California, while surrounded by his family, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced.
“Major League Baseball today mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement Monday. “The greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life.
“… For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the National Pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.”
Gwynn had been signed to a one-year contract extension as the baseball coach at San Diego State on Wednesday. He had been on medical leave since late March while recovering from cancer treatment. He took over the program at his alma mater after the 2002 season.
Survivors include his wife, Alicia, daughter, Anisha, and son, Tony Jr., who plays with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gwynn Jr., who is hitting .155 in 52 games this season, was put on the bereavement list Monday.
He had two operations for cancer in his right cheek between August 2010 and February 2012. The second surgery was complicated, with surgeons removing a facial nerve because it was intertwined with a tumor inside his right cheek. They grafted a nerve from Gwynn’s neck to help him eventually regain facial movement.
Gwynn had said that he believed the cancer was from chewing tobacco.
“He was in a tough battle and the thing I can critique is he’s definitely in a better place,” longtime agent John Boggs told The Associated Press. “He suffered a lot. He battled. That’s probably the best way I can describe his fight against this illness he had, and he was courageous until the end.”
In a rarity in pro sports, Gwynn spent his entire 20-year career with the Padres, choosing to stay rather than leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere. His terrific hand-eye coordination made him one of the game’s greatest contact hitters. He excelled at hitting singles the other way, through the “5.5 hole” between third base and shortstop.
“There are no words to express what Tony means to this organization and this community,” the Padres said in a statement. “More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community.
“He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart. On behalf of Padres fans everywhere, we mourn the loss of a friend, a teammate and a legend.”
He was a 15-time All-Star and reached the coveted 200-hit mark in a season five times, and his .338 career average was 18th-best all time.
Gwynn hit safely in 1,838 games — which amount to 75.3 percent of those in which he played. In addition, Gwynn had 951 multihit games, reached hitting streaks of at least 10 games on 33 different occasions and had only 34 multistrikeout games. In fact, he had only one career game with three or more strikeouts.
“I’ll remember the cackle to his laugh. He was always laughing, always talking, always happy,” said San Francisco Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, who was both a teammate and a coach of Gwynn. “The baseball world is going to miss one of the greats, and the world itself is going to miss one of the great men of mankind. He cared so much for other people. He had a work ethic unlike anybody else, and had a childlike demeanor of playing the game just because he loved it so much.”
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