Famed baseball player Tony Gwynn, who is considered by many to be among the greatest hitters of his era, died on Monday in Poway, Calif. He was 54.
A 2007 Hall-of-Fame inductee, Gwynn played in the Majors for 20 seasons, all with the San Diego Padres. He amassed 3,141 hits, registering a career batting average of .338 and winning eight career batting titles, setting a National League record.
After Gwynn retired, he became a coach of the San Diego State baseball team, his alma mater. He entered his 12th season as the club’s head coach this year, though he had been on medical leave since March, as he recovered from cancer treatment. In 2012, he had surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his parotid gland. Gwynn had previously stated that he used dipping tobacco for much of his career.
Gwynn's statistics often seemed mythical. In an era when baseball saw players produce the best offensive numbers in league history, Gwynn still stood out. Not only did his numbers not suffer against elite competition, but they improved.
The outfielder had a combined 287 plate appearances against the Atlanta Braves’ trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Against them, he had a .381 batting average with just three strike outs. He also batted .302 against Nolan Ryan, and registered a .314 average in 36 plate appearances against Pedro Martinez, striking out once.
Gwynn was a model of consistency in his 20 seasons. He was never a power hitter, setting a personal high with 17 home runs in 1997. He batted at least .309 in every year, with the exception of his rookie season, including a .324 average in his final year.
Gwynn was on his way to putting up historic numbers in 1994, before the players’ strike cut his season short at 110 games. He had a .394 average, leading the league with a .454 on-base percentage and 165 hits.
Throughout his career, Gwynn was arguably the best contact-hitter in the sport. He never struck out more than 40 times in a single season. With no MLB team having played more than 71 games in 2014, 73 players have already struck out at least 40 times.
The Padres have never won a World Series, but Gwynn led the franchise to both of its appearances in the Fall Classic. In 1984, he and San Diego fell to the 104-win Detroit Tigers. Fourteen years later, they were swept by the New York Yankees, who set a record with 125 combined regular season and playoff victories.
In addition to his offensive abilities, Gwynn was known for his defense. He was an NL Gold Glove winner on five different occasions. He also stole an impressive 319 bases in his career, and his season high was 56 in 1987.