Just a month ago the sports world stopped in its tracks and paid tribute to a great man who left us far too soon. San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn lost a courageous battle with cancer on June 16 at the age of 54, and almost exactly a month later, Major League Baseball failed to honor his memory at its midsummer classic. In fact, Gwynn’s name was never even mentioned on the broadcast.
Think about that for a minute. Tony Gwynn is universally regarded as one of the best hitters in baseball history. The league and Fox had a month to figure out some way to honor him at the biggest baseball event of the summer and came up with nothing. In a pregame ceremony we got Idina Menzel signing a Bob Dylan song (because why wouldn’t you have that before a baseball game?) and a tribute to 30 teachers. But zero mention of one of the best, most respected and most beloved baseball players to ever walk the Earth.
When Ted Williams died just before the 2002 All-Star Game, Major League Baseball responded by naming the game’s MVP Award after him. Couldn’t they have done something for Gwynn with a month to prepare? What about naming the National League batting title or the Silver Slugger for a right fielder after him? After all, he won eight (yes, eight) National League batting titles and seven Silver Slugger Awards.
No, instead baseball whitewashed his name from the event.
While we can all agree that Tuesday was Derek Jeter’s night and it was nice seeing him honored, the Fox broadcast mentioned Jeter’s name 100 times. That would have been fine, except Gwynn’s was never spoken. That’s absolutely ridiculous. The game was on for three-and-a-half hours, and nothing!
Jeter has had an amazing, Hall of Fame career, and has made an unbelievable 14 All-Star Game appearances and that fact was mentioned over and over again as a mark of a truly great player. Gwynn made 15.
They couldn’t have taken a minute to even do a quick video piece on Gwynn or discuss how much he is and will be missed? Or what about showing some of his classic All-Star Game highlights, like when he scored the game-winning run in 1994 in one of the most memorable moments in the history of the All-Star Game? George Steinbrenner died the day of the All-Star Game in 2010 and baseball put together a moment of silence for him. And tons of people hated Steinbrenner.
What really happened on Tuesday night is that Fox and Major League Baseball further proved the long-held belief that if you don’t play in a major market, they don’t really care about you. And that’s sad, because some kid watching the All-Star Game Tuesday night who was born after Gwynn retired might have seen a tribute and asked his dad about the great No. 19, what he did, who he was and what he stood for. The fact that a moment like that may never happen is a shame, because everyone should know about Tony Gwynn and what kind of player, person and ambassador for the game he was.
Aside from being one of the best hitters of all-time – certainly the best of his generation and even the best since World War II – Tony Gwynn was everything we hope our star athletes are like. He was kind, smart, funny and loved his fans as much as they loved him. He was dedicated to the community and on top of all that, he played the game with a smile and looked like he was genuinely having fun doing it.
The thing about the late, great Mr. Gwynn is that he would probably laugh off all the outrage people are currently spewing about him being snubbed. He’d flash that wonderful smile, give that chuckle we all knew so well and shake his head. But I’m not as forgiving as Tony and I certainly won’t laugh it off or forget about it.
Since there was no tribute to Gwynn Tuesday night, let’s just re-live the one Keith Olbermann did in the wake of his passing. It’s likely far better than anything Bud Selig, his cronies or Fox could have come up with.
And in case you needed reminding, here are some of Gwynn’s mind-boggling statistics:
-His eight batting titles are tied for second-most in major league history with Honus Wagner (Ty Cobb had 11).
-Career .338 average is the fourth-highest among players with 3,000 hits behind Ty Cobb (.366), Tris Speaker (.345) and Nap Lajoie (who beats Gwynn .33820 to .33818).
-No hitter born after 1900 reached 3,000 hits in fewer games (2,284) or at-bats (8,874) than Gwynn. Only Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie got there faster.
-No member of the 3,000 hit club born after 1900 had a higher lifetime average than Gwynn (.338), and no 2,000-hit man born since 1918 (basically after Ted Williams) has a higher average.
-No hitter who has played his entire career since the invention of the designated hitter has accumulated more hits than Gwynn (3,141) without playing a large portion of his career in the American League. Gwynn was a career-long member of the San Diego Padres.
-Gwynn had three different seasons in which he hit .370 or higher. In the 73 years since Ted Williams last hit .400 all the other hitters who passed through the big leagues combined to hit over .370 only eight times. That group includes Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Wade Boggs, etc., etc.
-Gwynn hit .400 or better against eight different Cy Young Award winners: Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Bret Saberhagen, Vida Blue, John Denny, Dennis Eckersley, Mark Davis and Doug Drabek. He batted .300 or better against seven more.
-None of the following pitchers ever struck him out: Pedro Martinez (35 AB), Hideo Nomo (25 AB), Mike Hampton (33 AB) or Greg Maddux (94 AB).
-Aside from his rookie year in 1982 in which he played just 54 games, he hit better than .309 in every season of his career. He hit .300 or better in 18 consecutive seasons. Only Ty Cobb (23) had a longer stretch.
-Gwynn had one three-strikeout game in his entire career.
-He has the highest batting average all-time with two strikes (.302). Second place is Wade Boggs at .262.
-He hit .394 in the strike year of 1994 and almost anyone who knew him believes he definitely would have hit .400 that year. His average was trending upwards rapidly at the time of the strike.
-He struck out just 434 times in 10,232 plate appearances, which is the lowest total for anyone with at least 2,000 hits in the expansion era (since 1961).
-He never struck out more than 40 times in a season and had just 15 in 577 plate appearances in 1995.
-Led the National League in hits seven times.
-Won five Gold Gloves.
-Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007 with the seventh-highest percentage of the vote ever, 97.6.