- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Tony Gwynn got robbed.

He was robbed of every day he would have lived when he might have met someone for the first time, and made it a special moment for them, because that’s what he did. He was an All-Star contributor to the human race.

Gwynn was robbed of the camraderie of future Hall of Fame weekends with the fellow greats of the game, getting together every year in Cooperstown with the likes of Frank Robinson and Nolan Ryan, swapping baseball stories and laughs.

He had only seven of them. He should have had many more — like this July, when the great Greg Maddux is inducted on the stage at Cooperstown. Gwynn faced Maddux 107 times — and never once struck out. Batters hit .250 against Maddux in his 23-year career. Gwynn hit .415 against him.

Gwynn was robbed of his Ted Williams moment when he died Monday at the age of 54, from a recurrence of mouth cancer from the curse of the game — years of chewing tobacco.


SEE ALSO: Tony Gwynn dead at 54; Hall of Famer had battled cancer


Tony Gwynn should have had that Ted Williams moment later in his career like the legendary Boston slugger and Gwynn’s friend had in Boston in 1999: That moment at the All-Star game at Fenway Park when Williams, at the age of 80, got out of a golf cart, frail from two strokes and a broken hip, and — held steady by Gwynn — made the ceremonial first pitch to Carlton Fisk.

Then, the All-Star players — some of whom weren’t even born the last time Ted Williams stepped up to the plate as a hitter — all gathered around and shook the hand of one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, like little kids in awe of a legend they heard stories about.

Gwynn should have had that moment.

There should have been a time when maybe a 9-year-old kid somewhere in America today playing Little League baseball would have had the opportunity one day to stand on the baseball field and gather around and shake the hand of one of the greatest hitters who ever lived — like little kids in awe of a legend they heard stories about.

They would have heard that Gwynn won eight league batting titles — tied with the great Honus Wagner — and the only player to win more was Ty Cobb.

They would have heard that Gwynn hit .350 or higher seven of his 20 seasons — just like Ted Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ned Lajoie and Al Simmons. Only Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth had more seasons batting .350 or higher.

They would hear that Gwynn hit .300 or better for 19 straight seasons — the National League record. The only one to do better than that was Cobb, who hit .300 or better 23 consecutive times in the American League.

They would have head that Gwynn — in 10,232 plate appearances — struck out just 434 times. The most he ever struck out in one season was 40 times.

Cobb, Ruth, Williams — and Gwynn.

They also would have heard about Tony Gwynn’s humanity. If he had any hateful bones, they were buried deep in his body.

He spent his whole career in San Diego, out of sight and often out of mind. If he had played in New York, his passing would have been treated like a head of state — not bumped aside for coverage of the World Cup.

Gwynn finally got his national stage in 2007, when he and Cal Ripken were both elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gwynn got 97.6 percent of the vote, Ripken 98.5 percent. They were hailed, rightfully so, as the class of honor, inducted in the same summer when Barry Bonds was being vilified for his steroid-tainted breaking of Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

Gwynn laid out a simple life blueprint for all to follow on the Cooperstown stage: “When you sign your name on the dotted line, it’s more than just playing baseball. You have a responsibility to make good decisions and show people how things are supposed to be done.”

Tony Gwynn should have been around a lot longer to show people how things are supposed to be done. A generation of ballplayers has been robbed of its Ted Williams moment.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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