Gwynn-win situation in Hall voting
The ultimate Padre takes his spot among game's greatest
SAN DIEGO -- On a bright, flawless day perfectly suited for the most perfect ballplayer this city has seen, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn -- it's part of his name now -- kept coming back to what he called validation.
Drawing 97.6 percent of the votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Gwynn joined Cal Ripken Jr. as the lone Hall of Fame choices for 2007. And Gwynn did it his singular way, one line-drive hit at a time until a Cooperstown plaque had been constructed for all time.
"I'm getting the ultimate compliment now," Gwynn said on Tuesday. "And I can raise the flag a little for the little guy, the contact guy. There's a place for a guy who gets on base two times, steals a base. If it means being a Punch-and-Judy spokesman, I'm more than willing to do that.
"I enjoyed being the type of player I was, and I'm going to enjoy being on a soapbox until July for that type of player."
Gwynn was the type of ballplayer who killed you softly, one hit at a time. He was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Mark McGwire, who crushed home runs but whose association with performance-enhancing substances did not endear himself to voters. McGwire finished ninth with 23.5 percent of the vote.
Gwynn said he did not mind being in the shadows of the McGwire controversy, voicing his opinion that Big Mac deserves Hall of Fame validation and that ultimately, he feels, it will come his way.
But this day was about Gwynn and Ripken, two of a kind, men who honored the game from Day 1 to the finish, embodying character and commitment, as endearing as they were enduring.
Ripken received 98.53 percent of the vote and was named on 537 ballots, breaking the previous record of 491 by Nolan Ryan in 1999. Only Tom Seaver (98.83) and Ryan (98.79) claimed a higher percentage than Ripken, and Gwynn's 97.6 is seventh all-time.
"Tony's a Hall of Famer," a beaming Trevor Hoffman said, standing under the afternoon sun at PETCO Park as Gwynn made the interview rounds. "That's so cool.
"Integrity of the game is still a thing that needs to be at the forefront of the process. He talked about validation and work ethic, and this day validated everything he did."
Baseball's all-time career leader in saves, Hoffman came to the Padres in 1993 with Gwynn at mid-career, still evolving as he began to drive the ball more often and drive in more runs.
Hoffman eventually assumed Gwynn's role as the clubhouse leader, welcoming new players to the cast and showing the way with an extraordinary commitment to professionalism.
"Seeing a guy of his stature hitting off a tee at 2 o'clock in the afternoon ... that makes an impression on you," Hoffman said. "I learned a lot just from observing Tony.
"I'm just glad I didn't have to face him."
Not quite three hours after getting the news from BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell over the phone at his home, Gwynn appeared Tuesday afternoon in front of about 1,200 fans at PETCO Park.
Club personnel, broadcasters, former manager Bruce Bochy and Gwynn's San Diego State baseball team applauded Gwynn and his family in a ceremony in the Park at the Park beyond the center-field wall at PETCO Park.
The city's sports centerpiece for 20 years, until his retirement in 2001, Gwynn maintained his composure until he was asked about his late father, Charles Gwynn.
"I think he'd be pretty proud today," Gwynn said, fighting back the tears. "I think he'd be pretty darn proud."
That brought a warm ovation from the crowd, which evoked responses from Gwynn on several occasions with shouts of "We love you, Tony."
"I love you guys, too," he said, with the same kind of feeling he brought to 2,440 Major League games in a Padres uniform.
Gwynn holds that club record and many more -- at-bats (9,288), batting average (.338), hits (3,141), doubles (543), triples (85), runs batted in (1,138), runs scored (1,383), walks (790) and stolen bases (319).
He is one of 17 players to have played at least 20 seasons with one club. Ripken is also on the list, having spent 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles.
Gwynn charted his course to Cooperstown, N.Y., early on and never wavered in his pursuit of perfection in his chosen craft.
Racing through the team's farm system after getting drafted in the third round in 1981, Gwynn joined the Padres in Philadelphia on July 19, 1982, and found his name on manager Dick Williams' lineup card that night, batting fifth and playing right field.
Answering the challenge, Gwynn banged out the first two of his 3,141 hits -- a double to center off Sid Monge and a single to center off Ron Reed.
Gwynn stayed right where he was, as constant and as cool as the Pacific Ocean breezes, for two decades. He made 15 All-Star teams, winning eight batting titles -- matching Honus Wagner's National League record -- while finishing in the top 10 for 15 consecutive seasons.
His .338 career average is the best in the sport since native San Diegan Ted Williams retired his .344 average in 1960.
When he hit .394 in the abbreviated 1994 season -- Gwynn was convinced .400 was his destiny had the season gone to its conclusion -- it was baseball's highest average since Williams' epic .406 in 1941.
"I really think I would have [hit .400]," Gwynn said. "You're talking 12 years ago. I was locked in. I really thought I could do it."
Only Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie reached 3,000 hits with fewer at-bats. Gwynn made it happen on Aug. 6, 1999. The next day, Gwynn's American League contemporary, Wade Boggs, smacked hit No. 3,000.
Born May 9, 1960, in Los Angeles and raised in nearby Long Beach, Anthony Keith Gwynn grew up admiring the Dodgers' spectacular center fielder, Willie Davis.
"I got to sit down with him in Qualcomm [Stadium] about 10 years into my career," Gwynn said. "That was an experience. I hope one day I can be that guy to somebody out there."
Improving defensively by leaps and bounds, Gwynn claimed five Gold Gloves to go with the seven Silver Slugger awards, making all the right plays in right field -- and occasionally in center.
He ran the bases with a bold intelligence, stealing as many as 56 in 1987, one of his finest seasons. His best season, he felt, was 1997 when he won his final batting title at .372 with career highs in homers (17), RBIs (119), hits (220) and doubles (49).
On those occasions when he reached the biggest stage, Gwynn elevated his game in true Hall of Fame fashion.
It was his two-run bullet that drove in the decisive runs in Game 5 of a gripping 1984 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs, sending the Padres on to their first World Series.
Detroit rolled to the championship, but San Diego -- with Gwynn finishing third in the MVP balloting -- had arrived as a big-league entity.
Gwynn was 24 then. It would be 14 years before he would return to the Fall Classic with the 1998 Padres, who knocked off Houston and Atlanta in the NL playoffs.
Even as his team was getting swept by the New York Yankees, one of the greatest clubs ever assembled, Gwynn was showing his teammates -- and the world -- his grace under pressure.
He batted .500 in that World Series, celebrating his first visit to Yankee Stadium with a Game 1 home run off the facade in right field. He also stroked a pair of singles that night.
"That hit had significance for me," Gwynn said of the homer against David Wells, "because for a lot of people, it was like, 'That guy's pretty good.' It was 1998, and I was 18 years into my career."
Valuing family stability and the creature comforts of home, Gwynn takes delight in coaching baseball at San Diego State -- where he starred as the basketball team's point guard and was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in 1981 -- and also does commentary on Padres telecasts.
He accepted San Diego discounts to remain with the Padres throughout his career -- even at down times when the club struggled and those close to him were urging him to explore greener pastures.
"I loved the environment," he said, simply. "This is where I wanted to be."
This served to endear Gwynn even more with a community of fans that embraced him as none other in the city's rich sports history.
It is fitting that he is the first Hall of Famer to have spent his entire career with the Padres.
Cooperstown is enriched by the arrival of the graceful Gwynn.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.