Gwynn's influence felt far and wide
Coaches, players share memories of Hall of Famer
As players, coaches and managers arrived for work Monday afternoon, thoughts of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's passing echoed in each Major League clubhouse -- the place Gwynn spent so much time honing his craft over two decades of excellence.
Somewhere in each clubhouse, there was a video station with players and coaches studying up for the game. Somewhere, someone was heading off to hit off a tee, swing after swing after swing. And someone was connecting on a human level with a fan, a reporter, a teammate.
They were all following in the footsteps of Gwynn, whose work ethic and dedication to his craft were matched only by his infectious personality and ability to communicate.
The first thought echoing through those clubhouses Monday afternoon, of course, was that a great man of the game was gone.
"He was just a good person," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who played with Gwynn from 1993-96. "As great a player as he was, he was just a good, regular guy who would talk to anybody like you were his next-door neighbor."
Said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a longtime opponent with the Dodgers and teammate for a brief time: "What he did on the field speaks for itself. He had no peers as far as what he did in the batter's box to be a pure hitter in the era that I saw him. He worked very hard at this game. Everything you can see he did on the field pales in comparison to the type of person he was. He was such a nice guy with an infectious laugh. He wanted to help anybody, talk about hitting or any part of the game. He was just a special, special person."
In the setting where he loved to work -- the Major League clubhouse -- Gwynn also was remembered as being unparalleled in his preparation as a hitter, and a pioneer of what now is a common practice of using video to find pitchers' weaknesses and hone his own swing.
The result: a career .338 average, eight batting titles, a plaque in Cooperstown -- and a lasting influence on the game.
"It wasn't the average that stood out, but how hard he worked at his craft," longtime Padres teammate and former closer Trevor Hoffman said. "The work in the video room, breaking down his swing, breaking down pitchers -- he understood what he was trying to do and then did it. This wasn't happenstance; he earned it."
In fact, Gwynn is considered by many to be the godfather of video analysis in baseball.
"He was doing his own video of opposing pitchers and his at-bats long before video was ever a part of this game," said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, a teammate of Gwynn's in San Diego in 1992 and '93. "He would take a VCR on the road and record the games. Numerous times I'd see him climb up on lockers to hook up the VCR to a little TV in the clubhouse, home and road."
The work didn't stop there for Gwynn, as anyone who played with or against him knows. He took a lot of swings in a batting cage, or off a tee in front of a net beside the Padres' dugout. It was a career-long obsession for Gwynn.
Said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, a teammate of Gwynn's on the 1984 Padres team that went to the World Series: "I thought I worked pretty hard, but I can remember in Spring Training driving up to the complex in Yuma, and when I drove by Tony was in the batting cage hitting. At that time, they didn't do a lot of early work; it was mostly afterward. So after our workout, I did my extra work, I showered, I got in my car and drove out by the batting cage, and Tony Gwynn was in the batting cage hitting. And it wasn't only once it happened."
Another teammate on that '84 team, Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, said, "He was the reason we got a batting cage in San Diego, because he was always taking more batting practice than anybody else. He loved the game."
The things Gwynn did are part of the daily ritual now for team after team, and his influence works on both ends of the game, as you can see from former teammates now on the Rangers' coaching staff.
"A lot of the routines I do with our guys in the [batting] cages are related to the discussions I had with him," said hitting coach Dave Magadan.
Said Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux: "I learned a lot about pitching from him. If I got stuck on a hitter, he would break down the guy's swing and tell you how to pitch to him. He was one of the best sources of baseball information I ever played with; a true baseball rat."
Gwynn never shied away from sharing his thoughts about hitting with anyone -- just ask. That included opponents, although he'd never give out a trade secret, just help a fellow athlete.
"I look back now and sometimes you take things for granted," said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, who competed against Gwynn from 1987-94 with the Reds, Cubs and Pirates. "But to think this guy took time out of his day every time we came to town or they came to town to sit down and talk to somebody like me about hitting and the game of baseball, it just blows your mind."
Added Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who wrested a National League batting title from Gwynn in 1991: "He was just always there for you. When you got to San Diego, if you needed to talk to Tony about anything, he was always available for you. That was just special."
For those fortunate enough to wear the Padres' uniform either with him or after his playing days, the memories are of a friendly figure who was a legend in his own time.
"No matter if you were a rookie or a veteran, he treated you the same way, with a lot of respect," said Sandy Alomar Jr., who came up with the Padres a huge prospect as a catcher early in Gwynn's career.
Said John Baker of the Cubs, who got to know Gwynn just in recent years when he played for the Padres: "Tony talked to you like a regular person, which I think sometimes doesn't happen with some of the superstar players and the Hall of Famers."
Very few in or out of the Major Leagues can say they were able to spend as much time in recent years with Gwynn as Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. He grew up in San Diego and became friends with Tony Gwynn Sr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. in offseason workouts over the last decade, less so this past winter while Gwynn was "fighting the fight."
"He was never a guy who wanted all the fame and praise," Jones said. "He could have left San Diego after his career, but he knew San Diego was his home. He was a man of many talents. He was a knowledgeable guy. I learned a lot about life, not just baseball, how to be a man in this industry and how to take it all with a grain of salt."
When it comes to how Gwynn influenced people -- past, present and future -- it's a lot like what he did at the plate: he connected. He connected with former players, current players, fans, media, and frankly an entire city in mourning right now.
"You know what, I've played and been around superstars and he is single-handedly the nicest, most genuine superstar ever, and I think that's going to be across the board. I think most people are going to say that," said former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, now a broadcaster.
For those who walked the same road to Cooperstown, Gwynn was as representative of the ideal of a Hall of Famer as can be.
"He was just a really humble guy and obviously very talented," said Twins coach and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. "But I think in times like this, you think about the man and not his ability. He was very gracious and gave back to the community throughout his life. He was able to keep balance in his life."
As any baseball fan who ever saw him knows, Mr. Padre did it with a smile, something that won't be forgotten by those in the game who got to know him.
"I know it's a sad day, but whenever somebody talks about Tony, it brings a smile to my face," Roenicke said. "This was a really nice guy. He loved to talk about baseball. He was in a great mood all the time. He had an infectious smile. And he worked as hard as anybody I've ever seen. He just was a pleasure to be around."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. Reporters Jordan Bastian, Rhett Bollinger, Mark Bowman, Corey Brock, Brittany Ghiroli, Greg Johns, Dick Kaegel, Carrie Muskat, Adam McCalvy, T.R. Sullivan and associate reporter Matt Slovin contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.