My friend John and I were discussing the whole Inter-league in MLB and how John feels that the All-Star game no longer has a place due to diminishing interest in the game. That years ago he would have a crowd come into the bar he worked to watch the game and now he's lucky to get one or two customers joining him to watch the game. I believe that the advent of the 24-hour sports cable networks, the ability to watch a game nightly on any combination of channels and the ability to follow your team either at home or online for a yearly fee has made it easier for fans to watch not only their team but any team on a regular basis. Here is where a player like Tony Gwynn comes in.
To show my age, I grew up in an era where I consider myself lucky compared to other fans. In an era before Inter-league Baseball, I could watch the Yankees play the American League teams on WPIX 11 while I could watch the Mets play the National League teams on WWOR 9 on network tv. So in theory I could see players from both leagues that other fans didn't have a chance to see regularly. Add to this we had the Baseball Game of the Week which was shown on Saturday afternoons and for a brief time ABC Monday Night Baseball then Thursday Night Baseball in the 1970's through the late 1980's.
Sportscenter? Fughettaboutit. I would catch up on player accomplishments by pouring over the box scores in either the New York Daily News or the New York Post, watching the Mel Allen narrated This Week in Baseball (How About That!!!) usually on before the Baseball Game of the Week and late night on the weekends with The George Michael Sports Machine. So to watch players like Tony Gwynn was a special treat that came along once in a while. Since the Padres weren't in the playoffs very often, the only time I really got to watch Gwynn was in the Mid-Summer Classic.
To watch the very best of the Major Leagues on the same field during the All-Star Game was (and I still believe that it is) a very special thing. Granted, like John states that the popularity of the game has diminished, I still think the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game still makes it something special. I really can't point to any particular at-bat that Tony Gwynn had during the All-Star games I saw him in. But the fact that back then in the era where Baseball fans had limited options to see opposing players, I have small moments in time where I saw players like Tony Gwynn ply their trade.
The world today lost a good man. Gwynn was a teacher and an amazingly classy role model in a world of selfish sports figures. He spoke with his bat rather than his mouth. He wasn't built with the best physique. He didn't have to. Gwynn was the player who came closest to the magical .400+ batting average in 1994 with a .394 average. If the players strike didn't prematurely end the 1994 season, who knows where he would have finished. His hero, Ted Williams was the last player to finish with a .400+ average in 1941 with a .406 average. He represented his hometown of San Diego with pride and given the chance to leave the Padres for potentially more lucrative contracts elsewhere, Gwynn decided to spend his entire 20-year career in San Diego. As Gwynn was quoted in the New York Times during his final season: “Twenty years in one place, one city. It looks good.”
Indeed it does. Thank you for the memories Tony. That is one dominant lineup with you and the Splendid Splinter batting in front of you at the big ballpark in the sky. May You Rest in Peace.
I leave you with a small video by the National Baseball Hall of Fame entitled The Baseball Hall of Fame Remembers Tony Gwynn:
Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Tony Gwynn's career statistics from BaseballReference.com
- Click Here to accces the article by Chad Finn entitled Tony Gwynn: A Kindred Spirit Of Ted Williams, A Favorite Of Anyone Who Loves Baseball from Boston.com dated June 16, 2014
- Click Here to access Matt Snyder's article entitled Did the 1994 strike cost Tony Gwynn a .400 batting average? from CBS Sports Eye on Baseball website dated June 16, 2014