Tom Verducci: ‘Gwynn Is Best Pure Hitter Of His Generation’
A lot of baseball writers talk to star players because they have to, but baseball writers talked to Tony Gwynn because they wanted to – and not just because he was so accommodating with his time.
“(Being) accommodating is always wonderful, but you always came away learning something from Tony Gwynn,” Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci said on The John Feinstein Show. “So it wasn’t (like), ‘Okay, Tony’s going to be available and he’s not going to say much, but at least he’s there.’ No, I always found it to be educational to talk to him, especially about hitting.”
“But he also saw the big picture of the game,” Verducci continued. “You could talk to him about the trends in the game, where things were headed, other teams, other hitters. Part of what made him such an extraordinary hitter was that (his) observation skills were tremendous. Those skills came into play when it came to talking about the game and other teams, his own team – just a really, really smart guy.”
Gwynn, who passed away Monday after a long battle with salivary gland cancer, was a career .338 hitter, a 15-time All-Star, an eight-time batting champion and a five-time Gold Glover. And yet, his personality endeared him to writers, fans and teammates alike.
“I can tell you I never saw Tony in a bad mood,” Verducci said. “I don’t know that he ever had a bad day. If he did, you couldn’t tell. He was the kind of guy who – (whether) you played with him, played against him, or (you were) a media person – you just wanted to be around Tony Gwynn. I think it’s the reason why people miss him.”
“I know everybody’s coming up with all these numbers,” Verducci continued, “and they’re amazing. It’s almost like they’re fictionalized, some of these numbers that tell you how good of a hitter he was. But the person Tony Gwynn was even more amazing.”
Need proof? Look no further than Gwynn’s time as head baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State. Not many Hall of Famers – especially ones with millions of dollars in the bank – go down that path.
“It’s a real job,” Verducci said. “That’s not just skating by on the reputation you made as a player. (That’s) a labor-intensive, time-intensive job. Let’s face it. He did it because he loved it and wanted to do it. I give him so much credit. Obviously the game was good to him, but giving back to the game in that kind of way and working with young people – really touching the lives of so many different people as a coach – I thought that was very impressive.”
And don’t let the 135 home runs over 20 seasons fool you. Gwynn had power.
“I think he’s the best pure hitter of his generation,” Verducci said. “When you just reduce hitting to putting the bat on the ball – and that’s really what it basically is – nobody did it better than Tony Gwynn in the modern era. He wasn’t a tremendous home run hitter, but he did have extra-base power.”
In fact, Gwynn is only one of five players in the history of the game who had more than 500 doubles and fewer than 500 strikeouts.
“This was not just Rod Carew slapping singles and dropping bunts,” Verducci said. “He was hitting balls over outfielders’ heads into gaps. And he could run, especially when he was younger.”
In 1987, Gwynn hit .370 and stole 56 bases. He is the only player to hit at least .370 and steal at least 50 bases in a season in the last 111 years.
Here’s another one for you: Since 1920, only three players had career averages of at least .330: Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Gwynn.
“I’d like to say he was a guy who could hit in the Dead Ball Era – with a premium on contact – and yet he did it in the modern game with the modern bullpen and the premium on strikeouts and the swing-and-miss pitches that everybody wants these days,” Verducci said. “Look around. There really was nobody like Gwynn.”