Tony Gwynn's Hall of Fame plaque describes him as "an artisan with the bat," but that was only a part of what made him a special player and person. Gwynn spent his entire 20-year career in San Diego, earning the nickname "Mr. Padre." And his infectious smile, along with a distinctive cackling laugh, seemed to make the game more fun when Gwynn was around.
On Monday, baseball lost one of its most beloved personalities when Gwynn succumbed to cancer. He was 54.
In a statement, commissioner Bud Selig said: "Major League Baseball mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn, the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life.
"For more than 30 years, Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched."
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, had a .338 career batting average, and was hitting .394 through 110 games when the 1994 season was cut short by a players' strike. He won eight batting titles and collected 3,141 hits. Gwynn twice made it to the World Series, but the Padres fell short against the Tigers (1984) and Yankees ('98).
"Tony Gwynn was a remarkable baseball player and a great human being, too," former Yankees and Mets pitcher David Cone said. "He was absolutely the toughest hitter I ever had to face in my career. Toughest out, quickest hands, best bat control. Just a remarkable hitter. The best I ever faced."
Gwynn endured two operations to remove cancerous tumors in his cheek - he believed the cause was chewing tobacco - and since March had been on medical leave from his position as baseball coach at San Diego State. He is survived by his wife, Alicia, daughter, Anisha, and son, Tony Jr., an outfielder for the Phillies.
"Since his diagnosis, Tony displayed the same tenacity and drive in his fight against this horrible disease that he brought to the plate in every at-bat of his Hall of Fame career," said Tony Clark, executive director of the Players Association. "Growing up in San Diego, I was inspired by Tony's passion for excellence, and I was honored to have played against him as a major-leaguer."
Gwynn, with a sweet lefthanded swing, often aimed for what he referred to as the "5.5" hole between third base and shortstop. In tribute, the Tigers put those numbers on their infield at Comerica Park for Monday night's game against the Royals.
"He probably put more into hitting than anybody I've ever met," said Pete Rose, baseball's exiled hit king with 4,256. "Fifty-four years old is way too young."
Gwynn retired after the 2001 season - he batted .324 in 71 games at age 41 - and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, along with Cal Ripken Jr. Gwynn was a two-sport star at San Diego State, where he played point guard. The Padres picked him in the third round of the 1981 draft, and Gwynn made his major-league debut only a year later.
Perhaps his most amazing statistic was his 434 strikeouts in 2,440 games, and he whiffed just once every 21 at-bats.
"I just remember how classy he was and the way he carried himself," Cone said. "He wasn't that kind of showboat type of athlete. He'd get his three or four hits every game, acted like he did it before, and did it again the next day."