Tony Gwynn passed away today at the young age of 54 after battling salivary gland cancer the last few years. Tony was an inspirational role model to me. It wasn’t so much what he accomplished that inspired me…although his accomplishments are mind boggling…but how he went about it. Tony was always low-key and understated, never self-promoting, yet the consummate professional. I always admired how Tony handled himself, not just as a player, but as a man.
While in high school I followed Tony’s career at San Diego State University, where he was an All-America athlete in both basketball and baseball. I graduated high school in 1984, Tony’s first full season in the majors and the year he helped lead the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance. It was a magical time in San Diego and was the beginning of a love affair between Tony and the city. I, like so many other people, grew from childhood to adulthood watching Tony play baseball for the hometown team.
Tony went on to become the premier hitter of his generation and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. As a youth baseball coach for 15 years, Tony was my constant example to the kids of how to play the game the right way. I always told my players that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that it teaches so many life lessons. The long season, full of highs and lows, is a metaphor for our experiences in life. Tony taught me a number of lessons that I’ve tried to apply in my work and life:
- Approach your work as a craftsman – Tony was a master craftsman when it came to hitting a baseball. It was both an art and science to him and he studied it endlessly. Tony was a pioneer in the use of video to study his own at-bats as well as opposing pitchers. Tony has inspired me to approach my own career as a craftsman. Every day is an opportunity to improve my craft. Tony once said that “You can’t live on what you did yesterday. You have to go out and prove yourself every day.”
- Show loyalty – Tony spent his entire 20 year career with Padres, a rarity in today’s world of superstar athletes auctioning their services to the highest bidding team. Tony knew what he wanted, where he wanted to live and raise his family, and he placed a higher priority on those goals than simply making a buck. Loyalty breeds trust, and Tony was trusted to always be loyal. He’s called “Mr. Padre” for a reason.
- Be dedicated – Of course Tony is known as a great hitter, and rightly so. He was so dedicated that he would hit thousands of balls off a tee to hone the mechanics of his swing. But Tony also became a very good outfielder because of his dedicated work habits. He wanted to be known as an excellent defensive player and he worked hard at it, eventually winning five Gold Glove awards. Although he wasn’t blessed with outstanding arm strength or range in the field, Tony made up for it with expert positioning in the field and knowledge of opposing hitters. Tony displayed his dedication by working endless hours, always on a quest to be the best player he could be.
- Have fun – Tony loved to play. He enjoyed the process of playing baseball, from practice, to the actual game, to post-game film breakdown, it was all fun to Tony. Tony always had a smile on his face and a laugh to share. His joyful, positive approach to life was the perfect antidote to a game predicated on failure. Even during his cancer treatments in the last few years of his life, he always had a positive outlook that tomorrow would be a brighter day
Tony was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, an honor worthy of being this generation’s greatest batsman. Today, Tony joined the eternal hall of fame, an honor worthy of a man who lived his life as a positive role model to me and so many others.