By Jason Keidel
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While stuck in the muck of an election year, your television explodes with angry politicians flaunting their virtues while flouting their enemy’s vices.
But some guys erase the partisan line, folks for whom you reflexively clap even when he wears the wrong colors.
Guys like Tony Gwynn.
We just learned that the baseball legend has parotid cancer. (The parotid is the largest salivary gland.) Gwynn is scheduled to undergo about two more months of treatment, including radiation five times a week and chemotherapy once a week.
Many Web sites convey his statistical dominance but not his dignity. Gwynn raised cash to fight cancer long before he realized he had it himself. His list of charities – from disease research to disadvantaged kids – is so expansive that I’d have to write another column to cover them all.
Sports need dignitaries like Gwynn, whose achievements are not commensurate with his ability to tweet his latest sneaker deal. People like Gwynn help others without the backup of a PR machine, or use their kindness as an embellished form of foxhole prayer. Forgive the cliché, but he’s someone you want your daughter to date and your son to emulate.
Built like Ralph Kramden while he hit like Ted Williams, Gwynn crouched low in the batter’s box as if to hide his baby fat. But there was no baby in his bat. An All-Star 15 times, Gwynn might be the greatest hitter since Williams never to win a World Series title (with all due respect to Ernie Banks and the like).
He fit the montage of our pastime: a man who looked like a boy and swung like a savant, his high-pitch monotone reflecting someone who grew up just enough to make a living at playing a game. In reality, he was alarmingly articulate and studious before the convenience of computers.
In the epoch of Internet, ADD reportage when a story 12 hours old is too old, Tony Gwynn is a time portal for those of us straddling 40, when our knowledge of a player was limited to the back of his baseball card, often coated with the sugary dust of the pink gum that came with every pack.
While Brett Favre struts back to New York, the scene of some unseemly deeds on and off the turf, it would be easy to stomp a man whose self-absorption is so thorough he’d make Narcissus blush. It is a story that folks and fools like me would normally use for literary target practice. He’s not worth it. Gwynn is.
There’s speculation that Gwynn’s cancer was triggered by tobacco use. “I haven’t discussed that with the doctors yet, but I’m thinking it’s related to dipping,” Gwynn told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Dr. Kevin Brumund, a neck and throat specialist at the UCSD Moores Cancer Center, told the newspaper that there have been no studies linking parotid cancer and chewing tobacco. Even if science does reveal such a link, it doesn’t make Gwynn any less sympathetic nor should it dull our desire to cheer for him.
In today’s culture, diseases spawn specious causes by people too bored to build their own careers, standing on their prerogative as an “activist.” With nouveaux enemies like salt, soda, and fried food, we’re implored to join a herd with no purpose other than to dictate someone else’s purpose.
Too tangential? Perhaps. But I just want to root for a great hitter and a great human without the static of societal mantras.
One of the most staggering numbers on Gwynn’s stat sheet is that after two decades of pro baseball and 3141 hits, he had just 434 strikeouts – the emblem of a man with the skill and, even better, the will to treat his talent with the care it deserved.
Forgive the fruity baseball metaphor, but we should applaud this hero while he knocks his troubles out of the park.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com