By Father Gabe Costa
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The late Art Rust Jr., “Sportstalk” show pioneer, used to refer to Yankee Stadium as “the big ball orchard in the South Bronx.”

Well, a few days ago, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn went to the “big ball orchard in the sky.”

Heaven’s gain is our loss.

Anthony Keith Gwynn, Sr. was born in Los Angeles, California on May 9th, 1960. A left-handed batter and thrower, he was drafted by the San Diego Padres 21 years later. Beginning in 1982, and for the next nineteen years of his major league tenure, Gwynn would never wear a baseball uniform other than one which represented the Padres.

No one in the history of the franchise would every play better than outfielder Tony Gwynn.

With the exception of 1988, Gwynn would be selected for the National League All-Star team every year from 1984 to 1999. By the way, even though he was not selected for the Senior Circuit’s squad in 1988, he did lead the National League in batting with a .313 mark.

Gwynn would win seven other league batting titles, including an outstanding .394 in the truncated 1994 campaign. With the exception of Ty Cobb, nobody in the history of the National Pastime ever won more batting crowns than Gwynn.

Gwynn’s lifetime batting average of .338 ties him with 19th-Century Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett and early 20th-Century immortal Nap Lajoie for 18th place on the all time list.

Mr. Padre batted .371 in two World Series appearances and had an on-base-percentage of .436, which was 48 points higher that his career OBP of .388.

Seven times Gwynn led the National League in hits. His 3,141 safeties put him 19th on the career list for most hits.

Although Gwynn was not a home run slugger, he did manage to hit 135 circuit clouts and his lifetime on-base-plus-slugging mark of .847 puts him ahead of the likes of Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Kirby Puckett and Carl Yastrzemski.

During his career, Gwynn stole 319 bases in 444 attempts, giving him a success rate of nearly 72 percent.

While Gwynn never won an MVP award, he did receive votes during a dozen seasons, finishing as high as third in 1984. In 1995 he won the Branch Rickey Award. Three years later he copped the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, and in 1999 he received the Roberto Clemente Award.

And it was Tony Gwynn who, most fittingly, stood next to Ted Williams as a support, looking on as the Splendid Splinter threw out the first ball of the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park.

In 2007, Gwynn became a first ballot Hall of Famer, garnering 97.6 percent of the votes cast.

By all accounts, Gwynn was a great player, and an even better person. Various forms of media have been flooded with stories about this animated, personable, compassionate human being who spoke with a high pitched voice and always had a smile on his face.

Undoubtedly, his use of smokeless tobacco affected Gwynn’s health. He died of salivary gland cancer at the age of 54. And all of us are the poorer for it.

Tony, enjoy the Big Ball Orchard in the Sky. Give my best to the Babe and Lou.

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