When someone dies, as Tony Gwynn did earlier today, we are required by unspoken law to only speak warmly of the departed.
That’s why, in the ensuing days, you are certain to hear how Gwynn, the Hall of Famer and legendary San Diego Padre, was the greatest, best, most awesome, most amazing person of all time.
Which, to many, he may have been.
Yet Gwynn’s greatness as a hitter—which is vividly displayed in a .338 lifetime average and 3,141 career hits—can be attributed to more than a keen eye and quick wrists.
Tony Gwynn was selfish.
But wait. This is no insult. Rod Carew was selfish. George Brett was selfish. Wade Boggs was selfish. Ichiro was selfish. The tie that binds many of the all-time greatest hitters is a single-minded determination and selfishness to reach base with a hit, no matter circumstance or situation. Throughout Gwynn’s career, I heard teammates quietly complain that he was all about the hits, even at the expense of, say, moving a runner over. It’s the same stuff that’s been uttered about other .300 hitters and while—technically—it’s sometimes true, it’s the kind of thinking that fails to understand the precise greatness of the contact hitter.
See, men like Gwynn and Boggs and Carew and Ichiro and Brett (to a lesser extent) fed off of doing what they mastered; off of making contact and placing a round object on a soft green surface. If, at times, this pursuit didn’t match up with team goals, well, so be it. Every mind works in a specific way, and a master hitter’s mind works in an even more specific way.
Tony Gwynn was all about the hits.
That’s what made him special.