Remembering Tony Gwynn.

Following Tony Gwynn’s death last year, I posted this on 90 Feet of Perfection. I’ve since launched this blog with a name in honor of him, so it’s only fitting that I share it again, one year after his death. Needless to say, it still hurts and I’m still in shock that my childhood hero is gone.
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Southern Oregon was a long way from San Diego, but my family always maintained our roots; particularly when it came to sports. It was my Dad who officially introduced me to baseball and I still remember the conversation quite well. I must have been in second grade at the time and he explained a little about the game and told me about the San Diego Padres. To be honest, I didn’t think too much of the conversation, but I knew that my parents, grandmother and older brothers all liked baseball, so I wasn’t turned off by the idea. Around the same time, I remember kids starting to play little league and being slightly jealous. Not that they were actually playing, but more so that I could not take part in the conversations about their games. Related to this, a lot of kids I knew went to the local Medford A’s games and in turn were fans of the Oakland A’s. I almost feel like it was the “cool” thing to do. The same went for collecting and trading baseball cards. After a short period of time, I wanted in on all of these things as well and before that year was over, I was consumed by it all.

I come from a family of long-time San Diego Padres fans and that for some members of my family, this goes back to the days of the old Pacific Coast League Padres. Once I personally became interested in the team, this meant getting my hands on every single Padres baseball card possible. I remember being absolutely fascinated with the brown and orange that Padres players donned on my 1987 & 1988 Topps cards. However, what captivated me the most was the guy who wore #19 for the Padres, Tony Gwynn.

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I have so many fond childhood memories that involve Tony Gwynn on some level or another: I remember the Gwynn-related magazine and newspaper clippings on my bedroom walls. I remember countless conversations with family about him. I remember my Grandma meeting him on different occasions and her telling him about me and even attempting to organize a phone call between us, which, unfortunately, never successfully happened. I remember saving paper route money to buy an autographed photo of him. I remember my Mom getting me his 1983 Fleer rookie card for Christmas one year and just staring at it in amazement. I remember seeing his 2000th career hit in person and being so happy that tears came to my eyes. I remember attempting to negotiate a trade for a Gwynn Donruss card that my brother got in a pack while playing left field during a little league game (he was behind a fence watching and had just opened a pack). I remember writing #19 on bills of my caps. I honestly can go on and on.

In a way, I think it’s safe to say that Tony Gwynn was and is a big part of who I am. I’ve always thought this was odd, since, in many ways, I’ve always disliked the idea of idolizing people. I guess Tony Gwynn is one of the few exceptions I’ve made in regards to this.

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Like many people, I knew he was sick. I knew the cancer had returned and that he was being treated again. However, this time was different as there was an uneasiness about it all. All you had to do was read between the lines to know that something was very wrong. He was not able to attend the 1984 San Diego Padres celebration back in May and speculation began that this was quite serious. Still, when I got the news the morning Tony passed away, I was in complete shock. At first, I didn’t think it was possible and I felt numb. This quickly changed and I have no problem admitting that I shed tears that day and on different occasions since. This is something I experienced when Jerry Coleman passed away in January, but with Tony, it went much deeper. The Padres, the city of San Diego, the world of baseball and many people I care about all lost someone that meant a lot to them. It shook me to my core.

I never met the guy, but he was my hero due to what he accomplished on the field and the person he was off the field. How I felt about the guy never changed. Even during the time in my life when interest in baseball often took a backseat to things like music and skateboarding, I always managed to check box scores and read articles to stay updated on how he was playing. There’s a reason I kept everything from my childhood Tony Gwynn collection and have continued to add to it in adulthood. Simple enough, the guy was special and had an impact on me.

San Diego Padres v Chicago Cubs

My grandmother passed away this last November and my whole life, up until she got sick, I would call her and talk about baseball. Specifically the Padres, and for many years this meant Tony Gwynn. She would have been heartbroken if she knew that Tony had passed at such an early age. She absolutely adored the man. I spent a lot of my childhood talking to my own late mother about this him as well. She also thought he was great, although her favorite all-time Padre was Goose Gossage. Since Tony passed away, I’ve had multiple conversations with my Dad about him. What I’m getting at is that Tony Gwynn was special and impacted so many people in a positive way and in my case, he impacted 3 generations of my family. I have a hard time believing that this is unique to just my family.

Sportswriter Barry Bloom recently said that “Tony Gwynn may be the single most important sports figure in history to a single community.” To some, this may be a bold statement, but not me, I believe in it wholeheartedly. Like many people, I’m still having a hard time grasping the fact that this person, who was a big part of my childhood and represents so much about the game I love, has passed away.

With that said, it brings me joy knowing that there was a Tony Gwynn in this world and while growing up, I had such a great guy to look up to.

Mr. Padre may be gone, but I think it’s safe to say that he will never be forgotten.

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Bridging the Gap: The PCL Padres & MLB Padres (Part 1).

1936 & 1969 Padres(the 1936 inaugural PCL Padres & 1969 inaugural MLB Padres)

It’s no secret that I love baseball history. I’m serious, I LOVE it. Along with the Negro Leagues, the history of the old Pacific Coast League is my favorite era in the history of the game. I’m from the West Coast, so my interests are definitely shaped by where I’m from and for many people out here, the “old” or “classic” PCL (1903 to 1957) was the closest thing they had to big league baseball until MLB’s westward expansion in 1958.

I come from the frame of mind that I wish Major League Baseball never expanded to the West Coast. I’m aware that this sounds odd, but I wish the PCL succeeded in their goal of becoming the “third major league.” For a period of time this looked like a possibility as the league was granted open classification in 1952. However, by 1957 this became a pipedream when both the Dodgers and Giants committed to relocating out West the following season. The PCL would never recover and it soon became just another MLB affiliated minor league. Good or bad, this is what the league still functions as to this day.

On different levels, the Padres had one of the more interesting histories in the PCL. After losing their bid for an MLB expansion team in 1961 to the Angels, San Diego was later successful in 1969. After expansion was granted to San Diego, an almost seamless transition from having an affiliated minor league team for over a decade, to now having a Major League baseball team quickly took place. With the same name, same owner in C. Arnholt Smith and even the same home in Jack Murphy Stadium (then known as San Diego Stadium), the city of San Diego essentially experienced a “graduation” in regards to their baseball team. As they say, the rest is history.

With all this said, I recently found myself wondering if anyone had played for both the PCL Padres and MLB Padres? If anyone had, I knew it would more than likely be someone who played for the PCL Padres after the classic PCL era. Anyone playing professional baseball prior to this would probably be a bit too old to join an MLB expansion team over a decade later. After doing some research, it seemed as if I was correct in this assumption, but what did catch me off guard is that the list is kind of long. In any case, I thought it would be fun to make a list of these players and do a write up on each of them and their ties to San Diego.

So without further ado, here are the players that wore “Padres” across their chests for both the Pacific Coast League and the Major Leagues.

Roberto Peña
Roberto Pena 1969 Padres
Peña was an infielder who played for the PCL Padres in 1967 & 1968, during the team’s time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. He was then drafted in the 1968 expansion draft by the MLB Padres, where he played the 1969 season with the team. Playing three consecutive seasons in San Diego, which consisted of both PCL and MLB is kinda cool if you ask me. I recently came across THIS article regarding Peña, which is worth reading.

Steve Arlin
Steve Arlin San Diego Padres
Like Peña above, Arlin also spent back to back seasons in San Diego, as both a PCL and MLB Padre. He was a pitcher for the PCL team as a Philadelphia farmhand in 1968 and was later drafted in that year’s expansion draft by the MLB Padres. He played with the MLB Padres for parts of the next six seasons. Unfortunately, during his time in the big leagues with San Diego, Arlin is best known for leading the league in losses in back to back seasons (despite pitching pretty well) and losing a no-hitter in 1972 against the Phillies with two out in the ninth inning.

Jerry Johnson
Jerry Johnson San Diego Padres
Jerry Johnson was a pitcher for the PCL Padres in 1968, during their time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. He eventually signed with the MLB Padres in 1975, where he played the next two seasons. Johnson’s claim to baseball fame is related to nothing he actually did on the field, but a trade he was part of. In 1969, he was traded from the Phillies to the Cardinals in a seven player trade. Why is this significant? It was the famous Curt Flood trade, in which he challenged the reserve clause and eventually changed the game of baseball forever.

Lowell Palmer
Lowell Palmer San Diego Padres
Palmer was a pitcher for the PCL Padres in 1968, during their time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies. He later played for the MLB Padres in 1974, where he wrapped up his big league career, which lasted parts of five seasons with four teams. Not too much else to say about the guy besides the fact that he always wore glasses when he played. Sometimes it looked cool, other times it looked creepy. Google image search him, you’ll see what I mean.

Rick Wise
Rick Wise San Diego Padres
Wise may be the most recognizable name on this list due to the fact that he pitched for eighteen years in the big leagues and was an all-star in both 1971 and 1973 and even pitched a no-hitter for the Phillies in 1971. He played for the PCL Padres in 1966 during their time as the Phillies AAA affiliate and played for the MLB Padres for three seasons (1980-1982), before hanging up his spikes for good.

Gary Sutherland
Gary Sutherland San Diego Padres
Sutherland was an infielder for the PCL Padres in 1966 during their time as the AAA affiliate of the Phillies and played for the MLB Padres in 1977, for one of his thirteen seasons he spent in the big leagues. Both Sutherland’s father and brother also played professional baseball

Billy McCool
Billy McCool San Diego Padres
McCool played for the PCL Padres in 1963, during the team’s time as the AAA affiliate of the Reds. He later found himself back in San Diego after being drafted in the 1968 expansion draft by the MLB Padres. He was an all-star in 1966 with the Reds and has one of the “coolest” last names in baseball history (obviously).

So that’s everyone. It’s possible I could have missed someone, and if it comes to light that I did, I’ll update this post for reference reasons. In addition, I’ve written a part two for coaches and managers, which I suggest giving a read if you enjoyed this post.