COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Feature on Cal Ripken
Revise changed Gwynn's vote to seventh highest, sted sixth.
History beckoned Tony Gwynn once before.
Before his Hall of Fame induction, before his 3,000th hit and at a time when he had just four of his eight career batting titles wrapped up, Gwynn chased the magic .400 barrier in 1994.
Like everything else in baseball that summer, Gwynn's quest was ended by labor strife. But after finishing with a .394 average -- the best mark since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941 -- Gwynn figured he'd get another chance.
"At the time, I thought: 'I just missed it this year, but I'll do it next year,'" Gwynn said. "I didn't realize it would be my only crack at it."
Falling short of goals became the exception for Gwynn. On Sunday, he'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame with the seventh-highest percentage ever after a 20-year career where he was widely viewed as one of the best contact hitters in the game's history.
Gwynn played from 1982-2001 with the San Diego Padres, amassing 3,141 hits and a .338 career average. The multi-sport star -- he was taken in the 10th round of the 1981 NBA draft by the San Diego Clippers -- showed his versatility on the baseball diamond, winning five Gold Gloves in right field and stealing 319 bases.
But it was at the plate that Gwynn carved out a reputation as one of the best to play the game. In 20 seasons, Gwynn totaled 1,383 runs, 1,138 RBIs and 543 doubles. He drew 790 walks compared with just 434 strikeouts -- an average of about 22 Ks per season. His average of one strikeout per every 21.4 times at bat is the best figure among hitters in the past 30 years.
"I was a contact hitter, not a home run hitter, but I put the bat on the ball," said the 47-year-old Gwynn, who is passing along his hitting skills these days as the head coach of San Diego State's baseball team. "I know my place, and there's a place in the game for guys like me. I'm very proud of the type of player I was and that I played on one team."
Gwynn broke into the majors in 1982 by hitting .289 -- his only big-league season with an average under .300. He won his first batting title in 1984 at .351, helping the Padres capture their first National League pennant. It also marked the first of Gwynn's 15 All-Star Game selections.
Gwynn won three straight batting crowns from 1987 through 1989, then won four more from 1994 through 1997. Along the way, Gwynn became an icon in San Diego, leading the Padres to another National League pennant in 1998. In his final postseason series, Gwynn hit .500 while the Yankees were sweeping the Padres in the '98 Fall Classic.
In the end, a World Series ring and a season above .400 were about the only goals he failed to achieve. But the always affable Gwynn isn't complaining.
"For me, I know it's awesome that if you look at the back of my baseball card, it says San Diego all the way down," said Gwynn, who is one of just 17 players to have played at least 20 seasons while spending their entire career with one team. "I was comfortable being who I was.
"All this at the Hall of Fame is great. But after this is over, I think I'm still the coach at San Diego State, and I'll be back to doing my thing."
Contact Craig Muder at email@example.com.
Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch