Tony Gwynn, Baseball Batting Champion, Dies of Cancer at 54

Tony Gwynn, a baseball Hall of Famer who won eight National League batting titles during a two-decade career with the San Diego Padres, has died of cancer. He was 54.

Gwynn, who disclosed he had cancer of the salivary glands in 2010, died today at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, California, the National Baseball Hall of Fame said in an e-mailed news release.

“We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn,” the Padres said on Twitter. “Rest in peace, Mr. Padre.”

Gwynn had surgery in February 2012 to remove a cancerous tumor inside his right cheek, and he had a malignant growth removed from the same spot in August 2010. Gwynn blamed smokeless-tobacco use for the cancer, saying that he used it throughout his professional career.

Gwynn took a leave of absence as the baseball coach at San Diego State University, his alma mater, in March. He held that position since the 2003 season. He retired from the major leagues in 2001 after being named to 15 All-Star Games and recording 3,141 hits, which rank 19th in major-league history.

He played for the Padres from 1982 to 2001 and retired with a .338 batting average. Gwynn hit a career-high .394 in 1994 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

‘Greatest Padre’

Calling Gwynn “the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said that Gwynn was equally accomplished for his off-the-field contributions to the sport.

“For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched,” Selig said in an e-mailed statement.

Gwynn was awarded baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award, its highest off-the-field honor, in 1999. In 1995, he received baseball’s Branch Rickey Award, given for community service. That year he and his wife established the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation to help underprivileged children in the San Diego area.

Tony Gwynn Stadium at San Diego State, where he also was the starting point guard on the Aztecs’ basketball team, opened for the 1997 season. There is a street named after Gwynn and a statue of him outside Petco Park in San Diego, and his No. 19 jersey was retired by the Padres in 2004.

Long Beach

Anthony Keith Gwynn was born May 9, 1960, and grew up in Long Beach, California, attending Long Beach Poly High School. He arrived at San Diego State as a highly-recruited point guard.

Gwynn played only basketball during his freshman year, he joined the baseball team as a sophomore and became a two-time All-American as an outfielder. As a basketball player, he still holds the Aztecs’ records with 221 assists in a season and 590 during his career.

On June 10, 1981, Gwynn was drafted by both the Padres in the third round and the National Basketball Association’s then-San Diego Clippers in the 10th round. He chose baseball.

Gwynn made his major-league debut on July 19, 1982, going 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. He finished the season with a .289 average. It was the last time he would bat below .309 as a professional.

Batting Titles

Gwynn won his first batting title in 1984 with a .351 average. He also led the NL from 1987-1989 and from 1994-1997.

Former All-Star outfielder Joe Carter, who was Gwynn’s club teammate prior to turning professional and again on the Padres in 1990, called Gwynn a “surgeon with the baseball bat.” The most strikeouts he ever had in a season was 40, in 1988. Gwynn also stole 319 bases in his career, peaking with 56 during the 1987 season.

“He could do whatever he wanted,” Carter said today on ESPN. “He is Mr. Padre, he is Mr. San Diego. That is his legacy.”

Playing most of his career as a right-fielder, Gwynn won five Gold Gloves as the NL’s best player at that position. He also helped the Padres to two NL titles, in 1984 and 1998.

Joining Ripken

He was elected to the Hall of Fame alongside Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007, his first year of eligibility. Gwynn received 532 of a possible 547 votes, or 97.6 percent.

“I thought that I had a chance to get here and wasn’t sure but that day, it dawned on me that you know what, you’ve had a pretty good career,” Gwynn said in his Hall of Fame induction speech about his Oct. 7, 2001, retirement. “I loved the game. I think that’s why you guys are here today, because you love the game, you have a passion for it. I have a passion for it. I still have a passion for it. I just don’t play any more.”

Gwynn’s brother Chris played 10 major-league seasons, including 81 games with the Padres in 1996. His brother Charles played baseball at Cal State Los Angeles.

Gwynn is survived by his wife, Alicia, and two children, Anthony and Anisha. Tony Gwynn Jr., who played under his father at San Diego State, is an eight-year major-league outfielder who is currently playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor,” Tony Gwynn Jr. said on Twitter. “I’m gonna miss u so much pops. I’m gonna do everything in my power to make u proud!”

Anisha is a recording artist who goes by the name Anisha Nicole.

Funeral arrangements weren’t disclosed.

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