Tony Gwynn, in memoriam (1960-2014)

 Tony Gwynn at the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame induction parade.

Tony Gwynn at the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame induction parade.

Tony Gwynn dead June 16 at age 54 – what a shame. Think of Gwynn and you think of three things – tremendous hitter; lovely, smiling face; and class act.

I’ll never forget when Gwynn and his San Diego Padres played my beloved New York Yankees back in 1998 for the World Series. The ’98 Yanks were one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled. Yankee aficionados put them up there with the 1927 Bombers (the so-called Murderers’ Row that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) and the 1939 team that witnessed the passing of the torch from Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio.

So the poor Padres came up against a juggernaut in the 1998 fall classic and went down in four straight games. But Gwynn was stellar and stayed classy – gracious in victory and gracious in defeat.

When word came that he had succumbed to cancer of the mouth and salivary glands – the result of putting a wad of tobacco in his mouth, as many players did – you realized that as great as we are, that’s how flawed we are. At such moments, I’m reminded of these lines from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves

  By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

  Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

  The brave man with a sword!

Except I think Wilde got it wrong. I think each man is killed by the thing he loves. Smoking and tobacco products are a dance with the devil, who was no partner for a gentleman like Gwynn.