Any San Diegan knows the name Tony Gwynn. Considered to be one of the greatest athletes ever to play Major League Baseball, Gwynn’s death on June 16th was a great loss to both the athletic community and all of San Diego.An alumnus of San Diego State University and one of its greatest athletes, Tony Gwynn exemplified what it meant to be an Aztec for Life.
Gwynn arrived at San Diego State on a basketball scholarship in 1977 as a highly-recruited point guard. Gwynn didn’t even play baseball his freshman year, concentrating instead on basketball which he played all four years at State. Still one of SDSU’s all-time great point guards, Gwynn tied the school record for assists in a single game, with 18 against UNLV in 1980. Gwynn still holds the Aztec record for assists in a season (221) and a career (590). He averaged 5.5 per game over the course of his NCAA career. His 8.2 assists per game during the 1979-80 season is the best ever for an Aztec.
Gwynn didn’t pick up a bat for the Aztecs until 1979. Playing two sports back-to-back left Gwynn little time in-between, yet he proved himself to be just as much a powerhouse on the diamond as he was on the court. In 1981, Gwynn concluded his final basketball season with a 16-point, 16-assist performance against New Mexico. Just 48 hours later he was on the baseball field, taking on a double header against Southern California College, where he went 3-for-7 with two game-winning RBI’s, three runs scored, five runs batted in, a stolen base, and a double. He was an All-American outfielder for two of his three seasons playing baseball at State and was named to the all-Western Athletic Conference basketball team twice. Gwynn remains the only athlete in Western Athletics Conference history to be honored as an all-conference player in two sports.
Later that year, the San Diego Padres selected Gwynn as their third round draft pick. He would go on to play for the Padres for the next 20 years, spending his entire Major League Baseball career with the team. Gwynn showed a steadfast dedication to his craft, video-recording every game, every swing, and every hit on the field and reviewing them all later in detail for ways he could improve his skills as a hitter. Gwynn retired in 2001 with a total of 3,141 hits and a lifetime batting average of .338, the highest average of his contemporaries. After retiring from baseball, Gwynn returned to SDSU where he was named the Aztecs’ head baseball coach in September 2001, taking over the position from Jim Dietz, Gwynn’s old coach from his college days. In his coaching career, Gwynn would lead the Aztecs to the 2004 Mountain West Conference regular-season title at the same time winning the league’s Coach of the Year award.
Off the field, Gwynn’s star shone just as brightly. He and his wife Alicia went on to found the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation to serve underprivileged children. Gwynn’s philanthropic endeavors and exceptional community service earned him the Branch Rickey Award in 1995. That same year, he was presented with the inaugural Chairman's Award, given to the San Diego Padre who best exemplifies community spirit. Four years later, Gwynn was the recipient of both the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award and the coveted Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award for his devotion to the community and his athletic prowess. His induction into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 came as a surprise to no one.
Tony Gwynn was a man of unique talent and sterling character, whose Hall-of-Fame life will be remembered well into the future. He made San Diego, the Padres, and San Diego State proud. An Aztec for Life, indeed.
Written by Lauren Rasmussen.