Gwynn garners grand praise
Teammates, coaches reflect on Hall of Famer's career
SAN DIEGO -- Tim Flannery was in his fourth season with the Padres and his first as the club's regular second baseman when the highly touted young outfielder arrived on the scene July 19, 1982.
San Diego never would be quite the same.
Tony Gwynn had two hits in his Major League debut that night against the Philadelphia Phillies -- and the hits just kept on coming for two decades.
When Gwynn was selected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, a first-ballot choice by the Baseball Writers' Association of America with 97.6 percent of the vote, Flannery was in a reflective mood at his home north of PETCO Park, recalling those good old days.
"We had heard about Tony Gwynn, this talented kid -- and it was so great when he came up to see that he was the real thing," Flannery said. "Right away, he hit it off with everybody. He had that smile and great attitude he'd always carry with him.
"Our manager, Dick Williams, was hard on Tony -- like he was hard on everybody. But Tony handled it the way he handled everything, with such great professionalism. We knew right away he was special. There was no way you could miss it."
Flannery doesn't recall the specifics of that debut, but he carried the distinction of scoring on Gwynn's first RBI, a sacrifice fly. That came before Gwynn doubled against Sid Monge in the eighth inning -- his first Major League hit -- and a single to center in the ninth against Ron Reid.
The Phillies' first baseman, Pete Rose, joked with the kid about how he was trying to catch him on the hit list in one day.
Flannery, recently named third-base coach for the San Francisco Giants by new manager Bruce Bochy, coached the Padres under Bochy, who managed Gwynn from 1995-2001.
"He never felt like he arrived as a hitter, as an outfielder, a baserunner," said Bochy, who attended Gwynn's ceremony at PETCO Park on Tuesday, alongside another of his San Diego coaches, Rob Picciolo. "He was relentless in being the best baseball player he could be. That's why he has eight batting titles and why he is headed for the Hall of Fame."
"Great player, great teammate, great person," Picciolo added. "Tony was a pleasure to be around -- and everything he's getting now is richly deserved."
Flannery, a distinguished musician, was preparing for a concert performance later Tuesday, but his heart was with Gwynn.
"The hit I remember most by Tony was in the '84 playoffs [against the Chicago Cubs]," Flannery said. "I was on second base and he drove the ball past Ryne Sandberg, a one-hopper that carried all the way to the gap in right-center.
"That ball was scalded. They're still saying Sandberg could have made the play, but that was a one-hopper over his head that split the gap."
Gwynn acknowledged on Tuesday that it very likely was the most important hit of his career, driving home the go-ahead runs in the decisive game of the National League Championship Series and sending the Padres on to their first World Series against Detroit.
The Fall Classic ended in five games, with frustration for the Padres, but Gwynn had established himself that season as one of the game's premier players. He won his first batting crown while finishing third in the National League's MVP voting.
"I saw him from so many perspectives," Flannery said. "One year I got to lead off, and he hit behind me. He was an artist with that bat, a magician. It was such a privilege to call him a teammate.
"So many things about Tony didn't change along the way. His work habits were unlike anything I've ever seen. Even hitting when he was .390, getting four hits the night before, he'd come to the park for early [batting practice] the next day.
"It wasn't by accident he's in the Hall of Fame. He earned it with his work ethic. I mean, he was obsessed with his hitting."
Never separating himself or playing any star roles, Gwynn loved being one of the guys -- up to a point.
"After games," Flannery said, "we'd all go out -- and Tony would go back to his room and study video of the next day's pitcher, his swing ... he never stopped trying to get better.
"He was an innovator with video. Now everybody's doing it. He was ahead of his time in so many ways."
Gwynn's generosity was another of his endearing qualities, Flannery recalled.
"He never forgot his coaches," Flannery said. "The years he won batting titles, he'd buy all of us beautiful Louisville Slugger jackets for throwing batting practice.
"He's given me beautiful bats that I've put away in safe places -- because I knew he was going to be a Hall of Famer."
Like Gwynn, Flannery played his entire career, 11 years worth, in a Padres uniform, falling 2,510 hits short of his celebrated teammate.
"He'll be no different now that he's a Hall of Famer," Flannery said. "He's a perfect fit for San Diego. He's a San Diego treasure.
"Tony was smart enough to know where he belonged, where he needed to be in order to be successful. He never said the grass was greener somewhere else. He could have been a bigger name, made more money somewhere else, but he said, 'Do I need that?'
"He made the right choice. I've always been proud to say I was his teammate. It was an honor and a privilege to play with the great Tony Gwynn."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.