12/27/06 10:00 AM ET
Gwynn recalls father as big day nears
With Hall beckoning, outfielder thinks of his mentor
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
"He was one of my biggest fans," Gwynn said about his late dad. "When I got up to the big leagues [in 1982] he saw a lot of things that I couldn't see. He saw me doing things that I couldn't see myself doing."When the Padres made the World Series in 1984 at the end of Gwynn's first full season, one in which he led the National League with a .351 average -- his first of eight batting titles -- the two danced around the kitchen table with glee. Ten years later, as the Padres traded off high-priced stars Fred McGriff, Bruce Hurst and Gary Sheffield, his father urged his son to leave. "'You've got to go,'" said Gwynn, quoting his father in a 1999 article printed in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "'They're not trying to win down there. You deserve to win.' I said, 'But Dad, I'm happy here. This is where I was meant to be. San Diego and me, we're a perfect fit.'" Shortly thereafter, his father died of a massive heart attack. The death stunned Gwynn to his core. So much so that when a former Padres teammate, Eric Show, died later that year from a drug overdose, Gwynn couldn't find the will to attend the funeral. This past season, when Gwynn's son was called up to the Majors and debuted for the Brewers at Arizona, Gwynn was there and couldn't help but recall his own father. "I think of him a lot," the 46-year-old Gwynn said with a chuckle. "When Anthony got called up and I went to his game, I know I was proud, but he would've been cheering big time. He would've had the time of his life in Arizona, man. I hate to fly, and he hated to fly, too. We would've been in the car driving to Arizona to watch Anthony play, cutting it up and having a good old time. I'm sure he would've gotten a kick out of that, too." But on that final bit of fatherly advice, Gwynn went his own way. Despite several chances to test the free-agent market, Gwynn decided to remain in San Diego. He's the first player on the Hall of Fame ballot to play his entire career for the Padres, and he'll undoubtedly be the first pure Padre elected to the Hall. There are others in the shrine with San Diego ties: Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry and Willie McCovey. But Gwynn, with his lifetime .338 average, will have the finest San Diego pedigree. "One of the things I'm proudest about is that I played for one team," Gwynn said. "My baseball card looks awesome because it has San Diego all the way down. I grew up in an environment where that kind of stuff was important. Loyalty was a small part of it. It was a matter of it being comfortable, of being in a place where I could do what I did without a lot of external pressure. This was just the place." It was 120 miles from his home and heart. A hop, skip and a jump from family. Still is. Save for the one member who will be there in spirit this coming July when Gwynn celebrates his next big day.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.