Following last week’s Hall of Fame election announcement, the latest edition of MLB Network Presents focuses on a man who was elected to the Hall with one of the ten highest percentages ever (97.61%, eighth-highest ever), San Diego Padres legend Tony Gwynn – one of the greatest hitters and most beloved figures in baseball history.
Mr. Padre tells the story of the life, career and untimely death of Gwynn, a lovable superstar and the greatest hitter of his generation. The hour-long documentary chronicles Gwynn’s unwavering dedication to become the best complete player he could be, from his late shift to baseball from basketball in college to his pioneering use of video to further perfect his natural hitting ability and the enormous effort he put into becoming a Gold Glove defender. Interviews with former Padres teammates and manager Bruce Bochy, Tim Flannery and Jack McKeon, longtime Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner, and former opponents including Hall of Famers Tony La Russa and Mike Schmidt, and Harold Reynolds indicate the lasting impact of Gwynn’s incredible on-field achievements and his approachable off-the-field attitude.
The film also looks at how Gwynn’s devastating loss to cancer in 2014 at just 54-years old was felt across the country, from his family and friends to the entire baseball community. Through interviews with his family, including his wife of 33 years Alicia Gwynn and their children, former Major Leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr. and daughter Anisha, Mr. Padre gives an in-depth profile of the man who endeared himself to the community of San Diego through his 20-year career as a Padre and his 12-year career as head coach of the San Diego State University (SDSU) baseball team.
The film is essentially divided into two halves – the first half discussing his playing career, and the second half discussing his post-playing career and sudden death. The first half focuses on Gwynn’s success in college at San Diego State as both a baseball and basketball player, his meteoric rise through the Padres organization, and his continued success as a hitter in the majors for the duration of his career. Interviews with Gwynn’s friends and family are featured (as you’d expect), and his relationship with Ted Williams is also discussed.
The second half of the film (really, the last quarter to third of the film) is centered around Gwynn’s post-playing career, which includes his coaching career at San Diego State and his untimely death from cancer. Stephen Strasburg, the most noteworthy player to play under Gwynn for the Aztecs who also grew up in San Diego, is prominently featured as someone who looked up to Gwynn his entire life.
Gwynn’s battle with cancer is also discussed, and understandably gets emotional. His family talks about how much the cancer diagnosis and treatment took out of Gwynn, and how difficult it was knowing Gwynn’s chewing tobacco addiction is what eventually killed him.
Gwynn’s career, even though it took place in the 80s and 90s when baseball was becoming more widespread on television, somehow remains criminally underrated and undercovered. I think there are several reasons for that – he spent his entire career (even after his playing career was finished) in San Diego, hardly a traditional powerhouse market for Major League Baseball. Gwynn’s Padres made just three Postseason appearances during his 20 year career, winning the NL pennant in both 1984 and 1998 before getting dispatched in five and four games by the Tigers and Yankees, respectively.
It’s tough to come up with an active player comparable to Gwynn, if only because an athlete rarely spends his entire life, from birth to death and every moment in between, associated with one city. Joe Mauer could be an example of an active player who checks all of the boxes…if he signs another contract with the Twins after his current deal expires, collects 1,000 more hits, and is elected to the Hall of Fame. Athletes like Tony Gwynn don’t come along every day, and it’s a shame that he’s seemingly been forgotten about so quickly after the end of his career and his death.
Mr. Padre airs at 8 PM ET on Tuesday, January 30th on MLB Network.