(USA TODAY) Tony Gwynn, the greatest player in San Diego Padres history and a Hall of Famer who studied the art of hitting with Ted Williams, died Monday morning after an extended battle with cancer.
He was 54.
Gwynn, whose 3,141 hits rank 19th on the all-time list, spent his entire 20-season career with the Padres, and was as revered for his upbeat and affable nature as his lifetime .338 average and eight batting titles. He earned election to the Hall of Fame with an overwhelming 97.6% of the vote, earning induction alongside Cal Ripken Jr.
"It is with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of Tony Gwynn," said Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame chairman of the board. "He was beloved by so many, especially the Hall of Fame family, for his kindness, graciousness and passion for the game. Tony was one of baseball history's most consistent hitters and most affable personalities. He was an icon for San Diego Padres fans, never more evident than on Induction Day of 2007, when tens of thousands of Tony's most appreciative fans filled Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame speech. We extend our deepest sympathies to Alicia and the entire Gwynn family."
Gwynn was a San Diego treasure, having played baseball and basketball at San Diego State University before the Padres selected him in the third round of the 1981 draft. He was a big leaguer for good a year later, helping a franchise best known for its brown and orange uniforms earn considerable credibility over the next two decades.
The Padres made the World Series in 1984, Gwynn's first season as a regular, and he finished third in MVP voting that season. They also won the NL pennant in 1998.
That came four years after perhaps the greatest what-if of his career. In 1994, Gwynn batted .394, but his season ended with everyone else's by the players' strike that canceled a World Series.
While stars like Ken Griffey Jr. were on pace to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record, Gwynn's season marked the most viable chance any player in recent history had to product a .400 batting average for the first time since Ted Williams in 1994.
Williams, a San Diego native, and Gwynn were fast friends and talked often about hitting. It was Williams, in an interview, that opined Gwynn was likeliest to duplicate his feat.
"Everybody wants to know, well, is he going to hit .400?" Williams asked in a joint interview with Gwynn in the 1990s. "Well, if there's anybody I'm gonna bet on now, I'm gonna bet on Tony."