Tony Gwynn passed away today at the far too young age of 54, thanks to a toxic abuse of chewing tobacco throughout his playing career. As someone who never knew the man personally, and didn’t get to enjoy his playing career locally, I can only refer to those who did, and it sounds like the world has lost a tremendous human being. In reading about him, and knowing what I do about his statistical output, he’s always seemed a bit like Joe Mauer.
Gwynn went to San Diego State and was a multisport star and was actually recruited to play basketball there. Mauer was recruited to play football, but is a Minnesota native. They have made contract decisions that kept them in their home town long term. Obviously, these aren’t the only differences, and most angry Twins and will tell you that at least Tony Gwynn wasn’t overpaid, and that Mauer needs to hit more home runs for the kind of money he is making.
If your argument is that Tony Gwynn wasn’t paid well, then that’s merely a function of inflation. In the early 90s, Gwynn was one of the best paid players in the game. Before he got to that contract, Gwynn made his salary a big deal, and had conflicts with many of his teammates for a perceived selfish mentality. Additionally, some people in the locker room didn’t like his lack of RBI and penchant to hit to the opposite field or bunt to get on base. Mauer doesn’t bunt, but there certainly are a lot of naysayers talking about his penchant for opposite field hits and lack of RBI.
If your argument is that Mauer is being paid to hit home runs, whereas Gwynn was not fails to account for how similar Gwynn and Mauer were through their age 30 season.
Mauer and Gwynn demonstrated a good ability for getting on base through age 30, despite their ups and downs. Gwynn was more batting average, whereas Mauer draws more walks, but they were often on base.
So when you look at their slugging percentage and see that Mauer’s was slightly better early in his career and realize that Gwynn really only started hitting homers late in his career, while at the same time considering that Gwynn was getting a pretty high salary compared to the rest of the league, Mauer’s contract doesn’t seem too outrageous (although this year is undoubtedly an aberration). Any suggestion that Mauer *should* be hitting more home runs is pointing to one season and his body frame. Well, Gwynn didn’t look like someone who should have stolen that many bases either. Take these guys for what they are.
Tony Gwynn transcended these minor squibbles and has been regarded as one of the best players to ever grace the game. The San Diego area has embraced him as a pillar of the community, and he was beloved by everyone who came across him (except maybe Jack Clark). Regardless of any of the stastical analysis I put together, this is what’s important. Gwynn’s loss leaves a hole in San Diego, baseball, and most importantly, in the Gwynn family, and he will be dearly missed. RIP, Tony Gwynn.