I had the opportunity to tag along to interview Tony Gwynn yesterday in his office at Tony Gwynn Stadium. I traded my photography skills for a chance to submit a few questions and hang out with him for about a half hour. This was on the eve of his Hall of Fame announcement.
Do you think that your Hall of Fame status will help you as San Diego State University's baseball coach?
Not much. I think people on the outside think it's the natural advantage. If I do it, then the kids will have opportunity to play for a Hall of Famer. Kids are more astute then that. They want to win. I think I have a better chance of getting the kids I want if I win than I do if I go into the Hall of Fame. 5 years of experience tells me that. I'm getting to the point where I go recruiting and the parents know me. The kids aren't too sure.
Is there a different level of pressure or stress associated with being coach that as a player you didn't have?
When I was playing I just had to worry about me. Just worry about the things that I need to do to get myself ready. Now I am responsible for 39 guys and 4 coaches.
I'm having more fun, believe it or not. You play 20 years, had a ball, no question about it, really enjoyed it. Enjoyed going to work everyday, just not as much as I do here.
The kids are a big reason because they are like sponges. They want all that information. I think at heart I consider myself a teacher more than anything else and when you've been in the pro game and your own teammates sometimes have a hard time understanding what you are talking about. Once you get to that level, you gotta have an ego, a bit of stubbornness because that's what's going to help you get there. I always had an open mind, some guy that could give me information about hitting a baseball, I always tried to apply it to what I did, not a lot of guys did that. Coming to the college level you can pass that information along.
I remember reading a few years ago that you hadn't taken a swing with a bat in hand since you retired. I've seen footage of you throwing batting practice but do you routinely hit the batting cages or take batting practice?
No. Now I have to get really frustrated to get in there. My right knee is shot. When I get in there I can't practice what I preach. I tell guys to get in position, hold your ground, take a swing, take your bottom hand and take the swing. Now when I get in there, and when I try to take my bottom hand to the ball, my knee won't allow me to hold firm. I drift and so I don't get in there very often. But every now and then we'll be taking batting practice and whoever is the last guy throwing will say "okay coach it's your turn get in there" and you'll take a few hacks.
I read an article that said you thought you would still be able to hit Major League pitching when you turned 50 years old. Do you still think you could hit Major League pitching today?
[Confidently] Yeah. [Pause] Yeah. You know it's like riding a bike you never forget.
When the Hall of Fame calls tomorrow, can you give us any idea how you might feel?
The word I think of is 'validation'. I wasn't a home run hitter, an RBI guy, a game changing player. But the beauty of the game of baseball is that there is a place for every type of player and I played a certain style for 20 years. It wasn't a style that will get you many fans, but there is a place in the game for it. Validation is the word I think of it. If you are a Punch and Judy hitter you have to do it at a high level. 'Consistency' is another word that comes to mind. Out of 20 years I hit over .300, 19 years in a row. You want to break that record you have to play 20 years in a row. You have to be healthy, have knowledge, be open. I don't think this is a game where if you get stubborn it's going to help you. You kinda have to be humble. Then people won't open up to you. They won't give you information that will make you better. Over the course of my career, I can't tell you how many professional or retired guys I talked to. It's sick. I took a little piece every time and apply it. I'm a byproduct of working hard but listening to what other people have to say.
Do you have any regrets in your Major League career?
[answers quickly] No.
Do you think another player will hit .400 again?
Yeah there will be and again he needs to be open, he needs to be disciplined and be consistent.
Do you know anybody playing today that could do it?
Sure, Barry Bonds could do it. He walks a lot. He's brought another facet that I hadn't thought about. I had never thought about a guy that would walk 200 times a season and it makes it a whole lot easier. You know what for a long time I thought you had to be like Ichiro. You had to break the hit record and walk a little bit so that you could do it. Barry Bonds comes along and he hits .380 and walks 200 times. Not being healthy works in your favor, it doesn't hurt you it helps you. You play in 5 games a week you walk whatever times a week and get 6 hits in 14 at bats you are gonna qualify for a batting title. There are different ways to get there, and his way I hadn't thought about. You flat out get there. The guy who does it is going to have to be media savvy because the scrutiny that will come from making a run like that is gonna be unbelievable.
We were only supposed to have about 15 minutes of time to talk with him but he spent a half hour answering questions. Tony Gwynn what a guy!