Tony Gwynn had no shortage of fans, from baseball and beyond. Author Rich Wolfe, a well-established sports writer with a huge catalog of books centered around unique team's fan cultures, is an ideal fit for the task of tackling stories focused on a man with almost more stories than he has hits.
The book's cover features Gwynn's classic smile, a seemingly perfect portrait for the book. But once the cover and sleeve are unfolded, Padres fans of every generation can get lost for a good ten to fifteen minutes. From corner to corner the inside of the sleeve is packed (to the brim) with San Diego baseball/sports references.
From basic general Padres knowledge, to a few of the more obscure sprinkled in. It's hard to look away from this awesome piece of fan-service until you've dug out every last nugget.
Tony Gwynn was a man with no shortage of stories about him. You'd be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who didn't have some sort of impression of him. Throughout the book, readers are treated to those who were lucky enough to meet and experience Gwynn first-hand, as well as people who were fortunate enough to simply watch and write about him. The book fills itself with a timeline of stories from his college years to his late coaching days, the pages pouring out love, admiration, and respect for Gwynn.
The loose-storied narrative follows Gwynn through his days as an San Diego State University Aztec. The book starts with anecdotes from his first-year basketball recruitment by former head coach Tim Vezie as well as his transition to baseball the following year thanks to Bobby Meacham and Jim Dietz (who would be replaced as head coach by Gwynn about 30 years later). Readers are also treated to stories from former Padre Nick Harsh, San Diego sportswriter John Maffei, SDSU athletic director Rick Bay, as well as good friends Kirk Kenney and Ken Davis.
The book continues into Gwynn’s first appearance as a Padre. Not the San Diego Padres, though, but the minor-league Walla Walla Padres in the wine fields of Walla Walla, Washington. Readers are treated to stories from former teammate and Friar, John Kruk, Walla Walla sports editor Jim Buchan, and Seattle superfan Pete Brown.
Los Angeles sportswriter and ESPN talking head Bill Plaschke swoops in with a hearty story that serves as a Gwynn anthology. The chapter is packed with observations, encounters, news snippets, pictures, and little nuggets of trivia. It's a good example of how the rest of the book is structured, and is a charming perspective of Gwynn's major league career. It's followed up by a series of writers featuring SDSU alumni and Chargers writer Tom Krasovic, U-T columnists Nick Canepa and Chris Jenkins, and Tony's biggest statistical fan, Michael Schell.
The meat and potatoes of Gwynn's career on the Friars is kicked off by Jack McKeon, Trader Jack, former manager of the Padres from 1988 to 1990 as he recalls the scouting process of the prospect known as "that kid" Tony Gwynn and his rapid movement into the majors. San Diego native and former Aztec Bob Cluck talks about the missed opportunity of drafting Gwynn when Cluck was on the coaching staff of the Astros. Former Padres GM Kevin Towers remembers how Gwynn made his early promotion into the manager seat easier to handle, and that Gwynn's perspective and player analysis was almost unrivaled.
Author Dale Ratermann gives a story about Gwynn's winter in Indianapolis as he bought season tickets and attended almost every Pacers game he could. Former Friar and major league coach Terry Kennedy also recalls Gwynn's initial below-average defensive abilities, and contributes the eventual Gold Glove status to Gwynn's unmatched dedication to self-improvement. Longtime friend and former Padre Jerald Clark reminisces in some cute anecdotes about fishing and playing for the Padres.
Scattered around the book are wonderful pictures of Tony as well as his legion of fans. Nestled in the center of the book are quality printed images of Gwynn's career and life in San Diego.
There's an entire chapter dedicated to fans gushing over their memories of the great Tony Gwynn. From school principals to Bruce Billings of the Yankees. Baseball coaches, Giants fans, Tim Flannery, Dick Williams, Gary Sheffield, and various fans, San Diego citizens, and leaders of other major league organizations. Two of Gwynn's biggest fans, Greg Maddux and Keith Olbermann, share their loving memories of Gwynn. Maddux and his haunting recollection of facing Gwynn as a batter, but his love and respect for him as a person, and Olbermann's fawning over the great person that Gwynn was in and out of the baseball world.
The book is closed up with stories of a former teammate and major league umpire Kerwin Danley, and wraps up with accounts from his representative John Boggs, bat maker Chuck Schupp, friend and former Louisville Slugger employee Charlotte Jones, and 1991 Padres bat boy David Johnson.
Readers start to understand very quickly that Tony Gwynn reached and touched an insurmountable amount of people throughout his life. It didn't matter what team you rooted for, it didn't even matter if you watched baseball, you rooted for Tony Gwynn.
Rich Wolfe even explains that there wasn't nearly enough time or space to include every single story involving Gwynn. The undertaking it would require to even compile that many stories is almost unimaginable. But this book does an extremely good job at it. It chronicles all aspects of Gwynn's passionate career, and will leave even superfans with at least a dozen newly learned facts about the beloved Mr. Padre.
If you weren't lucky enough to be gifted this like I was on Christmas; do yourself a favorite and treat yourself. You can get it for around $20 right now on either Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.