Twenty-two times. That's how many times Tony Gwynn was one hit short of a cycle in his 2,440 career games. That accounts for nearly one third of the 7,444 games of Padres baseball since the club's inaugural 1969 season. He's unquestionably the greatest baseball player to ever call San Diego home, and there was no question that when Tony retired, the Padres would retire his number. Matt Kemp is not Tony Gwynn. He's not a career Padre. His batting average is 50 points below Tony's. But number 27 should go on top of that batter's eye in Petco Park alongside 6, 19, 31, 35, 51, and 42.
Is it still early in Matt Kemp's time as a Padre? Yes. Has he fallen short of our expectations? Absolutely. But we retire numbers for two reasons. The first reason is to honor the player and his contributions to San Diego and the Padres. But we also do it for ourselves, to remember our history. When we look at number 6, we remember Steve Garvey's walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS. Look at 51, and I defy you to keep "Hell's Bells" from playing in your head. And when you look at that 19? Maybe you remember Tony's 3,000th hit. Maybe you remember the Gold Gloves or the Silver Sluggers. Maybe, best of all, you remember his laugh.
Those are more than just numbers. They're memories, plucked out of our heads and given physical form in our home away from home, the literal mark that these players have left on our city and our hearts. After tonight, you can certainly add Matt Kemp to the list of Padres who have left that indelible handprint on us. In my book, that's reason enough to enshrine his number alongside the rest of our heroes.