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Matt Williams remembers Tony Gwynn

Jun 18, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

In the outpour of Tony Gwynn remembrances since his untimely death at the age of 54 on Monday, you may have noticed a lot of people mentioning the 5.5 hole, also known as the space between the third baseman and the shortstop on a baseball diamond.

As a left-handed hitter who could spray baseballs all over a ballpark, Gwynn mastered the ability to poke singles the other way, right through where his opponents were standing.

Perhaps few men on Earth knew Gwynn’s ability to do that more than Nationals manager Matt Williams. As a third baseman for the San Francisco Giants from 1987 to 1996, he saw a lot of Gwynn as a division rival. Gwynn played for the San Diego Padres that entire span, and had a knack for hitting it right past the future Nats skipper.

“We tried, we tried to defend him a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “We moved the shortstop over, me playing off the line more. It gave me the sense that he’d walk to the plate and see where you were, and then decided to hit it where you weren’t.

“You’d stand out there and try to defend it and he’d hit it by you. You would just go ‘oh, I don’t know what to do.’ And we weren’t alone, that’s for sure.”

Williams was a 5-time All-Star and each time played with Gwynn on the National League squad. Seeing the Hall of Famer up close gave Williams a greater appreciation of his abilities.

“It was a marvel to see him take batting practice because he could do anything he wanted to do with a baseball. He’d take any pitch and hit it wherever he wanted to hit it. He was probably the best pure hitter in our generation as players and maybe of all time. That’s a lot of hits and that’s a lot of batting titles.”

Williams fondly remembers Gwynn being friendly to his opponents before games. He was a genuinely nice to other players, fans and the media.

“He was a genuine person,” Williams said. “Truly concerned about people, about certainly his craft, his family, San Diegans and being part of that great organization. From a competitor’s standpoint, you just knew he was genuine. If he said hello to you and asked you how you were doing, he meant it. He’ll be dearly missed by a lot of folks.”

Gwynn died of cancer on Monday and it is believed his use of smokeless chewing tobacco contributed to the cause. Dipping is still prevalent in the game of baseball today, and many believe Gwynn’s death will open some eyes on the issue.

Williams discussed that notion:

“It hits home with a lot of folks and it’s been part of our sport for a long time. It certainly makes you think.”

Williams will remember Gwynn as a great adversary on the baseball field and a friend off of it.

“It’s just sad, way too soon,” Williams said. “[His ability to hit] was pretty special. He was a pretty special human, too.”

  1. Doc - Jun 18, 2014 at 1:36 PM

    It would be nice gesture to the memory of Tony Gywnn, and more important to their own health and respect for their families that players get rid of smokeless tobacco.

    But it’s a habit and an addiction, and part of a culture that has gone on since the birth of baseball.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see its’ presence going away.

  2. tcostant - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    Tony Gywnn must be one of the most underrated HoFers ever. He was just a hitter, he was a 5 time gold glove winner and truly an amazing all around baseball player. Will miss you.

    Off topic, this is a must read:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fancy-stats/wp/2014/06/17/study-phillies-fans-are-bandwagoners-and-nats-fans-are-in-a-miserable-marriage/

    • Hiram Hover - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      Agree about Gwynn.

      Curious why you thought that study was a “must read”–the methodology (measuring ticket sales and coding tweets) and analysis (each team and its fans fall into one of four contrived categories) struck me as forced and unenlightening.

      • tcostant - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:31 PM

        I love these marketing categories, this stuff is fun. I really enjoyed the article.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:39 PM

        ehay posted it also, on an earlier thread, and I had some comments there, but if you take it for what it is, which is very limited as you say, it is kinda fun. Sorta like a horoscope, or those strange “Which _____ are you?” quizzes on Facebook.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:47 PM

        Not to mention the idea that twittering Nats fans are not necessarily representative of the entire fanbase. Oh wait, I just did.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:49 PM

        sofa

        I was thinking fortune cookie fortune, but, yeah.

        I don’t think the authors of this study would really like either of those analogies, tho–they’re academics who think they’ve done something a bit more rigorous and quantitative.

      • natsfan1a - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:50 PM

        Then again, I’m the curmudgeon who generally declines to participate in surveys when approached on the street or by telephone. OTOH, my younger sister, who is in the marketing field, loves surveys. :-)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        I was thinking fortune cookie fortune, but, yeah.
        I don’t think the authors of this study would really like either of those analogies, tho–they’re academics who think they’ve done something a bit more rigorous and quantitative.

        It used to piss off the MSWs I worked with, some years ago, when I compared Myers-Briggs tests to horoscopes–unfavorably. So, yeah.

  3. NatsLady - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    I heard on a podcast that smokeless tabacco use is up, not down, in the majors (even though because of new rules, you don’t see notice as much because players are not allowed to have tins in their pockets on the field) and that 50% of players use. Due to amphetamines not being available many players have turned to nicotine.

    • RPrecupjr - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      Actually a good many of the are turning to Red Bull, Monster, 5-hour Energy and the like. Nothing but greenies in a can. Once again, fine if an adult wants to use those products, not fine for children to emulate.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:24 PM

        Indeed. This is just the first thing that came up on google:

        More Deaths, Illness Linked to Energy Drinks
        By Daniel J. DeNoon
        WebMD Health News

        Nov. 16, 2012 — The FDA has posted adverse-event reports for two more energy drinks: 40 illnesses and five deaths linked to Monster Energy, and 13 illnesses and two lasting disabilities linked to Rockstar Energy.

        The new reports follow this week’s revelation of FDA reports linking 92 illnesses and 13 deaths to 5-Hour Energy shots. The FDA previously said it was investigating the deaths linked to Monster Energy.

        These adverse-event reports (AERs) are filed by patients, families, or doctors. They simply warn that the products might have harmed someone — but they do not prove that the product caused harm. The FDA can remove a product from the market only when investigation shows that the product causes harm when used according to the product label.

        more at

        http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20121116/more-deaths-illness-energy-drinks

  4. natsfan1a - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    And what is this Facebook of which you speak?

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