The news was depressing.
Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters of all-time, passed away from a long battle with cancer. 31 years ago, Gwynn made it to the majors less than a month before I was born. Of all of the hitters I have watched since I began to follow baseball, Gwynn was the greatest natural hitter I have ever been fortunate enough to watch. As a Braves hitter, Gwynn was one of the few guys I could never feel bad about. Oh, he went 3 for 5 with a key two-out double in the 8th off Mike Stanton? Well, what are you going to do?
This is a Braves blog so I’m not going to focus on his hitting ability or how he once was a tremendous base stealer. Instead, my goal is to focus on what he did against the Braves.
Over his career, Gwyn hit .352/.397/.479 against the Braves. Of teams he faced at least 100 times, the OPS is the third highest and the 316 hits he had against the Braves ranks as the second most he had against any team. He had three more doubles (54) than he had against the Pirates for the most in his career and he only stole more bases against the Astros (46 SB to 39) Amazingly, at least to me, in 975 PA, the Braves never hit Gwynn. They did walk him intentionally 22 times, a mark bested by only the Dodgers. He only played in 14 games at Turner Field, where he hit .327/.389/.531 with a pair of homers. At Atlanta-Fulton County, he hit .360/.413/.477 with 39 walks to 8 strikeouts. I feel like that needs to be repeated. THIRTY-NINE WALKS to EIGHT STRIKEOUTS! Are you kidding me with that?
We always hear about what Gwynn did against Greg Maddux and it’s worth discussing. Maddux never struck out Gwynn in 107 PA. Gwynn actually gave Maddux two outs via sacrifices, but he still murder-balled Maddux .415/.476/521. Gwynn was walked 11 times, including seven times intentionally. But Maddux wasn’t the only long-time Brave Gwynn handled. He hit .303/.337/.404 against Tom Glavine with 2 HR. Yeah, it may not be Maddux ownage, but Gwynn still didn’t have many difficulties with Glavine. Gwynn destroyed John Smoltz, though, slashing .444/.467/.694 against Smoltz in 75 PA with 2 HR. Of his 3,084 strikeouts in the majors, only one came against Gwynn.
It goes on, of course. Against Pete Smith, Gwynn hammered him .375/.412/.604. Kent Mercker had a little more success, though Gwynn still slashed .282/.333/.513. Former young star Steve Avery gave up 10 hits in his 30 PA against Gwynn while walking him twice. Charlie Leibrandt celebrated every time he got Gwynn out because the Padre slashed .483/.467/.621 against him with a sacrifice fly.
A couple of former Braves had an okay run against Gwynn. Gwynn hit only .231/.279/.282 against John Burkett in 43 PA while hitting .200/.256/.325 against Denny Neagle in the same amount of PA. Steve Bedrosian pulled off a rare feat. He struck out Gwynn more times than he walked him in 38 PA while holding Gwynn to a .235/.289/.265 slash. He struck him four times to three walks. Those four strikeouts rank as a tie for 14th, but only pitcher ever struck Gwynn more than six times. Nolan Ryan had nine K’s.
Gwynn matched up with the Braves in the 1998 NLCS, though Atlanta handled him pretty okay. He was 6 for 26 in the series with a 2B, BB, 2 K, and 2 GDP. Sadly, the Braves couldn’t hold down Steve Finley or Ken Caminiti with such success.
Baseball lost one of its greatest ambassadors yesterday. It was impossible to hate Gwynn, even after he owned you team. You just sat back and watched the greatness and felt fortunate enough to have the opportunity. They don’t come around much better than Gwynn.