Gwynn goes behind the scenes at Hall
Future Hall of Famer gets special tour in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- In the midst of Monday's full-day tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Tony Gwynn and family watched the early rushes of a short video in the Bullpen Theater about his career.One-by-one, many of the game's top players acclaimed Gwynn as one of the greatest pure hitters of all-time. "Just say it," Gwynn said afterward with his characteristic loud chuckle. "I was a 'Judy.' I'm fine with it. I was a 'Judy.' In a rare outtake, even his son, Tony Jr., was asked expectantly to talk about who he wanted to emulate as a hitter.
"To be honest with you?" responded the Brewers center fielder. "I was trying to be like Will Clark."At that point, his dad broke into a belly laugh.
"We knew what was coming," said Gwynn, who apparently turned his son into a Clark fan by edging the then Giants first baseman for the batting title on the last day of the 1989 season.While that might have been a Rodney Dangerfield, get-no-respect moment, this "Punch and Judy" hitter is on his way into the Hall of Fame along with Cal Ripken Jr. on July 29. Ripken did his tour last week. "You guys have known me long enough, you guys have been around me long enough," Gwynn told three reporters afterward who had covered him during his salad days as the Padres' 16-time All-Star right-fielder. "When we sat in there watching that video, they had a hard time describing what kind of player I was because they just don't want to come out and say it. But you know what? I took a lot of pride in being that type of player. I took a lot of pride in wanting to be good at it, wanting to be great at it, and I wasn't afraid of work to get there." Gwynn was his usual candid self, describing his class as the first to be elected under the shadow of Major League Baseball's ongoing steroid controversy because Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were all on the ballot. The late Caminiti -- his one-time Padres teammate -- and Canseco won't be back. McGwire garnered only 23 percent of the votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In comparison, Ripken received 98.5 percent and Gwynn 97.6. A player's name must appear on 75 percent of the ballots to be elected and 5 percent to carry over until next year. Gwynn left no doubt about where he stands on the McGwire snub. "I would've liked it if he had gotten in, and then it would've been perfect," Gwynn said. "It would've been the power hitter, the complete player, and me, the 'Judy.'" The "Judy" and "the complete player" seem to be enough of an attraction. More than 800 press credentials are expected to be issued and the Hall is planning for an intimate gathering of 50,000 to attend induction weekend on July 28-29. Ted Spencer, the Hall's vice president and chief curator, who led Tony, plus his wife and daughter on the tour, said the ceremony is probably the most anticipated in the past 18 years since Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Bench were inducted in 1989. Gwynn, who is the head baseball coach at his alma mater -- San Diego State -- looked like any other Hall visitor on Monday, stopping at displays to click pictures with his digital camera as he roamed the red-brick building that sits on the far end of Main Street. He was obviously in awe of the experience. "I'm just a tourist like anybody else," he said. "But I'm also a teacher. I've got to bring pictures of some of this stuff back to show my kids so they'll learn from my experience." Gwynn paid particular attention to the main tool of his trade, bats on display swung by the likes of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox star who hit. 406 in 1941, the last player to do it. "I met Ted for the first time at the 1992 All-Star Game in San Diego," said Gwynn, who was trailed on the tour by a gaggle of cameras and reporters. "I had used the same sized bat for 10 years. But after one minute with him I changed and used a heavier bat. I went from .317 [in 1992] to .358 [in 1993]. So it must have worked." Down in the archives, the Hall had laid out other bits of Williams paraphernalia: His spikes, his glove, and a No. 9 Red Sox jersey, which Gwynn held up jovially, chirping, "Get a picture, get a picture." But the wood bat presented to Williams for winning the 1941 American League batting title and inscribed with the lefty-swinger's statistics from that historic season, illustrates everything anyone needs to know about the difference in the two hitters. Williams walked 147 times that season, in which he had 185 hits in 456 at bats. Gwynn walked 790 times in his 20-year career -- all played in San Diego -- for an average of 39.5 a season. Still, Gwynn need offer no apology. He won the National League batting title eight times, including a high of .394 in the strike year of 1994. He out-hit Williams, 3,141 to 2,654, although the latter figure must be tempered by the fact that "the Splinter" missed most of five key prime career seasons serving in the military during World War II and Korea. On July 30, Gwynn's plaque will be hung in the vaunted gallery where on Monday, he was photographed in front of the plaques representing the hallowed first class of 1936 -- Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. "The coolest thing for me is that 50, 100 years from now -- as long as the game is being played -- my stuff will definitely be here," Gwynn said. "So that means you've made your mark, so that means people will remember. And that's a pretty good feeling." Asked if there was any particular plaque he wanted to see on Monday, Gwynn was pretty succinct. "All of them," he said.
Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.