Thursday, July 3, 2008

He Teaches Metal Sound

By Nick McCann

Last Wednesday, while attending the Padres/Twins disaster, I walked away from my seat to go buy some fried calamari. I knew ingesting squid at a baseball game was wrong, but everything I could ever possibly desire is available at Petco Park, so I ate it anyways. While waiting in line, I listened in on a conversation between a bored late 20s to mid 30s father and a five year old kid with ice cream all over his face, standing in front of me in line. At one point I heard the kid say to his dad, “I wish we had Tony Gwynn back. He would make us win!” This kid never saw Gwynn play, but he knew he loved him.

I’m constantly having conversations about love with people who say they haven’t ever been in love before. They always ask me whether or not I still define the times I have said I was in love as still being real love whenever I look back. People ask these questions because they are fascinated with the power of love that Huey Lewis sang about. The only thing that can really be learned when you are in love is that it is just plain powerful. The moment that you realize its power is the moment you realize you will never need to ask anybody again what it feels like, if you can do anything about it, or more importantly, if you can ever dismiss those older feelings of love to yourself in an honest way. When you have never felt in love, you think that love might be something that you can be better at; as if there was a certain skill set that can be developed to make you better at loving. This is not possible because you can’t get better at a feeling that raises the stakes that high. If you have ever been in love, you know there is no way to control it and there is no way to prepare yourself for its danger.

I don’t remember a moment in my life where I didn’t love Tony Gwynn. And there has never been a specific instance where I decided I loved him; I just always have. However, the older I get, the more I understand Tony Gwynn for what he really is. I believe Tony Gwynn is the greatest Padre of all time, and I don’t think that will ever change because the Padres will probably never have a player who will have a better career staying completely with the team, and because he possesses a deeply rooted control over the way the team is perceived. No player, manager, front office executive, or owner, can ever take this power away from him, because in San Diego, nobody can ever love another Padre as much as he is loved.

Is this fair? In the reality that Tony Gwynn has created as a player, and as a symbol in the community, fair is something we use our faith in him to believe in. Not only is Tony always right, he has successfully taken on a persona that defines what is right.

Besides his self-destructive eating habits that made the end of his career less productive than it could have been, he was also too talented a hitter to be the specialist that he was. Sure, it is a blessing to have a guy who never strikes out, and can hit the ball anywhere he wants to move a runner, but he could have hit more homeruns. Isn't it a little suspect that Gwynn always seemed focused on keeping his average up? If his average fell below 315 fans freaked out. Batting Average is a stat that looks good in the record books even if you miss a lot of games in a season. I’ll never be convinced that he always had the team in mind when he was on the field. I don’t believe he sabotaged anything, but I think he consciously specialized his game more than he should have to the detriment of the team.

If Gwynn gained a selfish streak when the front office was destroying the team in the early 90s, it would not be wrong of him; it would make him a human. But we were made to believe his talent wasn’t. He was marketed during his playing days as the ultimate scientist of hitting at the major league level. Yet, he has never made an attempt to be a Major League hitting coach in his post-playing career. Instead, he has managed a mediocre college baseball team at San Diego State where he operates on his own terms at a stadium that projects his name on the centerfield fence. When he is not doing that, he spends his time in the booth on Channel 4, dominating a broadcast owned and produced by the Padres. Tony’s complete lack of a sense of humor strips Matt Vasgergian of his comic testicles, and his commentary can never be questioned…ever.
Tony Gwynn sits on top of college mesa as king and the Padres pay him to come down from time to time to let the people hear him speak. We listen, not because we want to hear the truth, but because to us, during a Padre game, the sound of his voice is truth.

Is this year’s squad any better than one of Tony’s forgettable teams? If Tony Gwynn from 1989 was inserted into our lineup and Brian Giles vaporized into thin air (as he should), would the Padres be that much better? Tony Gwynn wouldn’t have a legit leadoff batter to move, and he wouldn’t be able to breathe youth into Trevor Hoffman’s arm. The truth is if Tony Gwynn were on the 2008 Padres, he would make this losing season feel okay. And we would love him for it no matter how dangerous that is.

When that kid standing between me and my squid said we needed Gwynn back, I only heard one sound violently shatter through my head.


1 comment:

Red said...

You're so right about how lame he is in the booth with Matt V. It makes me sad that I groan audibly anytime he's there instead of Mark Grant.