Updated at 2:10 p.m. June 16, 2014
San Diego Padres Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, the head baseball coach at San Diego State University, died Monday after a battle with salivary gland cancer, which he blamed on his career-long habit of chewing tobacco. He was 54.
Within an hour of the announcement, more than 300 comments were posted on the Padres website announcing his death.
He died early Monday morning at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, surrounded by his family, the Padres said. Gwynn, who was 54, had been battling salivary gland cancer.
A right-fielder who came to be known as Mr. Padre, Gwynn belted 3,141 hits in his 20 seasons with Padres, had a .338 career batting average and was a 15-time All Star. His playing career ended in 2001, and he was subsequently picked as head baseball coach for SDSU, his alma mater.
During his playing career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards and five Gold Glove Awards. His eight batting titles tied for second-most in Major League Baseball history.
Gwynn was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 — the first year he became eligible. The Padres — the only professional baseball team for which he ever played — retired his number, 19, in 2004. His sport’s commissioner dubbed him “the greatest Padre ever.”
“There are no words to express what Tony means to this organization and this community,” said Ron Fowler, the Padres’ executive chairman.
“More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community. He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart.”
Another member of the Padres’ ownership group, Peter Seidler, said, “Tony was not only one of the greatest hitters the sport has ever seen, but also one of the greatest men to ever play the game. As a player who committed his entire career to one team and led the Padres to two National League pennants, Tony was admired and respected by all fans of the game.
“His smile will be forever etched in our hearts.”
Perhaps the other most heralded Padre, retired closer Trevor Hoffman, posted on Facebook, “Today we lost the greatest Padre of all. Tony was the consummate pro and anybody who had the opportunity to be around him benefited greatly.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called Gwynn “the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known,” while recalling “his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life.”
“For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched,” Selig said. “On behalf of all of our clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Tony’s wife Alicia, their son Tony Jr. of the Phillies, their daughter Anisha, the Padres franchise, his fans in San Diego and his many admirers throughout baseball.”
Tony Jr., who starred at Poway High School and San Diego State before embarking on his own major league career, took to Twitter to say, “Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor. I’m gonna miss u so much pops. I’m gonna do everything in my power to continue to … make u proud! Love u pops!”
Gwynn had a malignant tumor removed from his right cheek in 2009. He said he chewed smokeless tobacco throughout his career with the Padres and for many years after and blamed the substance for his condition.
The cancer returned twice, and in 2012 he underwent radiation treatment in an effort to shrink the tumor, according to the Padres. He had surgery that year, in which the nerve that the tumor was wrapped around had to be replaced with one from his shoulder.
Gwynn missed the second half of the recently completed season while he continued to deal with health problems. He had been on medical leave since March, but signed a one-year extension only Wednesday.
“We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn,” the Padres said in an earlier statement via Twitter. “Rest in peace, Mr. Padre.”
Those on the other side of the diamond respected him as well. Former Atlanta Brave great Greg Maddux, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, called Gwynn, via Twitter, “the best pure hitter I ever faced!”
Shortly after Gwynn’s death was announced, city officials and other admirers issued statements via email or social media sites mourning the loss.
“Hard working, passionate and always pursuing excellence,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “Tony Gwynn was a true San Diegan. The only thing greater than Tony’s love for baseball was his love for San Diego.”
“Our city is a little darker today without him but immeasurably better because of him,” Faulconer said. “Our hearts and prayers are with Tony’s family today. I ask San Diegans to join me in remembering Tony Gwynn’s legacy.”
Faulconer canceled two news conferences and asked for flags at city facilities to be flown at half-staff.
City Council President Todd Gloria said, “Tony Gwynn was an outstanding baseball player, family man and human being. Our city is better because of him and he will be sorely missed.”
Councilman Scott Sherman called it a “very sad day for our city.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Tony Gwynn’s family,” he said.
Chargers President Dean Spanos said the city lost someone very special.
“Tony was an icon and one of San Diego’s greatest sports legends,” Spanos said. “He was beloved by so many for his passion for life, his generosity and, of course, his laugh. I will always remember his laugh. He represented the Padres, San Diego and Major League Baseball to the highest standard.”
Retired Charger great and football broadcaster LaDainian Tomlinson tweeted, “We lost one of the greatest athletes ever today, Mr.SanDiego, Tony Gwynn is in a better place today. Thoughts & Prayers are with his family.”
Marshall Faulk, the football Hall of Fame running back who played at San Diego State, said on Twitter, “RIP….Tony Gwynn. Thank you for your friendship. Aztec Legend!!!”
Dodgers owner and Lakers basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson wrote, “My friend Tony Gwynn had one of the sweetest swings in MLB history and he was one of the nicest men on the planet!”
Even Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti saluted Gwynn, saying “RIP Tony Gwynn, Padre, HOFer, icon.”
Gwynn also played basketball, starring as a point guard for the Aztecs in college. He was drafted by the then-San Diego Clippers on the same day he was chosen by the Padres.
Memorial services were pending.
Shortly after Gwynn’s death was announced, other city officials and admirers issued statements on social media sites mourning the loss.
City Councilman David Alvarez said the city was terribly sad to say goodbye to a teammate, a friend and a legend. “Rest in peace, Mr. Padre,” he said.
City Councilman Mark Kersey said he was sending prayers to Gwynn’s family.
“An amazing hitter, a great man, an exemplary San Diegan,” Kersey said. “Number 19 will be missed by so many.”
The Padres also said:
Gwynn’s .338 career batting average over 20 seasons — all of them with the Padres — is the highest since Ted Williams retired from the Red Sox in 1960 with a .344 average. Gwynn’s playing career ended in 2001, and since then he had been the head baseball coach for San Diego State University, where he starred in both baseball and basketball as a collegian.
He also was a part-time analyst on Padres telecasts.
“Mr. Padre” won a record eight National League batting titles — equal to the number won by Honus Wagner — and collected 3,141 hits in his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Orioles great Cal Ripken.
Gwynn underwent major procedures in his attempt to beat the cancer. In early 2012, a nerve that the tumor was wrapped around had to be replaced with one from his shoulder. He had been on medical leave from his head coach position at San Diego State since March and on Wednesday had signed a one-year extension.
“The whole experience was traumatic because I thought I had it beat, and dang, it came back,” Gwynn said during a visit to the Hall of Fame later that year for the induction ceremony.
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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