SAN DIEGO — At 1:27 p.m. Sunday, Padre rookie Shawn Abner grabbed his glove and ran toward right field. There was already a player there. Abner pointed at him.
One-hundred fifty-seven games after beginning the 1987 season, it was Tony Gwynn's time to leave.
Slowly, Gwynn jogged off. The 35,575 fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium stood and cheered. He held up his cap and slowly circled so everyone could see his smiling face. He turned toward his teammates. They had collected at the dugout's top step. They embraced him and slapped his hands and clutched at his back.
And for Tony Gwynn, it was not enough. It may never be enough.
Through the cheers, he says he hears sneers. He says he hears people crying out for a guy with 35 home runs and 110 runs batted in, a guy whose swing is shown nightly on ESPN, a guy he will never be.
Others get the national endorsements, even more of the local endorsements. Others get the ability and venues to reach the public off the field the way Gwynn loves to reach them on it.
But even when all eyes are on Gwynn, he said he feels some people looking the other way.
Baseball's epitome of pleasantness and grace, the one man who could be accused of playing more for the fans more than for himself, is finally tired of it. "My best season in the big leagues, no question, this has been the best year of my career . . . yet I'm disappointed," said the 27-year-old right fielder last week. "I'm disappointed because I can tell people think I had a disappointing year. I'm on a losing team, and everybody considers people on a losing team losers. Hey, I'm no loser.
"I think I've had an MVP type of season, and other people may laugh at that, but I have. Except the argument I'll hear all winter is, 'Where would the Padres be without Tony Gwynn? Just where they are now, last place.' End of argument. I'm as consistent as anyone in the game, but I don't expect any MVP votes. Not even a 10th-place vote. Sometimes baseball isn't fair."
Gwynn, who missed a team-low five games despite several injuries, looked around the Padres' clubhouse and shrugged. "Even a lot of people on the team take me for granted. That's because I'm nothing flamboyant. I just do the dirty work. You know, I might not even be the team MVP. I know the vote is going to be close."
It wasn't. In fact, for the first time in recent memory, there wasn't even a media vote taken. Padre management selected Gwynn as MVP and handed him the award before Sunday's season finale with the Dodgers. They even had a two-minute video tribute prepared, complete with a song written just for him. While the singer spun a ballad around the theme of hard work, the video showed Gwynn running into walls and stealing second base.
Even if there had been a vote, it wouldn't have been close, even on a team where one guy hit in 34 straight games (Benito Santiago) and another guy hit 20 homers with 91 RBIs, including seven in one night (John Kruk).
- Gwynn led the major leagues with a. 370 average, the National League's highest in 39 years.
- Gwynn led the major leagues with 218 hits.
- Gwynn was third in the major leagues with a .446 on-base percentage.
- Gwynn was third in the major leagues with 13 triples.
- Gwynn was fourth in the major leagues with 56 stolen bases.
- Gwynn was fourth in the major leagues with 119 runs.
- Gwynn had the best single month of any major leaguer, hitting .473 in June, going 44 for 93.
Notice that the above statistics are measured not in terms of the National League, but of the major leagues.
Gwynn actually was the type of player never seen before in the National League, and not seen in baseball since 1922. Statistically, he has become perhaps the closest resemblance to Ty Cobb since Ty Cobb.
Gwynn is the first player in league history to hit .370 and steal more than 50 bases. Only three other players have accomplished this in major league history, all Hall of Famers--George Sisler, Tris Speaker and Cobb. It was last accomplished by Sisler for St. Louis in 1922. Between 1909 and 1917, Cobb did it seven times.
"It's an incredible stat; we didn't realize that," said Steve Hirdt, vice-president of Elias Sports Bureau. "It certainly shows what kind of player he has become."
Said Padre Manager Larry Bowa: "You can't tell me he's not one of the top three players in the league."
The top three players in the league? People will cite Chicago's Andre Dawson (49 homers, 136 RBIs, on a last-place team like Gwynn), St. Louis' Jack Clark (35 homers, 106 RBIs) and Cincinnati's Eric Davis (37 homers, 100 RBIs).
Gwynn finished, in 589 at-bats, with 7 homers and 54 RBIs.
Switch-hitter Stanley Jefferson, in 264 at-bats from the left side, had exactly the same number of homers. Randy Ready, in 350 at-bats, had precisely the same number of RBIs.
This is why Gwynn may not get any MVP votes. This is why he may be ignored. This is why his wonderful year may not end in dance, but disillusionment.