SAN DIEGO — For the Padres' best player, the awakening of the 1988 season has been a rude one.
In a strange switching of roles, Tony Gwynn, a two-time batting champion and Gold Glove winner, has been formally rebuffed by the team in his attempt to remain a Padre at least through 1992. The end came Wednesday morning, after two months and eight meetings' worth of talking.
Gwynn, a right fielder who is guaranteed this season ($840,000) and next season ($940,000) with an option year in 1990 ($1 million), was seeking two more guaranteed seasons at $1.6 million each.
The Padres agreed to the money--it seems a considerable bargain when one figures that the Dodgers just agreed to pay Kirk Gibson $1.4 million this season. But the Padres would not agree to the guarantee, offering instead other creative proposals covering the two extra years. When Gwynn and agent John Boggs refused those proposals by not contacting Padre President Chub Feeney Wednesday, the talks were finished.
"It is now dead," Boggs said.
And now the Padres stand a chance a reasonable chance of losing Gwynn by the time he's 30. Thus concludes an episode of a soap opera as only the Padres can produce one.
Said Gwynn, 27: "I'm not going to talk about my contract until 1990, when I'll become a free agent. I don't want to play anywhere else. I've never wanted to, but the bottom line is, I may have to."
Said Feeney: "We want Tony to play here forever. We're in his corner. But you don't know what's going to happen three years from now. There could be a great depression, a great war, all kinds of things. He's essentially asking for a five-year guaranteed contract, and nobody in baseball has more than a three-year contract.
"We hoped we showed our great respect for Tony by offering what we did. Twenty-five out of the 26 teams wouldn't have even listened to somebody who wanted to add to a three-year deal. They would have said, 'Hell, you've already got a contract.' "
Another stumbling block, Feeney said, is that baseball's contract with the Major League Baseball Players Assn. is up after the 1989 season. With a new contract come new rules and perhaps new salary structures--and then there's the possibility of a strike.
"That is definitely a factor," Feeney said. "We don't know what that contract will say."
Whatever happens three years from now, Gwynn said he certainly will be smarter.
"I guess I was naive enough to think that when I walked in there and asked for this, it would be easy," said Gwynn, who had baseball's best batting average in 1987 at .370. "I've tried to do good work. I've been a Padres' Padre. I've gone out and done things in the community, not because they wanted me to do them, but because I've wanted to. I love this community; I love being a Padre.
"But the bottom line is, it's a business. It's not the Padres' fault. I'm not pointing fingers. Chub tried everything, all kinds of creative things. They did their best. But I've learned it's a business."
Gwynn promised to put it all behind him once spring training begins. But he admitted something that opposing pitchers sometimes don't realize.
"Hey, I'm human," he said. "Anybody who knows Tony Gwynn knows that he does his job no matter what. I did my job last year with all this bankruptcy stuff hanging over my head. And this won't stop me, either.
"But I'd be lying if I said there might not be times when I go 0 for 4 and say, 'Darn, I wish I had that extension.' "
Gwynn made a Chapter 7 filing in U.S. bankruptcy court in San Diego last May. In court documents, he listed liabilities of $1,147,000 and assets of $690,150. Gwynn has blamed his financial problems on his too-trusting relationship with his former agent and business manager, Lewis C. Muller. The case is working its way through bankruptcy court, where the judge on Monday denied a bank's motion that it be allowed to "foreclose" on his contract.
"I don't know how it (the failed renegotiation) will affect him," Boggs said. "Between the white lines, he has always been the consummate professional. But he has to have thoughts now and then. We are dealing with the human element."
Already considered one of baseball's most underpaid players--this year he will make less than three other Padres, including pitcher Ed Whitson (10-13)--Gwynn initiated the talks Dec. 2, at the ceremony honoring his second consecutive Gold Glove.
At the time he said, "I'm looking to be part of the Padres' future for six, eight years. I just want to stay here. I want to play my entire career here. I like it here, my family likes it here. If it's dollars I have to give up, I'm more than willing to do so."
Gwynn, Boggs and Feeney had their first meeting that day. Since then, they have met seven times.
At one point, Gwynn was hours away from an agreement that would guarantee the 1990 option year and add the two extra years on an option basis.