Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rookie Card of the Week: 1983 Fleer Tony Gwynn from my collection

Today seemed like an appropriate day to bring back this feature.  I'm quite certain that I have written in the past that there were two rookie cards I wanted as a kid and never purchased:  1984 Topps Don Mattingly and 1983 Topps Frank Viola.  I bought that Viola card (and two more, read more here) and I will eventually buy the Mattingly card (I'm weak).  One rookie card that wasn't on this list was Tony Gwynn's 1983 Fleer card. 

The reason?  I bought it.

This was no small purchase.  This card set me back $18.  That may not seem like much, but as a ten-year-old, I probably had as much as $20 to my name.  My cousin and I would go to these local card shows and I would look at this card every time.  The same guy always had it and it was always listed for $20.  I finally convinced the guy to take $18 (super negotiation skills at ten, not bad) and the card was mine.  I spent nearly my entire budget on this card, something that I never did.  Generally, I liked to spread my money along a lot of packs of cards or some random $.10 singles.  You know, the worst bang for your buck.  For this card, I made an exception.

The concept of a second-favorite anything is kind of strange to me now, as I am an adult and I'm not really sure that I have a first-favorite player.  As a child, I had all kinds of second-favorites.  The San Francisco Giants were my second-favorite team.  "Macho Man" Randy Savage was my second-favorite wrestler (Bret "Hit Man" Hart was number 1).  My second-favorite video game was Super Mario Kart, which I only got to play at my friend Brian's house and which couldn't hold a candle to NBA Jam.  Tony Gwynn was my second-favorite player, after Kirby Puckett of course.

I won't lie and pretend that I didn't at least partially like Gwynn because he reminded me of Puckett.  I think I once called him "the Kirby Puckett of the National League."  I've apparently loved clumsy analogies my whole life.  I remember I would look at the San Diego box scores every day just to see how many hits Gwynn had.  It seemed like he never went a game without at least one hit.  I rarely got to see him play, but when I had the chance, I took advantage.  Unfortunately, I never got to see him play the Twins because he never played against them.  This is reason #349,522 why I am in favor of interleague play. 

Gwynn's stats are amazing.  He hit .289 as a 22-year-old rookie and then he never hit below .309 in any season.  As a rookie, he struck out 16 times and walked 14 times.  He never struck out more than he walked again, not even in his final season at age 41.  He was intentionally walked 203 times in his career, this despite the fact that he only hit 135 career home runs.  He won three straight batting titles from 1987 to 1989, then he one-upped himself, winning four-in-a-row from 1994 to 1997.  Just amazing.    

Even more than his stats, Gwynn's legend is built on his demeanor and personality.  I remember when he was calling games for ESPN, he was smart, informative and fun.  I really enjoyed hearing Gwynn talk about baseball.  When you look at social media and comments from stories about Gwynn, you see nothing but praise and admiration.  The internet is a truly hateful place, but I'd have to look really hard to find someone capable of hating Tony Gwynn.  Obviously, I never met him, but he certainly gave off the "good dude" vibes from far away. 

Gwynn sadly passed away at age 54 on Monday.  I checked Twitter while working on some house projects and saw all these Gwynn stat tweets and I knew that while the tweets were entertaining, they didn't exist for a good reason.  Eventually, I scrolled to a tweet that indicated that he had passed.  I literally gasped and sat down.  I knew he was battling cancer and I had read that he was not doing well, but I still wasn't prepared for this news.  It was sad and shocking all at once.

I'm happy I own that rookie card because it means a lot to me and it reminds me of one of the biggest reasons why I still love baseball today.  Tony Gwynn made me love and appreciate the game more than I already did.  That really means a lot to me and I am very thankful that I got to appreciate and enjoy his great career.

My heart and thoughts certainly go out to Gwynn's family at this time.  He was a tremendous baseball player and by all accounts, a universally beloved and great man.