MLB Insider: Lesson from tough week is smarts, work ethic

06/21/2014 5:32 PM

11/12/2014 6:16 PM

For many of those who played and watched the game in the 1980s and 1990s and many of those who currently cover the game, the past week has been a tough one.

Left in the aftermath of the passing of Tony Gwynn, the tireless hitting machine, and Richard Durrett, the tireless local sportswriter, are the memories.

Many have been shared the past few days and more will emerge this week as both men are memorialized, beginning with Durrett, 38, on Monday in Dallas and Gwynn, 54, on Thursday in San Diego.

Those of us who worked alongside Durrett have shared our thoughts on him. It wasn’t easy, and Monday won’t be easy.

Those who played with Gwynn have shared their thoughts, too. Those who covered him did so as well. Even those who didn’t cover him, and those who watched him growing up, can marvel at what he did on the field.

It’s easy to do these days with all the statistics available with the click of a mouse. What Gwynn did at the plate hasn’t happened much throughout history, not to mention in the past 50 years, and it hardly happens at all these days.

Just look at his strikeout totals.

Gwynn recorded eight seasons of more than 400 at-bats with fewer than 20 strikeouts. He never struck out more than 40 times in a season.

Entering Saturday, 26 players had struck out at least 20 times this month, with Marcel Ozuna of Miami touching 30.

Gwynn had only one three-strikeout game in his career, in 1986 against Bob Welch.

Welch, who died June 9, again too soon at 57, was the 1990 American League Cy Young winner. He was pretty good, and there was no shame in being struck out by him.

The same goes for Greg Maddux, the four-time Cy Young winner and the winner of 355 games. He will join Gwynn in the Hall of Fame next month.

No pitcher faced Gwynn more than Maddux, 107 plate appearances, but Maddux never struck out Gwynn. Never.

“He hit him pretty good,” Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said of the matchup between Gwynn and his younger brother.

Almost all of Gwynn’s success can be attributed to his intelligence and work ethic, which three Rangers coaches witnessed first-hand as a San Diego Padres teammate to Gwynn during various stages of his career.

Batting cages were installed at Jack Murphy Stadium because “no one wanted to hit more than Tony,” said bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, who played with Gwynn from 1981 in the minors through 1988 with San Diego.

Maddux remembered watching Gwynn take batting practice countless times, each time wearing out the left-field line with the opposite-field liners that fueled a .338 career average that is the highest for a retired player since Ted Williams.

Maddux, who was with the Padres in 1991 and 1992, remembers the scores of video tapes and equipment that was hauled on each road trip at a time when video analysis wasn’t even remotely as prevalent as it is today.

Hitting coach Dave Magadan, who played with Gwynn during the final three years of their careers from 1999 to 2001, said that Gwynn knew how pitchers were going to attack him.

It’s not wrong to call the left-handed-hitting Gwynn a guess hitter, but it’s far more accurate to call him an educated-guess hitter.

“They’d bring in a lefty to face him, and he would tell me how they were going to pitch him before he even went up to bat,” Magadan said. “It was right on target. It was absolutely amazing.”

Another Gwynn calling card was what a terrific person he was. That’s the No. 1 thing that people have said about Durrett, a Hall of Fame human being.

Both will be remembered this week. The past week has been a tough one.

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