Baseball lost a legend this week in Tony Gwynn, the eight-time batting champion lefty and career-long San Diego Padre. Gwynn passed away at age fifty-four, and while he is a major loss for the baseball community, it is worth looking back at the legendary hitter’s achievements.
Gwynn began his baseball career late, as he had focused his efforts on basketball until he was in college. Though he developed a respectable defensive game over time, Gwynn’s renown stems from his hitting prowess. Gwynn’s prime came a bit before the controversial steroid era of baseball, when hitters like Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa erased many long-standing power hitting records. But Gwynn excelled at simply hitting the ball into play rather than swinging for the fences—indeed, he is by far the most commonly cited example of a modern contact hitter.
Every sport has its share of popular “what-if” scenarios. Major League Baseball has enough hypotheticals to go around just from one event—the labor dispute that wiped out much of the 1994 MLB season and the entire 1994 MLB playoffs. Fans of 1994’s best teams, the resurgent New York Yankees and the long-suffering, non-defunct Montreal Expos, bemoan the loss of a chance to play for a title. But fans of the Padres, and of baseball history, regret that Tony Gwynn lost a golden opportunity to notch a legendary milestone—a .400 batting average.
Ted Williams famously recorded the MLB’s most recent batting average of .400 or higher, in the now-distant 1941 season. After 112 games of the 1994 season had been played, Gwynn’s batting average stood at .394—the highest batting average any Major League Baseball player has posted since Williams’s legendary year. Though Gwynn would have needed to outdo his red-hot first 112 games over the final 50 of the season to reach the milestone, he had caught fire before the work stoppage and had realistic prospects of reaching the target. It is worth remembering that Williams needed a show-stopping final double-header of the season to get over .400 in 1941, too—and delivered!
Tony Gwynn’s legacy as the model contact hitter carries on. It is even possible that, though Gwynn fell short of .400 in a shortened season, it may take another sixty-three years or more for another hitter to top Gwynn’s formidable .394. For more on how to work toward .400-level batting skill, check out Wheelhouse Batting Cages today!