Sports

Levine: Gwynn A Class Act On, Off Field

Tony Gwynn. (Getty Images)

Tony Gwynn. (Getty Images)

Bruce Levine Bruce Levine
Bruce Levine covers both the Cubs and the White Sox for CBSChicago.co...
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By Bruce Levine-

(CBS) Whenever I would see my friend Tony Gwynn, I would ask him, “When was the last time you saw your feet?” Gwynn was always fighting to control his weight, and he would give me his signature high-pitched horse laugh and retort, “When are you going to get a hair piece? I am getting blinded by the reflection off of your forehead.”

The beauty of Gwynn — who passed away at age 54 on Monday after a battle with cancer — transcended his natural gift to hit .300. His all-around athletic skills were just the groundwork for what made him the complete superstar he was. Gwynn was the first guy in the clubhouse every day. He worked at his trade like a scientist trying to find the essence of a never-ending experiment. A few times on his visits to Chicago, we sat at his beta tape recorder and I watched as he broke down his swing and video of other great hitters he could learn from.

Gwynn began taking a video machine with him to work in the late 1980s, when no player had ever taken video and external visualization to the level the great Gwynn did. He was brilliant guy who loved sharing his passion of family, hitting and life, and the loss of him is more than a footnote and an extended day of programming on the MLB Network.

Gwynn had a smile that lit up the room, and his laugh that made everyone giggle was one the many gifts he brought to this world. You could talk to the man about his family, baseball, politics — whatever. He had educated,well thought out response to every question you would ever ask him.

Like many people, I loved the opportunity to talk to him and share some real time with this unique person. I asked him on more than on one occasion why he didn’t leave San Diego and come  to a big city like Chicago. Gwynn could have played in front of thousands of more intense baseball fans than the tepid followers in San Diego. Tony always said  loyalty was the most important trait to him. He felt a sense of responsibility to the community and the franchise for supporting his success along the way.

Truth be told, he left a good $10 million on the table by turning down free agent opportunities when they presented themselves.

Gwynn never tired of sharing his great communication skills with the players he coached at San Diego State after retiring from the big leagues in 2001. He was a giver and true teacher of the sport he loved the most.

I always kidded Gwynn about the line drive he hit that took a hard, bad hop past Ryne Sandberg’s head to plate the eventual game- and series-winning runs in the 1984 NLCS. I would tell him how lucky he was, and he would get upset. Gwynn would then turn his head, look me in the eyes and say, “Luck is the result of hard work and preparation.”

Of course, Gwynn was right! The reason the ball took such a dramatic hop was of because of the top-hand spin and timing that he put into that one and most of his swings and 3,141 hits.

Many people will remember the guy who hit .338 lifetime and won eight batting titles. I will remember a guy who was a great husband, father and friend. Whenever I think of Tony Gwynn, I will smile and remember all the good things in life and sports that his life represented.

Rest in peace, Mr. Padre!

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.