By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – As a member of the San Diego Padres from 1993 to 1996, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus played with one of the best hitters ever in Tony Gwynn.
A 15-time All-Star who won eight batting titles and five Gold Gloves in his Hall of Fame career, the 54-year-old Gwynn died Monday of cancer. Several hours before first pitch of Monday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Ausmus talked about his former teammate.
“When I first went to the big leagues with San Diego, Tony kind of took a couple of the young guys under his wing — myself, Archi Cianfrocco,” Ausmus said. “We used to hit in the cage all the time, even during the offseason. You could add Andy Ashby in that group and we used to have a foursome in golf during the strike of ’94, during the offseasons.
“We would play golf until I stopped playing because I wasn’t getting any better and Tony — we started out even, and then Tony kept getting better, and I wasn’t,” Ausmus added with a smile, “So I let Tony play on his own.”
Ausmus said Gwynn was the best he ever saw at putting the fat part of the bat on the ball. Meticulous preparation played a role.
“He was really the first guy that I played with that delved into video,” Ausmus said. “Had his own little mini-eight player — matter of fact, I got one. He would get the videos on the little cassettes, and you could play them anywhere, it was a portable video player. He was the first guy that really kind of analyzed things — not only what he was doing but what the pitcher was doing. Video’s taken off, really, since that time. The Padres, as a matter of fact, ended up putting a big, expensive video unit in the clubhouse because of Tony.”
Gwynn had one of the best stretches of his career right around the time Ausmus played for the Padres. Gwynn won four straight batting titles between 1994 and 1997. Ausmus remembered talk around the clubhouse of whether Gwynn would hit .400 in what turned out to be a strike-shortened 1994 season.
“It seemed like the guy never made an out, when you played with him,” Ausmus said. “Everything he touched seemed to find a hole, and his teammates were happy for him and jealous of him. There was a lot of people talking about whether he could reach .400 or not.”
From everyone who has spoken about Gwynn, however, the man was a better person even than he was a ballplayer.
“He’s just a good person,” Ausmus said. “He’s just a good guy. As great a player as he was, he was just a good, regular guy. He would talk to anybody like you were his next-door neighbor.”