June 16,2014(ISN) – SAN DIEGO — Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, the greatest Padres player and arguably the best Major League hitter of the latter part of the 20th century, passed away early Monday morning at Pomerado Hospital in Poway, Calif., surrounded by his family. Gwynn, who was 54, had been battling salivary gland cancer.
Gwynn’s .338 career batting average over 20 seasons — all of them with the Padres — is the highest since Ted Williams retired from the Red Sox in 1960 with a .344 average. Gwynn’s playing career ended in 2001, and since then he had been the head baseball coach for San Diego State University, where he starred in both baseball and basketball as a collegian, and a part-time analyst on Padres telecasts.
“Mr. Padre” won a record eight National League batting titles — equal to the number won by Honus Wagner — and collected 3,141 hits in his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Orioles great Cal Ripken.
Gwynn’s battle with cancer began in 2009 when a malignant tumor was removed from his right cheek. Gwynn claimed that the cancer in the salivary gland was the result of his longtime habit of chewing tobacco. The cancer returned twice, and in the latter part of 2012 he again began radiation treatment in an attempt to shrink the tumor.
Gwynn underwent another round of surgery in early 2012 when the nerve that the tumor was wrapped around had to be replaced with one from his shoulder. In each case Gwynn valiantly fought back.
Gwynn had been on medical leave from his head coach position at San Diego State since March and on Wednesday had signed a one-year extension.
“The whole experience was traumatic because I thought I had it beat, and dang, it came back,” Gwynn said during a visit to the Hall of Fame later that year for the induction ceremony.