I've known Gwynn so long, I covered his first hit in 1982, his last in 2001 and most of the 3,141 in a 20-year career, all with the Padres. I was there for Little Tony's first big league hit in 2006. And with any luck, I'll be there to see newly born Kayden's first knock. Tony Sr.'s daughter, Anisha, just gave birth to him three months ago.
In my mind's eye, I can still see Tony's two kids playing with my kids around the pool of the Yuma, Ariz., hotel where we all stayed during Spring Training when I covered the Padres for the old San Diego Tribune 25 years ago.
For Gwynn, these have been trying times. He has spent the last few years battling cancer of the parotid (or salivary) gland in his right cheek, the result, he believes, of a lifetime of chewing tobacco. He's undergone multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and is currently working through some unidentified treatment. Doctors replaced the nerve in that cheek and total movement still hasn't returned.
Gwynn is the head baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater, and the Aztecs were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he's embarking on a limited schedule of analyzing televised Padres games. His debut was this week and he was up in the booth, wearing his retired No. 19 jersey after the Padres honored their 1998 National League pennant winners on Friday night.
Gwynn is the only career Padre inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a .338 lifetime hitter and possesses eight NL batting titles. I caught up with him before the 1998 NL champions' ceremony at Petco Park.
MLB.com: This was your 11th season as Aztecs head coach and second time to the NCAA Tournament. How did it go?
Gwynn: I thought we beat ourselves in the regional just trying to do too much. Overall, I thought it was a good year. I thought our guys played hard all year long. We were right there in the thick of things. We got to where we wanted to go, which was to a regional. One of these years, one of these years, man, instead of working [as a broadcaster] in June, I'm still going to be coaching in June and that's what we're hoping for.
MLB.com: That's like getting to the next round of the playoffs.
Gwynn: Yes, that's exactly right. You've got to move up. It's good to get there because I think our guys will learn a lot by getting there. But ultimately it's not where you want to end up. You want to continue playing and hopefully get to Omaha and the College World Series. I think that's all of our dreams is to one day get to Omaha, so we're going to work hard to get there.
MLB.com: So you're still enjoying it?
Gwynn: Loving it. I think I love it even more now. As you get older, I love the coaching aspect. Being on the field is the best part. The administrative stuff can be tedious, like today, dealing with scholarships. But that's part of it. In order to be successful, you have to put all those things together, so hopefully we can do that.
MLB.com: How is your son doing?
Gwynn: He's doing really good and I'm really proud of him. When you're not on the [40-man] roster and you see how they've struggled and you don't get a call, it can be extremely frustrating. He called me earlier in the year and asked me, "What should I do?" And I said, "Go play. Go play well. Hopefully somebody else will see you and you'll get another opportunity." He went 4-for-5 the other night. He's doing really well. Hopefully somebody will see that and give him a shot.
MLB.com: So you think he's pretty much finished in the Dodgers organization?
Gwynn: I don't know. He's not on the roster. When you're not on the roster, you've got to take somebody off of it to put somebody on. When Matt Kemp got hurt, they brought [Yasiel] Puig up. With the kind of money they spent on that outfield -- [Carl] Crawford, Kemp and [Andre] Ethier -- it doesn't look good.
MLB.com: His attitude is always good, I'm sure.
Gwynn: You never have to worry about that with him. He has a great sense of humor. He understands that it's a business. All you can do is go out there, play well and be productive and like I said, hope something opens up.
MLB.com: How are you feeling?
Gwynn: Doing good. You have your days, but for the most part, I'm doing good. I only missed four games this year, so life is good.
MLB.com: Why did you miss games?
Gwynn: Treatment. I had treatment.
MLB.com: What kind of treatment?
Gwynn: Just treatment. I'm doing good. I'm still here. I'm still walking around and able to talk to you.
MLB.com: OK, so what did you think of our Hall of Fame vote last winter?
Gwynn: I was surprised. I honestly thought Craig Biggio would get in. I figure there would be some pull back with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. But I thought somebody would make it. I'm really surprised that nobody is getting in out of that group this year. The problem is that next year you add a Greg Maddux, you add a Tom Glavine, you add a Frank Thomas. Now you've got all those other guys -- Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa -- the votes are going to get more interesting as we move along here. However it goes, it's going to be interesting.
MLB.com: As we move forward, do you think these guys should be forgiven and get in?
Gwynn: That's not my call. That's your call. You're the only one who can answer that question. From my standpoint, whoever gets in, as long as it's the process I had to go through, I'm going to be there to support whoever gets in. It's a little easier for me to say that because I've playing in this era. I'm sure some of the old-school guys who played before me might not feel the way I feel. I know that when I went in 2007, when Cal [Ripken Jr.] and I went in, there were a bunch of guys there to support us going in. I plan on trying to be the same way. No matter who gets in, no matter how it happens.
MLB.com: What do you think about this current investigation?
Gwynn: I don't. There's nothing I can do about it. I care because I think we all care about the game and doing things right and doing things the right way. But obviously to some guys, that's not important. You would think they're going to have to tighten up the rules a little bit. A 50-game suspension doesn't seem to be a deterrent to some guys. They're probably going to have to run that to 100 games. Take some more cash, some more salary away. Right now, 50 days worth doesn't seem to be enough.
MLB.com: Do you feel tainted by having played in this era?
Gwynn: No, I don't. I didn't do anything wrong. I don't feel tainted. But there's going to be whole [boat] load of people who watch the game who feel that way. Because I played in that era, 50 years from now, they'll probably look at my numbers and think I was one of those guys, too. But I can't change anything now. It's done. All I can do is try to be a representative to the Hall of Fame and try to preach to people to do things right.
That's what I try to tell our [college] guys: "Hey, you've got to do things right. You've got to play the game the right way. You've got to take care of your business the right way." That's really all I can do. My opinion means jack, right now, because there are guys who feel they've got to make it and by whatever means that is what those guys feel they have to do.
I think all of us were in that position at one point or another in our careers when you try to decide what is the best way of going about being successful. I just chose the hard work way. I was just going to outwork guys. Hopefully, that was going to work for me and it did. But obviously that's not the way everybody is going about their business.
MLB.com: What do you think about the Padres from what you've seen this year?
Gwynn: I like them. I like the young guys. I like the fact that they're inquisitive. That they want to get better. Guys like Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, they want to get better. Chase Headley, he really came into his own last year. Will Venable is not beating himself up like he used to. You can see them maturing right in front of your eyes. Let's hope that they can keep doing some good things. I think we've surprised people already.
MLB.com: You think the team needs to sign Headley long term and start keeping players?
Gwynn: You would like to see that happen. I think every organization would like to have that one guy they can depend on, who comes up through the organization. That gives Minor Leaguers the hope that they can be that one guy. So I hope that's what happens, but it is a business. They'll make those decisions when they get to them. You've got to keep your own. I've always felt that way. You've got to develop and keep your own.
MLB.com: Well, you're a perfect example of that. You were one of those guys. That was important to you.
Gwynn: Yeah. Yeah. And now when you look at the back of my card, it's really cool. It just says San Diego on it.