Sandy Alomar, Terry Francona and Justin Masterson all knew the Padres hitter.
By Joe Reedy
CLEVELAND -- Tony Gwynn's death on Monday had a profound effect on three people in the Indians clubhouse. First-base coach Sandy Alomar started in the Padres' organization before being traded to the Indians in 1989, Terry Francona played against him and Gwynn coached Justin Masterson at San Diego State.
The most incredible thing was being able to play for him for a year at San Diego State.
"What caught me off guard the most was you got to be with a guy who played 20 years in the league who became one of the best hitters in the history of the game," Masterson said. "A lot of times when people are good at something they gain an arrogance but what he proved more than anything was he taught you how to be a professional. Whether you are a rookie or veteran he treated you the same, like you were a man and a regular person."
Gwynn died of oral cancer at age 54. He had 3,141 hits, a career .338 average and won eight National League batting titles.
Masterson transferred to San Diego State on the advice of his friend, Bruce Billings, who was also a pitcher at the school. He went 6-7 with a 4.81 ERA with the Aztecs in 2006 but was ranked as the 24th best draft-eligible prospect by Baseball America before being drafted in the second round by the Red Sox.
With the way Gwynn was able to relate to people, Masterson said that Gwynn's approach to hitting was so easy that Masterson felt like he could do it.
"He never really talked (pitching) mechanics but we would talk about how he would approach this guy and what he was thinking at the plate," Masterson said. "He would always end with 'There's no way I could hit you Masty' and I'm thinking he could hit .700 off me but I appreciated the confidence."
Francona joked that the one thing he remembered about Glynn was that when Francona suffered a season-ending knee injury in June of 1984, he was second to Gwynn in the National League in hitting at the time.
When it came to what made Gwynn great as a hitter, Francona said that he was a rare breed and that not many could mimic what made him great.
"He could wait so long and then hit it that most people can't. His results were incredible. His hand-eye coordination was off the charts," Francona said. "People donât remember what a great athlete he was. He was a great basketball player. He was also a great base stealer and could manipulate the bat as well as anyone. As he got older I don't think people gave him credit for how fast he could run."
Alomar's memories of Gwynn, like Masterson, were more about the person than the player.
"Everybody knows his work ethic and how good he was. What a lot of people don't know is what a great person he was," Alomar said. "It brings back memories of the times you spent with him, his smile and the joy he brought to the game. He was an unbelievable person."