It's sad when any well-known professional athlete dies, much less a Hall of Fame talent like Tony Gwynn. It's scary for me, because Gwynn was just 54 years old, younger than I am. Here is a statement from the Commissioner's office:
"Major League Baseball today mourns the tragic loss of Tony Gwynn, the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known, whose all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life. Tony was synonymous with San Diego Padres baseball, and with his .338 career batting average and eight batting titles, he led his beloved ballclub to its greatest heights, including two National League pennants. "Tony loved our game, the city of San Diego and his alma mater where he starred and coached, San Diego State University, and he was a part of a wonderful baseball family. His commitment to the children of San Diego made him a deserving recipient of our game’s highest off-field honor, the Roberto Clemente Award, in 1999. "For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the National Pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched. On behalf of all of our Clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Tony’s wife Alicia, their son Tony Jr. of the Phillies, their daughter Anisha, the Padres franchise, his fans in San Diego and his many admirers throughout Baseball."
And this didn't have to happen. Gwynn was a heavy user of smokeless tobacco, and according to this ESPN.com article, attributed the cancer that eventually took his life to longterm use of that product, despite, as you can read at that link, his wife's pleadings for him to quit.
Maybe this isn't the right time to say what I'm about to say, or maybe it is. From Deadspin:
You can reel off the accolades. Twenty seasons, all with the Padres. Fifteen-time all-star. Eight-time batting champ. Seven Silver Sluggers, to go with five Gold Gloves. A hitting machine with speed. An ideal teammate. His number 19 was retired by San Diego in 2004. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007. That smile, and that swing. Smokeless tobacco has since been banned in the NCAA and in the minor leagues. If nothing else, let Tony Gwynn's legacy be a cautionary tale, and let the untimely death of one of baseball's most beloved players save lives.
That last paragraph is exactly right, in my view. Though players can't use smokeless tobacco until they get to the big leagues, many major leaguers still do use it, and with Gwynn's death, far too young, I hope they will see they need to quit. Doing that clearly isn't easy, but they should at least try, and personally -- and I know this will cause outrage among some of you -- I think Major League Baseball ought to ban the stuff.
There's no reason to use it, it doesn't enhance anyone's ability to play baseball, and it can kill you. Tony Gwynn was one of the good guys, and if baseball had the foresight to ban smokeless tobacco decades ago (and this 1998 New York Times article about the death of Bill Tuttle, a 1960s era player who had warned against the dangers of smokeless tobacco surely indicates that they could have), maybe Tony Gwynn would still be alive today.
Rest in peace, Tony. Sincere condolences to his family and many friends. And let this lead to the end of the use of a product that can kill.