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Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padre Hall Of Famer, Dies

NPR icon by Eyder Peralta
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Jeff Haynes

Hall of famer Tony Gwynn, who spent 20 years playing for the San Diego Padres, has died.

The team announced his death on Twitter, saying they were "terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend."

Gwynn, known as Mr. Padre, flirted with a .400 batting average in 1994. By the end of the season, his batting average was .394. Gwynn earned eight National League batting titles and had 3,141 career hits, as well as an impressive .338 batting average overall.

Back in April, The San Diego Union Tribune reported Gwynn was taking a leave of absence from his job as coach at San Diego State to be treated for cancer.

In the past, he had surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes and tumors from his salivary glands. He had said he believed his cancer had been caused by years of chewing tobacco.

Gywnn was 54 years old.

Update at 11:52 a.m. ET. That 1994 Season:

Right before Gwynn was inducted into the Hall of Fame, ESPN The Magazine wrote a piece titled "Since Williams, No Greater Hitter Than Gwynn."

That's a reference to Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941 and is considered the greatest hitter who ever lived. The magazine talked about how Gwynn seemed to understand batting at a cellular level. The magazine reported:

"Tony Gwynn was a master craftsman. No one understood the art of hitting better than he did. He knew his swing, the opposing pitcher, the home-plate umpire, the defense, the elements and the contours of every field better than anyone. He hit off a tee more than Vijay Singh. He looked at more film than Roger Ebert. When outfielder Al Martin joined the Padres late in his career, Martin explained that after opening his stance, he started to hit the ball to the opposite field with power, but he didn't know why. 'I know why,' said Gwynn, who took Martin to the batting cage and showed him. He knew Martin's swing better than Martin did.

"That's why, on Jan. 9, Gwynn will be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility."

But it also seems that Gwynn's single greatest year — 1994 — always haunted him. When the season was cut short by a strike, Gwynn was batting .394.

In 1996, he told NBC News that in his mind he thought he could have taken a run at .400, which few players have accomplished.

"I was squaring the ball up nicely, hitting lefties, righties," he said. "I would have given it a run. I'm not sure how I would have handled it in September. But I think I had the type of personality to handle it. We'll never know, but I have no regrets.''

Update at 11:46 a.m. ET. More On His Career:

ESPN adds a bit more on Gwynn's career:

"Gwynn, nicknamed "Mr. Padre" for his service to both the team and the city, was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2007. His No. 19 was retired by the Padres in 2004.

"He hit safely in 75 percent of the games in which he played during his career, and he batted .300 in each of his last 19 seasons, a streak second only to Ty Cobb.

"He also was named to 15 All-Star teams, won seven Silver Slugger Awards and five Gold Glove Awards. His eight batting titles tied for second-most in MLB history."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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