Tony Gwynn had his last really great year at the plate in 1997.  Some of the more gaudy numbers he put up include:

  • Career high for hits in a season (220)
  • Career high for HR in a season (17)
  • Career high for RBI in a season (119)
  • Won his eighth, and final, Silver Bat for the best batting average in the National League (.372)
  • Career high for doubles in a season (49)
  • He posted his third best OPS+ and second best wRC+ for a single season

That’s just the stuff you can pull off his baseball card at Baseball Reference or Fangraphs.  He did a couple of other things I find amazing, as well.

He walked 55 times that year, but only 12 of those were intentional.  That low IBB number didn’t make the top 10 in the NL that season.  With Ken Caminiti hitting behind him most of the year, I guess that’s understandable.

He saw only sixteen 0-2 counts all year. But this pitcher’s count was no friend to the hurler in 1997 when Tony Gwynn stepped into the box.  He hit .375 when the count was 0-2.  He was backed into a 1-2 count 62 times that season, and hit .344 in those situations.  For the entire 1997 season, according to Baseball Reference, there was no count in which he didn’t hit at least .300; oddly, the count that gave him the most trouble was 1-1 – he only hit .300 on that next pitch. Mere mortals struggle to hit .300 in a hitters count; Tony just hit.

But by far, my favorite stat from that season is his otherworldly .459/.489/.760 with RISP.

In a sport defined by failure, it was assumed as a given he’d drive the runner in.  Fans were actually surprised when he did fail, which by the numbers was 54% of the time but felt as if it only happened once ina blue moon.  Seventeen years on it is difficult to describe the atmosphere at Jack Murphy when Tony walked to the plate with runners on.  The noise level changed.  People stopped talking and paid attention to the game.  You could feel the expectation that Tony would come through.

Sometimes, you get a premonition of what is about to happen.  When Ken Caminiti walked to the plate in the eighth inning of Game 3 in the 1996 NLDS, everyone in the building believed he was about to homer to tie the game. That’s lightning in a bottle, though.  In 1997, every time Tony walked to the plate the fans believed he’d come through.  And come through he did.  A couple of pitches, then a line drive into the right-center field gap and there’s Tony, rounding first on his way to second with another RBI double.

1997 was a mostly forgettable year, a 76-86 campaign sandwiched between the surprise Division Champs of 1996 and the National League Champs of 1998.  And yet, I’m so glad I had season tickets in 1997.  I’m so glad I sat through all those home games to see the Padres Greatest Player in his last great season.

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Gwynn.  Thanks for Everything.

Ted Williams:  “Baseball is great because you have to learn how to do it.  And part of that is proper guessing at the plate.”

Tony Gwynn:  (smiling) “I don’t guess.”

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