ATLANTA -- Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton fought back tears as he sat in the dugout late Monday afternoon and discussed the passing of Tony Gwynn, an iconic Hall of Fame player and beloved friend to so many.
"He was just always there for you," Pendleton said. "When you got to San Diego, if you needed to talk to Tony about anything, he was always available for you. That was just special."
Shock and sadness were felt throughout the baseball world on Monday morning, when it was learned that cancer had claimed Gwynn's life at the age of 54. The first-ballot Hall of Famer dazzled with his bat and used his vibrant, generous personality to keep those around him happy.
Pendleton won the 1991 National League Most Valuable Player Award and finished second the following season. But when the Braves arrived in San Diego to play Gwynn's Padres on June 7, 1993, the Atlanta third baseman was hitting just .223 with a .558 OPS. Before the first game of that series, Gwynn approached Pendleton, put his arm around him and told him to stop worrying about other's expecations. The message seemed to work, as Pendelton hit .302 with an .816 OPS in the 102 games that followed that trip to San Diego.
"He was always there for you," Pendleton said. "When you struggled and you had a need, he was always there for you. He just wanted to see everybody succeed in the game, whether you wore the same uniform or not. [His passing] is sad, very sad."
Gwynn batted .352 with an .876 OPS against the Braves. In the 232 games he played against Atlanta, he never struck out more than once. While some of his success came against the Atlanta pitching staffs of the 1980s, he produced ridiculous numbers against Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
Gwynn batted .462 (30-for-65) against Smoltz; .429 (39-for-91) against Maddux and .312 (29-for-93) against Glavine. In 249 combined at-bats against these Cy Young Award winners, he struck out a total of three times, two of which were recorded by Glavine and the other by Smoltz.
"[Gwynn] is single-handedly the nicest, most genuine superstar ever, and I think that's going to be across the board," Smoltz said. "I think most people are going to say that. I've never met a man that was so good at what he did and so humble. So dedicated and gifted. Obviously, he owned me. I would always talk to him about, 'Can you cut me a break?' It's sad. It's a really, really sad loss of one of the game's greatest, most gracious persons that we have. I can't think of anything else to say than it's one of the saddest days for me, personally, because I had such tremendous respect for him."