Purple Row Interviews Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn

Through a promotion sponsored by Pepsi Max, Purple Row was granted an ten-minute interview with former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn. Gwynn, who retired following the 2001 season after posting a career 132 wRC+ (including never having a season below 100 - full or otherwise) and accumulating a lifetime 67.9 WAR, was a first-ballot Hall of Famer who garnered 97.5 percent of total votes. Tony will be in Cooperstown this Sunday for this year's induction ceremonies, which include Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, and Pat Gillick. Sincere thanks to Tony (who was as classy of a guy as I possibly could have talked to), Pepsi Max, and Jeff Aberle (who passed the interview opportunity along to me).

Bryan Kilpatrick: Hi Tony, how are you doing this morning?

Tony Gwynn: I'm good, how are you?

BK: Good, I'm Bryan from the Colorado Rockies' SB Nation blog Purple Row, and I just have a few questions I want to ask you this morning.

TG: Okay.

BK: First off, I understand you're involved in a PepsiMAX program which is taking 30 all-time great players and deciding an all-Field of Dreams team. You're with some pretty impressive company there.

TG: Yeah.

BK: Tell me how that's going for you.

TG: It's going good. It's exciting to have the opportunity to work with zero-calorie Pepsi Max on this Field of Dreams promotion where, from now until August 31st, fans will get a chance to go online at MLB.com/PepsiMax and vote for an 11-man dream team of major league legends. It's a ballot of 30 guys, which I'm one of, and fans will have an opportunity to vote for what they feel is the MLB dream team. And, for each ballot cast, fans will have their name entered for a chance to compete against the team in their local community with their family and friends. It's a really cool promotion. Guys were talking this morning about how competitive this thing can really get, (laughs) because you're talking about major league players playing baseball and even though we've been retired for a while, that intensity and competitiveness just always seems to come out. It's a neat idea and one that I think fans can identify with, and us as former players can definitely identify with. So, it's really cool to be nominated and be a part of this thing.

BK: That is cool. That's an unbelievable opportunity for fans to be able to have - to play against a group of legends among those 30 guys. I don't see you losing to anybody, regardless of how long you guys have been out of the game.

TG: (laughs) That's funny because that's what they were talking about. Fans will get to vote among three guys in each category except for of (6). I was looking at the list this morning...Dave Winfield, Ken Griffey, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, and myself. So, like I said, having your name on the ballot is awesome and fans will have the opportunity to vote for the 11 they feel like are the best guys and then hey, strap it on and let's go get it. Fans are excited and players are excited so this will hopefully be a great opportunity for somebody to see how us former guys got it done.

BK: Yeah, good luck to whoever wins that competition.

TG: (laughs) Exactly.

Read the rest of the interview after the jump.

BK: So you're in Phoenix for the All-Star Game, right?

TG: Yeah.

BK: What's your favorite personal All-Star Game memory? You were obviously a part of 15 of them in your career...

TG: I have two that really stick out. One of them is making it the first time, for me it was 1984 in SF. When you make it the first time, you have no idea what to expect abd don't know how people will treat you. You really don't feel like you belong the first time. Being here in Phoenix, you see how first-timers are wide-eyed and how excited they are to be here so that always sticks out. Another one that sticks out is first time you actually do something to help your side win, and that happened 10 years later for me in 1994 in Pittsburgh. I scored the winning run and helped the National League win. That was by far my fave All-Star Game memory, even more so than playing in San Diego. Getting a couple of hits, an RBI, a run scored...that for me was feeling like I contributed to helping our side win, so both games stick out in my mind.

BK: What are your feelings on the general offensive landscape in baseball now compared to when you played?

TG: It's funny, I was thinking about this the other day, and pitchers are dominating - no question. This game is very cyclical, and right now we're going through a cycle where the pitching is very good. There are 7, 8, 9 guys on each staff that throw 95 or better. In my era, the average fastball was maybe 91 or 92 MPH and in today's game, it's probably 94 or 95. You just don't see that guy who's throwing 88-89 as often now as you did 10 years ago. The game's kind of evolved. Pitchers are dominating right now, but in ten years it might be the other way. But right now if you're a pitcher, you're the hot commodity in the game today because power pitching guys that can throw different things for strikes consistently - those guys are having a whole bunch of success right now. Still, having said that, there will still be hitters who are at the forefront like Adrian Gonzalez, who is having a great year and Jose Reyes, who is playing great right now. Even in a year where pitchers are dominating, there's always a few guys who can step up offensively and still figure out a way to get it done.

BK: I'm sure you've been asked this question a multitude of times, but do you feel that the All-Star Game is a good way to settle home field advantage for the World Series?

TG: Honestly I don't. I mean, I'm kind of an old-school guy in that respect. I think that's why you have a regular season and whoever has the best record should earn the right for home field. Then again, I'm open for change and open for different ideas on how we should do things because it's about the fans feeling like the game they love to watch is progressing and moving forward, and I think in a lot of fans' minds, they don't feel like baseball is moving in that direction. It was interesting earlier this year to hear the talk of the 15-team leagues and possible realignment. It's going to take that kind of thinking to get baseball back in good graces, and fans are going to have to have an open mind like I do. I was completely old-school and wanted to do things that way but I think I've realized that you've got to change and think outside the box and think about doing things differently. If you would have asked me five years ago if this whole 'tweeting' thing was going to pan out, I would have said "heck no, this isn't going to work." (laughs) And I would have been completely wrong. So, I think you have to open up a little bit and think outside the box and I think MLB is trying to do that. So, as we move forward, it's going to be interesting to see which direction they decide to go.

BK: It's funny Tony, I have a friend who's a big Padres fan and shortly after you retired, we would jokingly ask him how you were doing that season and he would just say in a monotone (and even slightly numb and depressed) voice: "Tony Gwynn don't play for the Padres no more," (Tony laughs) and that speaks to how integral you were and still are to that organization. The Rockies have their own Tony Gwynn-like player of sorts in Denver with Todd Helton. You played against him for a few years toward the end of your career. What kind of player was he then and how do you view him today?

TG: He's going to be a Hall Of Famer. And, he's going to be that guy that I was for the Padres for the Rockies - that, when it's all said and done, people are going to look back and say that Todd Helton was really one of the first guys who played his whole career here and established himself as a Rockie. And, he's going hold all of their records - for a while, at least, until Troy Tulowitzki probably catches him. He was a great player when he came up - a great hitter and gold glove defender. He's the gold standard and every team has a guy like that, and for the Rockies, to me he's that guy. This year he seems to be rejuvenated. He's swinging the bat really well. The thing I always look at as guys start to get older and have the "been there/done that" attitude is, does he smile a lot and have fun? And, from watching on TV, to me it seems like he's still having fun. So, as long as that's the case, he's going be an asset to that Rockies team and from what we've seen in the past couple of years, you can never count them out no matter where they are at the All-Star break. You know that in the second half, they're going to get hot and make a run and I think a lot of people are predicing they're going be in the thick of things coming down the stretch.

BK: Well we're hoping so, but right now it's looking like pretty dark days at the moment, though. Tony, I understand you're on a pretty tight schedule, so I have just one more question for you. You're a Hall Of Famer who racked up 3141 hits, played in 15 All-Star Games, you were .338 career hitter, plus you also won 5 Gold Gloves and appeared in a couple of World Series. What do you feel is the greatest acheivment of your illustrious career?

TG: Alright, this one's going throw you for a loop here, okay? The thing I'm proud of the most isn't the 8 batting titles, 5 Gold Gloves, or 15 All-Star Games. It's the premise that I came up to the big leagues on, which was when I went up to the plate, my objective was to put the bat on the ball, put it in play, and make the defense get me out. I went up to the plate probably over 10,000 times in my career and struck out 438 times.

BK: That's terrific.

TG: And that's what I"m proud of the most because I set a goal, went up to the plate the majority of the time just trying to put the bat on the ball, and I think I was able to do that, and I'm proud of that more than anything else because I set my mind to doing something and I was able to go up there and do it. All of the other stuff sounds and looks great and makes my resume look good, but deep down inside that's what I'm the most proud of.

BK: Well Tony, it has been a complete honor and pleasure talking to you. Take care, and have a great time down there in Phoenix.

TG: Alright, thanks a lot for having me.

Listen to the audio here: Tony Gwynn Interview

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