This started when I was researching Jack McKeon's "Trader Jack" nickname. A little Googling led me to this article, about McKeon being fired as Padres general manager in September 1990. But tucked within was something I didn't expect, something I'd never heard, and something way more interesting:
A bitter Tony Gwynn cleaned out his locker at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, swearing off contact with the press and fellow players for the winter.
Stung by criticism from Padre teammates and hurt by the recent discovery in the Padres' dugout of a mutilated Tony Gwynn figurine, Gwynn came to the stadium early to pack his belongings and leave before players arrived for last night's game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Criticism of Tony Gwynn, and a mutilated Tony Gwynn figurine. Now, I grew up in San Diego, so I was surrounded by people who loved everything about the Padres' franchise icon, but Gwynn seemed like he deserved it, for his performance, personality, and commitment to the city. I didn't imagine that he'd ever had problems with his teammates, so finding out about these incidents - which took place before I was aware of much - was nothing short of bizarre.
Some further research took me to this SI article by Tim Kurkjian:
So Jack [Clark] is sitting there with a Coke in his hands. He slams it across the room, it breaks open and shoots all over the place, and he says, 'Hey, everyone in here knows why we're having this meeting—because we got some selfish——in this room, and they're [pitcher] Eric Show and Tony Gwynn.' Eric was shocked. I was shocked.
Clark was Gwynn's most outspoken critic, but he wasn't the only one, and as far as I can tell, these are at least some of the reasons why a few of Gwynn's teammates thought he was selfish:
- He'd be happy after a good game and sad after a bad game, regardless of whether the Padres won or lost.
- He had a pregame radio show where he would discuss certain topics without always consulting with the team first.
- He would "always" swing when a runner was trying to steal second, knowing there was a bigger hole on the right side of the infield.
- He wouldn't often give teammates recommendations on places to eat or take family.
- Sometimes he would bunt with runners on base instead of trying to pull a ground ball, which some perceived as an attempt to protect his batting average.
- He would talk about his statistics.
And the mutilated figurine? The armless, legless Gwynn was found hanging in the dugout. The Padres blamed it on an anonymous groundskeeper who did it as a joke, but Gwynn never bought their story. He didn't think it had anything to do with race, but he assumed it was a teammate.
Maybe this isn't new to you. It seems like it was a pretty big deal at the time. But it's new to me, and, surely, to a number of other people as well. Regardless of whether or not Gwynn was actually a "selfish" player, it's interesting to hear that that perception existed in the middle of his career. Especially given that some similar criticisms have been made about Ichiro, who is something of a modern-day Tony Gwynn. Everything is cyclical.
Gwynn, by the way, recorded 45 sac bunts in his career. Only four of them came after the 1990 season, in which his style was brought under attack. Right or wrong, his antagonistic teammates made an impact.