Tony Gwynn is talking, talking, talking. He is a .400 talker, the only one in baseball. His wife, Alicia, the school chum he only later recognized as something more than a batting-practice pitcher, says the man doesn't make two peeps when he's at home. "Oh, he might come out of the game room all of a sudden and say, 'What's for dinner?'" she reports. But sitting in front of his cubicle, six hours before a game, rolling a bat in his hands, he won't shut up, not when it comes to baseball. You can locate him from around corners, since all his stories end on a high-pitched squeak.
"Mike Schmidt once said, 'You can always teach a guy to hit .300,'" Gwynn begins, "'but you can't teach him how to hit it out of a ballpark.'" He rolls the bat. "People want to see home runs. At first I was annoyed by that. But now I see, basically, he's right. Took me a long time to grasp it. I mean, I hit .370 in 1987, and I finished eighth in the MVP voting. I couldn't understand that then. Last year I hit .394, and I finished seventh. I'm getting the picture. But it annoyed me for a long time."
If no longer annoyed, he remains defensive. The motives of a contact hitter, even one of the best ever to play the game, are always suspect. "One thing I've found is that we're called selfish more than anybody else," he says. "It's happened to me. It's happened to every contact hitter who's played the game. It's just a by-product of what we do. Anytime you're trying to do something perfect, so focused on what you do—well, it's not always pretty."
[Photo Credit: John McDonough/SI]