I started collecting Tony Gwynn cards by accident. I collected San Diego Padres baseball cards for several years and in the process acquired a number of cards featuring Tony. As he spent his entire 20-year career with the franchise and won all eight of his batting titles with them, he naturally featured on a lot of cards.
I’m not sure exactly when I decided to concentrate on specifically collecting Tony Gwynn cards, but I had thought about setting myself a target of collecting 394 of his cards and blogging about it. As the first pandemic lockdown of 2020 stretched on, I decided I was definitely going to do it. I launched my blog on 9th May 2020 – the date that would have been Tony’s 60th birthday. At that point, I had 179 Tony Gwynn cards so I thought collecting 394 was an ambitious aim.
Gwynn’s Career Achievements
The bare facts about Tony Gwynn’s career are impressive. He won eight National League batting titles and five Gold Gloves. He was a 15-time All-Star. Tony played in both the World Series that the Padres have reached in their history. He ended his career with over 3,000 hits.
Amazingly, Tony Gwynn actually went to San Diego State University on a basketball scholarship and they would not allow him to play baseball in his first year in college. When he graduated, both the Padres and the San Diego Clippers of the NBA drafted him, on the same day. He opted for baseball.
After making his debut for the Padres in 1982 he batted above .300 in 1983, his first full year in the major leagues, and did so for 19 consecutive seasons until he retired at the end of the 2001 season.
In the mid-80s Tony pioneered the use of video to replay his batting performances and analyse weaknesses in his game. He became known as “Mr Video” as a result and lots of players soon copied him.
He was later nicknamed “Mr Padre” and immortalised as a statue outside San Diego’s new ballpark, The Padres retired his shirt number, 19, the day he did.
Tony Gwynn Hits Two Shy of 400
If you look at the players with the top 20 batting averages on Baseball-Reference Tony Gwynn is the only player born after World War II on the list. His career batting average of .338 is higher than most players can achieve in their best season.
Tony’s best-ever season was the 1994 season, his batting average for that year was .394, mathematicians have calculated he was only two hits away from breaking .400 for the first time since 1941.
One year he won the batting title without enough plate appearances, ‘ghost’ zero-scoring plate appearances were added to his total and they then divided his hits by the new appearances total, and he still won the title.
Literally, nobody of Tony’s generation came close to him in terms of hitting the ball and getting on base. The irony is, that he played through the power-hitting home run era, the era of McGwire, Bonds and Sosa. It was they who captured all the attention and the records they broke. A half-decade later, when Moneyball suddenly catapulted solid infield hitters into prominence, he had just retired.
Tony played through the hobby explosion at the end of the 1980s and the 1990s. As a result, the cards are plentiful from multiple different companies. Tony has over 11,500 cards listed on Trading Card Database. Collecting 394 – to match his modern-day record batting average – was a challenge but not impossible.
I have had help from several people from the groups for UK-based collectors on Facebook, particularly Gawain who sourced me hundreds of cards. In October 2020, after 152 daily blog posts, I blogged my 394th card. I’d actually passed that total a few months previously after Gawain sent me a huge lot to look through, most of which I kept.
I like collecting cards from the 1980s and 1990s. Baseball cards evolved very quickly in that period from standard cheap cardboard to glossy high-spec collectables. It was the era of innovation, with foil embellishments, acetate cards, “chrome”, autographed cards, and relic cards with small pieces of fabric of wood embedded in them. It was also the era of innovation in card design with retro ranges reinventing classic card templates of the past. These are all things that collectors take for granted now, but at the time they were new and exciting.
They provide a useful social history too. The way technology is talked about, particularly the introduction of the Internet in the late 90s is nostalgic for me as someone who lived through the birth of the digital era. I have a card that is actually a CD-Rom. If you remember those then you are old, like me. It’s older than some of the collectors I trade with!
What’s After Retirement for Tony Gwynn
Tony became a member of the MLB Hall of Fame in 2007, in his first eligible ballot. He received a vote from 97.6% of the electors, one of the highest ever. Padres fans flocked to Cooperstown for his induction ceremony, which he shared with Cal Ripken Jr. It is still one of the highest ever crowds in attendance for a Hall of Fame induction.
He went on to coach at San Diego State, where Stephen Strasburg was one of his standout students, Strasburg went on to become the World Series MVP in 2019. Sadly, Tony didn’t get to see Strasburg’s success. After two years of cancer treatment, Tony passed away in 2014 at the age of just 54.
Tony lives on in recent baseball card releases, though. Trading Card Database lists 579 cards for him released in 2020. I own 33 of them, including two of the Project 2020 cards. Tony will also be on cards in the brand new Topps flagship release for 2021.
I carried on blogging after reaching 394 cards, with the idea that I would stop when I ran out. I eventually was left with no more cards to blog on January 14th, on 574 cards. However, more cards have arrived since then and although I haven’t blogged them all yet, I have now topped the 600 mark.
I store my Tony Gwynn collection in card folders that originally came with Match Attax cards that I bought really cheaply. I have five of them, one for each main manufacturer, arranged by set and roughly in year order. It makes it easy to check if I have a particular card. There are some annoying gaps left to fill. Base cards from the mid-90s can be surprisingly elusive.
Blogging means I have had to do a lot of research into the events mentioned on cards. I have found errors and reported them on Trading Card Database. An egregious example is Topps getting the date of Tony’s 3000th Hit wrong and mixing his mum and his grandma up, on the same card. I have also discovered why Tony is wearing the wrong numbered shirt on his Topps rookie card.
I’ve also learned a lot about the card companies involved. The Fleer company was owned by Marvel in the 90s and got sold off when Marvel went bankrupt. The Pacific card company inadvertently outed a player for using a corked bat when they sliced one up and embedded it in a card. (It wasn’t Tony who got busted!) A huge number of 90s card brands have ended up in the Panini stable now – their set names survive as mementoes of a long-gone era before the Topps monopoly.
I don’t really have a new target. What was supposed to be a lockdown project has kept me going through a grim year. Now, I’m just carrying on. If you have Tony Gwynn cards you are happy to part with, then you can contact me via my blog – come along and visit me at https://point394.blogspot.com