Tony Gwynn's life and legacy chronicled on can't miss MLB Network special

Big League Stew
‘Mr Padre’ Tony Gwynn will be featured on MLB Network Presents. (AP)
‘Mr Padre’ Tony Gwynn will be featured on MLB Network Presents. (AP)

When forming a Mount Rushmore of baseball’s greatest pure hitters, anyone who watched during the ’80s and ’90s wouldn’t possibly exclude Tony Gwynn. The sweet-swinging Hall of Famer put together a two-decade long highlight reel that any baseball player, young or old, would be wise to study, but would never be able to duplicate.

Gwynn was an artist whose magnificent stroke painted the prettiest picture possible on a baseball diamond. He was often described as a genius, because he always seemed to know what an opposing pitcher would do before they did. Along the way he helped put the San Diego Padres on the map, while earning the respect of every teammate and opponent he encountered.

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The story of Tony Gwynn’s life in baseball is certainly one worth documenting. But so too is the legacy he created as a father, son, brother and coach. That’s why we were thrilled when the popular documentary series MLB Network Presents announced it would be releasing a feature on the San Diego Padres Hall of Famer, which is appropriately titled “Mr. Padre.”

The program will debut at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 30 on MLB Network.

We were fortunate enough to get an early viewing of the one-hour documentary, and let us tell you it’s another can’t miss.

“Mr. Padre” sheds light on Gwynn’s approach to hitting in his own words, and in the words of those who so often failed to solve him. Gwynn not only lived and breathed hitting, he applied his knowledge and executed his plan every day against the best pitchers in the game. As former rival, fellow Hall of Famer and current MLB Network analyst John Smoltz told Yahoo Sports, that’s what made facing Gwynn the ultimate challenge.

“If I could go back in time, I would throw pitches right down the middle,” Smoltz said. “I just think Tony Gwynn was such a gift. Such a tremendous hitter, that the nastier the pitches — the better the pitches — just brought out his ability to find a way to get a hit. In this day and age, there’s no chance they would have shifted against him, because that’s how good of a hitter he was. He would have laughed at the shift.”

We’re guessing it would have been with the same infectious laugh that’s echoed here time and time again. Aside from hitting doubles into the left field gap, Gwynn seemed to enjoy getting a chuckle from those around him more than anything else. His playful personality was an endearing quality that’s as common a thread in “Mr. Padre” as his brilliant hitting.

The same can be said for Gwynn’s willingness to teach and support those who sought his advice. One of the highlights is Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg sharing a story about how Gwynn mentored and motivated him while serving as his coach at San Diego State University.

Sadly, Gwynn’s tobacco use led to a long battle with salivary gland cancer that took his life in 2014. We learn how that fight scarred him physically and tested him emotionally, but never changed his purpose or hindered his spirit. Of all the lessons Gwynn taught during his 54 years, it’s this part of his story that we can all learn from the most.

In 60 minutes, “Mr. Padre” puts Gwynn’s legacy in the proper focus, while allowing us to celebrate all what we loved about him. It’s required viewing for baseball fans and suggested viewing for all.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Yahoo Sports Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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