Tony Gwynn was “a Hall of Famer all his life,” said Jack McKeon.
McKeon was general manager of the Padres when San Diego drafted Gwynn in 1981 and later managed one of baseball's all-time greatest hitters.
“In my entire career, the two most workaholic players I ever had were Tony Gwynn and Juan Pierre,” McKeon said Monday after learning of Gwynn’s death. “The Hall of Fame status, Gwynn deserved it because he made himself a Hall of Famer. I’ve never seen a player that dedicated himself to being good like he did.”
McKeon, who now serves as an assistant to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, said he lobbied the Padres to draft Gwynn in the second round of the ‘81 draft.
“I wanted to take him in the second round and some of our cross checkers thought Billy Long out of Miami of Ohio was a better pick,” McKeon said. “I hadn’t seen Billy Long, but I had seen Tony Gwynn.”
McKeon capitulated, and the Padres took Long with the second pick. But, much to McKeon's relief, Gwynn was still available when the Padres picked again in the third round.
“Luckily we got him,” McKeon said.
McKeon admired Gwynn’s work ethic and how he was always trying to improve, as a hitter and as a fielder.
“He came to the ballpark every day about 1 o’clock and took batting practice by himself, and all he did was try to hit to the opposite field,” McKeon said. “When we signed him, he couldn’t throw from home plate to second base. Two years later, he was a Gold Glove outfielder.”
McKeon said Gwynn also spent extra time working on his base running.
“He made himself,” McKeon said. “Everything he did, he did with such desire and determination to be a Hall of Famer, and he was.”