The sad death at age 54 of baseball great Tony Gwynn last week reminds us of a couple of cogent points, both of which are worth remembering:
We, down in the States, at least, miss Major League Baseball in Montreal, and young athletes are just as misguided when they take up chewing tobacco as youngsters of any stripe are to take up inhaling the smoke.
Gwynn died far too young. He had cancer of the mouth and salivary glands, which he contracted during years of sticking wads of tobacco into his mouth while he played, a habit that cost him his life.
Non-students of the game of baseball wonder how a player of Gwynn’s physical constitution could achieve such superiority. He was far from slim and looked more like a fellow who would be dusting off stadium seats than hitting baseballs into them.
But he was athletic indeed. His stocky frame belied his agility and speed, which were abundant.
And, unlike other sports, baseball rewards a particular gift: If you can repeatedly, successfully lay a round bat squarely on a round ball and propel it with sufficient velocity, you will not only succeed — you will be a star.
Gwynn had once-in-a-generation hand-eye coordination.
Thousands and thousands of men have played Major League Baseball, and millions more have tried. Tony Gwynn was one of only 28 of them to accumulate 3,000 hits in his career.
Which brings us to Montreal. He came to town one Friday night with 2,999 career hits. Four Plattsburgh men whom we know were aware of that and called each other Thursday night to see if they wanted to go see Tony get his historic 3,000th.
Would tickets be available? After all, a 3,000th hit is baseball’s version of a trip to the moon.