BOSTON -- Only 18 men in baseball history own more hits than Tony Gwynn. One of them was in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse Monday, mourning his old friend.
"It's a tough day," said Twins coach Paul Molitor, who was enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame in 2004, three seasons years of Gwynn. "He was a very humble guy. Obviously very talented, but in times like this, you think more about the man than (his) ability. He was a gracious guy who gave back to his community throughout his career, and seemed to keep great balance in his life."
Being in different leagues, Molitor never played against Gwynn, who died of cancer Monday at the age of 54, except in All-Star Games and during spring training. But Molitor used to spend several months each winter in San Diego, where he befriended a hitter as accomplished as himself. He and Gwynn played golf, shot hoops and talked baseball.
"I picked his brain a few times," Molitor said of the eight-time batting champion, whose 3,141 career hits were 178 shy of his own. "I used to like to get out there and watch guys take batting practice," and Gwynn was one of his favorites.
"You play third base and Tony Gwynn's at bat, you move to the 5-hole and he hits it down the line. You move to the line and he hits it 5-hole. I know it wasn't easy, but sometimes he made it look easy," Molitor said. "He had a little bit of power, but mostly he just knew how to get the barrel on the ball. A great athlete."
Joe Mauer, a lefthanded-hitting, line-drive hitter himself, owns three batting titles, and said it's a little staggering to consider the sheer size of Gwynn's legacy. "You admire guys like that -- from line to line, he could put the bat on the ball anywhere," Mauer said. "He was a tough out, one of the greatest hitters to play the game."
When the Twins were in San Diego last month, Molitor visited with John Boggs, who in addition to being Gwynn's agent "is probably one of my best friends." Boggs told him that cancer was ravaging their mutual friend. "Just suffering a lot, so there's kind of some peace" in that coming to an end, Molitor said. "But it's been a tough chapter the last several months for Tony. Obviously, I'm praying for his family and all the people who love him out there in California."
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