Our baseball heroes

Nearly everyone on this staff is of the age where Frank Thomas and Tony Gwynn were never new sensations; hyped arrivals whose progress was contextualized and mapped for how it aligned to expectations. Nor were they Yasiel Puig; an incomprehensible blur that shocked every day with the new things he was able to do.

They were the establishment. They could do everything at the plate, and you learned how hitting worked through them.

They swung genuinely only at strikes, they placed line drives on the field in exact accordance to where pitches were located, and when they erred on their judgment of the location of a pitch, they just stopped their huge bodies on a dime like a machine they unplugged. It was easy, all-encompassing.

You wondered how it ever failed to work, and it wasn't until they left that it became obvious what a freak show you were watching all along.

Thomas gave himself away as unusual. He towered over even the stretched-out hats and neckholes of his era. Garden-variety protection swings created 380-foot laser beams. Pitchers shattered his bat and still watched fly balls sail over their defense. Absurd physical marvel was a crutch he leaned on when his ideas failed, and a terrifying accelerator when they didn't.

Gwynn, was more simply, and more purely, a collection of right decisions and humming execution. The elaborate lie that a pitcher crafts on each lunge to the plate, Gwynn processed it immediately, determined the appropriate action and saw that it got done. Then he could step off the field and tell you what he did. The impossible, endless mystery of baseball that was poeticized by our elders as something you could spend your life exploring, Gwynn treated like a telegram that was just waiting to be read aloud. 

If I was picking a baseball team, I'd probably want Thomas. But if I was running a carnival act, Gwynn would have a bigger tent. 

Many mourners have spoke of Gwynn's kindness. I recognized he was kind but did not realize how rare it was, how widely it was shared. Many have spoke of his greatness. I watched Gwynn play and appreciated him, but Tony Gwynn was a given, and I didn't realize how long it had been since there was tactician like him and how long we would go with another. 

Many spoke of Gwynn's wisdom, and while I listened, I never thought about running out of time. 


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