A memorial for Tony Gwynn

Memories can be funny sometimes. The 1984 Cubs are a case in point. We remember the Sandberg game in June, and the Harry Caray Cub Fan/Bud Man shtick. We remember how unbeatable Rick Sutcliffe was, and how the “Daily Double” of Dernier and Sandberg always seemed to get things rolling. We remember that night in Pittsburgh, when Rick Sutcliffe delivered the first division title we had ever seen.

And when the playoffs started that year, we remember some things about that, too. Jimmy Buffett sang the national anthem to honor his friend Steve Goodman. Game one was a rout, and game was another Cubs victory. The team went west to San Diego, brimming with confidence and a win away from the National League pennant.

And then things get hazy, at least for me. I remember Steve Garvey’s home run in game four, and the ground ball that went through Leon Durham’s legs in game five. Bu beyond that, I’ve blocked everything out. The teenager that I was at the time had no idea how bad things had been–and would continue to be–but I developed selective amnesia about those three games in San Diego.

The passing of Tony Gwynn gave me occasion to go back and revisit his long and accomplished career. In all honesty, I had forgotten that he was on the Padres team that broke my heart thirty years ago. I had definitely forgotten about how he followed Alan Wiggins’ bunt single in the sixth inning of game five with a single off of Rick Sutcliffe, or that he scored in the inning to cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-2.

But the role he played in the pivotal seventh inning had been completely lost on me. Perhaps I was still in shock from how Durham had misplayed the ground ball that Tim Flannery had hit right at him. That play had allowed the tying run to score, but all had not yet been lost.

The mortal blow–the one that ended the Cubs’ amazing run to the World Series–was delivered by Tony Gwynn. His double brought home Flannery and Alan Wiggins, and gave the Padres a lead they would not relinquish.

The 1984 Padres took the pennant away from the Cubs, and with it the right to get crushed by the fearsome Detroit Tigers in the World Series. We’ll never know if the Cubs would have done any better than the Padres did, as they lost the Series in five games. But we do know that it was Tony Gwynn who made that happen, in a way that even Steve Garvey did not.

May he rest in peace.

R. Lincoln Harris is a guest contributor for Wrigleyville Nation. He also writes for BlueBattingHelmet.Wordpress.com, ChicagoSideSports.com, ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com, and FiveWideSports.com. Thanks R. Lincoln for the contribution!

Photo by ewen and donabel [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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