1-Man’s Opinion Column-Wednesday “Tony Gwynn-Painful Memories-Sadness Going Forward”

Posted by on May 25th, 2016  •  0 Comments  • 

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“Painful Memories-Sadness Going Forward”

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I cannot think of the name, without an ache in my heart. I cannot imagine how hard it is as a family member, to be reminded of his being day-in-and-day out.

All of us experience tragedies in our lives with family members. Death does not come easy. It is either the suddenness of a passing, or the suffering because of a long debilitating disease.

The memories of the good times will always be there, but clouded forever by how it ended, and in this case, what is happening to a legacy. And so we have to say the name:

Tony Gwynn.

I close my eyes and I forever see his smile. You can never forget the playful laugh, telling stories or jokes. And the voice was ever so distinct. Just like his talent hitting the ball thru the 5.5 hole, in the gap, and the greatness he exhibited forever at home plate.

I think now of all that, but the ache in my heart returns.

The family is suing the US Smokeless Company, the makers of Skoal, manufacturers of the ‘dip’ that the Padres legend put into his mouth, that likely led to cancer, that killed him in 2014.

The depositions detail an addiction to smokeless tobacco, dangerous, and sadly part of the baseball culture. Gwynn started chewing in 1977, and continued non stop till up around 2010.

His son Anthony, Junior, indicated his father was so addicted, that he used up 1-to-2 cans a day of the dip into his mouth. That’s the equivalent of smoking 4-packs of cigarettes a day for 30-years.

For decades, we never knew the risks. Medicine and modern science didn’t really know, because of limited research, till the 1980s. Of course society, ignored the threats, and baseball’s culture magnified it, ‘won’t happen to me-maybe somebody else-but not me’.

I remember growing up as a young Brooklyn Dodges fan, and Vin Scully, the young broadcaster, announcing after a Dodgers home run, Lucky Strikes donates 100-cartons of cigarettes to soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg or some other outpost. I remember the slogan L-S-MFT…..”Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.”

Research brought us a very different message the last 3-decades about lung cancer, and now baseball fully knows about the impact on the mouths of players, who dipped for years.

My best friend was a former high draft pick of the Dodgers, a college pitching sensation. A shoulder injury took away his fastball and his career at Double A. Dip took away his jaw, a piece of his tongue, and eventually his life.

He fought the good fight, much like Tony Gwynn did. The initial surgery, the determination to beat it, the chemo, the radiation. Then it reappeared, and he fought it off a second time. The third time it came back, and as I sat in Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital in New York, holding his hand, we knew he would never beat the cancer, it struck him down, like he used to strike out minor league batters.

Much like Tony Gwynn’s fight, with the neck tumor, then the lesion on his lip, then the salivary gland surgery.

The two of them took on the challenge with great courage, fighting thru the pain of treatment, knowing the ravages left behind, and then admitting they did this to themselves, unable to stop the addiction, and the rush putting dip in their mouth brought them.

Gwynn’s passing brought our town to tears. And now this, the lawsuit, the family of three has filed against the industry.

I am not sure what the suit will prove. How do you prove Philip Morris, the then tobacco company, caused the addiction. It was #19’s decision to dip. I have no doubt Tony knew the risks. I have no doubt he spoke to Joe Garagiola, who led the drive to ban dip in the majors, after getting minor league baseball to ban it, though I believe players sneak around the rule in the clubhouse.

Will they bring folders and correspondence between the company and the player. Documents of free-canisters of dip given to the player. Are they going to bring us doctors testimony and details of his surgery, and pictures of what he became at the end.

I would bet Gwynn tried hard to kick the habit, only to drift back to it, an addiction to it, much like his addiction to hitting.

I remember the day after he died, a sullen Padres clubhouse. I remember asking virtually the entire roster, if they chewed or dipped, and 11-of-25, plus a couple of coaches admitted ‘yes’. I wanted to throw up when I saw a Padres coach, in the tunnel, loading up before going out for batting practice. I was offended I found a couple of canisters of Skoal, on the tables in the middle of the clubhouse, right next to the copies of USA Today and Baseball America and Gatorade bottles.

I am not sure what is to be gained by the family. They refused to answer any questions about the lawsuit on Tuesday afternoon. The lawyers have refused to say what type of financial figure they want to sue for.

If they want to bring this company to its knees, how do you prove what they did, for we know what Tony did. Maybe the family will win an award and turn it over to cancer research. I would hope this is not a money grab, but some have floated that idea to me. And in its pursuit, what is the cost, emotionally to the family, and then financially too?

I wonder why re-visit the hurt of his passing. Why stir the sad memories up again. To get revenge, to deliver a message. The players of today know the risks, and a huge number of them last Friday in that clubhouse before the Dodgers weekend started, were loading up before they went on the field.

I ache thinking about his passing. I ache having to criticize the 1st family of baseball in San Diego. I ache remembering his distorted face, his speech, and the toughest of times he went thru in his rehab.

I’d rather think of the base hits, the hop in his step coming out of the batters box, the slap singles and doubles everywhere. Flashbacks to the (.394) season, the home plate slide at the All Star game, and Gwynn in right field during the World Series vs the Yankees. I’d rather remember his laugh, his smile, and him yelling “Here’s Hacksaw” when I’d come in that clubhouse.

I don’t want anymore painful memories. I hate to think of the story I may have to cover now on Channel 6-the sadness going forward.

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