Saturday, June 21, 2014

Faithful Hall of Fame Mother--Alicia Gwynn

Tony Gwynn, one of Major League Baseball's Hall of Famers, died at 54 of salivary cancer as a result of a lengthy smokeless or spit chewing tobacco habit.  He succumbed to a nasty substance abuse addiction.

Chris Gwynn, 50, Tony Sr.'s brother, is the Seattle Mariners director of player development since 2011.  Tony Jr. is an outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies after stints with the Padres and Dodgers.

Chris Gwynn spent a dozen years working in the Padres' scouting department and was their director of player personnel two seasons after concluding a 10-year career in the Major Leagues. 

Chris Gwynn

Chris oversees the entire Mariners' Minor League system. He carved out his own career, batting .261 with 263 hits, 17 home runs and 118 RBIs after being a first-round Draft pick of the Dodgers in 1985.

I learned more about the Gwynn family from Ken Gurnick's recent column, at 

A Hall of Fame faithful mother
Everybody knows that Tony Gwynn Jr. is the son of Hall of Fame hitting machine Tony Gwynn Sr. He's also the son of Alicia Gwynn, no minor footnote to the younger Gwynn.
"She's an extremely strong woman, born in South Carolina, five brothers and two sisters, a strong Christian and she raised me and my sister as such. We got a sound foundation," said the younger Gwynn.
Note that Gwynn said "she" raised the kids. Dad was busy winning batting titles.
"Mostly, it was me and her and my sister (Anisha)," Gwynn said. "She was on top of us to go to school, clean our room, do the right things. She was the disciplinarian. Dad was focused on being the best he could be on the field. And Mom had no hesitation or animosity with her part of the deal. That was her job.
Alicia Gwynn

"Everybody knew about Dad and I. But I was just as close with Mom as Dad. I'd go to Dad for advice, but a lot of times he was on the road and I'd go to her. It was more comfortable going to her than Dad."
"I was. And we've talked a lot about this as I've gotten older, and he never understood why, but that's how I felt for a long time, longer than it should have," Gwynn said. "I would go to the field with him and see the intensity in how he'd work. It was a little scary for a young kid. That's why a lot of times I went to Mom. She figured it out early."
"I've told her, but not as much as I should," he said. "Women in this lifestyle don't get enough credit. For home games, he'd leave the house at 12:30 and wouldn't be home until late at night. They didn't spend a lot of time together, but she completely understood. My dad would tell you straight up: Without Mom holding him up, he wouldn't have been as successful. She would throw batting practice to him with a Wiffle ball. She was his work partner. Dad would always say Mom was the better athlete.
"Her faith needs to be brought up; her faith in Jesus Christ helped my dad get through a lot. He's won eight batting titles, but he's had trying times [including two bouts with cancer]. I remember hearing a story -- one year at the break he was batting under .300 and Mom told him he'd win the batting title. He did. Her faith kept the family intact and going in the right direction."
Alicia Gwynn, whose parents were church elders, said she never pushed her son into being an athlete, only to be the best he could be at whatever he chose to do.
"We taught our children responsibility, character and how to lead a sustaining life," she said. "I like to think I have the best son in the world. He's grounded. I'm proud of the way he carries himself. I remember one time he didn't clean his room and he said he didn't have to because we had a housekeeper. I told him, 'She works for me, not for you, now go clean your room.' I wanted him to understand that, even though you are blessed, you still do your chores. He needed to grow up and appreciate the value of what he had.
"I'm proud of him as his mother. I went to his house and saw the routine he had with his three girls. As a mother, I appreciate how he is living his life. I always told him it's not about being a good player, it's about being a good human being."
Baseball and smokeless spit tobacco 
Research by the Pro Baseball Athletic Trainers Society revealed the number of major leaguers who use spit tobacco has declined from about 50% to 33% in the last 20 years--about 10 times the amount in the general population, according to the American Cancer Society, whose data from 2012 showed 3.5% of Americans 12 and older – or 9 million – use the highly addictive product.

Kyle Seager
Seattle Mariners, Kyle Seager and DD/WDS Dental Director, Dr. Ron Inge were featured on King 5 Evening Magazine discussing the risks of smokeless tobacco.

The current collective bargaining agreement, in effect from 2012-16, bans players, managers and coaches from using smokeless tobacco during TV interviews and team appearances. And they have to keep tobacco products out of sight while fans are at the ballpark.

In addition, MLB and the players union have stepped up educational efforts, and teams – which in the past freely distributed cans of dip in the clubhouse – can no longer do so and are now required to administer oral exams as part of the spring training physicals every year.

Here is a video of Tony and his wife Alicia sharing about their cancer ordeal before his passing:

Joe Garagiola
Longtime TV announcer Joe Garagiola, who quit his smokeless tobacco habit in his 30s, made it his life's mission to warn other baseball folks about its dangers, making presentations during spring training alongside former major league outfielder Billy Tuttle, who died of oral cancer at 69 in 1998.

"I don't think we talk about it enough anymore," says Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "I remember as a young A-ball manager, Joe Garagiola would always come around in spring training with Bill Tuttle. It was scary.

"And I still see people chewing tobacco. Not only in the big leagues, but you still see kids in junior high and high school. For me, it's not enough yet. It's a shame."