Tony Gwynn once drove to Foot Locker to buy bat boys new sneakers
Stories about Tony Gwynn’s generosity have not stopped pouring in since he passed away on Monday, and we don’t expect them to any time soon. Gwynn was a rare combination of supreme talent and kindheartedness. Few stories encapsulate that better than the one written by a former San Diego Padres bat boy for Deadspin on Wednesday.
The entire piece, written by David Johnson, is a must-read. Johnson idolized Gywnn throughout his childhood and was lucky enough to earn a job as the Padres bat boy when he was 16 in 1991. His story contains small asides about Gwynn’s sense of humor and how his laughter lit up a room. He described Tony as an incredibly down-to-earth guy who breaks all of the stereotypes typically associated with rich athletes.
But one particular story that Johnson told stuck out above the rest. We’ll let him tell it:
The last homestand of the season, Tony’s official Nike catalog showed up in our locker one day, with a note in his familiar handwriting. “Pick a pair,” the note said. We each happily circled a pair with the pen he provided. Later that week, before a game, the shoes appeared in our locker, along with a check for $500 for each of us. I didn’t even care about the money itself — THIS WAS A HANDWRITTEN CHECK FROM TONY GWYNN. ADDRESSED TO ME. (I think I waited five months to cash that damn check. When I did, the bank teller’s eyes got big and she looked down at the check, up at me, down at the check.)
A few games after the shoes appeared, the equipment manager, our boss, told us: “You know, Tony drove down to Foot Locker himself and bought those shoes for you guys. You probably thought he had them delivered or something. But he went down there. That’s what he does.”
Gwynn was already a superstar in 1991. He had won four batting titles by then, been selected to five All-Star teams and was on his way to winning his fifth Gold Glove. He had the money, resources and standing within the Padres organization to have any equipment manager or clubhouse assistant pick the shoes up for him, but he wanted to be more personal.
Again, you should read Johnson’s entire story. Oftentimes when athletes pass away, they’re given a hero’s farewell because of what they accomplished on the field. In Gwynn’s case, it seems obvious that his Hall of Fame career was much less important than the type of person he was.