SAN DIEGO — During this morning’s press conference announcing the starting lineups, a local reporter asked the managers and starting pitchers how local legend Tony Gwynn impacted them. For his part, Ned Yost told a funny story about how, back when he was coaching the Braves, Bobby Cox and the best pitching staff of the decade had no idea how to get Gwynn out so they eventually just suggested throwing the ball down the middle to see what happened. That didn’t work either. Gwynn could hit a little bit.
American League starter Chris Sale had a more poignant comment. He said that Tony Gwynn saved his life. He did so by virtue of his death. Sale was a long time smokeless tobacco user. He quit, however, on June 16, 2014. That was the day Tony Gwynn died or oral cancer. Sale said that he has not touched the stuff since and that that “to say that he saved my life, I don’t think it’s an understatement.”
As we’ve noted in the past, it’s quite possible and likely probable that Gwynn’s heavy smokeless tobacco use did not, in fact, cause the cancer that killed him. Gwynn believed it did, however, and his death has become perhaps the biggest symbol of the perils of smokeless tobacco in and around baseball. That there may not have been an actual link between it and his death is sort of beside the point, especially given that even if it did not cause his cancer, it’s clearly a dangerous and deadly habit.
Tony Gwynn was a hero to many and an inspiration to many more. Regardless of the medical science at play, if his example, negative or otherwise, has inspired people to quit a terrible habit, he’s continuing to do good from Baseball Valhalla.