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One of my favorite Tony Gwynn stories is once again worth retelling after Chargers general manager A.J. Smith met with the media Thursday in his annual February “State-of-the-Chargers” address.
Among the topics discussed was that there were no updates on Tomlinson’s contract situation and whether the future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back will agree to renegotiate his deal to provide the team with salary cap relief to sign other players.
When San Diego sports icons are on the verge of possibly leaving town on unhappy terms with the franchise, I keep coming back to this Gwynn story about how he almost left the Padres.
If anything, the story is more apropos as Gwynn grows into an elder statesman with an unbreakable bond with the community.
Sure, Gwynn lost money on that final contract he begrudgingly agreed to with the Padres. But what he gained in a bond with his community rolls over year after year. For that there is no price tag.
Gwynn’s bond with San Diego is as concrete as the statue of him standing outside Petco Park.
Someday Hoffman will return to San Diego as a celebrated Padres icon.
That’s the way it should be.
But it won’t ever be quite like it could have been if he hadn’t left San Diego — where he established his career and sterling reputation — for Milwaukee for a year (or two).
Thanks to Tony Gwynn Jr., Gwynn Sr. didn’t let his disgust lead to a decision to leave town.
Gwynn, looking back on his Padres career in a conversation a couple of years ago with fans at the Hall of Champions (my day job), was recounting how angry he was when he felt John Moores and Larry Lucchino were low-balling him on his final contract.
He stomped out of a meeting at Moores’ home in such a rage he admits he backed his truck into a wall at the Moores’ estate.
“I was thinking, ‘I spent 19 years here and this is how they treat me?” Gwynn said.
Then he explained if it wasn’t for Tony Gwynn Jr., Gwynn Sr. might have played his final season in another uniform.
“When I got home,” Tony Sr. said, finishing that story, “I talked to my family, and my son said, ‘Dad, it’s not about the money with you anyway. What’s the big deal?’”
Gwynn said the time he smiled with pride that he was being counseled by his namesake.
“I said, he’s right,” Gwynn said, “and I signed a couple days later.”
Tomlinson is too classy of a guy to show any anger he might be feeling now, but his bond with San Diego is clearly important to him.
This was evident last week as he was introduced to the crowd of 1,000-plus at the 63rd annual Viejas Salute to the Champions dinner. He stood up while the audience applauded for him. But when the clapping and cheering didn’t subside, he stood up again and thumped his fist to his heart a couple of times. His smile and the nod of his head made it plain he was touched by the affection.
None of us are in position to suggest Tomlinson should walk away from more money he might make elsewhere, because he’s probably donated about as much money and time as the figure in question.
But it won’t ever be quite the same if he leaves San Diego. And from listening to Smith on Thursday, it will be Tomlinson’s decision.
Management doesn’t turn sentimental on a whim.
“I’ve always said the team is most important,” Smith said. “We decide who stays and we decide who goes. We decide how much many they get and how many years they get. If they like it they accept, we’re all happy and they remain with us. If they don’t like it, they’re professionals. The options are for them they decline and go to market and move on.”
That might sound cold for all LT has done for the franchise, but that’s the way it is when franchises stick to dollars and cents.
Tomlinson turns 30 in June, so he’s too young to know what retired players miss about their playing days. But since he was at last week’s Salute dinner to support his San Diego State alum Marshall Faulk upon his induction into the Breitbard Hall of Fame for San Diego sports, I wonder if some of Faulk’s words hit home.
“I’m sure I’m speaking for every retired athlete when I say we all want to be clapped for one more time,” Faulk said upon his introduction to speak. “One thing we all say we miss is the playing the game and the camaraderie with the guys and hearing your name and school called as you run out of the tunnel hearing 63,000 fans. Thank you for that generous welcome as I came out.”
San Diego State was Faulk’s first love, and you got the feeling he wished the NFL had never separated his bond with the community.
Unless you’re Lance Alworth — the Chargers legend who lives in town but doesn’t like to appear in public and turns down requests — things are never again the same for a sports icon who leaves his first love for a few more bucks.