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July 9, 2012 12:24 PM

Gwynn's hitting was an art

Tony Gwynn could hit a baseball about as well as anybody who has played the game. He hit .289 as a 22-year-old rookie in 1982, and didn't hit below .309 in any of the next 19 years of his Hall of Fame career with the Padres, finishing with a .338 career average. That's tops among any player in the past 50 years.

At FanFest, Gwynn said he his two greatest advantages were balance and a small bat (32 1/2 inches long, 31 ounces).

"I got into a balanced position, and the pitcher was ready to let the ball go I could hold it until I was ready to pull the trigger," Gwynn said. "And my bat was smaller than most guys. I could wait and wait and wait for a pitch. You put together two things together and it meant I got a lot of hits and didn't strike out a lot."

It's also another way of saying the game was slower for Gwynn than others. You hear the same thing when quarterbacks improve, how the game slows down. That's how it was for Gwynn at the plate throughout his remarkable career. He sprayed the ball to all fields, and the left-handed hitter was particularly adept at going the opposite direction. He said he loved hitting the ball in the "5.5 hole," between shortstop and third base.

Over the past eight years, he changed bat size, going to a 33-inch, 30 1/2-ounce stick. The result was more power. In his 16th season, Gwynn set career marks for home runs (19), RBI (119) and hit .372.

Gwynn once said that he could be blindfolded and given similar sized bats for each hand and would be able to tell which was his. Stan Musial once told Gwynn he could do the same thing. The greats had that kind of feel for hitting.

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