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Tony Gwynn talks hitting with Ted Williams; a continutation of scholastic coach's interview with Tony Gwynn in last month's issue.

You were probably one of the three or four best hitters in baseball since Ted Williams. You won eight National League batting titles, stroked 3,141 hits, and amassed 19 straight .300 seasons.

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You were clearly a contact hitter rather than a power hitter. Were you that kind of hitter from the beginning?

GWYNN: I was a contact hitter my whole career but I learned how to handle the ball inside. And Ted Williams played a big part in that. He gave me the advice on how to handle inside pitches.

Over my first 14 or 15 years in the big leagues, the pitchers knew I was going to get the bat on the ball, but didn't really consider me a threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark. And when they came inside, they didn't expect me to be able to handle that pitch, either.

Towards the end of my career, after I learned how to handle the inside pitch, it changed. When pitchers came inside, I knew I had a chance to hit it out of the park. It made me a completely different type of player. And if you look at my numbers from 1993 on, they were much better than they were for the first 13 years of my career. I hit for a higher average and put some numbers on the board--I hit some homers and drove in some runs.

Good things began happening when, after hitting first and second most of my career, I was moved down to third. I became a better hitter at three because I was still willing to try something different after 13 seasons.

COACH: What hitters did you admire the most over the years and did you ever try to emulate someone?

GWYNN: I never tried to hit like anyone else. But I watched a ton of guys. Growing up, my favorite player was Willie Davis with the Dodgers. Then, as I started watching more and more baseball, hitters like Pete Rose, Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, and George Brett became my favorite kind of guys because they hit for average and did a lot of damage.

As a player, early on; I wasn't much of a damage guy. But I could score runs and steal bases. As I got older I learned that I could hit the ball out of the ball-park. Seventeen is not a monumental number of home runs, but for me it was.

I just wasn't that type of guy. I could hit a ball between short and third and you couldn't throw me out. Later on, I could still hit the ball between short and third, but I could also turn and take you deep. That made me a bigger threat. And in the big league game, that's what you want to be considered--a threat.

COACH: In 1995 you and Ted Williams appeared on a television/radio show, hosted by Bob Costas, in what many consider was the greatest conversation ever on the art of hitting. What do you remember about that day? If we recall correctly, you said it was like being a kid in a candy store? Was it that good?

GWYNN: First of all, I was scared to death. Second of all, it was like being a kid in the candy store. Imagine sitting next to the man who knew more about hitting a baseball than anyone who ever played the game. If you had any questions about hitting, here was the man who had all the answers.

We talked about hit and run. We talked about driving in a run from third with less than two outs. We talked about how pitchers tried to pitch to me and ultimately, the thing I remember most, we talked about the ball inside because that's where he really got testy.

By the time I walked out of there, I started to realize that this guy was the supreme authority, so why shouldn't I go ahead and try out some of the stuff that we had talked about?

It took me a year and a half to figure it out, but he had been absolutely right. It made a huge difference for me in the last five full seasons of my career.

COACH: Your affection for Williams is well-documented. What can you say about him that hasn't already been said?

GWYNN: One, he loved baseball. Absolutely loved it. And he was still on top of the game. He could tell you about guys. Exactly how they were pitched to and exactly how they hit. He dreamed about hitting against some of the guys I had to face.

Secondly, he loved to talk with today's hitters just as much as he did when he was playing. All the details and all the situations. Sometimes when I talked to him he appeared tired or dazed. But as soon as I started talking about hitting, boy, he would perk up! I really cherish the moments I had with him, and I enjoy passing on some of the stuff we talked about.

What a blessing it was to know a guy like Ted Williams, to talk to him, to pick his brain, and to be respected by him. He stood out among the Hall of Famers I have been lucky to talk to, guys like Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio. Just an unbelievable list of guys who were willing to share their knowledge with you.

COACH: In 1994 you made a real run at the magical .400 mark, finishing at an incredible .394, the highest batting average in the National League since Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930 and the best mark since Williams hit .406 in 1941. Just how tough is it to eclipse .400 and do you think it can be done? If so, which modern players have the best chance?

GWYNN: I think it can be done. I think I would have done it if we had completed the strike-shortened season (1994). Of course it's easy to say that now, 10 years after the fact. But I honestly believe I would have done it.

It's tough, especially with the style that I had, because you had to get hits. A 0-for-4 kills you. Barry Bonds has brought a new wrinkle to it and that's walking 180 times. If you can walk that much it makes the job a whole lot easier because now you don't have to get as many hits.

When Ted and I talked about it, we figured you needed between 240-260 hits. When you can walk nearly that many times or have pitchers not want to pitch to you as much, the recipe becomes a little easier. You still need to be protective but now a walk, or two walks, is almost as good as a hit. So I would say that Bonds is your best bet right now to hit .400. Until another guy comes along who can get 240-250 hits. The walk recipe seems pretty robust right now.

COACH: Everyone knows about your offensive prowess, but no one talks about your defense (five Gold Glove awards) or the fact that you were a pretty good base stealer, too. In your opinion, what makes a good defensive player? What secrets can you share?

GWYNN: You are either a good defensive player or you are not. And you have to be willing to work at it every day. When I signed to play professional baseball, I knew that I'd really have to work at it because I had played basketball for seven years in high school and college and hadn't really concentrated on baseball.

I'd have to have somebody hit me a ton of grounders and fly balls and work on my throwing. It was brutal. I had to perfect my mechanics and learn to charge the ball hard, and get rid of it quick, and be accurate.

Of all the things I accomplished as a player, I think winning that first Gold Glove is still my highest achievement.

COACH: How do you feel about the designated hitter: For or against?

GWYNN: For a long time I thought that both leagues should either have a DH or not have a DH. But you know what? I like it the way it is because it gives guys an opportunity to continue their baseball career. And I guess when you get older you start to think about that a whole lot more than you do when you are younger. I was a National Leaguer all the way.

I had an opportunity to be a DH at the end of my career, but I didn't want to. I wanted to play everyday. I think National Leaguers generally like the National League style and American Leaguers like the fact that you can get a day off by being a DH.

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COACH: We've heard you call games for ESPN and you are most enjoyable. Jon Miller has even said you're the best rookie analyst he has ever worked with. What kind of approach do you use?

GWYNN: It's really simple. I go into every game with some knowledge of who's pitching and who's hot and who's not. I have all that stuff in my game notes. But my approach is to talk about what's going on between the white lines. I'm not a great storyteller. I try not to talk about my career. I just try to talk about what is happening on the field.

If somebody makes a mistake, I have to be willing to say somebody made a mistake. If somebody could have gone first to third and didn't, then I have to say why they could have and didn't. That's where my focus is.

COACH: Are great hitters born or made? What made Tony Gwynn great?

GWYNN: I think it's a combination of both. I think great hitters are born but you still have to work at it. My dad used to tell me when I was little that I had the God-given ability to put a bat on the ball. But if you don't work at it and turn it into something consistently good, you're not going to make it.

Some guys are just born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But I think there are more guys that didn't work at it. They knew they were good in junior high, high school, and college, but they didn't work at it once they got to the professional level.

The guys who work at it--the best hitters in baseball--stand out like sore thumbs. The reason why is because they can repeat their successes. Barry Bonds can come to the plate and take an inside heater an inch or two off the inside part of the plate, and knock it out of the ballpark. And he can step up the next time and do it again.

Alex Rodriguez can do it again. Edgar Martinez can do it again. A lot of guys, when they are going good, don't want to work at it. When they are going bad, everybody wants to work at it.

You have to be able to suck it up and do your work whether you're hitting .350 or .250.

RELATED ARTICLE: TONY GWYNN'S BIGGEST HITS

* Lifetime Batting Average: .338 (10th all-time)

* Led National League in Batting Average 8 times.

* Led league in hits 7 times.

* Batted over .300 19 consecutive seasons.

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Title Annotation:Talking Hitting
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:1915
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