Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who notched more than 3,100 hits during a Major League Baseball career spanning two decades, has died at age 54 following a battle with salivary gland cancer.
MLB and San Diego Padres officials announced Gwynn’s death on Monday. His .338 career batting average is the highest since Ted Williams retired from the Boston Red Sox in 1960 with a .344 average. Gwynn, who won a record eight National League batting titles and played in the franchise’s two World Series appearances, retired in 2001 and later coached for San Diego State University. He signed a one-year extension as the school’s head coach on Wednesday, ESPN reports. He took over the program at his alma mater after the 2002 season.
"We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn," the San Diego Padres posted on Twitter. "Rest in peace, Mr. Padre."
Gwynn had been on medical leave since late March while recovering from cancer treatment. His battle with cancer began in 2009, according to the Padres, when a malignant tumor was removed from his right cheek. Gwynn claimed the cancer in his salivary gland was the result of his longtime chewing tobacco habit. The cancer returned twice and he again underwent radiation treatment in an attempt to shrink the tumor in 2012.
"The whole experience was traumatic because I thought I had it beat, and dang, it came back," Gwynn said during a visit to the Hall of Fame in 2012 for the induction ceremony.
Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 alongside Orioles great Cal Ripken.
"For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
Gwynn was a two-sport star at San Diego State in the late 1970s-early 1980s, playing point guard for the basketball team — he still holds the game, season and career record for assists — and outfielder for the baseball team.
Gwynn always wanted to play in the NBA, until realizing during his final year at San Diego State that baseball would be the ticket to the pros.
"I had no idea that all the things in my career were going to happen," he said shortly before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "I sure didn't see it. I just know the good Lord blessed me with ability, blessed me with good eyesight and a good pair of hands, and then I worked at the rest."
He was a third-round draft pick of the Padres in 1981.
After spending parts of just two seasons in the minor leagues, he made his big league debut on July 19, 1982. Gwynn had two hits that night, including a double, against the Philadelphia Phillies. After doubling, Pete Rose, who had been trailing the play, said to Gwynn: "Hey, kid, what are you trying to do, catch me in one night?"
Gwynn is survived by his wife, Alicia, daughter Anisha and son Tony Jr., who plays for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.