SAN DIEGO (AP) — There were two certainties about Tony Gwynn: He could hit a baseball like few other major leaguers, and he was going to laugh.
Gwynn was a craftsman at the plate, whose sweet left-handed swing made him one of baseball's greatest hitters.
The Hall of Famer died Monday of oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco. He was 54.
Any knowledgeable fan can recite Gwynn's key stats. He had 3,141 hits — 18th on the all-time list — a career .338 average and won eight batting titles to tie Honus Wagner's NL record.
There was far more to the man.
In a rarity in pro sports, Gwynn played his whole career with the Padres, choosing to stay in the city where he was a two-sport college star rather than leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere.
He was loyal, generous and approachable. He smiled a lot. It didn't take much to get him to laugh his hearty laugh.
Gwynn loved San Diego. San Diego loved "Mr. Padre" right back.
His death left even casual fans grieving.
"Our city is a little darker today without him, but immeasurably better because of him," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement.
Five things to remember about Gwynn:
HIS CRAFT: After spending parts of just two seasons in the minors, he made his big league debut on July 19, 1982. Gwynn had two hits that night. After Gwynn doubled, career hits leader Pete Rose, who been trailing the play, said to him: "Hey, kid, what are you trying to do, catch me in one night?"
On Monday, Rose recalled Gwynn's work ethic and his pioneering use of video to study his at-bats after every game.
"Every day you went to the ballpark in San Diego and we used to go 2:30 or 3 o'clock, Tony would be out there hitting, religiously, every day," Rose said.
"Fifty-four years old is way too young."
THE LAUGH: Former Padres teammate Tim Flannery recalls Gwynn as "always laughing, always talking, always happy."
It didn't take much for Gwynn to cackle or break into a horse laugh.
"He had a work ethic unlike anybody else, and had a childlike demeanor of playing the game just because he loved it so much," said Flannery, third base coach for the San Francisco Giants.
THE 5.5 HOLE: Gwynn loved to hit the other way, through the hole between third base and shortstop.
"All I keep thinking of when I think of Tony Gwynn is that line drive base hit to left field, or the one-hopper in the hole at shortstop to left field," Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said. "He hit the ball wherever it was pitched, and he was just a genius with the bat, without a doubt."
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