Jeter, Girardi grateful to have played against Gwynn
Yankees shortstop, manager faced Padres great in 1998 World Series
NEW YORK -- A day after the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at the age of 54, the Padres icon was remembered fondly by Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday prior to the Yankees' opener against the Blue Jays.
Both Jeter and Girardi played on the Yankees club that swept Gwynn's Padres in the 1998 World Series. It has been almost 16 years since that Fall Classic, and now Jeter is in the final season of his career.
"My first memories are of watching Tony as a player," said Jeter. "Remembering him winning all those batting titles [eight], hitting over .300 every year, and then having the pleasure to play against him, especially in that World Series. He was somebody I admired and respected. He didn't disappoint when it came time to meet him."
The 1998 World Series was played in the old Yankee Stadium across 161st Street, and what is now called Qualcomm Stadium, a football-only stadium in San Diego's Mission Valley.
The lefty-swinging Gwynn batted .500 (8-for-16) in that World Series, and the home run he hit off the upper-deck façade at the old Cathedral happened to be playing on a loop of Gwynn highlights during Girardi's pregame media conference.
Girardi, a backup catcher behind Jorge Posada on that team, was in the National League with the Cubs and Rockies from 1989-95, and he faced Gwynn and the Padres regularly, playing in 55 regular-season games against San Diego.
"When I think of Tony Gwynn, I think of it from a catcher's perspective, how difficult it was to get him out," said Girardi. "You look at zones where guys hit the ball, breaking pitches they hit, and there were no cold zones. I mean, the joke used to be, 'Throw it right down the middle, because that's the only pitch he didn't know what to do with.' If you throw outside, he'd hit to left. If you throw it inside, he'd hit it to right. He sprayed the ball all over the place and played a great right field.
"But he was a gentleman, too. He always had a smile on his face when he played the game. He was a real student of the game. He was a guy who everyone tried to learn from, in a sense, because he was such a good player. You wanted to know his thoughts about the game and hitting. It's sad that we lost him. I think he had a lot to offer."
Mr. Padre broke in for good in 1983, 12 years before Jeter played his first games for the Yanks. In 1998, Jeter hit .353 (6-for-17) in the World Series against the Padres on the way to winning his second of five championships in pinstripes. But he doesn't remember his conversations with Gwynn.
"A lot of times, when you meet guys that you have watched growing up and have respected, you're almost in awe that they're just talking to you, so you don't really remember what they're saying," Jeter said. "Does that make sense? That home run he hit in the World Series? That was a bomb. I'm just glad I had an opportunity to play against him."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.