Gwynn suffers as brother Tony struggles to find spot as an everyday Dodger

May 16, 1991|By Bob Nightengale | Bob Nightengale,Los Angeles Times

MESA, ARIZ. HC — MESA, Ariz. -- Tony Gwynn opens the paper each morning and checks the box scores from Vero Beach, Fla. It's only natural, right? The Los Angeles Dodgers are favored to win the National League West, and everyone in the division seems to be keeping an eye on them.

But Gwynn couldn't care less how the Dodgers are doing. He doesn't bother to read Ramon Martinez's pitching line. Their third-base problems are not his concern.

The San Diego Padres' outfielder wants to know about a certain Dodger outfielder. He is Chris Gwynn, Tony's younger brother. He's the Gwynn without the four batting titles. The one who never has been an All-Star. The one who can't break into the Dodger starting lineup.

If Tony Gwynn had an ultimate wish, it would not be for him to win another batting title, but for his brother to be an everyday player.

This is Tony Gwynn's story of sharing the frustrations that torment his brother.

"I still remember the day like it happened yesterday," Gwynn said. "It was in the morning, and the phone rang. It was Chris, and he didn't sound good.

"He said, 'There's a rumor Hubie [Brooks] is going back to the Mets. Can you believe it? They're not trading Kal [Daniels]. They're trading Hubie.'

"I couldn't even say anything. I just kept saying, 'Oh, man, oh man.' He kept talking, I'd listen, and every once in a while, I'd say, 'Oh, man.'

"He said, 'But what am I going to do? What am I going to do? They've got three lefties in the outfield now. When am I going to play?'

"It really wasn't so bad when they got [Darryl] Strawberry. Chris thought it was great. He thought he'd be the one playing center. Then we heard the rumors about [Brett] Butler coming. That was tough. I said, 'Well, if they get Butler, maybe they'll trade you.' So we started listening for rumors.

"Then we started thinking about it. Hey, maybe they'll trade someone else. Yeah, they got to make a trade. So we figured it'd be Daniels. Yeah, Kal was going to be traded. Everybody thought they'd trade Kal. They'd move Hubie to third, and Chris would get to play left field. But then they had to go and trade Hubie.

"This is a tough situation for him. He's trying to make the most out of it, but he knows no matter what happens, he's going to be on the bench. I mean, they're paying those guys big bucks. You've got Strawberry making $4 million, Butler making $3 million, Daniels making $2 million. You think they're going to be bringing those guys off the bench? No way.

"Chris went to talk to [Dodger Vice President] Fred Claire about it. One day after working out, he said to Fred, 'I know I'm not going to get a chance to play every day, but will I get playing time?' Fred assured him he would, so Chris hasn't been too vocal about it.

"I feel for him, because he can play this game. He really can. I know I'm biased, but I think he could hit .300, hit double-figure home runs and [get] a substantial number of RBIs. He strikes out more than I do, but he sure has a heck of a lot more power.

"I remember that game last year. It was a one-run ballgame. Chris comes off the bench and hits a back-door home run. I just turned around. I couldn't even look. When I turned around again, he's high-fiving everyone and yelling. I'm thinking, 'Oh, man, I'll never hear the end of this.' I took him back to the hotel to get his stuff and took him home. I knew he'd want to see it. So we go home, turn on the video and watch it over and over."

"When we play against each other, my parents root for the Padres, but they cheer for Chris. My parents are pretty critical of the Dodgers. They want Chris to play. They don't understand it. My dad doesn't even hardly go to Dodger games any more. [Dodger Manager] Tommy (Lasorda) keeps trying to convert them, giving them Dodger jackets and hats and stuff, but that won't change them.

"I give Tommy (a bad time) about it all the time. I remember the year they clinched the division, and the subs were all in the game the next day ... but Chris. I wanted to get on Tommy about it, so I said, 'Jack (McKeon, then the Padres' manager), I want to bring the lineup card out,' and he let me. Well, Tommy sees that I'm going up there, so he gives his lineup card to Chris to take up there.

"I said, 'Man, why aren't you playing?' He said, 'I don't know, TC can't figure it out either.' So the umpires start talking to us, and I'm looking over Chris' shoulder, yelling at Tommy, 'Put him in the game. Tommy, put him in the game.'

"And I got Tommy good last year, real good. We were at this banquet in L.A. where I was the Southern California athlete of the year, and Tommy introduced me. I get up there, and I just look at Tommy and say, 'Tommy, when's my brother going to play?' Oooh, Tommy got all over me. He said, 'Chris make you say that?' My mom was in the audience, and she was loving it.

"Tommy, (Joe) Ferguson and those guys are always telling me, 'We got the Gwynn brother we want. We got the guy who can drive the ball, not chicken-wing it. We got the guy with Dodger Blue. We got the good-looking one. I say, 'If he's that good, then why aren't you playing him?' That shuts them up pretty good.

"I think it's been tough on Chris being my younger brother. It's got to get on his nerves. We went to the same high school. We both played baseball and basketball. We went to the same college. We both get drafted. Everybody in professional baseball knows he's my younger brother. It seems like everything I did, he did, until we got drafted.

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