Tony Gwynn was an accomplished college basketball player before his storied major league baseball career began. (SI file photo)
On June 10, 1981, MLB's San Diego Padres and the NBA's San Diego Clippers drafted the same player: San Diego State's Tony Gwynn, who was a first-team All-America outfielder as well as a record-setting basketball point guard. The latter set of accomplishments faded rapidly as Gwynn, who died at 54 on Monday after a battle with cancer, built a Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, but they were impressive in their own right and certainly worth remembering.
No San Diego State player has ever eclipsed Gwynn's records of 221 assists in a season or 590 in his career. Likewise his 8.2 assists during the 1979-80 season stand as the best single-season mark for any player in program history. The school memorialized his most notable athletic double-dip in its official website biography for Gwynn: He posted 16 points and 16 assists against New Mexico on March 7, 1981, and then two days later record five RBIs in seven at-bats during a doubleheader against Southern California College.
VERDUCCI: Gwynn was a joy to watch on the plate -- and in life
In fact, Gwynn arrived at San Diego State with little intention of pursuing the baseball career that would define him. He was a standout recruit from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School and didn't play baseball as a freshman in order to concentrate on hoops. Eventually Gwynn would be a two-time All-WAC player in basketball and therefore became the only athlete in conference history to be named to an all-conference team in two sports.
Gwynn isn't the only athlete who boasted some solid college basketball accomplishments before embarking on a more memorable career in major league baseball, however.
There was Dave Winfield, who joins Gwynn as the only players with Padres caps in the Hall of Fame and who played on a Big Ten champion Minnesota basketball team before going on to collect 3,110 hits in the bigs. Jackie Robinson, who won varsity letters at UCLA in basketball and baseball (as well as football and track), and Bob Gibson, who averaged more than 20 points per game as a junior at Creighton, where he was on basketball scholarship -- also had baseball careers that ended in Cooperstown. Dick Groat was a two-time All-America at Duke whose No. 10 jersey was the first to be retired and hung in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium before becoming an All-Star shortstop and the 1960 NL MVP with the Pirates. And Kenny Lofton (Arizona) and Tim Stoddard (North Carolina State) are the only two men to play in both a World Series and a Final Four, and Stoddard is the only man to win a title in both sports.
Collecting 3,141 hits with a .338 batting average over a 20-year baseball career renders Gwynn's basketball accomplishments a mere footnote. But his name is etched at the top of the record books for San Diego State basketball nevertheless, meaning he, too, will be remembered in two arenas.