MLB Hall of Famer Dies of Cancer at 54

The word came early in the morning via Twitter with this post from Major League Baseball: "We mourn the passing of Hall of Famer and @Padres icon Tony Gwynn, who died today at the age of 54."

The official San Diego Padres account soon followed: "We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn. Rest in peace, Mr. Padre."

"Probably one of the most fun and remarkable things about him when you did have a chance to be around him, he loved to sit and tell stories,” said NBC San Diego sports producer and photojournalist Dave Smith said.

“He had a laugh just one of the most infectious laughs you can imagine.”

Smith - whose own professional career paralleled Gwynn's - said so many San Diegans hold a special place for Tony in their hearts because he embraced the city and stayed when he could have followed the money and play elsewhere.

The Hall of Fame outfielder had battled cancer, undergoing a second surgery in February 2012 that removed a tumor inside his right cheek.

Surgeons grafted a nerve from his shoulder to replaces the nerve damaged by the tumor.

The former San Diego Padres, now San Diego State University's baseball coach spoke with NBC San Diego after that surgery about the prognosis.

He had undergone a previous surgery in 2010  but it was the most recent surgery that noticeably changed his appearance and speech. He had growths operated on in 1997 and again 2000 but no cancer was discovered.

Gwynn led the National League in batting eight times in his 20-year career, all with the Padres. He led the team to their only two World Series appearances in 1984 and 1998.

He was named to 15 All-Star teams, winning seven Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitter at his position and five Gold Glove Awards as the best fielder at his position.

He was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. His No. 19 was retired by the Padres in in 2004.

Gwynn played 2,440 games and compiled a .338 career batting average, good for 18th best in baseball history.

Gwynn had been the head baseball coach at San Diego State since 2003, returning to the university where he excelled as a student in both basketball and baseball.

In March, he took a leave of absence from the team. They went on to win the Mountain West Conference championship this season with a bobblehead of their coach sitting in the dugout for inspiration.

NBC San Diego users are sharing their favorite memories of Gwynn on Facebook.

"You can't share a favorite moment about Tony because their are so many stories to tell . He gave so much to SD and was loyal beyond belief . The best pure hitter we will ever see," NBC San Diego user Tracy Gilber posted.

Many consider Gwynn the great athlete in baseball.

“He’s the greatest athlete in the human race,” said NBC San Diego Sports Director Jim Laslavic who added how Gwynn would laugh at criticism during his playing days.

“He could light up the stadium with a smile,” he said. “Just a terrific person, a wonderful guy.

Longtime San Diegan, NBC San Diego's Whitney Southwick, remembers Gwynn's smile.

"It lit up the room and made you and everyone else just feel better about life – everything," Southwick said. "And what he could do on the diamond – a natural hitter who worked so hard at being even better, at the plate and in the field. TG is priceless, a one-of-a-kind person who was so much more than a professional baseball player."

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