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Ex-Padres star Gwynn dies of cancer

Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres watches the action from the dugout during the game against the Colorado Rockies at Qualcomm Park April 19, 2001 in San Diego
Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres watches the action from the dugout during the game against the Colorado Rockies at Qualcomm Park April 19, 2001 in San Diego

Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, the ebullient slugger who was once the face of the San Diego Padres, died Monday of cancer at the age of 54.

The Padres said Gwynn died in hospital in the San Diego area. He had fought salivary gland cancer for years.

Gwynn, who over 20 years with San Diego came to be known as "Mr. Padre," belted 3,141 hits in his Hall of Fame career, boasting a .338 career batting average when he retired in 2001.

The Padres, the only pro club he ever played for, retired his number 19 in 2004 and he was inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 in his first year of eligibility.

After his major league playing days were over, Gwynn took a job coaching the team at his Alma Mater, San Diego State University.

During his playing career, Gwynn won seven Silver Slugger Awards and five Gold Glove Awards.

His eight batting titles are tied for second-most in Major League Baseball history.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called Gwynn "the greatest Padre ever and one of the most accomplished hitters that our game has ever known," also recalling Gwynn's "exuberant personality and genial disposition in life."

"For more than 30 years, Tony Gwynn was a source of universal goodwill in the national pastime, and he will be deeply missed by the many people he touched," Selig said.

Tony Gwynn junior, who was a high school and San Diego State star player before embarking on his own pro baseball career, used Twitter to mourn his father.

"Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor," the younger Gwynn said. "I'm gonna miss u so much pops. I'm gonna do everything in my power to continue to ... make u proud! Love u pops!"

Gwynn had a malignant tumor removed from his right cheek in 2009. He said believed chewing tobacco he used for many years during his career led to his disease.

The cancer returned twice, and in 2012 he underwent radiation treatment in an effort to shrink the tumor, according to the Padres.

He had surgery that year, in which the nerve that the tumor was wrapped around had to be replaced with one from his shoulder.

"We are terribly sad to say goodbye to our teammate, our friend and a legend, Tony Gwynn," the Padres said in a statement. "Rest in peace, Mr. Padre."

Gwynn, a beloved figure in San Diego, was also mourned by mayor Kevin Faulconer.

"Hard working, passionate and always pursuing excellence," Faulconer said. "Tony Gwynn was a true San Diegan. The only thing greater than Tony's love for baseball was his love for San Diego.

"Our city is a little darker today without him but immeasurably better because of him."

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