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Gwynn has to be equally happy with the fact that over the winter the Padres—who were last year's preseason favorites to win the National League West but then finished fifth, with a 75-87 record—did a major housecleaning and in the process swept out Gwynn's chief tormentors. Jack Clark, Gwynn's harshest critic, was granted new-look free agency in December and was offered only a one-year contract by San Diego; he opted for a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. Mike Pagliarulo, another detractor, signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Twins. Shortstop Garry Templeton, also in the anti-Gwynn camp last year, is tradable now that San Diego has shortstop Tony Fernandez, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in December.
The 30-year-old Gwynn arrived at the Padres' camp in Yuma, Ariz., last week, three days early and with a smile on his face. He bounced into the clubhouse, admired the Padres" new blue uniforms ("I hated the old brown ones. I hated every one of them"), then spotted manager Greg Riddoch and immediately asked if he could get a coach to throw extra batting practice to him.
The aftereffects of last season could not be hidden entirely, though. During batting practice Gwynn dropped a bunt and said to himself, laughingly, "You selfish bastard."
His mood was decidedly upbeat. "I can't remember being so determined to go out and do some things," he says. "I'm swinging the bat good. I feel good about the direction I'm going."
The only direction Gwynn went last year was down. He admits he deserves some of the blame "because I got myself in a hole by the things I said," especially his questioning of the Padres' salary structure in December 1989 after he had dropped to being the team's seventh-highest-paid player, at $1 million a year.
In the spring the hole became a chasm. On May 15 the New York Daily News quoted Pagliarulo as saying that one Padre was more concerned about getting his hits than about his team's winning. Gwynn didn't pay the story much note until a San Diego writer told him that Pagliarulo was referring to Gwynn. (Pagliarulo denies this, and has told Gwynn so.) Gwynn reacted angrily, saying, "Nobody else is going to stand up for me, so I've got to stand up for myself." Before the Padres' game on May 24 at Shea Stadium, Jack McKeon, San Diego's manager at the time, called a meeting.
"It was like the whole thing was planned," Gwynn says. "Jack [McKeon] said, 'Tempy [Templeton] has got something to say,' then he and the coaches left. Tempy said there were some things in the paper that he didn't like, and he wanted to know where I was coming from. We started yelling back and forth. So Jack [Clark] is sitting there with a Coke in his hands. He slams it across the room, it breaks open and shoots all over the place, and he says, 'Hey, everyone in here knows why we're having this meeting—because we got some selfish——in this room, and they're [pitcher] Eric Show and Tony Gwynn.' Eric was shocked. I was shocked.
"Now, Jack is an intimidating person. When he spoke, there was dead silence. Then Eric said, 'What are you talking about?' Jack laid into him. So I asked Jack, 'What the hell do you want me to do? You tell me.' Five times I asked him, but he never answered me. Then I was criticized for not talking to the new players and telling them where to go, who to see, who to take their kids to, what restaurants to go to. Other guys chirped in, 'Yeah, yeah, you should have done that.' Finally, I said, 'I quit. Go ahead and talk.'
"After that meeting I was lost. I spent many nights asking myself, 'Is it me?' In other people's minds, maybe they were right in thinking some things I did were selfish. But face it, this is a selfish game. You get up to the plate, there's no one to help you but yourself. But I've always tried to be a team player. As for the perception that I was sitting on my average by bunting [one of the charges leveled by Clark], I just don't believe you can sit on your average in May."
However, after the locker room confrontation, Gwynn says, he changed his style: "I'd go to the plate and say, 'Here's a situation where I don't pull the ball off this guy because he's pitching me away, but if I bunt, I'm selfish.' So I'd go up there and try to pull, forget about getting a hit, just try to pull. But that's not what I do. I'm a straightaway hitter. People should know if I say I can't do something, then I can't, and respect that. I don't have to answer to anybody on my club who criticized me for my style."