SAN DIEGO — Tony Gwynn Jr. said he nearly teared up on Monday after he heard about the tribute White Sox pitcher Chris Sale paid his father, Tony Gwynn.
Sale publicly acknowledged Monday for the first time that he decided to stop chewing tobacco the same day Mr. Padre passed away after a bout with salivary gland cancer — “I quit that day, and I haven't touched it since,” he said. Gwynn died in June 2014.
Both of the Hall of Fame outfielder’s children are on hand for this week’s All-Star festivities at Petco Park.
“Coming from him, it’s powerful because he didn’t meet my dad,” said Gwynn Jr., who also played for the San Diego Padres. “Here he is, a multi-time All-Star, and he brings up my dad without being asked about it and its kind of emotional.”
Sale, who earlier in Monday’s press conference was named the American League starting pitcher, made his comments without any prompting. A San Diego-based reporter asked a panel that included the managers for both the National League and AL squad as well as Sale and NL starter Johnny Cueto if they had any thoughts or memories about Gwynn and his impact on San Diego or baseball.
After AL manager Ned Yost offered his thoughts, Sale grabbed the microphone and made his comments.
“He actually made a very big impact in my life,” Sale said. “I remember — I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away. I remember seeing that and just being so shocked. He was a larger-than-life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for a lot of different reasons. But I quit that day, and I haven't touched it since.
“In a sense, I owe him a huge thank you for not only myself but for my family and, you know, hopefully I can maybe sway somebody in the right direction as well like he did for me.”
Sale’s father, Allen, remembers when Chris decided to stop. He wondered if his son would join a public campaign to discourage young athletes from chewing tobacco. But Sale wasn’t ready to make the commitment.
“He said, ‘I’m not sure I can do it, and if I fail I don’t want to be the public face of having not accomplished this,’” Allen Sale said. “I thought it was great he was able to say it today.”
Prior to the death of Gwynn, Sale chewed all day, every day, according to his father.
Gwynn Jr. understands why Chris Sale wouldn’t want to make a public statement prior to Monday’s press conference.
“My dad dipped for a long time and tried to quit numerous times, and I remember him struggling going through those times,” Gwynn Jr. said. “But he never could. Here you have Chris who was a little bit tentative because he didn’t want to look like a hypocrite, and I get it.
"What people don’t realize is it’s a disease, it’s not like something you can just pick up and put down. Generally, when you start it, most guys don’t stop. Kudos to him for first of all to quit and having some success at it this long.”
Gwynn Jr., who now does pre and postgame duties for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ flagship radio station, spent several hours Monday signing autographs at the All-Star FanFest. He’ll also be involved in some of the festivities surrounding San Diego’s first All-Star Game since 1992. Gwynn Jr. knows there will be some tough times “because my dad’s going to be brought up so much.”
But the first mention courtesy of Sale floored Gwynn Jr.
“It just lets you the type of impact he had on people’s lives,” he said.