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Tony Gwynn, the greatest player in San Diego Padres history and a Hall of Famer who studied the art of hitting with Ted Williams, died Monday morning after an extended battle with cancer.

He was 54.

NIGHTENGALE: Gwynn was truly the greatest

Gwynn, whose 3,141 hits rank 19th on the all-time list, spent his entire 20-season career with the Padres, and was as revered for his upbeat and affable nature as his lifetime .338 average and eight batting titles. He earned election to the Hall of Fame with an overwhelming 97.6% of the vote, earning induction alongside Cal Ripken Jr.

"It is with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of Tony Gwynn," said Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame chairman of the board. "He was beloved by so many, especially the Hall of Fame family, for his kindness, graciousness and passion for the game. Tony was one of baseball history's most consistent hitters and most affable personalities. He was an icon for San Diego Padres fans, never more evident than on Induction Day of 2007, when tens of thousands of Tony's most appreciative fans filled Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame speech. We extend our deepest sympathies to Alicia and the entire Gwynn family."

Said Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement: "His all-around excellence on the field was surpassed by his exuberant personality and genial disposition in life. Tony was synonymous with San Diego Padres baseball, and with his .338 career batting average and eight batting titles, he led his beloved ballclub to its greatest heights, including two National League pennants.

"Tony loved our game, the city of San Diego and his alma mater where he starred and coached, San Diego State University, and he was a part of a wonderful baseball family. His commitment to the children of San Diego made him a deserving recipient of our game's highest off-field honor, the Roberto Clemente Award, in 1999.

"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. On behalf of all of our clubs, I extend my deepest condolences to Tony's wife Alicia, their son Tony Jr. of the Phillies, their daughter Anisha, the Padres franchise, his fans in San Diego and his many admirers throughout Baseball."

Gwynn - eventually known as "Mr. Padre" - was a San Diego treasure, having played baseball and basketball at San Diego State University before the Padres selected him in the third round of the 1981 draft. He was a big leaguer for good a year later, helping a franchise best known for its brown and orange uniforms earn considerable credibility over the next two decades.

The Padres made the World Series in 1984, Gwynn's first season as a regular, and he finished third in MVP voting that season. They also won the NL pennant in 1998.

That came four years after perhaps the greatest what-if of his career. In 1994, Gwynn batted .394, but his season ended with everyone else's by the players' strike that canceled a World Series.

While stars like Ken Griffey Jr. were on pace to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record, Gwynn's season marked the most viable chance any player in recent history had to produce a .400 batting average for the first time since Ted Williams in 1941.

Williams, a San Diego native, and Gwynn were fast friends and talked often about hitting. It was Williams, in an interview, that opined Gwynn was likeliest to duplicate his feat.

"Everybody wants to know, well, is he going to hit .400?" Williams asked in a joint interview with Gwynn in the 1990s. "Well, if there's anybody I'm gonna bet on now, I'm gonna bet on Tony."

In retirement, Gwynn, a Long Beach, Calif. native, returned where it all began: San Diego State, where he coached for 12 seasons and oversaw the development of 2009 overall pick Stephen Strasburg. Just last Tuesday, San Diego State announced Gwynn's contract had been extended through the 2015 season, though his cancer fight forced him to take a leave of absence in March.

But it was as SDSU coach that Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer in a salivary gland, and in 2010 had three surgeries to remove tumors - the last proving malignant.

The procedures and subsequent radiation treatments robbed him of his ability to even smile, and in a 2011 interview with USA TODAY Sports said the treatments "robbed me of a big part of who I am."

"I can smile again. I can laugh again," said Gwynn. "People who know me love to hear you laugh, see you smile," he said. "For a while, I couldn't do either. That was really concerning."

HIS BATTLE BEGINS: Tony Gwynn on fighting cancer

But he also realized then that his battle with cancer - which he said he was not sure was a result of chewing tobacco - was far from over. While he participated in a traditional bell-ringing to mark the end of his treatments, he knew even then that his challenge was significant, and ongoing.

"I thought ringing that bell meant that was the end of it," he said. "But really, ringing that bell just meant I'm done with treatments, but I've still got to deal with this ordeal until — until they tell me one way or the other, I'm done, or finished or whatever. I think going through this ordeal, I realize how much I really love doing what I'm doing.

"It's good to be here, honestly."

GALLERY: Tony Gwynn through the years

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