Tony Gwynn, the San Diego Padre right fielder, kept saying over and over Tuesday how the clubhouse talk doesn't bother him. He talked about how he'll shrug off the remarks of teammate Mike Pagliarulo. He even snickered at any thought of retaliation.
He tried to be convincing, but his words lost all credibility when he looked up and his face was contorted with pain.
"You know, I thought I got along with everybody," he said. "I've always tried to do my very best. And God only knows how much I love to win.
"I never thought any of my teammates would ever think of me this way."
Gwynn stopped, shut his eyes and buried his head in his hands, hiding his hurt.
Gwynn has listened to the criticism of the front office in recent months because of his public dissatisfaction over his contract.
He has listened to the criticism of his playing weight.
He has listened to the criticism of his low RBI production.
Even when you're a four-time batting champion and a three-time Gold Glove winner, when your team is 18-20 -- it lost again, 6-1, to the Montreal Expos Tuesday night -- you share the blame.
But in Gwynn's illustrious seven-year career, never has anyone said anything so ugly about him.
And what could be more vicious in a team sport as baseball to be called a selfish player, not caring if your team wins or loses?
Pagliarulo, in an interview published in the New York Daily News, talked about life as an ex-New York Yankee and was quoted as saying, "He cares only about his hits. If we win, and he goes zero for four, forget it, he's ticked. If he gets his hits, and we lose, that's fine with him. He doesn't give a ... about this team, and that's weak. Donnie (Mattingly) would've kicked that guy's ass the first day."
Pagliarulo never mentioned Gwynn by name in the interview, but the implication was clear. He was referring to Gwynn.
"My gut feeling is that they were directed toward me," Gwynn said, "and that a lot of guys here think that way.
"Obviously, we're going through a tough time right now," Gwynn said. "If we were all doing our job, we'd be winning, wouldn't we?
"But this, this is tough to swallow. I've never been through anything like this before. I've never been criticized by one of my teammates in the paper.
"And to have someone say you don't care about your team, to say I don't care about winning, is awfully hard to take.
"To have someone actually say I'm selfish, that I think only about myself and not worry about winning, I have to speak out. I have to stand up for my rights."
Pagliarulo is not the first Padre player to accuse Gwynn of being selfish. In fact, just two months ago in spring training, one of his teammates anonymously incriminated Gwynn for the same offense.
But this was the first time any player has publicly criticized Gwynn, a lifetime .332 hitter who just so happens to be batting .336 this season after going two for four Tuesday with a single and run-scoring triple.
"How can people criticize me for the way I play?" Gwynn said. "Obviously, I must be doing something right to be hitting .300 every year, right?"
"What are these people basing this it on, that when I have a bad game, I get mad at myself? Hey, I'm sure he (Pagliarulo) was real happy when he was struggling, wasn't he?
"This guy doesn't even know me, and he's saying this."
When asked to elaborate on his comments Tuesday, Pagliarulo declined. Nor would he confirm that he was speaking of Gwynn.
"Let them assume what they want," Pagliarulo said. "If you're a team player, you don't worry about it, do you?"
Gwynn's critics say that there's a basis for their accusations and, speaking anonymously, they listed them:
--He's happy after games in which the Padres lose if he has a good game, and upset after games in which the Padres win if he has a poor game.
--He refuses to blemish his batting average by moving a runner over with a ground ball to the right side of the infield, and instead bunts runners over to protect his average.
--When a runner on base attempts to steal second, Gwynn will always swing, knowing there's a bigger gap in the infield defense, even though the base runner might have a great jump for a stolen base.
"Just watch him closely, you'll see what I'm talking about," said a teammate who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Said Gwynn: "I guess it gives you an indication of what people perceive of you, doesn't it? Why don't they say that stuff to my face instead of going through the media?"
Gwynn says he won't approach Pagliarulo about his comments until he tells him to his face. Then, he vowed, he'll listen. He won't even yell, just listen.
"What a year it's been already, huh? Unbelievable. You know, before this, the only time I've been criticized in the newspapers by my teammates is for stealing time in the batting cage.
"Oh, well, what do they say? Only the strong survive?
"Well, that's me "I know when it's over, I'll be able to hold my head high."
"I just know it."