Photographers and cameramen huddled around a table. The pen was ready. The contract was waiting. The smiles were pasted.
It was more like a scene out of a high school gymnasium on national letter-of-intent day than a baseball player signing a contract extension.
But Thursday was a special occasion. This was Padre All-Star outfielder Tony Gwynn. And considering that Gwynn's contract has been the talk of the town for more than a year, the Padres felt it was only appropriate to turn this signing into a spectacle.
Gwynn, who already is under contract for $2 million a season the next two seasons, signed a three-year contract extension in front of a roomful of reporters. The extension will provide him a $1 million signing bonus, $3.75 million in 1993, $3.25 million in 1994 and $4.25 million in 1995. The total value is $12.25 million. His average salary of $4.083 million during the three seasons makes him the third-highest paid player in baseball.
"I feel like $4 million is probably more than I think I'm worth," Gwynn said. "but $4 million, that's a nice round figure. Two years from now, it's a figure I honestly feel like I can live with."
Everyone began laughing, startling Gwynn momentarily, until he realized the absurdity of his statement. Gwynn actually was referring to baseball's escalating salary scale, knowing that in a couple of years he could find himself again in another predicament where his contract is outdated.
That's just a chance, he said, he'll have to take.
"I'm a lot older and a lot wiser than the last time I was at this stage," said Gwynn, who signed his last extension in 1988. "Last time, I just got greedy, and I was trying to capitalize. I was trying to keep up with all the other people."
Perhaps the biggest concession that Gwynn made during the contract extension was that he did not receive a blanket no-trade clause. Gwynn is allowed to submit 12 teams in which he can not be traded by March 1, allowing the Padres to trade him to any of the 14 remaining teams by July, 1992. At that time, Gwynn will be in the major leagues 10 years, all with the Padres, allowing him the right to reject any trades.
"I know there's no guarantees until that time (July, 1992)," Gwynn said, "but I'm better off having a limited no-trade clause than not having anything."
The signing of Gwynn culminates a swirling two-week stretch in which the Padres committed themselves to $33.9 million in long-term contracts to Fred McGriff (15.25 million), Bruce Hurst ($6.4 million) and Gwynn.
"If that isn't a commitment to the ballclub," said Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, "I don't know what is."
Gwynn promises that his commitment will be on the playing field, where he'll be vying for his fifth National League batting title, and fourth in the past five years.
"Let's face it, I hit .309 last year, and people thought it was an off-year, an off-year ," said Gwynn, a career .329 hitter. "But that's the hole I dug for myself."
And although Gwynn has secured his financial future for a lifetime, and is guaranteed to be paid $16.25 million the next five years regardless of his performance, no one expects him to change a lick.