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From Gwynn, Laughter Springs : Baseball: Padre outfielder puts a year of troubles behind him.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn squared around, slid the bat in his hands, laid down a bunt, turned around and yelled:

“What are you doing, you selfish bastard?”

Gwynn walked out of the batting cage and began laughing hysterically, right along with the rest of his teammates.

Yes, after enduring a season of anguish and a winter of discontent, Gwynn showed the world Thursday that he finally can laugh about his season-long feud with former teammate Jack Clark and the rest of the accompanying turmoil.

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It was Clark who called Gwynn a selfish player for protecting his batting average by bunting instead of moving runners over with a groundout. It was Clark who accused Gwynn of caring only about his stats, not whether the team won. And it was Clark who divided the clubhouse into Clark and Gwynn factions.

“I was miserable, absolutely miserable,” Gwynn said. “It was a long winter, let me tell you.

“But it’s over, it’s finally over, and now I have time to reflect.”

Gwynn said his biggest mistake was allowing Clark and others to change his personality, reaching a point where he no longer could even stand himself. His season ended two weeks early when he sustained a broken finger, and when asked if he would return to watch his teammates, he said: “I don’t want to see those . . .”

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The comment, along with his open dissatisfaction about his teammates in a newspaper story, infuriated several other Padres. Clark and shortstop Garry Templeton, among others, demanded that he return to the clubhouse and apologize, or at least explain himself.

His friends telephoned him and told him that it would be suicide to step foot in the clubhouse with the open animosity toward him.

So Gwynn stayed at home, instead telephoning many of his teammates to apologize, while others called him.

“The big mistake I made,” Gwynn said, “was that I should have been specific, instead of being general.”

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He should have mentioned Clark by name, he said. Or Mike Pagliarulo. Or Templeton. Instead, he tried to be diplomatic, and it backfired.

“I think because Tony was so general, people were taking it the wrong way,” said teammate Darrin Jackson. “Someone would say, ‘Look what he said about us.’ I’d say, ‘Hey, he’s not talking about all of us; you know who he’s talking about.’

“There was no reason for Tony to explain anything to me. I knew what was going on. He had a reason to be bitter the way everything was going.

“But now, look at him, he’s able to laugh about it. He’s back to his old self. He’s having fun again.”

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The laughter that often has him rolling on the ground, kicking his feet in the air, is back. The wide, infectious grin has returned. And his game, he said, soon will follow.

“All I want now is for somebody to pay for the (miserable) season I had,” said Gwynn, who hit .309, equaling a career low. “It’s one thing to say it, but I’m telling you somebody’s going to pay. And it’s going to be National League pitchers.”

There still are lingering scars from a year ago that might never disappear. But for now, Gwynn said, he can live with everything that transpired, and prove that he’s the same person that always has been adored by the city of San Diego.

“I was definitely one of the blah kings of California,” Gwynn said. “But I’ve had time to reflect. I made some mistakes, too, I know, and I don’t want to compound those mistakes by doing it again.

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“But I think everyone knows I’m not mad at the world any more. I didn’t like myself the other way, and I don’t think my wife and children did, either.

“I just snapped, that’s all. I just snapped.”

It should be much easier, Gwynn said, knowing that Clark and Pagliarulo no longer are around.

Really, the only remnant of the Gwynn-bashing is Templeton. It was Templeton who openly criticized Gwynn for not apologizing for his comments.

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Yet, although they’ve been teammates since 1984 and lived only a few blocks from one another, never once did they see one another during the winter. Templeton never called Gwynn. Gwynn never called Templeton. And here they are together in spring training, and they still haven’t talked to one another about the incident.

“We’ve said hello this spring,” Gwynn said, “but that subject still hasn’t come up.”

It really doesn’t matter, anyway. This is Gwynn’s team again. Although he says he’s not the leader, at the age of 30, there’s a strong possibility that he could be the oldest player in the everyday lineup.

“That’s scary,” Gwynn said. “Guys are calling me, ‘Old man.’ Darrin Jackson’s been calling me ‘Grandpa,’ for two days.

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“But it’s fun, I’m finally have fun again.”

There are some changes, Gwynn said, that he’d still like to make. He is pleading with reporters to quit relying solely on him after games for interviews. Talk to the other players, too, he asks. Yet, when Gwynn can be so glib and accommodating, no matter the circumstances, how can a reporter resist?

“The main thing,” Gwynn said, “is I just want to be myself. Alicia (Gwynn’s wife) and I talked about that all winter. She just said, ‘Be yourself. If people don’t like it, that’s too bad.’ So that’s the way it’s going to be.

“You know what my wish is? I’d love to play Boston in the World Series. Not just because Jack is there, but because it’d mean we got there.

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“I wouldn’t even mind you guys going back and forth, telling me what Jack said about me, and what I said about Jack.”

With that, Gwynn started laughing uncontrollably, filling the Padre clubhouse.

The ol’ Tony Gwynn has returned.


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