SAN DIEGO -- Tony Gwynn could handle a bat like few other major leaguers, whether it was driving the ball through the "5.5 hole" between third base and shortstop or hitting a home run off the facade in Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

He was a craftsman at the plate, whose sweet left-handed swing made him one of baseball's greatest hitters.

Gwynn loved San Diego.

San Diego loved "Mr. Padre" right back.

Gwynn, a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest athletes in San Diego's history, died Monday of oral cancer, a disease he attributed to years of chewing tobacco. He was 54.

"Our city is a little darker today without him but immeasurably better because of him," Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement.

In a rarity in pro sports, Gwynn played his whole career with the Padres, choosing to stay in the city where he was a two-sport star in college, rather than leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere. His terrific hand-eye coordination made him one of the game's greatest pure hitters. He had 3,141 hits -- 18th on the all-time list -- a career .338 average and won eight batting titles to tie Honus Wagner's N.L. record.

He struck out only 434 times in 9,288 career at-bats. He played in San Diego's only two World Series -- batting a combined .371 -- and was a 15-time All-Star. He had a memorable home run in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series off fellow San Diegan David Wells.

Giants third base coach Tim Flannery, who was teammates with Gwynn on the Padres' 1984 World Series team and later was on San Diego's coaching staff, said: "The baseball world is going to miss one of the greats, and the world itself is going to miss one of the great men of mankind. He cared so much for other people."

Gwynn had been on a medical leave since late March from his job as baseball coach at San Diego State, his alma mater. He died at a hospital in suburban Poway, agent John Boggs said. Gwynn's wife, Alicia, and other family members were at his side when he died, Boggs said.

Gwynn's son, Tony Jr., was with the Philadelphia Phillies, who later placed him on the bereavement list. "Today I lost my Dad, my best friend and my mentor," Gwynn Jr. tweeted. "I'm gonna miss u so much pops. I'm gonna do everything in my power to continue to ... Make u proud!"