Longtime baseball executive Kevin Towers died Tuesday at the age of 56 after battling a rare form of thyroid cancer.

Known simply as KT in baseball circles, Towers was beloved throughout the game for his passion, honesty, people skills, eye for talent and sense of humor. He earned the nickname “The Gunslinger” because of his fearlessness when it came to making trades.

Longtime baseball executive Kevin Towers died Tuesday at the age of 56 after battling a rare form of thyroid cancer.

Known simply as KT in baseball circles, Towers was beloved throughout the game for his passion, honesty, people skills, eye for talent and sense of humor. He earned the nickname “The Gunslinger” because of his fearlessness when it came to making trades.

Though he became well known as a general manager with the Padres and D-backs, Towers always was most proud of his scouting roots, and to the end considered himself a scout first and foremost. When he was a scouting director, Towers was a firm believer that even more important than knowing the players was knowing his scouts’ strengths and weaknesses. Did he have a better feel for evaluating pitchers or hitters? How confident was he in his judgments?

He often spent time in the field with scouts, making a point to drive with them from town to town, stay in the same hotels, share meals with them, all the while talking baseball. Then when the Draft would roll around and a scout would speak up about a player, Towers would know how strongly to weigh his opinions.

“I consider him one of my true baseball friends,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, who managed under Towers with the Padres. “He hired me in San Diego. If it wasn’t for him giving me an opportunity to manage, I don’t know if it ever would have happened. I’m extremely happy he gave me that opportunity. He had great instincts for people, for players and the game. I think he loved everybody who surrounded the game. Players, media, people who worked in whatever organization he worked for. He loved the people in the game.”

Tweet from @richardjustice: Kevin Towers was the name @ajhinch wrote on the card he held up during @MLB’s @SU2C moment during the World Series. “He means a lot to me,” Hinch said, “and he means a lot to people throughout this game.” RIP KT pic.twitter.com/v6Ca47DWSR

“Kevin Towers devoted his life to baseball,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “In addition to the successful teams he led, Kevin is remembered for being one of the most well-liked individuals in our game whose love of life and baseball will be missed.”

People always mattered for Towers, who relied on a personal touch even as communication trends shifted to text messages and emails.

“I think talking is good,” Towers said in 2011. “Part of making trades is about developing relationships and you can’t do that through texting. I know we’re all busy, but to me I think it makes you more efficient and better at your job when you do have either face time or a chance to talk to someone on the phone. You can hear it in their voice whether there’s someone they wouldn’t move or would move. You can’t get that in the text. Texting is very impersonal to me.”

Tweet from @Mudcat55: My heart is aching big time. We lost a great man today, and if you knew Kevin Towers, yours is as well. KT undoubtedly was one of the best men in all of baseball. If you knew him, you loved him. He treated everyone the same. He had a huge heart. You���ll be sorely missed. RIP KT

Towers pitched for eight seasons in the San Diego system from 1982-89, getting as high as Triple-A before retiring and becoming an area scout for the Padres while also spending the summers as pitching coach for their Class A Short-Season team.

“We are profoundly saddened by the loss of Kevin Towers, who passed away early this morning after a courageous battle with cancer,” Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler and general partner Peter Seidler said in a joint statement. “Kevin spent nearly 30 years in the Padres organization as a player, scout and front-office executive. He led our club with strength, conviction and unwavering determination, and was beloved by all who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, especially his wonderful wife, Kelley.”

Video: Castrovince shares memories of Kevin Towers

After moving to the Pirates for two years as regional and national crosschecker, Towers returned to the Padres as director of scouting in August 1993 and remained in that position until being elevated to GM on Nov. 17, 1995, by then-team president Larry Lucchino.

“A great evaluator with the guts and the confidence of a riverboat gambler,” Lucchino said. “Hiring [Towers] in 1995 to his first GM position is one of the proudest personnel decisions of my baseball career.”

Towers was the Padres’ GM through 2009 and San Diego won four National League West championships — 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2006 — and advanced to the World Series in 1998 against the Yankees during his tenure.

Tweet from @PadresCentral: Kevin Towers was superstitious with a great sense of humor about it. Never watched Hoffman save a game. Always headed to elevator and clubhouse when Hoffman entered. Had this habit of running right hand down his face when nervous. Smart, funny, loyal — Kevin Towers was a giant.

Towers was the D-backs’ GM from 2011-14 and under his guidance the team went from last place in 2010 to the NL West title in 2011, improving from 65 to 94 wins.

“KT was the epitome of a good baseball man who played a significant role in the history of the D-backs, and his contributions to our franchise will never be forgotten,” said D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick. “He fought hard until the very end, as we all knew he would, and I will always remember him for his positive outlook on life. Baseball lost a great executive and person.”

D-backs president & CEO Derrick Hall added: “We lost an important member of our family and someone I personally love dearly. He was one of the biggest personalities the game has ever seen, with a heart of gold and an eye for talent. He could not get enough of baseball, and baseball could not get enough of our KT. It is no surprise he fought for extra innings. Our love goes out to Kelley, his family and everyone who knew him.”

Video: D-backs broadcaster Ferrin on loss of Towers

While Towers had an eye for talent on the field, he also knew how to pick a manager. He inherited Bruce Bochy with the Padres and stuck with him until Bochy left to manage the Giants in 2007. Towers hired Black to replace Bochy, and Black, now the manager of the Rockies, outlasted Towers in San Diego while gaining a reputation as one of the game’s better skippers.

Following his time with the D-backs, Towers joined then-Reds GM Walt Jocketty in a special assistant role that he held until his death. In between his time with the Padres and D-backs, Towers worked for the Yankees as a West Coast scout.

“A great guy,” Jocketty said. “We made a lot of trades together. He was a very dear friend. He was loved by everybody. I don’t think he had an enemy. No one ever said a bad word about him. He was fun-loving, a hard worker and great to be around. He lived life to the fullest. I’ll miss my conversations with him.”

Video: Jocketty remembers Towers as a battler

Following the Winter Meetings in 2016, Towers was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer and he spent the past year undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Longtime baseball friends, including newly elected Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, visited Towers regularly in Del Mar, Calif., where Towers lived with his wife, Kelley. Hoffman choked up when talking about Towers last week during the news conference that followed his election.

“Kevin Towers is at home right now, and we think about what he’s battling,” Hoffman said. “Those are the people that deserve the opportunity to hear a guy from San Diego talk about something good.”

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

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