Baseball Players We Lost in 2011
The following information comes from an email from a friend of mine, Jim Copeland. All credit goes to him. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all that is contained herein, but Jim usually knows what he is talking about.
Matty Alou, 72: The smallest (5-foot-9) of the Alou Brothers swung the biggest bat, both literally (a 36-ounce model that seemed to outweigh him) and statistically (he won the National League batting title in 1966 by hitting .342 and retired as a career .307 hitter). Nov. 3, Miami, diabetes.
Gino Cimoli, 81: The NL All-Star outfielder with the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers batted .265 across a 10-year career with seven different clubs. Feb. 12, Roseville, Calif., kidney and heart failure.
Wes Covington, 79: With 54 home runs, he was a junior member — the seniors being Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews — of the Milwaukee Braves’ back-to-back World Series teams of 1957-58. July 4, Edmonton, cancer.
Ryne Duren, 81: His thick glasses intimidated hitters and his blazing fastball put them away. The inspiration for cinema’s Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn topped the Majors with an inconceivable 20 saves in 1958, when he fanned 87 in 75 2/3 innings for the Yankees — the first of six consecutive seasons in which his strikeouts exceeded his innings. Jan. 6, Lake Wales, Fla.
Mike Flanagan, 59: He helped pitch the Orioles into two World Series (1979 and ’83), winning the AL Cy Young Award on the way in ’79, but wasn’t able to achieve as much success as the team’s general manager. Aug. 24, Monkton, Md., suicide.
Bob Forsch, 61: His ceremonial opening toss prior to World Series Game 7 was merely the last of thousands of clutch pitches by the only pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters (1978 and ’83) for the storied Cardinals franchise. Ken Forsch’s “little brother” also helped pitch St. Louis into the World Series in 1982, ’85 and ’87. Nov. 3, Weeki Wachee, Fla., thoracic aortic aneurysm.
Joe Frazier, 88: Baseball, too, lost a Smokin’ Joe, the one-time infielder whose 207-game run as Mets manager ended two months into the 1977 season, with his replacement being Joe Torre. Feb. 15, Broken Arrow, Okla., heart attack.
Woodie Fryman, 70: The ole Tobacco Farmer from Kentucky didn’t break into the Majors until he was 26, and the lefty won 141 games in an 18-year career through 1983. Feb. 4, Lexington, Ky., heart ailment.
Lou Gorman, 84: The 2002 inductee into the Red Sox Hall of Fame spent more than three decades in baseball operations, a career highlighted by stints as general manager in Seattle and Boston. April 1, Weston, Mass., natural causes.
Greg Halman, 24: He smiled, he joked, he excited with anticipation all of his native Netherlands. He was fresh off his most significant stretch of Major League action and was set to invite Seattle’s love in 2012. He was abruptly, inexplicably taken from us. Nov. 21, Rotterdam, knife stabbing.
Roy Hartsfield, 85: He was the charter manager of Toronto, guiding the Blue Jays through their first three seasons (1977-79), a just reward for a long stint as a successful Minor League skipper. Jan. 15, Atlanta, liver cancer.
Hideki Irabu, 42: The right-hander helped blaze Japanese players’ trail to the Majors, going 29-20 with the 1997-99 Yankees before his career wound down in disappointment. July 27, Los Angeles, suicide.
Eddie Joost, 94: The smooth-fielding infielder was one of the last remaining links to the fabled Philadelphia A’s, with whom he became a two-time (1949, ’52) All-Star, then the team’s last manager before its move to Kansas City. April 12, Fair Oaks, Calif.
Harmon Killebrew, 74: The Hammer struck for 573 homers across a 22-season Hall of Fame career, playing all but 106 of his 2,435 games as the revered and beloved face of the Washington-Minnesota franchise. May 17, Scottsdale, Ariz., esophageal cancer.
Charlie Lea, 54: The France-born righty went 43-31 for the Expos from 1982-84, but he left his most permanent mark with his May 10, 1981 no-hitter against San Francisco. He was a long-time member of the broadcast crew for the Memphis Redbirds. Nov. 11, Collierville, Tenn., heart attack.
Marty Marion, 94: He fielded shortstop as no one with two arms had any business, thus was known as The Octopus as the centerpiece of the Cardinals’ World Series championship teams of 1942, ’44 and ’46. March 16, Ladue, Mo., natural causes.
Charlie Metro, 92: He dabbled both in outfield play and managing before becoming one of the true scouting legends of the game, primarily for the Dodgers. March 18, Buckingham, Va., lung cancer.
Jim Northrup, 71: As the starting right fielder on the 1968 Tigers that united Detroit at a time of deep social divide, the lefty hitter belted 21 homers and drove in 90 runs, the high note of a 12-year career. June 8, Grand Blanc, Mich., seizure.
Jose Pagan, 76: Versatile and affable, the Puerto Rican crowned a 15-year career by playing a vital role on the 1971 World Series champion Pirates, for whom he started at four different positions. June 7, Sebring, Fla., Alzheimer’s disease.
Mitchell Page, 59: A third-round Draft pick in 1973 by the Pirates dealt to Oakland as part of a nine-player blockbuster in March of ’77, he broke in with the ’77 A’s as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up — to Hall of Famer Eddie Murray — hitting .307 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. March 12, Glendale, Ariz., in his sleep.
Duane Pillette, 88: The big right-hander earned two unique spots in baseball lore, starting the St. Louis Browns’ final game and earning the Orioles’ first victory after the franchise’s 1954 shift to Baltimore. May 8, San Jose, Calif., heart failure.
Mel Queen, 69: As a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, he had a brief but unique career with the Reds as on outfielder/pitcher prior to a conversion to full-time pitching in 1967. Then as a pitching coach/advisor, he tutored three Toronto pitchers to Cy Young Awards — Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens (twice) and Roy Halladay. May 13, Morro Bay, Calif., cancer.
Bob Rush, 85: Mr. Cub of the mound during the outset of Ernie Banks’ wider reign, the big right-hander was an eight-time double-figures winner for the perennial cellar-dwellers of the ’50s, including a 17-13 mark with a 2.70 ERA in 1952. March 19, Mesa, Ariz.
Larry Shepard, 92: He never got to do it in the Majors, but he sure knew a lot about pitching, winning 179 games during a 13-season Minor League career then steering the Big Red Machine pitchers as Cincinnati’s pitching coach. He also served as Pirates manager for two seasons between Danny Murtaugh stints. April 6, Lincoln, Neb., natural causes.
Dave Sisler, 79: The bespectacled pitching branch of the famed Sisler clan (Hall of Fame father George was a career .340 hitter and brother Dick a two-time All-Star) posted 38 wins from 1956-62 in his career as a reliever and spot-starter. Jan. 9, St. Louis, prostate cancer.
Roy Smalley, 85: A cornerstone of one of baseball’s leading families — brother-in-law of Gene Mauch and father of Roy Smalley III — he was the Cubs shortstop replaced by Ernie Banks, making him Wally Pipp to Mr. Cub’s Lou Gehrig. Oct. 12, Sahuarita, Ariz.
Duke Snider, 84: The Duke of Flatbush — and of Chavez Revine — hit nearly .300 and struck 407 homers, mostly for the Dodgers during a Hall of Fame career that spanned 18 seasons and both coasts. Feb. 27, Escondido, Calif., diabetes.
Paul Splittorff, 64: A 1987 inductee into the Royals Hall of Fame, the left-hander had 129 wins from 1974-80 for Kansas City’s AL West dynasty, and he remained vital on the scene as the team’s TV analyst. May 25, Blue Springs, Md., oral cancer.
Chuck Tanner, 82: The onetime nondescript utility outfielder enjoyed an uninterrupted 19-season run as a manager with four teams, most gloriously the “We Are Family” Pirates, whom he guided to the 1979 World Series championship. Feb. 11, New Castle, Pa., following a long illness.
Dick Williams, 82: He was hard-nosed as a vagabond utility player during a 13-season playing career, even harder-nosed as a Hall of Fame manager who won pennants with three different teams (Boston, Oakland, San Diego) and two World Series with the A’s. July 7, Las Vegas, brain aneurysm.
Gus Zernial, 87: Oh, how Ozark Ike could swing the big lumber, especially from 1950-53, a four-season span during which he totaled 133 homers and 430 RBIs for two teams (White Sox and Philadelphia A’s). Jan. 20, Fresno, Calif., heart disease.
Two suicides and a murder. Let’s hope 2012 is less tragic than 2011.
And to those of you who have been taking the time to read this blog, thank you, and have a Happy New Year.