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12/31/2002 Archived Entry: "Cooperstown Confidential--The Lives That Baseball Lost In 2002"

Hot Stove League Edition #5

Cooperstown Confidential Hot Stove League Edition #5 December 31, 2002
By Bruce Markusen

An unusually large number of baseball figures passed away during the 2002 calendar year. No category within the game was spared, from active major leaguers to Hall of Famers to colorful characters and revered broadcasters. The list of notables includes the following, all of whom made a mark on the National Pastime:

Way Too Young
Joe Bauldree (Died on May 29; age 25; heart disease): A right-handed pitcher for Allentown of the independent Northern League, Bauldree died in his sleep from a heart-related condition. He had previously pitched in the Atlanta Braves' organization.

Randy Burden (Died on December 5; age 23): A 23-year-old minor league pitcher in the organization of the World Champion Anaheim Angels, Burden died in his sleep of undetermined causes. The Angels had signed him as a non-drafted free agent in June of 2002.

Mike Darr (Died on February 14; age 25; car accident): The San Diego Padres’ outfielder, known for his speed, line-drive hitting, and ability to play all three outfield spots, was expected to be the team’s fourth outfielder in 2002. He lost his life in a car crash shortly after reporting to the Padres’ spring training camp in Peoria, Arizona.

Darryl Kile (Died on June 22, age 33; heart disease): No death in baseball was more stunning this year than the passing of the popular Kile, who died in his sleep as his St. Louis Cardinals prepared to continue a midsummer weekend series at Wrigley Field. Kile became the first active major leaguer to die during the season since Thurman Munson, who was killed in a 1979 plane crash. A three-time National League All-Star, Kile owned one of the game’s best curveballs and once reached the 20-win plateau for the Cardinals. He also threw a no-hitter as a member of the Houston Astros… According to the rules of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Kile’s passing in July made him eligible for the 2003 ballot considered by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Hall of Famers
Enos Slaughter (Died on August 12; age 86; colon cancer): For the second straight year, three Hall of Famers passed away during the span of the calendar year. The colorful Slaughter, who was nicknamed “Country,” gained much of his fame for his crucial “Mad Dash” in Game Seven of the 1946 World Series. While such plays underscored Slaughter’s aggressiveness and hustle on the basepaths, they also overshadowed his other accomplishments, such as 10 consecutive All-Star Game appearances. An excellent outfielder, Slaughter was also a consistent line-drive hitter for a number of winning teams with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees. He compiled an even .300 batting average over a 19-year career, while hitting 196 home runs, a total that was undermined by the three years he spent in military service during World War II. Slaughter enjoyed arguably his finest season in 1946, when he led all National League batters with 130 RBIs… For much of his later life, Slaughter tried to fend off a reputation for racism. In August of 1947, Slaughter spiked Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major leaguer in 20th century history. Some members of the Brooklyn Dodgers claimed he did so with vicious intent; Slaughter repeatedly denied that the spiking was intentional.

Hoyt Wilhelm (Died on August 23; age 79 or 80 [age disputed]; cancer): Wilhelm became the first reliever inducted to the Hall of Fame, receiving the honor in 1985. A five-time All-Star, the knuckleballer saved 227 games, posted a 2.52 career ERA, and forged a lifetime record of 143-122. At the time of his retirement, he held the record for most games pitched in big league history, a mark that has since been passed by Dennis Eckersley and Jesse Orosco. Wilhelm, who homered in his first at-bat but never hit another in his career, pitched for 21 seasons. He played for nine teams, but spent most of his career with the New York Giants, Baltimore Orioles, and Chicago White Sox, earning a World Championship ring with the Giants in 1954. Off the field, Wilhelm served in World War II, earning the Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge.

Ted Williams (Died on July 5; age 83; effects from strokes and other complications): The last major league player to hit .400 in a single season, the “Splendid Splinter” was arguably baseball’s greatest hitter, combining keen vision with quick wrists and a scientific approach to hitting. His accomplishments included a .406 season in 1941, two American League Triple Crowns, two Most Valuable Player awards, six American League batting championships, 521 home runs, and a lifetime average of .344. After his playing days, he became the manager of the Washington Senators; though he often struggled in handling pitchers, he excelled at working with young hitters and even earned Manager of the Year honors… Williams also made substantial impact in other avenues, including racial progress and heroism in war. At his 1966 Hall of Fame Induction speech, Williams called for the election of Negro League greats to the shrine in Cooperstown; his remarks helped pave the way for the induction of Negro Leaguers, beginning with Satchel Paige in 1971. A proud member of the U.S. Military and an accomplished fighter pilot, Williams missed nearly five seasons of his career while serving his country in both World War II and the Korean War.

All-Stars and Mainstays
Al Cowens (Died on March 11, age 50; heart attack): A onetime runner-up in the American League’s MVP voting, Cowens enjoyed the prime of his career with the Kansas City Royals. In 1977, he batted .312 and established career highs with 23 home runs and 112 RBIs. Finishing second to Hall of Famer Rod Carew in the MVP balloting, Cowens also won a Gold Glove for his play in right field. Cowens never matched his 1977 productivity again, in part because of his lack of patience at the plate. Bouncing around from the California Angels to the Detroit Tigers to the Seattle Mariners over the balance of his 13-year career, Cowens retired with a .322 on-base percentage, 108 home runs, and 717 RBIs.

Frank Crosetti (Died on February 11; age 91; complications from a fall): The longest serving member of the New York Yankees, Crosetti played and coached for the franchise over a span of 37 seasons. In 17 years as a player, the fine-fielding shortstop played on eight World Championship teams and nine American League pennant-winners. Known affectionately as “The Crow,” he batted only .245 lifetime, but did hit 98 home runs and collect 649 RBIs. After retiring as a player in 1948, he proceeded to serve as the Yankees’ third base coach for 20 years and participated in 15 more World Series along the way. He collected a major league record 23 World Series paychecks, including 17 winners’ shares. Crosetti concluded his coaching career in 1971, after stints with the expansion Seattle Pilots and the Minnesota Twins.

Steve Gromek (Died on March 12; age 82; complications from diabetes): A member of the 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians, Gromek won 123 games over a 17-year major league tenure. Gromek started his career as a shortstop, but became a pitcher in 1940 after hurting his left shoulder. The right-hander won Game Four of the 1948 World Series, giving the Indians a three-games-to-one lead over the Boston Braves. Gromek gained nationwide acclaim from a photo taken during the game, which showed him hugging teammate Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player, after the latter had hit a home run. According to longtime Cleveland writer Russ Schneider, the famed photograph was “considered a landmark in what was then only the second year of the integration of baseball.”… Gromek retired in 1957, leaving the game with a record of 123-108 and an ERA of 3.41.

Mel Harder (Died on December 20; age 93; complications from pneumonia): Long mentioned as a candidate for the Hall of Fame, Harder won 223 games during a 20-year career with the Cleveland Indians. The right-hander owned a terrific curveball, which helped him make four All-Star teams. He piled up a record 13 scoreless innings in Midsummer Classic play. After his playing days, Harder remained with the Indians as a coach, serving in a variety of roles. An excellent teacher of the game, he eventually became one of the first major league coaches to specialize in the instruction of the team’s pitchers, thus pioneering the concept of a fulltime pitching coach.

Willis Hudlin (Died on August 13; age 96): Hudlin is best remembered for surrendering Babe Ruth’s 500th career home run, but “Ace” also managed to win 158 games and compile 154 complete games over a 16-year career. In 2001, the Cleveland Indians named Hudlin one of the top 100 players in franchise history.

Dave McNally (Died on December 1; age 60; lung cancer): McNally was a crucial component to the Baltimore Orioles’ dynastic run from 1966 to 1971. The stylish left-hander was the Orioles’ most consistent starter during that span of six seasons. Stylistically, he pitched like Whitey Ford and Eddie Lopat, spotting a decent fastball while fooling hitters with curve balls and change-ups…. Although McNally was one of the game’s best left-hand pitchers of the late sixties and early seventies, piling up four consecutive 20-win seasons from 1968 to 1971, he was humble about his achievements. When a reporter asked him if he had any chance to make the Hall of Fame, McNally offered an honest response: “I don’t think so. I didn’t have enough wins (184 in 14 seasons). Sandy Koufax had only 165 wins, but he was really dominating. I think a pitcher has to be in the neighborhood of 250 wins unless some rare thing went with it.”… McNally’s selflessness matched his modesty. In 1975, the Montreal Expos offered him a contract paying him $125,000, which would have been one of the highest salary figures of the day. Yet, McNally refused to sign, in part because he felt the Expos had reneged on other aspects of the deal. McNally instead played the season at a reduced salary and without a signed contract, so that he could support Andy Messersmith (who had also refused to sign a contract for 1975) and help the Players Association in making a better case for free agency. After the season, arbitrator Peter Seitz awarded both McNally and Messersmith their freedom, allowing them to negotiate with any club. The decision really didn’t benefit McNally himself, since he had already decided to retire, but his conviction helped the players win an important gain in their struggle to gain free agent rights.

Darrell Porter (Died on August 5; age 50; heart attack): A four-time All-Star and the 1982 playoff and World Series MVP, Porter’s body was found lying next to his car in a Kansas City park. Porter had recently auditioned for a broadcasting job with the Kansas City Royals, the team for which he played from 1977 to 1980. He enjoyed one of his best seasons in 1979, when he batted .291 with 20 home runs. The following year, he admitted himself to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, but returned to help the Royals reach the World Series. Two years later, Porter returned to the Series, helping the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Championship.

Ken Raffensberger: (Died on November 10; age 85): A veteran of four National League teams, Raffensberger posted a record of 119-154 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds. The left-hander experienced one of the highlights of his 15-year career in 1944, in the midst of World War II. With many major league stars serving in the military, Raffensberger earned a berth in the All-Star Game and picked up the winning decision for the NL in a 7-1 victory.

Minnie Rojas (Died on March 24; age 68; complications from pneumonia): A terrific ace relief pitcher with the California Angels for a short period of time, Rojas suffered a career-ending injury in a severe automobile crash in the winter of 1968. Rojas’ wife and son survived the accident, but the wreck killed his two daughters, while leaving the native Cuban a quadriplegic, thus ending his career after three seasons with the Angels. In 1967, Rojas had led the American League with 27 saves.

Al Smith (Died on January 3; age 73; cardiac arrest after arterial surgery): The former Chicago White Sox’ outfielder earned two All-Star Game selections during a 12-year major league career, but is best remembered as the focal point of one of the game’s most famous photographs. Playing in Game Two of the 1959 World Series at Comiskey Park, Smith retreated to the left field all in pursuit of a long drive hit by Charlie Neal of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As Smith watched the ball sail into the stands for a home run, a fan accidentally knocked over a cup of beer that was resting on top of the fence, dousing Smith’s head and face. Smith estimated that he signed photographs depicting that moment at least 200,000 times. Although best known for the beer incident, Smith enjoyed numerous successes during his career. In 1954, he played on the Cleveland Indians’ team that won an American League record 111 games. The following season, he led the league in runs scored. After being traded to the White Sox, Smith spent time with the Baltimore Orioles, the Indians again, and the Boston Red Sox, finishing his career with 164 home runs.

Colorful Characters
Bill Faul (Died on February 21; age 61): Faul’s career as a pitcher, which ranged from 1962 to 1970, proved rather nondescript; he was far more notable for some of his unusual off-the-field habits, which once included the eating of a live frog. Faul also tried to use hypnosis as a way of improving the control of his pitches.

Dick Stuart (Died on December 15; age 70; cancer): Stuart was nicknamed “Dr. Strangeglove” for glaringly obvious reasons, given his chronically poor defensive performance. In the seven seasons that Stuart played regularly at first base, he led the league in errors each time, topping out with a remarkable 29 in one season. One of his teammates with the Boston Red Sox, reliever Dick Radatz, offered perhaps the most succinct and biting capsules of Stuart’s defensive pratfalls. “Stuart’s car should have one of those low-number license plates,” Radatz told a reporter. “It should be E-3.” … In spite of his fielding lapses, Stuart lasted 10 seasons in the major leagues because of his ability to hit home runs—including a few of the tape-measure variety. Unfortunately, the right-handed slugger had to spend much of his career handcuffed by the dimensions of a pitcher’s park. Playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in cavernous Forbes Field in 1961, Stuart blasted 35 home runs, sacrificing another 20 home runs to the deep left-field wall. Two years later, he reached a career high with 43 homers, thanks in part to the friendly fence at Fenway Park… Off the field, Stuart’s behavior was just as memorable as his lack of fielding prowess. He liked to brag about his abilities with the bat, yet he never tried to fool himself—or others—about the iron-like qualities of his glove. “One night in Pittsburgh,” Stuart recalled, “30,000 fans gave me a standing ovation when I caught a hot dog wrapper on the fly.”

Wes Westrum (Died on May 28; age 79; cancer): After signing with the New York Giants’ organization in 1947, Westrum made his mark as a dangerous minor league slugger. In 1949, he set an International League record by hitting five grand slams during the season. An outstanding defensive catcher during his career, Westrum earned two National League All-Star selections and played in every game of the 1951 and ’54 World Series. He also developed a reputation as a colorful interview subject, perhaps best remembered for the following comparison of baseball to religion. “Baseball is like church,” Westrum declared. “Many attend but few understand.”… After his playing career ended, Westrum remained with the Giants—first in New York and then in San Francisco—as a coach. In 1964, he joined the New York Mets as a coach on Casey Stengel’s staff, and one year later became the second manager in the franchise’s history when Stengel retired due to a broken hip. Westrum later returned to the Giants as their manager in 1974 and ’75, concluding his four-year managerial career with a record of 260 wins and 366 losses.

Alumni of the Negro Leagues
Joe Black (Died on May 17; age 78; prostate cancer): Colorful in both name and personality, Black was a star pitcher in the Negro Leagues who made a successful transition to the major leagues in 1952. In his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Black won 15 of 19 decisions, posted a 2.15 ERA, and saved 15 games. He pitched well in that fall’s World Series, becoming the first African-American pitcher to win a Series game. Arm injuries eventually curtailed the talented Black, who later pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Senators. After his playing days, Black became an executive with Greyhound Lines, and remained an outspoken figure on the subject of race relations. In 1997, he attended the opening of the Hall of Fame’s new exhibit on African Americans in baseball, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut.

Howard “Toots” Ferrell (Died on October 11; age 73): In 1946, Ferrell began his professional career at the age of 16. He pitched for the Newark Eagles and Baltimore Elite Giants, winning 10 of 12 decisions for Baltimore in 1949. After his playing days, Ferrell served in the Korean War.

James “Big Stick” McCurine (Died on May 24; age 81; heart and kidney failure): Teaming with John “Mule” Miles, McCurine helped form one of the most feared hitting duos in the history of the Negro Leagues. In 1949, “Big Stick” received a tryout with the Boston Braves, but an ailing shoulder prevented him from making throws from the outfield and convinced the Braves not to offer him a major league contract. Turning down a minor league offer from the Braves, McCurine returned to the Negro Leagues before retiring the following season.

Bobby Robinson (Died on May 17; age 98): Before there was Brooks Robinson, the Negro Leagues had its own “Human Vacuum Cleaner” in the form of Bobby Robinson. A 17-year veteran of black baseball, Robinson earned praise as one of the greatest defensive third basemen of the 1920s and thirties. He played for 11 teams, including the Detroit and St. Louis Stars, the Chicago American Giants, and the Birmingham Black Barons.

Hank “Bow Wow” Arft (Died on December 17; age 80; cancer): Described as a “routine, nondescript major leaguer” by longtime St. Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg, Arft nonetheless had one of the game’s more colorful nicknames. He retired in 1953, after spending the previous five seasons with the old St. Louis Browns.

Jimmy Bloodworth (Died on August 20; age 85): Bloodworth played 11 years in the major leagues, gaining most of his notoriety as a utility infielder for the Philadelphia Phillies’ famed “Whiz Kids” team of 1950. He missed two years of his playing career while serving in World War II.

Mace Brown (Died on March 24; age 92): A veteran of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Boston Red Sox, Brown posted a record of 76-57 with an ERA of 3.46 during a 10-year career. Brown made his big league debut in 1935, which coincided with Babe Ruth’s final season. Sitting in the Pirates’ dugout at Forbes Field, Brown watched Ruth hit his final three career home runs in one of his last major league games. According to Brown, Ruth stopped in the Pirates’ dugout on his way to the clubhouse showers and sat down—next to Brown. “I’ll never forget it,” Brown told a reporter in 1998. “He sat down on our bench right beside me.” Ruth talked about the last of the three home runs before retreating to the clubhouse and announcing his retirement a week later.

Joe Cascarella (Died on August 22; age 94): During a five-year career, Cascarella made stops with the Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators, and Cincinnati Reds. He won 12 games as a rookie in 1934, but never matched that level of success again. Cascarella was the last surviving member of an American all-star team that toured Japan in the 1930s. His all-star teammates included Babe Ruth and Moe Berg.

Harry Chiti (Died on January 31; age 69): A journeyman catcher who played for four major league teams, Chiti gained much of his notoriety in 1962, when the Cleveland Indians traded him to the expansion New York Mets for a player to be named later, who turned out to be Chiti himself. Chiti never actually played in a game for the Indians, but did play for the Mets, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City A’s, and Detroit Tigers during a 10-year career.

Pete Coscarart (Died on July 24; age 89; aneurysm): As a nine-year veteran of the major leagues, Coscarart played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1938 to 1946. The second baseman earned a berth on the National League All-Star team in 1940 and appeared in the 1941 World Series for the Dodgers against the New York Yankees. After his playing career, Coscarart worked as a scout for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. His most prized Minnesota signing was Graig Nettles, who eventually became a standout third baseman. In later years, Coscarart earned notoriety for his involvement in a retroactive labor battle that dated back to his playing days. In 1996, Coscarart and 75 other players filed an unsuccessful suit against Major League Baseball in an effort to gain inclusion in the game’s pension plan.

Sam Dente (Died on April 21; age 79): A journeyman shortstop who played for five teams during his major league career, Dente appeared in three games for the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series. Dente also played for the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, and Chicago White Sox during a nine-year career.

Paul Erickson (Died on April 5; age 86): Nicknamed “Lil Abner” (in reference to the Al Capp comic strip), Erickson pitched eight seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Giants. In 1945, he made four appearances for the Cubs in the World Series, allowing three runs in seven innings.

Earl Francis (Died on July 3; age 66; diabetes): A member of the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Francis became the team’s Opening Day starter three years later. Francis earned the nod based on his career-best season of 1962, when he posted a record of 9-8 and an ERA of 3.07. He finished his career with 16 wins and 23 losses.

Warren Hacker (Died on May 22; age 77): This 12-year veteran of the major leagues posted a lifetime record of 62-89 with an ERA of 4.21. In 1953, Hacker led the National League with 19 losses while pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

Andy Hansen (Died on February 2: age 77). During a nine-year career with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies, Hansen won 23 games, lost 30, and compiled an ERA of 4.22. The right-hander spent most of his major league tenure pitching in relief.

Mickey Haslin (Died on March 7; age 91): In six years as a utility infielder, Haslin experienced two highlights of particular note. In 1935, he played for a Boston Braves team that also featured Babe Ruth in his final big league season. That same year, Haslin participated in the first night game in major league history.

Ray Hayworth (Died on September 25; age 98): At the time of his passing, Hayworth was the oldest living major leaguer—one of three men to hold that title this year. Haworth batted .263 with little power over a 15-year playing career, then remained in baseball for nearly 30 more years before finally retiring in 1973.

Ron Kline (Died on June 22; age 70): A versatile and colorful pitcher who both started and relieved, Kline won 114 games and saved 108 others during a 17-year career. In 1965, the hard-living Kline led the American League in saves (an unofficial statistical category at the time) as a member of the Washington Senators. Three years later, he excelled for the Pittsburgh Pirates, forging an ERA of 1.68 and winning 12 of 17 decisions in relief.

Johnny Lazor (Died on December 13; age 90): Converted from catcher to the outfield during his lengthy minor league career, Lazor finally made his major league debut in 1942, lasting four seasons with the Boston Red Sox. Curiously, Lazor did not play at all in the 1946 World Series, an omission that he attributed to his poor relationship with manager Joe Cronin.

Lee Maye (Died on July 17; age 67; pancreatic cancer): Often confused with power-hitting first baseman Lee May of the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros, Maye was a much different player than his near-namesake. A line-drive hitter with occasional power, Maye manned the outfield for several teams, including the Milwaukee Braves and Houston Astros. Away from the field, Maye enjoyed far more success as a professional musician; he served as the lead singer of “Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns” and also performed at times with “The Platters.”… Coincidentally, Maye died exactly 43 years to the day after making his major league debut.

John Roseboro (Died on August 19; age 69; extended illness): Roseboro succeeded Roy Campanella as the Dodgers’ regular catcher, and while he couldn’t match the Hall of Famer’s power or overall hitting skills, he managed to carve his own niche as a solid defensive catcher who hit with occasional power. Yet, Roseboro was remembered, not so much for his abilities, but for his involvement in one of baseball’s ugliest brawls. On August 22, 1965, Roseboro found himself on the receiving end of a bat swung by Juan Marichal. The bat hit Roseboro’s head twice, leaving him with a two-inch cut. Roseboro initially filed suit against Marichal, but the two eventually ended the feud and forged a strong friendship.

Specs Shea (Died on July 19; age 81; heart disease): During an eight-year career with the New York Yankees and Washington Senators, Shea sported a record of 56-46 with an ERA of 3.80. As a rookie in 1947, he won 14 games, then notched two more wins in the World Series, pushing the Yankees to the World Championship. Shea’s career was later interrupted by military service and eventually ended because of a neck injury. In the early 1980s, Shea worked as an advisor on the film, The Natural, helping Robert Redford replicate the throwing style of old-time players.

Clay Smith (Died on March 5; age 87): A right-handed pitcher with the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, Smith’s career was highlighted by a successful appearance in the 1940 World Series. Pitching in relief for Detroit, Smith hurled four innings of one-run baseball in Game Four. A native of Cambridge, Kansas, Smith was inducted into the Kansas Baseball Hall of Fame in January of 2000.

Steve Souchock (Died on July 28; age 83): After participating in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, the decorated war hero began his eight-year major league career with the New York Yankees in 1946. As an outfielder-first baseman, Souchock reached double figures in home runs from 1951 to 1953.

Jim Spencer (Died on February 10; age 54; heart attack): A slick-fielding first baseman, Spencer played for the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, and Oakland A’s during a 15-year career in the major leagues, but was best remembered for contributing to the New York Yankees’ World Championship in 1978. Spencer won Gold Gloves in 1970 and ’77, and earned election to the American League’s All-Star team in 1973. After his retirement as a player, Spencer worked for the Yankees as a coach and in their promotions department, sometimes playing in fantasy camps, and also served as an assistant coach at the Naval Academy. The night before his death, Spencer played first base in a charity baseball game that benefited the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.

Tom Sunkel (Died on April 6; age 89): This left-hander overcame an inoperable cataract in one of his eyes to pitch over 200 innings in the major leagues. Although the condition left him sightless in one eye, Sunkel compensated by shifting his head to one side while pitching and batting.

Whitey Wietelmann (Died on March 26; age 83): A veteran of five decades in baseball, Wietelmann played parts of nine seasons in the major leagues before becoming a respected coach at both the minor league and big league level. He served as one of the coaches of the San Diego Padres in 1969, when they made their debut as an expansion team. An innovative thinker, Wietelmann invented a machine to clean baseballs and also helped initiate the concept of charting pitches.

Del Wilber (Died on July 18; age 83): The versatile Wilber started his baseball career as a player before becoming a coach (including a stint as one of Ted Williams’ lieutenants with the Washington Senators) scout, and manager. In 1973, Wilbur managed the Texas Rangers on an interim basis—for the grand total of one game, which he won.

Cups of Coffee
Fritz Ackley (Died on May 22; age 65): A right-handed pitcher, Ackley worked in four games for the Chicago White Sox in the mid-1960s. His first major league appearance coincided with the big league debut of Denny McLain, who opposed him that day as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Hank Boney (Died on June 11; age 94): Pitching four innings in 1927, Boney posted a 2.25 ERA for the New York Giants.

Lefty Bertrand (Died on March 17; age 93): Both a pitcher and an outfielder during his minor league career, Bertrand appeared in one game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1936. He allowed two earned runs in a two-inning stint.

Don Carlsen (Died on September 22; age 75): The right-handed Carlsen pitched briefly for the Chicago Cubs—his hometown team—and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Chet Clemens (Died on February 12; age 84): An outfielder with the Boston Bees and Braves, Clemens appeared in 28 major league games. The end of his playing career coincided with the start of his World War II military service in 1944.

Jack “Tex” Creel (Died on August 13; age 86): Creel overcame a birth deformity in his hands to win a major league job with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1945. His career cut short by a shoulder injury, the right-handed pitcher went 5-4 with a 4.14 ERA in his lone big league season.

Red Davis (Died on April 26; age 86): After playing 21 games for the New York Giants in 1941, mostly as a third baseman, Davis remained with the organization for the next 11 seasons as a minor league manager.

Ralph Erickson (Died on June 25; age 100): Erickson, the oldest living major leaguer at the time of his death, passed away only two days after turning 100. The left-hander pitched briefly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, making a total of eight appearances in 1929 and ‘30.

Ed Freed (Died on November 15; age 83): The 5’6” Freed crammed most of his major league accomplishments into one game. He collected four hits in his major league debut, making him one of only three players to achieve the milestone. Freed’s outburst included two doubles and a triple against Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer. Unfortunately, Freed’s career never again reached such a lofty peak. He played in only 12 more games for the Philadelphia Phillies, though he did manage to conclude his career with a .303 average in 33 at-bats.

Jack Jenkins (Died on June 18; age 59): The right-hander pitched eight games scattered over the course of three seasons with the Washington Senators and Los Angeles Dodgers. In a curious note, Jenkins was one of the few pitchers in baseball’s expansion era to wear a single-digit number on the back of his jersey.

Hal Marnie (Died on January 7; age 81): Playing mostly as a utility infielder, Marnie appeared in 96 games for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1940 to 1942.

Ed McGah Jr. (Died on September 30; age 81): A minority owner of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, McGah passed away on his 81st birthday. He played in only 24 games over two major league seasons, but was better known as a one-time roommate of Ted Williams.

Jim McKee (Died on September 14; age 55; car accident): A tall right-hander who came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, McKee pitched briefly for the Bucs in 1972 and ’73. In 17 big league games, the 6’7” McKee split two decisions and posted a 4.78 ERA.

Arnie Moser (Died on August 15; age 87): A right-handed hitter, Moser went hitless in five pinch-hit at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds in 1937.

Roy Nichols (Died on April 3; age 81): The second baseman played 11 games in his lone major league season with the New York Giants. He later became a player-manager in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization.

Sam Page (Died on May 29; age 86): A left-handed pitcher, Page went winless in three decisions for the Philadelphia A’s in 1939.

Mike Payne (Died on August 4; age 40; Eastern equine encephalitis): According to news reports, Payne contracted encephalitis from mosquito bites while working in his yard. A high school coach at the time of his death, Payne pitched five and two-thirds innings for the Atlanta Braves in 1984.

Les Peden (Died on February 11; age 78): A veteran of World War II, Peden played in nine games for the Washington Senators in 1953. He later became a minor league manager.

Bob Poser (Died on May 21; age 92): Poser pitched briefly for the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns in the 1930s.

Dykes Potter (Died on February 27; age 91): The right-handed pitcher worked two games and two innings for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938.

Steve Rachunok (Died on May 11; age 85): Nicknamed “The Mad Russian,” Rachunok struck out 10 batters in 10 innings for the Brooklyn Dodgers

Emerson “Steve” Roser (Died on February 8; age 84): After a standout career at Clarkson University, Roser pitched for the New York Yankees and the Boston Braves in the mid-1940s. An elbow injury cut short his career, which ended in 1946.

Ted Sepkowski (Died on March 8; age 78): As a wartime utilityman with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Sepkowski batted .231 in 19 major league games. He spent parts of three seasons with the Indians before joining the Yankees in the middle of the 1947 season.

Al Silvera (Died on July 24; age 66): Silvera picked up one hit in seven at-bats for the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-1950s.

Homer Spragins (Died on December 10; age 82): The first baseman-turned-pitcher made four mound appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947. During his college career, Spragins was a teammate of future major leaguer Boo Ferris.

Karl Swanson (Died on April 3; age 101): Born in 1900, Swanson was the oldest living former major leaguer at the time of his death. He played for two seasons as an infielder with the Chicago White Sox in 1928 and ’29 after a successful minor league career.

Barney White (Died on July 24; age 79): White went hitless in his one major league at-bat in 1945.

Jerry Witte (Died on April 27; age 86): He played in 52 big league games over the span of two seasons, but enjoyed most of his success after returning to the minor leagues. In 1949, Witte blasted 50 home runs for the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League.

Ray Yochim (Died on January 26; age 79): The brother of Pittsburgh Pirates senior advisor Lenny Yochim, he pitched in four games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 and ’49.

Adrian Zabala (Died on January 4; age 85): A native of Cuba, Zabala pitched for the New York Giants in 1945 and ’49. The left-handed thrower pitched 19 seasons in the minor leagues.

Managers and Coaches
Bill Adair (Died on June 17; age 89): Adair gained most of his fame as Hank Aaron’s first manager in the minor leagues. Adair, the skipper for the Milwaukee Braves’ farm team in Eau Claire, also played second base and served as a tutor to the young Aaron, who began his career as an infielder. Adair later managed the Chicago White Sox for 10 games in 1970.

Ray Knoblauch (Died on March 18; age 74; Alzheimer’s Disease): The father of major league outfielder Chuck Knoblauch, he never played in the major leagues but gained fame as one of the most successful high school coaches in the country. The elder Knoblauch coached in Bellaire, Texas, where he gained legendary status among scholastic coaches.

Mel McGaha (Died on February 3; age 75): Although he never played in the major leagues, McGaha went on to become the manager of the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City A’s. In nearly three full seasons as a big league skipper, McGaha compiled a record of 123-173. After being fired by Charlie Finley in 1964, McGaha managed in the minors and then became a coach with the Houston Astros.

Sheriff Robinson (Died on April 5; age 80): He didn’t played in the major leagues, but Robinson enjoyed a long career as a minor league catcher before becoming a respected manager in the farm systems of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and New York Mets. His managerial career spanned from 1953 to 1965 and included a PONY League championship in 1954. In 1969, Robinson also served as the advance scout for the “Miracle Mets” and provided an in-depth scouting report on the American League champion Baltimore Orioles. For his work, the World Champion Mets rewarded Robinson with a World Series ring.

Jack Tighe (Died on August 1; age 88): After managing the Detroit Tigers for two seasons in the late 1950s, Tighe enjoyed his greatest success as a minor league skipper. In 1968, The Sporting News named him the Minor League Manager of the Year. Tighe remained with the Tigers’ organization until his retirement in 1990.

Faye Dancer (Died on May 22; age 77; breast cancer): One of the top stars of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), Dancer became the inspiration for one of the main characters in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own. Dancer, a hustling player and colorful player, became the basis for the character of “All the Way Mae,” portrayed by Madonna in the hit film. Dancer played from 1944 to 1950, starring as a center fielder and pitcher for the Minneapolis Millerettes, Fort Wayne Daisies, and Peoria Red Wings. She enjoyed one of her best seasons in 1948, stealing 108 bases… Dancer is immortalized at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where a photograph, along with her spikes and glove, are displayed in the “Women in Baseball” exhibit.

Millie Deegan (Died on July 22; age 82; cancer): A veteran of 10 seasons in the AAGPBL, Deegan starred as a pitcher and second baseman for the Rockford Peaches, the team portrayed in A League Of Their Own.

Famous For Other Reasons
Rusty Burrell (Died on April 18; age 76): Although he never played in the major leagues, Burrell achieved far more notoriety than most career minor leaguers. After a brief playing career as an outfielder, Burrell became a bailiff in the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department and worked famous trials involving Patty Hearst and Charles Manson. He then became a household name as the bailiff on the popular television show, The People’s Court.

Paul Giel (Died on May 22; age 69): As a major league relief pitcher, Giel toiled for the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Athletics, and Minnesota Twins. Yet, he was far more famous in football, where he excelled as a collegiate player for the University of Minnesota. A two-time All-American, Giel finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1953. He later returned to Minnesota as the school’s athletic director, overseeing two NCAA hockey championships and three Big Ten baseball titles.

Pete Gray (Died on June 30; age 87): Gray played only one season as a major league outfielder, but even that was astonishing given his serious disability: the absence of one of his arms. Gray lost his right limb in a childhood truck accident, forcing him to throw and hit with his left arm. In 1945, Gray made the roster of the St. Louis Browns, in large part because of the departure of many major leaguers for service in World War II. Still, Gray played in 77 games, stole five bases, and played competently in the outfield, transferring the ball from glove to hand with remarkable quickness.

Charley Lupica (Died on December 24; age 90; complications after double hip fracture): An avid fan, Lupica gained national attention in 1949, when he sat atop a flagpole platform for 117 days in a futile attempt to “wish” the Cleveland Indians to a second consecutive American League championship. Lupica missed the birth of his son while atop the platform; to make matters worse, the Indians finished third in the AL pennant race. Lupica didn’t come down until the final day of the season, when Indians owner Bill Veeck arranged for a truck to move the flagpole and the platform to Municipal Stadium, where 30,000 fans cheered Lupica on during his descent.

Fred Taylor (Died on January 6; age 77): Taylor played three seasons for the Washington Senators in the early 1950s, but gained most of his notoriety as a hall of fame basketball coach at Ohio State. In 1960, Taylor’s Buckeyes won college basketball’s national championship.

Ed Runge (Died on July 25; age 84): The patriarch of a three-generation family of major league umpires, the elder Runge worked American League games from 1954 to 1970. His resume included three World Series, three All-Star Game appearances, and the first-ever American League Championship Series in 1969. His son, Paul, later umpired in the National League, followed by his grandson, who made his NL debut in 1999.

The Front Office
Carl Finley (Died in March): The cousin of former Kansas City and Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley, he worked in the A’s’ front office for 22 years. At one time, Carl Finley was one of only four front office workers being employed as part of Charlie Finley’s skeleton staff.

Jack Gould (Died on November 11; age not disclosed; extended illness): A senior vice president for the Chicago White Sox at the time of his death, Gould first joined the White Sox as one of Bill Veeck’s investors in 1975. Six years later, he became one of the team’s vice presidents. Prior to his pursuits in baseball, Gould earned praise for his war service. As a bomber pilot, he flew a number of combat missions during World War II and won the Distinguished Flying Cross from the U.S. Army Air Force.

Eddie Lynch (Died on October 14; age 67; stroke): No relation to the former major league pitcher of the same name, Lynch was a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks who also assisted the original investment group that helped bring major league baseball to Phoenix. Lynch also owned part of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Dick O’Connell (Died on August 18; age 87): O’Connell served the Boston Red Sox as their general manager from 1965 to 1977, overseeing one of the most successful eras in the history of the franchise. Under O’Connell’s watch, the Red Sox made shrewd acquisitions of players like Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, Elston Howard, and Luis Tiant, moves which helped the Sox capture American League pennants in 1967 and 1975. O’Connell, who was first employed by Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey in 1949, saw his Boston tenure end in 1977 because of a personality clash with Yawkey’s widow, Jean.

Jim Toomey (Died on March 24; age 84; brain cancer): A 38-year veteran of the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office, Toomey served as the team’s assistant general manager and public relations director. After retiring from fulltime work in 1987, Toomey remained with the Redbirds as a consultant and official scorer, holding the later position through the 2000 season. Prior to his death, the Cardinals named the press box at Busch Stadium in his honor.

Jim Garland (Died on December 11; age 86): Formerly a scout with the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers, Garland’s 28-year career as a baseball bird dog resulted in the signing of a number of players who eventually made the major leagues. With the Dodgers, his signings included first basemen Sid Bream and Franklin Stubbs.

Willie Powell (Died on January 31; age 49): The brother of former major league outfielder Hosken Powell, he served the Atlanta Braves as a scout at the time of his death. Powell scouted amateur players throughout Alabama, Georgia, and the northern part of Florida.

Ben Wade (Died on December 3; age 80; cancer): Wade spent more than 30 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, first as a minor league and major league player, then as a scout, and eventually as the team’s director of scouting. As the Dodgers’ head of scouting, he oversaw the drafting of such stars as Orel Hershiser, John Franco, Mike Piazza, Dave Stewart, and John Wetteland. Wade retired from the Dodgers’ organization after the 1990 season.

The Media
Jack Buck (Died on June 18; age 77; complications from pneumonia, intestinal blockage, and lung cancer): Beginning in 1954, Buck became the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, developing a following that made him as popular as some of the team’s best players. Buck also announced a number of World Series on both radio and TV, and delved into other sports, including the NFL and professional bowling. Buck delivered arguably his most famous call in Game One of the 1988 World Series. As Kirk Gibson rounded the bases after a dramatic game-winning home run, Buck cried out: “I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw.” In 1987, he earned the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, the highest honor given to a baseball broadcaster.

Bob Davids (Died on February 10; age 75): The founding member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), Davids was one of the most respected baseball researchers in the country. In 1971, Davids began writing a baseball newsletter and organized a meeting of fans and researchers in Cooperstown, where they launched the organization that became known as SABR. A regular contributor to SABR publications and a frequent writer for The Sporting News, Davids also excelled outside of baseball, working for the Department of Defense.

Jim Gallagher (Died on April 9; age 97): Displaying unusual versatility, Gallagher served as both a sportswriter and general manager during his long career in baseball. After a stint as a Chicago area scribe, Gallagher became the general manager of the Cubs in 1940 and held the position until 1956. After working in the front offices of the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies, Gallagher joined the Commissioner’s Office, remaining there until his retirement in 1973. Among many accomplishments, Gallagher wrote the game’s first free agency rule and helped establish a pension plan for major league players.

Kazuo “Pancho” Ito (Died on July 4; age 68; extended illness): Ito was a flamboyantly colorful broadcaster in Japan whose personality and style helped build a closer link between Asian and American baseball.

Ned Martin (Died on July 24; age 79): Martin died while returning to his home from a Fenway Park ceremony honoring the late Ted Williams. Employing an understated style and his trademark call of “Mercy,” Martin announced Boston Red Sox games on radio and television for 31 years. In 1975, he participated in NBC-TV’s broadcast of the classic World Series matchup between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds.

Bob Stevens (Died on January 2; age 85): A longtime sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Stevens received the Hall of Fame’s J. G. Taylor Award for outstanding baseball writing in 1999. He covered the game for nearly 50 years, including stints as a beat writer for the San Francisco Giants and the minor league San Francisco Seals. Stevens attended every World Series and All-Star Game from 1958 to 1978. Stevens, who began writing for the Chronicle in 1935, authored one of his most memorable lines while covering the 1959 All-Star Game. In describing a Willie Mays triple to center field in the Midsummer Classic, Stevens wrote: “The only man who could have caught that ball hit it.”

Also, a death from 2001 was reported this year by Baseball America. Former major league utility infielder Luis Alvarado died on March 20, 2001 at the age of 52. Alvarado, principally a shortstop and second baseman from 1968 to 1977, played for six big league teams—the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, and Detroit Tigers—during his nine-year career.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Edward Malone, who regularly chauffeured Hall of Famers and other baseball dignitaries from New York to Cooperstown--and always did so with grace and humor.

Bruce Markusen is the Manager of Programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's.

Replies: 2 comments

I've just become aware of another passing in 2002. Here is the information on one of the first Little League players:

Frank Sipe (Died on December 29; age 74): Sipe never played professional baseball, but became an integral part of the game’s history when he threw out the first pitch in the first-ever Little League baseball game. On June 6, 1939, Sipe made the historic start for Lundy Lumber, which defeated Lycoming Dairy, 23-8. In addition to throwing the first pitch in Little League history, Sipe earned the victory for Lundy Lumber.

Posted by Bruce Markusen @ 01/07/2003 11:51 AM EST

Here are five additional names to be added to the necrology for 2002:

Wally Pontiff (Died on July 24; age 21; probable heart abnormality): A junior at Louisiana State University, Pontiff had been selected by the Oakland A’s on the 21st round of the 2002 draft. Pontiff had started at third base for LSU the last two seasons.

Irv Kaze (Died on June 29; age 75; heart attack): Kaze served in public relations for the New York Yankees and California Angels, working for famed owners Gene Autry and George Steinbrenner. After his front office career, Kaze became a popular sports talk show host in Los Angeles.

Cliff Lewis (Died on July 25; age 79; extended illness): At the time of his death, Lewis was the vice president of insurance administration for the New York Yankees. In 1946, he became the first quarterback in the history of the Cleveland Browns, at the time a member of the All-America Football Conference.

Jimmy Warfield (Died on July 16; age 60; brain hemorrhage): Warfield was the assistant trainer for the Cleveland Indians at the time of his death. A popular figure with both Cleveland players and Jacobs Field staff, Warfield had worked for the Indians since 1971.

Angel “Tito” Rodriguez (Died on April 10; age 48; cancer): Rodriguez was a Spanish-language broadcaster for the Florida Marlins since 1995. He teamed with Hall of Fame broadcaster Felo Ramirez, the recipient of the Hall’s 2001 Ford C. Frick Award.

Also, here is some additional information on the passing of Carl Finley, former executive for the A's. Finley died on March 30 at the age of 78 after a long bout with Parkinson's Disease.

Posted by Bruce Markusen @ 01/02/2003 07:40 PM EST

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