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Historical Hot Stove
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Cooperstown Confidential - Regular Season Edition - 09/04/2003

This has been an especially rough year for the celebrity world, given the deaths of such Hollywood legends as Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, and Gregory Peck. While most athletes don’t carry such iconic status, the baseball community has lost its share of important contributors, including Hall of Famer Larry Doby and writing greats like Leonard Koppett and Sam Lacy. The following is a list of notable baseball figures who have died during the first eight months of 2003: Claude Passeau (Died on August 30 in Lucedale, Massachusetts; age 94; injuries related to a broken hip): A veteran of 13 major league seasons, Passeau pitched a one-hit shutout for the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series. He also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies, winning a total of 162 career games with an ERA of 3.32. Passeau, who led the National League in strikeouts in 1939, earned selection to four All-Star teams.

Bobby Bonds (Died on August 23 in San Francisco, California; age 57; multiple cancers): Often compared to Willie Mays in his earliest major league days, Bonds debuted for the San Francisco Giants in 1968. Taking his place next to Mays in the Giants’ star-studded outfield, Bonds enjoyed a notable major league debut, blasting a grand slam in his first game. The following summer, Bonds played his first full season and led the National League in runs scored… The peak of Bonds’ career occurred from 1969 to 1973, when he emerged as an All-Star player who blended speed and power to unusual levels. He achieved his first two 30-30 seasons (home runs-stolen bases) during that span, and in 1973, set a record by hitting 11 leadoff home runs, a mark that would not be broken until 1996… After the 1974 season, the Giants engineered a controversial blockbuster trade, sending Bonds to the New York Yankees for another star outfielder, Bobby Murcer. Although most talent evaluators considered Bonds the superior player, Yankee fans reacted with disgust to the trade, given the popularity of Murcer in Yankee pinstripes. Moving on to a city with something other than open arms waiting for him, Bonds played well in his lone season in New York. Bonds slugged .512 in his only season with the Yankees (while playing in the pitcher’s haven of Shea Stadium), but he could never make people forget the more popular Murcer and soon became a California Angel, in exchange for the uncelebrated package of outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa. From there, Bonds hurt his hand and bounced from club to club—from the Angels to the Chicago White Sox to the Texas Rangers to the Cleveland Indians—raising questions with his fast off-the-field lifestyle. On the field, his critics said he struck out too much, didn’t run out routine ground balls, and couldn’t hit the cut-off man. Ever a threat to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases (which he accomplished five times during his career), the accomplished leadoff man remained productive but enigmatic, never quite living up to the foreshadowing of superstardom and always giving teams reasons to move him on to another destination… Given his constant travels, the names of players traded for Bonds reads like a “who’s who” of baseball semi-stars in the 1970s. The list included Murcer, Rivers and Figueroa, outfielders Claudell Washington, Brian Downing and Jerry Mumphrey, and pitchers John Denny and Jim Kern… By 1980, Bonds had started to show significant decline, which some attributed to his problems with alcohol. Whatever the case, Bonds struggled with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980 and the Chicago Cubs in 1981, bringing his career to a premature end… Still, Bonds achieved numerous awards and statistical milestones. He won three Gold Gloves for his fielding excellence in the outfield, a tribute to his range and powerful throwing arm. He twice finished in the top four in the voting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Over one span of five consecutive years, he scored 100 or more runs each year. He also earned selection to three All-Star games, winning MVP honors for his performance in the 1973 Midsummer Classic… After retiring as a player, Bonds became a coach with the Indians, working for them from 1984 to 1987. In 1993, he returned to the Giants’ organization, serving as both a batting instructor and first base coach. His reunion with the Giants allowed him to spend more time with his superstar son, Barry, who had joined San Francisco as a free agent in December of 1992. Since 1996, Bobby Bonds had served the Giants as a special assistant to general manager Brian Sabean… Bonds’ last public appearance occurred on Wednesday, August 20, when he visited Pac Bell Park. The visit allowed the elder Bonds, confined to a wheelchair, to watch his son play in person for a final time.

Ken Coleman (Died on August 21 in Plymouth, Massachusetts; age 78; bacterial meningitis): A longtime broadcaster and colorful storyteller, Coleman worked the Boston Red Sox broadcasting booth for 20 years over two separate stints. The deep-voiced Coleman broadcast some of the hallmark moments in Red Sox’ history, including Boston’s 1967 “Impossible Dream” pennant-clincher, Carl Yastrzemski’s 3,000th hit, and Dave Henderson’s dramatic home run in Game Five of the 1986 American League Championship Series. Though best known for his associations with the Red Sox, Coleman also broadcast for the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. Noted for his sense of humor and ability to tell stories, Coleman also write five books during his career. The likeable Coleman was also actively involved in the fight against cancer, often donating his time and efforts to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Leigh Neuage (Died on August 16 in Sydney, Australia; age 20; injuries from a fall): The young right-handed pitcher, who had spent three years in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, died after falling 15 floors at a Sydney hotel. Authorities are still investigating the reasons behind the fall, but do not believe that foul play was involved.

Francis “Red” Hardy (Died on August 15 in Phoenix, Arizona; age 80): Hardy, a right-handed pitcher, appeared in two games for the New York Giants in 1951. Prior to his major league playing days, Hardy served in World War II as a Navy pilot.

Charlie Devens (Died on August 13 in Milton, Pennsylvania; age 93): Reported to be the last living member of the New York Yankees from Babe Ruth’s final World Championship team in 1932, Devens signed with the Pinstripers for a bonus of $5,000. Highly touted by manager Joe McCarthy, Devens pitched in only one regular season game in 1932—a complete-game victory. Devens was also on the Yankee bench during the 1932 World Series, when Babe Ruth hit his alleged “called shot” home run against Cubs pitcher Charlie Root. Devens also pitched for the Yankees in 1933 and ’34, but reportedly left baseball because his father didn’t approve of such an occupation. Devens later served in World War II, winning the Bronze Star, and eventually became a successful businessman in the Boston area.

Billy Rogell (Died on August 9 in Sterling Heights, Michigan; age 98; pneumonia): A pugnacious 14-year veteran shortstop who played for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Detroit Tigers, Rogell was involved in one of the most famous plays in baseball history. The incident occurred in Game Four of the 1934 World Series, as Rogell’s Tigers and Dizzy Dean’s St. Louis Cardinals battled for baseball supremacy. Having entered the game as a pinch-runner, Dean ran toward second on a ground ball to Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer. The Hall of Fame second baseman threw to Rogell, who was playing despite a fractured ankle, for the forceout at second. Trying for the double play, Rogell threw to first, only to hit Dean in the head, knocking him unconscious. In spite of the injury, the Cardinals went on to win the Series in seven games. That was a disappointing finish to a season that had seen Rogell drive in 100 runs despite hitting a mere three home runs. The following year, Rogell and the Tigers returned to the Fall Classic, this time beating the Chicago Cubs in five games. Rogell played a key role, hitting a solid .292 against Chicago pitching… Following his playing days, Rogell served as a Detroit council member, a position that he held for nearly 40 years… On September 27, 1999, the Tigers honored Rogell by asking him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the final game in the history of Tiger Stadium.

Mickey McDermott (Died on August 7; age 74; colon cancer): A once-promising left-hander who never quite fulfilled the predictions of some scouts, McDermott forged a journeyman career with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Senators, New York Yankees, Kansas City Athletics, Detroit Tigers, and St. Louis Cardinals. An injury to his pitching elbow, combined with excessive drinking, contributed to McDermott's struggles in the major leagues… In one of the highlights of his career, McDermott pitched two one-hitters for the Red Sox in the 1940s and '50s. McDermott, who finished his career with a record of 69-69 in 12 seasons, recently issued an autobiography entitled A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cooperstown.

George Maloney (Died on July 29 in Barstow, California; age 75): A minor league umpire evaluator at the time of his death, Maloney worked as an American League arbiter from 1969 to 1983. In one of the highlights of his major league career, Maloney served on the umpiring crew for the classic 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Maloney also worked three American League Championship Series and three All-Star games… Maloney passed away while traveling by car from his home in southern California to supervise umpires in the Northwest and Pioneer leagues.

Norm McRae (Died on July 28 in Garland, Texas; age 55; cancer): McRae’s claim to fame was his inclusion on the blockbuster trade that sent Denny McLain from the Detroit Tigers to the Washington Senators. In the deal, McRae joined McLain, infielder Don Wert, and outfielder Elliott Maddox in heading to the Senators for infielders Eddie Brinkman and Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan. The deal turned out to be a disaster for the Senators, as McLain failed to regain his Tiger brilliance in Washington, Wert and Maddox proved disappointments, and McRae never again appeared in the major leagues. McRae moved on to the Mexican League, where he pitched from 1972 to 1981 before becoming a coach in the league for four seasons. A right-handed pitcher, McRae had pitched respectably in two seasons for the Tigers, posting an ERA of 3.15 in 34 innings. He finished his big league career without a save or a decision in 22 appearances.

Dottie Stolze (Died on July 19 in Alameda, California; age 80): Stolze was a veteran of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, making her professional debut as a shortstop for the Muskegon Lassies in 1946. An extremely versatile player, Stolze played every position on the diamond except for pitcher. After retiring from the Peoria Red Wings in 1952, Stolze became a physical education teacher and softball coach.

Eddie Chandler (Died on July 6 in Las Vegas, Nevada; age 81): A member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chandler pitched in only one season, coinciding with Jackie Robinson’s major league debut in 1947. In 15 games, the right-handed Chandler posted an ERA of 6.37 and lost his only decision.

Vince Lloyd (Died on July 3 in Green Valley, Arizona; age 86; stomach cancer): A longtime broadcaster who worked Chicago Cubs games for 38 years, Lloyd teamed with legendary announcers like Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau during his tenure in the Windy City. As a broadcaster for WGN-TV and WGN Radio, Lloyd was often overshadowed by more well-known names in the Cubs’ booth. In the early years of televised Cubs games, Lloyd teamed with Brickhouse, one of the most popular broadcasters in Chicago’s history. He later worked with Boudreau, a Hall of Famer, as the radio voice of the Cubs for 23 years. In one of his most notable achievements, Lloyd became the first sportscaster to conduct a live interview with a sitting president at an Opening Day game. In 1961, Lloyd interviewed President John F. Kennedy before he threw out the first pitch of the season at Washington’s traditional presidential opener… In tribute to Lloyd’s memory, the Cubs observed a moment of silence at Wrigley Field before their Fourth of July game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Bill Miller (Died on July 1; age 75; congestive heart failure): Pitching mostly for the New York Yankees, Miller worked in 41 games from 1952 to 1955. He played for the Yankees’ World Championship teams in 1952 and ’53, but did not appear in either of those World Series. Concluding his career with the Baltimore Orioles, Miller compiled a lifetime record of 6-9 with five complete games and two shutouts.

John Royster (Died on June 29; age 42; heart attack): Formerly a senior editor at Baseball America, Royster died suddenly of cardiac arrest after participating in an adult softball league game. Royster had worked at Baseball America for 14 years, before deciding to leave the well-respected periodical last year. Royster was highly regarded for his knowledge of baseball, his writing skills, and his attention to detail.

Jack Bruner (Died on June 24 in Lincoln, Nebraska; age 88): A left-handed pitcher, Bruner hurled parts of two seasons for the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns. After splitting the 1950 season with Chicago and St. Louis, he returned to the minor leagues for the rest of his playing career.

Max Manning (Died on June 23 in Pleasantville, New Jersey; age 84; lengthy illness): Nicknamed “Dr. Cyclops” because of his unusually thick eyeglasses, Manning enjoyed a solid career as a side-arming pitcher in the Negro Leagues in the late 1930s and 1940s. He was once offered a tryout by the Detroit Tigers in 1937, only to have the offer rescinded when the Tigers discovered that he was black. A tall right-hander with a deceiving delivery, Manning pitched for the Johnson Stars and Newark Eagles, barnstormed with Satchel Paige’s All-Stars, and served in the U.S. military during World War II. In 1946, Manning pitched the final game of the black World Series, helping the Eagles to a 3-2 victory over the Monarchs for the championship. After his playing days, which were short-circuited by arm troubles, Manning worked for nearly 30 years as a popular sixth-grade teacher in Pleasantville.

Harry Kinzy (Died on June 22 in Fort Worth, Texas; age 92): Nicknamed “Slim,” this tall right-hander pitched 34 innings in his lone big league season in 1934. Kinzy lost his only decision for the Chicago White Sox, while forging an ERA of 4.98.

Leonard Koppett (Died on June 22 in San Francisco, California; age 79; heart attack): A highly respected writer who had covered baseball since the 1940s and had authored a total of 15 books, Koppett received the Hall of Fame’s prestigious J.G.Taylor Spink Award in 1992. After graduating from Columbia University in 1944, Koppett went to work for the New York Herald Tribune and New York Post, before deciding to relocate to the West Coast as a correspondent for the New York Times. A fixture at A’s and Giants games for three decades, Koppett wrote for the Peninsula Times Tribune, among other newspapers in the Bay Area. Koppett also served as a columnist for the weekly periodical, The Sporting News, from 1965 to 1984… In his columns, Koppett combined a traditional love of baseball with an open-minded, analytical approach to the game. As one of the first established writers to embrace Sabermetrics, Koppett often referred to statistics not contained in basic box scores… Koppett’s knowledge of the game and its history helped him land a position as a voting member on the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee, on which he served from 1996 until his death. He provided the Committee with valuable counsel on a wide range of prospective Hall of Famers, from Negro Leaguers to 19th century greats.

Larry Doby (Died on June 18 in Montclair, New Jersey; age 78 or 79 [age disputed]; cancer): As the first black player in American League history and the second African-American major league player of the 20th century (after Jackie Robinson), Doby played a major role in the game’s social history. Yet it was that attachment to the breaking of baseball’s color barrier that overshadowed a stellar career in both the Negro Leagues and the major leagues. The teenaged Doby launched his professional career in 1942, when he debuted as a second baseman for the Newark Eagles. He initially played under the name of “Larry Walker,” as a way of protecting his amateur status. After a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II, the hard-hitting Doby returned to the Eagles before receiving the call to the major leagues. On July 5, 1947, just 11 weeks after Robinson had debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Doby broke into the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians, who had purchased him from the Eagles for $15,000. The Indians quickly converted him from the middle infield to a combined position as a first baseman and outfielder. The following summer, Doby moved into the starting outfield and helped the Indians to the American League pennant and the last World Championship in the team’s history. A fine defensive outfielder who possessed both speed and power, Doby qualified for seven All-Star teams during his 13 years in the major leagues. He also led the American League in home runs twice and RBIs once… Much like Robinson, Doby endured opposition from racists both at the ballpark and away from the stadium. On one occasion, Doby slid into second base, only to be treated to a spitting shower from the opposing shortstop. In addition, numerous hotels and restaurants turned their backs on Doby because of their policy of serving whites only. With no other black players on the Indians until the arrival of Satchel Paige in 1948, Doby had to deal with much of the racism on his own. Yet he rarely expressed much public anger or bitterness over his treatment… After his playing days, Doby continued to play a role as a racial pioneer; in 1978, the Chicago White Sox named him manager, making him the second African-American skipper (after Frank Robinson). Prior to his managerial tenure, Doby had worked as a coach with the Indians and Montreal Expos. He later moved from major league baseball to the NBA, working in community affairs for the New Jersey Nets… In 1998, Doby received baseball’s ultimate individual honor when he won election to the Hall of Fame by the shrine’s Veterans Committee.

Carlisle Tippit (Died on June 8; age 83 in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; kidney failure): Tippit was a part owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1972 to 1986. A successful businessman in the field of water treatment chemicals, he also served as the Indians’ chairman of the board for 18 months. An avid fan of the game, Tippit was listening to a game between the Indians and the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time of his death.

Greg Garrett (Died on June 7 in Santa Clara, California; age 55): A standout minor league left-hander, Garrett pitched two seasons in the major leagues with the California Angels and Cincinnati Reds. In 1907, Garrett pitched the entire season with the Angels, sculpting a record of 5-6 with a 2.64 ERA. In 1971, Garrett pitched well in two appearances for the Reds, but never again surfaced in the major leagues. His professional career ended in 1972 as a member of Charlotte’s minor league staff in the Southern League.

Makoto Kozuru(Died on June 2 in Tokyo, Japan; age 80; heart failure): Known as the “Japanese Joe DiMaggio” because of a batting style that resembled that of the longtime Yankees’ great, Kozuru established Japanese single-season records of 161 RBIs and 143 runs. He set both records in 1950, when he also hit 51 home runs and earned league MVP honors. During a 15-year career, Kozuru hit .280 with 230 home runs and 923 RBIs, numbers that helped him win election to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. After retiring as a player, Kozuru served as a batting coach and scout for the Hanshin Tigers.

Johnny “Hippity” Hopp (Died on June 1 in Scottsbluff, Nebraska; age 86): A .296 career hitter, Hopp participated in five World Series during a notable major league career. After making his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1939, the young outfielder went on to play for three National League pennant winners in St. Louis. Well-liked by fans and teammates, Hopp was voted the Cardinals’ most popular player in 1941. Three years later, he put together his most productive big league season, batting .336 with 11 home runs and 72 RBIs for the wartime Cardinals. Hopp remained with the Redbirds until 1946, when he was traded to the Boston Braves. He later played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers before moving on to the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, Hopp won World Series rings in 1950 and ’51, as part of New York’s uninterrupted four-year run as World Champions. After his playing days, Hopp served as a coach with both the Cardinals and the Tigers before retiring completely from baseball in 1957.

Pete Sivess (Died on June 1 in South River, New Jersey; age 89): This tall right-hander pitched in 62 games for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1936 to 1938. He forged a record of 7-11 and an ERA of 5.38.

Charlotte Witkind (Died on May 18 in Columbus, Ohio; age 83): A limited partner for the New York Yankees since George Steinbrenner initially purchased the team in 1973, Witkind was a passionate fan of the game known for her ability to memorize statistics. Witkind first met Steinbrenner at an inauguration party for Ohio Gov. John Gilligan in 1973, when “The Boss” was looking for investors to help him with his proposed purchase of the Yankees. Witkind and her husband, Richard, became limited partners in the team's ownership. Witkind’s husband remains a part-owner of the franchise.

Bill Buhler (Died on May 17; age 75): The longtime trainer of the Los Angeles Dodgers for nearly four decades, Buhler was regarded as one of the most innovative medical men in baseball. He helped develop a special throat guard for catchers shortly after the Dodgers’ Steve Yeager was speared in the neck by a broken bat. Buhler also helped devise special equipment to help pitcher Tommy John with his rehabilitation efforts after arm surgery. In 1989, Major League Baseball recognized Buhler by naming him Trainer of the Year. Two years later, he was named the National League’s trainer for the All-Star Game.

J.B. Spencer (Died on May 17 in Gretna, Louisiana; age 83): A veteran of every position except pitcher, the versatile Spencer played in three Negro Leagues championships during his career, winning titles with the Homestead Grays in 1943 and ’44, and another championship with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1945. Prior to spending five seasons in the minor leagues, Spencer also played for several other black ball teams, including the Baltimore Elite Giants, Harlem Globetrotters, New York Black Yankees, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Seattle Steelheads.

Bill Thompson(Died on May 17; age 79; complications from surgery): Formerly a radio announcer for the San Francisco Giants, Thompson worked with several famous broadcast partners, including Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. Thompson’s tenure with the Giants lasted from 1965 to 1975.

Dave DeBusschere (Died on May 14 in New York, New York; age 62; massive heart attack): Best known as a Hall of Fame basketball player and contributor to two NBA championships with the New York Knicks, DeBusschere also pitched for two seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox. In 1962, he signed a $75,000 bonus contract with the White Sox, while also becoming a draft choice of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. During parts of two seasons with the White Sox, he posted a record of 3-4 and a solid 2.90 ERA in 36 games, but then decided to concentrate on basketball, where he excelled, especially as a defensive player. During a diverse career, DeBusschere played and coached for the Pistons, worked as the general manager of both the New York Nets and Knicks, and served as the last commissioner in the history of the old American Basketball Association.

George “Slick” Coffman (Died on May 8 in Birmingham, Alabama; age 92): A veteran of four major league seasons, Coffman pitched for the Detroit Tigers from 1937-39 before concluding his career in 1940 with the St. Louis Browns. The brother of major leaguer Dick Coffman, “Slick” won 15 of 27 decisions despite an ERA of 5.60. After a respectable rookie season, Coffman posted ERA’s of over 6.00 for three consecutive seasons.

Sam Lacy (Died on May 8 in Baltimore, Maryland; age 99; esophageal disorder): One of the most respected figures in the sportswriting industry, Lacy was the first African-American to become a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The venerable Lacy received the Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writing excellence in 1998 and served as the sports editor of The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper beginning in 1944. Lacy worked for the paper right up until his death, submitting his final article from his hospital bed. The article appeared in the Friday edition of the Afro-American, one day after Lacy’s passing… A graduate of Howard University, Lacy was regarded as a pioneering writer, in large part because of his efforts to gain recognition for Negro Leagues players. During the 1930s, Lacy solicited the help of other writers in promoting the professional black leagues that had been founded by Rube Foster. Lacy also urged Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, whose teams struggled on a perennial basis, to break the major league color barrier and consider signing black players. Lacy later championed the cause of Jackie Robinson, chronicling for his newspaper the story of the first African-American player in 20th century major league history. Much like Robinson, Lacy found himself subjected to racially charged verbal abuse in the press box, both from fans and fellow sportswriters.

Dottie Ferguson Key (Died on May 8 in Rockford, Illinois; age 80; cancer): A longtime veteran of women’s baseball, Key played in 10 of the 12 seasons in which the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) existed. A second baseman and center fielder, Key participated in four world championship teams for the Rockford Peaches, earning league titles in 1945 and from 1948 to 1950. She remained with the team until 1954, when the league disbanded because of financial problems. Playing exclusively for the Peaches throughout her career, Key was believed to be the primary basis for the character played by Madonna in the 1992 film, A League of Their Own, which helped to popularize the AAGPBL. Madonna played “All The Way” Mae Mordabito, the character who played center field for Rockford in the critically-acclaimed film that also starred Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Rosie O’Donnell. Key was also prominently featured in a 1987 documentary about the AAGPBL. Key’s road uniform, which features her No. 12, is part of the “Women in Baseball” exhibit currently featured at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Steve Shilling (Died on May 7 in Medford, New Jersey; age 44; cancer): Shilling was the owner of the Camden Riversharks, a team in the independent Atlantic League. After playing a major role in the building of the team’s 6500-seat Campbell Field, Shilling oversaw the team’s improvement from also-ran expansion club to perennial playoff team.

Art Houtteman,(Died on May 6 in Rochester Hills, Michigan; age 75; heart attack): A veteran of 12 years in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Baltimore Orioles, Houtteman once won 19 games and earned selection to the American League All-Star team. A product of Detroit Catholic Central, Houtteman bypassed the minor leagues and made his major league debut as a 17-year-old with the Tigers in 1945. He enjoyed his best season in 1950, when he went 19-12 for the Tigers with a 3.54 ERA and earned a berth in the All-Star Game. The following year, he was drafted into the Army and didn’t return to the Tigers until 1952. In 1953, the Tigers traded him to the Indians, for whom he appeared in the World Series a year later. As part of a rotation that featured Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Mike Garcia, Houtteman forged a record of 15-7. In one of the highlights of his career, Houtteman pitched no-hit ball for eight and two thirds innings, but Harry “Suitcase” Simpson came up to bat and broke up the right-hander’s attempt at baseball immortality. Finishing his major league tenure with a record of 87-91 and ERA of 4.14, Houtteman ended his major league career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1957, though he played minor league baseball in Vancouver for two more seasons. In one of his final public appearances, Houtteman joined other Tigers greats for the final major league game at Tiger Stadium in 1999.

Jim Hamilton (Died on May 4 in Oneonta, New York; age 75): A longtime baseball columnist and newsroom employee for the Oneonta Daily Star, Hamilton continued to write for the newspaper up until a few weeks before his death. Hamilton, whose baseball column appeared each Saturday during the season, was respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of the game’s history. Prior to his career in writing, Hamilton served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Sherwood Brewer (Died on April 23 in Chicago, Illinois; age 79; cancer): A journeyman second baseman in the Negro Leagues, Brewer developed an interest in baseball because of his uncle, who raised him after the passing of the youngster’s father. Brewer was just 11 months old at the time of his father’s death. During a stint in the army, Brewer’s playing skills started to garner the attention of scouts, particularly those in the Negro Leagues. After signing a pro contract, Brewer’s playing career included tours with the Seattle Steelheads, Harlem Globetrotters, New York Cubans, and the Indianapolis Clowns. He also played briefly in minor league baseball before returning to the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs, for whom he later served as manager. In one of the highlights of his career, Brewer appeared in the 1950 East-West All-Star Game. After his playing days, Brewer remained active in championing the cause of black players. In 1996, Brewer helped organize the Yesterday’s Negro League Baseball Players Foundation.

Chris Zachary (Died on April 19 in Knoxville, Tennessee; age 59; cancer): A onetime member of the Houston Colt .45s, Zachary also pitched for the Kansas City Royals (during their inaugural 1969 season), St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1970, the Cardinals acquired Zachary for submarining right-hander Ted Abernathy, one of the better-known firemen of the 1960s. Zachary’s only sustained success came with the Tigers; in 1972, he helped the Tigers win the American League East by posting a 1.41 ERA in 25 games, mostly in middle relief. He finished his career with a record of 10-29.

Lefty Sloat (Died on April 18 in St. Paul, Minnesota; age 84): A two-year veteran of the major leagues in the 1940s, Sloat posted an ERA of 6.61 in nine games with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. Prior to his big league tenure, Sloat served in World War II.

Al Epperly (Died on April 14 in McFarland, Wisconsin; age 84): Epperly experienced an unusual career in that he pitched in two major league seasons, separated by a 12-year span. The right-hander debuted in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1938, winning two games for the National League pennant-winners. He didn’t return to the big leagues until 1950, when he pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In between, his itinerary included stops with a variety of minor league teams. During a professional career that lasted 17 seasons, Epperly toiled for minor league teams like the San Francisco Seals, Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Royals, and St. Paul Saints. He also played winter ball in Cuba.

Ray “Deacon” Murray (Died on April 9 in Spring Hope, North Carolina; age 83): A catcher who debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Murray earned the nickname “Deacon” for preaching on bus trips during his minor league career. Murray’s big league tenure began with a brief appearance in 1948, followed by a period of military service in World War II. In 1951, Murray was part of a three-team, seven-player trade. The deal sent Murray to the Kansas City Athletics, with the Indians receiving Lou Brissie, and the Chicago White Sox acquiring Minnie Minoso. Murray experienced the highlight of his baseball career in 1953, hitting .284 with six home runs and 41 RBIs. Murray remained with the A’s until 1954, when they sold his contract to the Baltimore Orioles for $25,000. He ended his career with the O’s later that season.

Hilly Flitcraft (Died on April 2 in Boulder, Colorado; age 79): A versatile left-handed hitter who pitched and manned the outfield, Flitcraft played briefly in the major leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942. After a two-year layoff from baseball, Flitcraft returned to the game in 1945, enjoying one of the highlights of his career. That summer, he won 15 of 19 decisions with a 3.89 ERA for Wilmington of the Inter-State League.

Claude Christie (Died on March 31 in Twain Harte, California; age 76): According to several sources, Christie deserves credit as the man who invented the batting tee. After a seven-year career as a catcher in the minor leagues, the community-minded Christie became active in youth baseball. According to several coaches, he started experimenting with a batting tee in the early 1950s. Christie’s first tee was made of metal, but his later tees consisted of plastic. Christie also founded the first Little League organization for the city of Palm Springs, California, beginning in 1952.

Bill Merrill (Died on March 29 in Arlington, Texas; age 79): A veteran of World War II, Merrill worked as a broadcaster for the Texas Rangers from 1974 to 1981, performing both play-by-play and color commentary for the club. One of Merrill’s career highlights occurred on September 22, 1977, when he broadcast Bert Blyleven’s 6-0 no-hitter against the California Angels.

Sam Bowens (Died on March 28 in Wilmington, North Carolina; age 64): An alumnus of the Negro Leagues, Bowens went on to play seven seasons as an outfielder in the major leagues, all with the Baltimore Orioles. During a two-year stint with the Nashville Elite Giants, famed Baltimore scout Jim Russo spotted him and signed him to a contract with the Orioles’ organization. After four years in the minor leagues, Bowens finally cracked Baltimore’s roster in 1963. He hit .333 in 48 at-bats, helping him earn a fulltime job the following year. Bowens batted .263 with 22 home runs and 71 RBIs for the O’s in 1964, but never again matched that level of success. A slow start in 1965 resulted in a demotion to the minor leagues. Even after subsequently returning to the big leagues, Bowens failed to raise his batting average above the .210 mark in any single season.

Tadayoshi Kajioka (Died on March 23 in Urayasu, Japan; age 82): One of the best pitchers in the Japanese Leagues in the 1940s and fifties, Kajioka was the second Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter after World War II. In making his debut in 1947, he won 22 of 30 decisions and posted a 1.92 ERA. Five years later, Kajioka finished the Japanese season with the best ERA of any pitcher in his league.

Al Gionfriddo (Died on March 14 in Solvang, CA; age 81; collapsed while playing golf): Gionfriddo played only three seasons in the major leagues, but he was more famous than most journeymen players because of the dramatic catch he made against Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 World Series. Playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a late-inning defensive replacement, Gionfriddo flagged down a 415-foot drive to left field at Yankee Stadium, robbing DiMaggio of an extra-base hit and preserving an 8-6 win for the “Bums” in Game Six of the Series. Gionfriddo’s remarkable catch inspired one of the most memorable play-by-play calls in baseball history, as delivered by Dodgers radio broadcaster Red Barber. “Here’s the pitch,” Barber described to his listening audience. “Swung on, belted. It’s a long one deep to the left center. Back goes Gionfriddo. Back, back, back, back, back, back. He makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen. Oh, doctor.” Although Gionfriddo’s miraculous grab saved Game Six and infuriated DiMaggio (who kicked at the ground near second base), the Dodgers went on to lose the Series. Still, Gionfriddo remained famous for making one of the most acrobatic catches in postseason history, a play that is still talked about with the same kind of reverence used to describe World Series catches by Sandy Amoros and Joe Rudi. The sixth game of the ‘47 World Series also marked the end of Gionfriddo’s playing days, as he never again played in a major league game. Gionfriddo, who sat on the bench all of Game Seven, was then sent back to the minor leagues during the spring of 1948… Gionfriddo spent his first two big league seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, before joining the Dodgers in 1947. At 5’6”, Gionfriddo had tremendous range in the outfield, but little power at the plate, finishing his career with only two home runs in 580 at-bats. He batted only .266 lifetime, but did boast a career on-base percentage of .366.

Harry Eisenstat (Died on March 21 in Shaker Heights, OH; age 87): Eisenstat had a losing record during a major league career that spanned from 1935 to 1942, but he is best remembered for defeating Hall of Famer Bob Feller in the final game of the 1938 season. Feller struck out 18 Detroit Tigers that day, but Eisenstat pitched no-hit ball through seven innings on the way to earning a 4-1 victory over Feller and the Cleveland Indians. Impressed by his performance, the Indians acquired Eisenstat the following season, in exchange for Hall of Fame outfielder Earl Averill. Eisenstat also pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, his first major league team, during a career that saw him post a win-loss record of 25-27.

Joe Buzas(Died on March 19 in Salt Lake City, UT; age 87; long illness): A former major league player and minor league owner, Buzas was the New York Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop in 1945. A shoulder injury cut short his career, limiting him to 30 major league games. Buzas remained active in baseball, becoming a manager in Puerto Rico before making the transition to ownership. He purchased his first minor league franchise in 1956, buying the Allentown Red Sox for $25,000 and eventually moving the team to Bristol, Connecticut. In 1983, Buzas moved the franchise to New Britain and watched the club claim the Eastern League championship while showcasing a young pitcher named Roger Clemens. Buzas also owned the Pacific Coast League’s Salt Lake Stingers, who led the league in attendance during Buzas’ first six years of operation. The Salt Lake and New Britain franchises were just two of about 60 minor league teams that Buzas operated at one time or another.

Alta Cohen (Died on March 11; age 94): Nicknamed “Schoolboy,” Cohen was one of the oldest living alumni of the Brooklyn Dodgers. After earning Triple-A all-star status with the Toledo Mud Hens, the left-handed hitting outfielder made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 1931, picking up two hits in three at-bats. Cohen played nine more games for Brooklyn the following season, before wrapping up his career in 1933 with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Al Libke (Died on March 7 in Wenatchee, Washington; age 84): Libke was a pitcher and outfielder who played two seasons for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1940s. Making his major league debut during the war-torn year of 1945, Libke batted .283 with 53 RBIs and also pitched briefly in relief, hurling four scoreless innings. After his final major league stint in 1946, Libke returned to the minor leagues for three more seasons.

Mickey Kreitner (Died on March 6 in Nashville, Tennessee; age 80; complications from open heart surgery): A catcher in the 1940s, Kreitner played 32 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1943 and ’44, hitting .172 with no home runs and three RBIs. After his playing days, Kreitner became a successful and diversified restaurateur, owning 39 establishments over a span of 43 years.

Joe Decker (Died on March 2; age 55; head injuries suffered in a fall): A right-handed pitcher whose career spanned most of the 1970s, Decker played nine major league seasons, mostly with the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins. He reached his peak in 1974, when he won 16 games and posted a 3.29 ERA for Minnesota. He also enjoyed a 10-win season in 1973. His major league career came to an end in 1979, after a nine-game stint with the Seattle Mariners.

Jim Fridley (Died on February 28; age 78): Nicknamed “Big Jim,” the 6’2”, 205-pound Fridley played exclusively as an outfielder during a scattershot three-year career in the 1950s. He debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1952, played for the Baltimore Orioles in 1954, and then finished his career with the Cincinnati Red Legs in 1958.

Rusty Peters (Died on February 21; age 82): The good-field, no-hit Peters played 10 seasons in the major leagues, mostly as a utility infielder. He enjoyed his best offensive season in his final year (1947), batting .340 in 47 at-bats. Curiously, Peters never played in the majors again, finishing his career with four seasons in the American Association.

Steve Bechler (Died on February 17; age 23; complications from heatstroke): The young Baltimore Orioles’ right-hander died less than 24 hours after collapsing during a workout at the team’s spring training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Bechler’s body temperature rose to 108 degrees, causing several of his internal organs to fail. As indicated in a report by the Broward County medical examiner, Bechler had been taking the dietary supplement Xenadrine RFA-1, which contains the controversial stimulant, ephedrine. The FDA has linked ephedrine, which has been banned by the NFL, the NCAA, and the International Olympic Committee, to heatstroke and heart disease. According to his mother, Bechler had a history of heat-related illnesses, having suffered heatstroke on two occasions during his high school career. Bechler had made his major league debut in 2002—pitching in three games and allowing seven earned runs in four and two-thirds innings—and was trying to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster this spring.

Wally Burnette(Died on February 12 in Danville, Virginia; age 73; cancer): A member of the Kansas City A’s for three years during the pre-Charlie Finley years, Burnette notched a 3.56 ERA and a record of 14-21 in the major leagues. In his rookie season of 1956, Burnette pitched mostly as a starter, completing four games and compiling an overall mark of 6-8. He then pitched primarily in relief the next two seasons.

Haywood Sullivan(Died on February 12; age 72; effects of a stroke): A controversial figure in the city of Boston, the multi-talented Sullivan worked at most every level of baseball, starting out his career as a player before becoming a manager and then an owner. A catcher throughout his playing days, Sullivan made his major league debut in 1955, when he was called up to the Boston Red Sox. He remained with the Red Sox intermittently through 1960, before joining the Kansas City Athletics. Within two years after his catching days ended, Sullivan became the A’s manager. He lasted part of one season (1965)—forging a record of 54-82—before rejoining the Red Sox organization as director of player personnel. A few years after the death of Tom Yawkey, Sullivan became a part owner of the Red Sox, along with Jean Yawkey and Buddy LeRoux. Filling the dual role of owner and general manager, Sullivan drew the ire of Red Sox fans when he failed to mail a contract offer—as mandated by a deadline—to the team’s star catcher, Carlton Fisk. The missed deadline allowed Fisk to become a free agent under a technicality, resulting in his departure to the Chicago White Sox. Two years later, Sullivan saw his tenure as general manager come to an end when LeRoux became sole owner and then fired him as general manager, a move that Sullivan contested in court. Sullivan also drew media criticism, specifically cries of nepotism, after the Red Sox drafted and signed his son, Marc, eventually bringing him up to the major league roster despite mediocre accomplishments as a minor leaguer.

Dick Whitman (Died on February 12; age 82; massive heart attack): A veteran of two World Series and six seasons, Whitman played primarily as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. He reached the Series in 1949 with the Dodgers and in 1950 with the Phillies, but his teams lost both Series to the New York Yankees. As part of the “Whiz Kids” in 1950, Whitman led the National League with 12 pinch-hits in 39 at-bats, giving him a batting average of .308 in such off-the-bench situations. Whitman also spent time as a minor league teammate of Roberto Clemente during a later stint with the Montreal Royals.

Charles Aleno (Died on February 10 in Deland, Florida; age 85): A versatile infielder-outfielder, Aleno played four seasons for the Cincinnati Reds during the World War II years. In 320 at-bats, the light-hitting Aleno batted only .209 with two home runs and 34 RBIs. He played all four infield positions, along with the outfield, during a span of 118 games.

Ralph Beard (Died on February 10 in West Palm Beach, Florida; age 73): This right-hander pitched one season in the major leagues, losing all four of his decisions in 1954. In 13 games and 58 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals, Beard forged an ERA of 3.72.

Billy Parker (Died on February 9; age 56; cancer): A hard-hitting middle infield phenom in the minor leagues, Parker played for parts of three seasons with the California Angels. In 1971, he drove in 115 runs and batted .306 for the Angels’ affiliate at Salt Lake City, with the highlight of his season coming on May 29, when he hit three home runs in consecutive at-bats. His performance with Salt Lake City earned him a call-up to California, where his first major league hit was a two-out, game-winning home run in the 12th inning. Yet Parker otherwise struggled during his brief major league stints. Following the 1973 season, the New York Yankees drafted Parker from the Angels, but the young second baseman failed to make the big league roster. After returning to the minor leagues, Parker finished his career in the Mexican League.

Bobby Bragan Jr. (Died on February 7; age 59; effects of a heart attack): The son of the former major league catcher and manager, the younger Bragan had worked extensively in the minor leagues as the general manager of the Jacksonville Suns and owner of the Elmira Pioneers. Prior to his front office career, Bragan played two seasons in the minor leagues, playing for franchises in the Florida State and Carolina leagues.

Stokes Hendrix (Died on February 5; age 89): Hendrix pitched briefly in the Negro Leagues, toiling for the Nashville Elites in 1934.

James Mertz (Died on February 4 in Waycross, Georgia; age 86): After a five-year stint in the minor leagues, this right-handed pitcher spent one season in the major leagues before retiring and serving in World War II. Pitching for the Washington Senators in 1943, Mertz compiled a record of 5-7 with an ERA of 4.62.

Jack Hays (Died on January 30; age 48; leukemia): At the time of his death, Hays worked as a western regional scout for the Detroit Tigers. He had previously coached and played in the minor leagues.

Bob Kammeyer (Died on January 27; age 52; pulmonary embolism): At one time the top pitching prospect for the New York Yankees, Kammeyer pitched in seven games for the 1978 World Champions, but was not eligible for that fall’s World Series. In 1979, Kammeyer made his final big league appearance, which turned out be his most memorable—albeit for the wrong reason. Summoned from the bullpen by Yankee manager Billy Martin, Kammeyer allowed eight runs—including two home runs—without retiring a single Cleveland Indians batter. After the game, a sympathetic Martin gave $100 to Kammeyer and another struggling pitcher, Paul Mirabella, and told them to enjoy the night out. Kammeyer pitched his final professional season in 1980, sporting a record of 15-7 and an ERA of 2.91 for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. In spite of his success that season, Kammeyer opted to retire.

Toby Atwell (Died on January 25 in Purcellville, Virginia; age 78): A left-handed hitting catcher with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Milwaukee Braves, Atwell broke into the major leagues in 1952 by hitting an impressive .290 in 395 at-bats. He never achieved such success again—or received as much playing time—during a five-year career in the National League.

Jack Rogers (Died on January 25; age 87): The traveling secretary for the Boston Red Sox from 1969 to 1991, Rogers made travel arrangements for the team’s players, coaches, and their families. Prior to joining the Red Sox, Rogers worked in public relations for the Boston Braves. During World War II, Rogers served as a Navy pilot aboard an aircraft carrier.

Dutch Meyer (Died on January 19; age 87): A six-year veteran of the major leagues, Meyer played second base for the Cubs, Tigers, and Indians. He enjoyed his best full season in 1945, when he hit .292 with seven home runs for Cleveland.

Phil McCullough (Died on January 16 in Decatur, Georgia; age 85): McCullough pitched one game in his major league career, lasting three innings for the Washington Senators in 1942. A right-handed pitcher, he struck out two batters and allowed two runs in his lone big league appearance.

Earl Lawson (Died on January 14; age 79; cancer): The winner of the Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award (given to an outstanding baseball writer) in 1986, Lawson covered the Cincinnati Reds for 34 seasons. He first became a fulltime baseball writer for the Cincinnati Times-Star in 1951, before joining the Cincinnati Post in 1958. Known for holding strong opinions and featuring a tough, old-school approach, Lawson worked at the Post until retiring in 1984.

John Ritchey (Died on January 14; age 80): A onetime batting champion in the Negro Leagues, Ritchey starred for the Chicago American Giants before embarking on a seven-year stint in the Pacific Coast League. In 1947, the hard-hitting catcher led the Negro American League with a .381 batting mark. He moved on to the PCL the following season.

Ernie Rudolph (Died on January 13; age 93): The diminutive 5’ 8” right-hander made seven appearances for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945, when he finally made the major leagues at the age of 36. Rudolph picked up one win for the Dodgers, posting a 5.19 ERA in eight and two-thirds innings. After his playing days, Rudolph scouted for the Braves and Cubs organizations.

Durwood Merrill (Died on January 11; age 64; complications from heart attack): One of the most colorful umpires of his era, Merrill worked as an American League arbiter for 23 years. His assignments included the 1988 World Series and the 1984 and 1995 All-Star games. Merrill, who was often criticized for his umpiring, was known for feuding with Nestor Chylak, the American League’s supervisor of umpires and previously an umpire himself. Merrill discussed the feud in his book, You’re Out and You’re Ugly Too. Off the field, Merrill drew praise for his extensive charity work, often putting in long hours at Christmas time to feed the poor in his native Texarkana, Texas.

Don Landrum (Died on January 9; age 66): Landrum, a journeyman outfielder who played five seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and San Francisco Giants, was best remembered for being part of a major four-player trade in the mid-1960s. After the 1965 season, the Cubs dealt Landrum and relief ace Lindy McDaniel to the San Francisco Giants for catcher Randy Hundley and pitcher Bill Hands.

Ed Albosta (Died on January 6; age 84): Nicknamed “Rube,” Albosta pitched two seasons in the major leagues sandwiched around the World War II years. He debuted in 1941 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then wrapped up his career with a 17-game stint for the Pirates in 1946. Albosta lost all eight of his major league decisions.

Joe Ostrowski (Died on January 3; age 86): The former St. Louis Browns’ left-hander pitched for five seasons in the major leagues, including a stint with the New York Yankees. Nicknamed “Specs” and “Professor,” Ostrowski hurled two scoreless innings in the 1951 World Series, as the Yankees claimed the World Championship.

Harry Smith (Died on January 3; age 75): Smith was a part-time scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles for 18 years before finally landing a fulltime job with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978. After a 14-year tenure with the Brewers, Smith also worked for the California Angels and Boston Red Sox before retiring in the year 2000. Smith’s son, Chris Smith, played three seasons in the major leagues in the early 1980s.

Jim Westlake (Died on January 3; age 72): Westlake’s major league career consisted of one at-bat (0-for-1) with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1955. He also played for several seasons in the Pacific Coast League, starring for the Sacramento Solons and San Francisco Seals.

Bud Metheny (Died on January 2; age 87): The longtime baseball coach at Old Dominion University, Metheny also spent four seasons in the major leagues as an outfielder. During his 32 years at Old Dominion, he went 423-363-6 and was named national coach of the year in 1964. Metheny was one of the last players to wear No. 3 for the New York Yankees, before the franchise retired the number in honor of Babe Ruth in 1948.

Bruce Markusen is the author of three books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. Markusen, who has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One, appears regularly with host Billy Sample on MLB.com Radio (MLB.com) each Friday from 12 noon to 1:00 pm Eastern time.


by Bruce Markusen

 

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