Honoring Former Major League Baseball Players Who Died In 2018

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Friday, December 28th, 2018
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Every year as the calendar winds down and a new year is on the horizon, many outlets take a look back to remember and honor those who have died over the past year. Baseball is no different, and in a sport with such a lengthy tradition, unfortunately we find ourselves saying goodbye to former players frequently. In recent years, on average around 90 former players pass on in a calendar year. This year was no different as we lost 92 former big leaguers in 2018. Here, we highlight some of the former baseball greats and names from our childhoods who left us this year.

For the full list, click here.

Rob Piccolo, 64, January 3

Piccolo was a very well-liked player and longtime coach, but he wouldn’t have been so well-liked by Sabermetrics folks during his playing career. In 1,720 plate appearance spread over 11 seasons, Piccolo walked just 25 times. Over nine big league seasons, Piccolo carved out a niche for himself as a reserve infielder who was capable and versatile. After his playing career ended Piccolo spent the next three decades as a coach in the game. He is best known for being the longest tenured coach in San Diego Padres history, serving from 1990-2005. Piccolo also coached with the Los Angeles Angels from 2006-2013, serving as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for three seasons.

Bob Bailey, 75, January 9

For someone who never received an MVP vote or appeared in an All-Star Game, Bailey made an incredible career for himself over 17 seasons in the Majors. One of the last “bonus babies” who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a 19-year-old before MLB started their June draft, Bailey was in the majors by the age of 19 in 1961. At different times in his career, he was teammates with Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, Don Drysdale and Carl Yastrzemski. He was once traded for Maury Wills and had the first hit and RBI in Montreal Expos franchise history, a first-inning double off Tom Seaver. Even Bailey’s final career at bat was connected to history. After Bucky Dent hit his famous three-run homer in the one-game playoff between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in 1978, Don Zimmer sent Bailey up to pinch hit as the tying run in the bottom of the inning. Billy Martin countered by removing Ron Guidry for Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who struck out Bailey. That would be the final time Bailey appeared in uniform. Over 17 seasons, Bailey had 1,564 hits and batted .257 with his best season coming in 1978 when he hit 28 homers and had 84 RBIs.

Rudy Arias, 86, January 12

Arias, who pitched only one season in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, passed away on January 12. Arias, who was born in Cuba, battled through multiple injuries in the minor leagues before finally making it up to the majors in 1959. As a pitcher on the Go Go White Sox team that lost in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arias appeared in 34 games in relief in the regular season, posting a 2-0 record with a 4.09 ERA and two saves. Arias pitched two outings of three innings in ’59, one of which came against the New York Yankees. In that performance, he retired both Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. His last appearance came in late August and he did not appear in the World Series. Arias’ son was a minor league catcher and major league bullpen catcher for the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins.

Oscar Gamble, 68, January 31

One of the most colorful characters of the most colorful era of baseball, Gamble was beloved by the fanbases of the teams he played for and gained cult status in the three decades after he finished his playing career. On the field, Gamble was one of the key players on the 1976 and 1981 World Series Yankees teams. He played over 125 games just three times in 17 years, notching 1,195 hits and 200 home runs in his career. Gamble’s best season came in 1977 when he hit 31 home runs for the Chicago White Sox. When the Yankees signed Reggie Jackson, Gamble became expendable and he was shipped tot he White Sox for Bucky Dent. The following season, Dent’s three-run home run in the one-game playoff propelled the Yankees to the ALCS and ultimately the World Series. While Gamble’s accomplishments on the field were significant, his enduring legacy was his hair. In an era of big sideburns and Afros, Gamble’s was the biggest. His Topps baseball cards and photos from the era show Gambles hair spilling out extensively from the sides of his cap or bouncing around as he ran the bases during one of the many times his helmet fell off.

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Wally Moon, 87, February 9

Like Gamble, Moon had a solid Major League career and also attained cult status in the baseball card community thanks to a prominent physical characteristic. The veteran outfielder received many accolades during his 12-year career but was largely known for his thick unibrow, sixty years before Anthony Davis again made that feature famous. As a player, Moon won World Series with the Dodgers in 1959 and 1965 after coming over to the Dodgers in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. As a member of the Dodgers, the lefty-hitting Moon adjusted his batting stance to go the opposite way when the Dodgers played in the Coliseum to take advantage of the 251-foot left field fence. Moon finished fourth int he 1959 National League MVP voting, ahead of legends like Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Warren Spahn. Moon was the 1954 Rookie of the Year for the Cardinals after batting .304 with 12 home runs and 76 RBIs. Impressively, he beat out fellow rookies Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron for the award. His award capped a memorable rookie season that started with Moon homering in his first Major League at bat.

 

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Tito Francona, 84, February 13

Modern day baseball fans may know Francona as the father of Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, but six decades earlier, Francona made a name for himself as a versatile role player in the bigs for 15 years. Francona found himself int he opening day lineup for the Baltimore Orioles as a 22-year-old in 1956 and played for nine different teams over the course of 15 years. He was the runner-up for the 1956 American League Rookie of the Year behind Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio and was traded twice for Hall of Famer Larry Doby. He had his best season in 1959, the first full year he played since his rookie year. That season, he batted .363 in 122 games with 20 home runs and 90 RBIs. He finished fifth int he American League MVP voting that year, ahead of legends like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. His .363 batting average would have won the batting title by ten points if he had enough votes to qualify.

Tom Brewer, 86, February 15

A teammate of Ted Williams for seven years with the Boston Red Sox, Brewer emerged as a a reliable and underrated starter for the Red Sox in the 1950’s, even if he didn’t live up to the high expectations that came along with him as a 22-year-old in 1954. Brewer spent just one season in the minors, going 19-3 before finding himself as the number three pitcher in the Sox rotation in ’54. Brewer went 21-19 over his first two seasons, but showed flashes of potential, building a reputation of a fantastic curve ball pitcher, but one with control problems. Brewer’s best season came in 1956 when he went 19-9 and made his only All-Star Game. Brewer gave up three runs in two innings of relief, including a solo home run to Stan Musial. He finished 22nd in the American League MVP voting that year, one of eight pitchers to receive votes. Brewer had double-digit wins in each of his first seven years, but ran into shoulder and elbow problems that cut his career short in 1961 at the age of 29. He ended his career with a 91-82 record despite pitching for some poor Red Sox teams.

Jack Hamilton, 79, February 22

Hamilton is forever tied to a fateful pitch that changed the course of one of the game’s greatest young stars and burdened him throughout his life. In August of 1967 while pitching for the California Angels, Hamilton hit young Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro in the left eye and the course of both of their lives changed from there. Conigliaro never returned to being the player he was and Hamilton lived with that fact for another 50 years. Decades later, Hamilton said that he still watches baseball and every time he sees someone get hit, he thinks of that pitch. Hamilton pitched for eight seasons in the majors, spending time as both a starter and reliever. Even with the Conigiliaro beaning, 1967 was the best season Hamilton had in the bigs. Splitting time between the New York Mets and Angels, Hamilton went 11–6 with a 3.35 ERA. A little-known fact about Hamilton is that he was the relief pitcher who came on in relief for Nolan Ryan in his first Major League start. The Hall of Famer lasted just one inning and gave up four runs before giving way to Hamilton.

Sammy Stewart, 63, March 2

One of the more underrated relief pitchers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Stewart was a member of two World Series teams and compiled a 3.59 ERA over ten seasons. Stewart made his debut in 1978 when he was 23 years old, appearing in two games, but had a huge impact in one of those games. In his first big league start, Stewart struck out seven straight batters, breaking a record that had stood for 24 years. Stewart moved to the bullpen from there where he became a vital part of the great Orioles teams of the 1980s. Despite working 26 out of 29 games out of the bullpen in 1981, Stewart led the American League with a 2.32 ERA in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Stewart and Tippy Martinez were a formidable tandem in the Orioles bullpen in 1983 to help the Orioles to a World Series victory. Stewart sported a 9-4 record in 1983 with a 3.62 ERA and was even better in the postseason. After appearing in two games in the ALCS, Stewart pitched great in three World Series games, including games three and four, which were both one-run wins by the Orioles. In game three, Stewart came into a 4-3 game in the sixth and pitched 2.1 scoreless innings before yielding to Martinez for the save. In game four, Stewart came on in the seventh with the Orioles up 3-2 and threw two more scoreless innings, navigating around Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt and Tony Perez. For his career, Stewart pitched 12 postseason innings and didn’t allow a run. Although he struggled with drugs, crime and homelessness in his later life, Stewart always remained a respected teammate and fan favorite.

Curt Raydon, 84, March 3

Raydon pitched just one year in the majors, but found himself in a group of 646 players who fell into an unfortunate category. Because of his short stint in the majors and the MLB labor agreement, Raydon was one of 646 former players who did not have a vested Major League pension. The issue was ongoing for decades when MLB eventually awarded Raydon a $2,500 a month pension. As a player, Raydon pitched one good season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1958, going 8-4 with a 3.62 ERA before his career was ended early to injury. Raydon’s best game came in a four-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants, which he ended by striking out Orlando Cepeda. An arm injury forced him back to the minors the next season and he was never able to make it back to the majors again.

Ed Charles, 84, March 15

Known as “The Glider,” Charles didn’t make his Major League debut until he was 29 years old, but made the most of his eight-year career. Charles was a mainstay in the infield for five seasons on some terrible Kansas City A’s teams in the 1960s and was traded to the Mets in the middle of the 1967 season in what seemed to be an unimportant transaction between two moribund franchises. Charles however helped galvanize a young Mets team and ended up being one of the key components to the Mets’ amazing run to the 1969 World Series title. Despite hitting just .207 that year, the 36-year-old Charles was a veteran leader who helped keep the clubhouse focused and light-hearted with his poetry and inspirational speeches. Charles’ final Major League home run came off Steve Carlton in a 6-0 Mets win to clinch the division title in 1969. Charles started four games in the 1969 World Series and scored the winning run in game two, a 2-1 Mets win. Although Charles statistics with the Mets were largely unimpressive, his charisma, clutch hits and veteran leadership endeared him to Mets fans and teammates and he remained a legendary figure within the organization until his death this year.

 

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Larry Miller, 80, March 21

Miller had a non-descript three year career for the Mets and Dodgers, but in that short time, often found himself among baseball royalty. In 1964, Miller was the fifth starter in Walter Alston’s rotation, which was headed by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, going 4-8 in 14 starts. Miller was traded to the Mets in the offseason and pitched out of the bullpen for Casey Stengel and on the same staff as Warren Spahn.

Carl Scheib, 91, March 24

Scheib, a pitcher who spent most of his career with the Philadelphia A’s, is one of a dwindling number of players who were active during World War II. Scheib’s debut in 1943 was historic as he became the youngest Major League Baseball player ever when he came on in relief against the Yankees at the age of 16. Scheib came into a jam and allowed two runs to score, one on a ground out by Hall of Famer Joe Gordon, but retired Yankees legend Frank Crosetti to escape. While Joe Nuxhall pitched for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 15 to break Scheib’s record, Scheib remains the youngest player in American League history. Scheib pitched for 11 seasons, becoming one of Connie Mack’s most trusted pitchers during the last year of the legendary manager’s career. He went 14-8 for Mack in 1948. Scheib was a swing man as the A’s transitioned from Mack to Jimmy Dykes, but was then plagued by arm problems which forced him out of baseball by the age of 27.

 

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Rusty Staub, 73, March 29

One of the most recognizable figures in baseball for two decades thanks to his bright orange hair and sweet lefty stroke, Staub was a beloved star for each of the four franchises he played multiple seasons for. The only player to record 500 hits for four different ballclubs, Staub played a role in the early days of the Houston Colt .45’s and Montreal Expos before being traded to the Mets, the franchise he is most associated with. After making five straight All-Star Games with Houston and Montreal, Staub came to the Mets in 1972 and then led the franchise to an improbable World Series run in 1973. Staub only had three hits in the NLCS against a heavily-favored Reds team, but all three hits went for home runs. He injured his shoulder so bad in collision with the outfield wall in the NLCS, that he had to throw the ball back from the outfield underhanded at times in the World Series. The reason he wasn’t removed from the lineup was because he was red-hot at the plate, batting .423 (11-26) with a home run and six RBIs.

The Mets traded Staub to the Tigers where he was the team’s sole designated hitter. Between the 1977 and ’78 seasons, Staub played 320 games without appearing in the field. In 1978, he became the first player to appear in all 162 games as a designated hitter. This allowed him to stay perfectly healthy and recover from the nagging injuries that came about early in his career. After brief stints back in Montreal and in Texas, Staub was a free agent at age 36 and 453 hits short of 3,000 for his career. Instead of signing with an American League team as a DH to chase the milestone, Staub returned to the Mets where he served largely as a pinch hitter and mentor to the young stars who would comprise the 1986 World Series champions. Over his final two seasons, Staub appeared in 132 games, 130 of them as a pinch hitter, before retiring after the 1985 season. Staub finished 284 hits short of 3,000 and a ticket to Cooperstown, although his candidacy may gain new momentum with Harold Baines’ selection to the Hall. Staub battled health problems in recent years and made news in 2015 when he suffered a heart attack on an international flight and needed resuscitation. He recovered well enough to throw out the first pitch at the NLCS in Citi Field 11 days later. Fittingly, the Mets icon died in the early morning hours of opening day of the 2018 season.

Davey Nelson, 73, April 23

A speedy infielder who scored the final run for the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium, Nelson went on to have a long career in the game after his retirement in 1977. Nelson was a part-time player during his first four seasons, but when the Senators moved to Texas, he got a shot at a full-time role with the newly formed Rangers. Nelson responded with a strong 1972 season and an All-Star campaign in 1973 when he batted .286 with 43 stolen bases. Nelson had coaching, front office and announcing duties with the A’s, Expos, Indians and Brewers and was an announcer on Brewers broadcasts when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

Marv Rackley, 96, April 24

Rackley may not have been known for his accomplishments on the field, but he holds the distinction of participating in perhaps the most meaningful game in Major League history. Rackley pinch ran for Bruce Edwards after he was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning of an opening day game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. In doing so, he was able to spend the next seven decades saying that he played in the game in which Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He was the last surviving participant in that game when he died at 96 in April of this year. Rackley played just four Major League seasons, but batted .317 over 477 at bats. At the time of his death, only seven other former Major League players were older than Rackley.

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Roy Wright, 84, May 2

For most teams, the final game of a Major League season was meaningless in the standings. To Roy Wright, the final game of the 1956 season meant everything. Then 22 years old, Wright made his Major League debut against the Philadelphia Phillies. The first batter he faced was Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn and behind him in the field were two other Hall of Famers, Willie Mays and Red Schoendienst. Wright lasted just 2.2 innings and gave up five runs as the Phillies topped the Giants 5-2. Wright found himself in the minors at the start of the 1957 season and after failing to make it back to the majors, retired in 1959. No matter how fleeting Wright’s time in the majors was, the fact was that he did make it, and that is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. The final game of the 1956 season didn’t mean anything to the Phillies or Giants, but it stayed with Wright for a lifetime.

Tom Fletcher, 75, May 9

In much the same vein as Wright, Fletcher’s time in the majors was equally as fleeting. Fletcher pitched in just one game in relief in the 1962 season for the Detroit Tigers. He pitched two hitless innings mopping up in a 6-2 loss to the Red Sox and never appeared in another Major League game. At the time, Fletcher was just 20 years old and seemingly had his whole career in front of him. Instead, Fletcher had a blood clot in his shoulder and found himself back in the minors. Although he made it to AAA for the 1964-1967 seasons, never cracked the big leagues again. While Fletcher’s time in the majors was short, his son more than made up for it. Tom’s son Darrin Fletcher was an All-Star catcher and spent 14 seasons in the majors.

Chuck Stevens, 99, May 28

Stevens played in just 211 games over three Major League seasons, but held incredible distinctions when he passed away last May. At the time of his death, Stevens was the oldest living former Major Leaguer and was one of just two players alive who were active in the 1941 season. On July 10, 1918, the date Stevens was born, Wally Pipp was playing first base for the Yankees, Jim Thorpe played right field for the Giants and a young Babe Ruth manned first base for the Red Sox. He was born during World War I, five months before the Red Sox won the 1918 World Series and Ruth was sold to the Yankees before Stevens was even one year old. A member of the St. Louis Browns, Stevens debuted in 1941 against Eddie Collins and the Philadelphia A’s. While he wasn’t known for much on the field in his brief time in the majors, he played a role in a historic moment in Major League history. Stevens was the first batter Satchel Paige faced when he made his Major League debut. Stevens, who had played against Paige in the past, lined a single to left field off the Negro League legend. Stevens was an instrumental figure of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America for 38 years from 1950-1998.

Fred Van Dusen, 80, June 1

On September 11, 1955 Van Dusen pinch hit in the ninth inning of a 9-1 game. Humberto Robinson hit Van Dusen on an 0-2 pitch, but retired the next two batters, stranding Van Dusen at first as the Braves beat the Phillies in a meaningless game. That anonymous moment in Major League history would be much more meaningful for Van Dusen as that would be the only appearance he made in the majors. Then just 17 years old, Van Dusen returned to the minors the next season and toiled for six years before leaving the game at 23. Van Dusen held the distinction of being the only player in Major League history to get hit by a pitch in his only at bat and not take the field after. That distinction had the potential to be tied when Adam Greenberg was hit in the head by a pitch in his only Major League at bat in 2005 and suffered serious injuries. Greenberg did not take the field and returned to minor and independent ball after that, never to reach the majors again. However, thanks to an internet campaign, he returned to the majors for an at bat against RA Dickey and the Mets in 2012. Greenberg struck out, but was at least able to get a professional at bat and keeping Van Dusen alone in the record books. To make that moment even more special, the Marlins had Van Dusen throw out the first pitch that game.

 

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Bruce Kison, 68, June 2

Kison was a baseball lifer, spending his entire 50-year adulthood as part of the fabric of Major League Baseball. Kison was a key member of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1970s. He debuted with the Pirates in their legendary 1971 season and played a huge role in one of the most historic World Series games ever. Kison hurled 6.1 scoreless relief innings, allowing just one hit, in the pivotal game four of the World Series. The game went down in history as the first night game in Series history and helped propel the Pirates to a seven-game series win. After a solid decade on the Pirates staff, Kison found himself as the game one starter in the 1979 World Series against the Orioles. Things went much differently this time, as Kison faced just seven batters while getting only one out, failing to get out of the first inning. Although the Pirates lost that game they did win the series and Kison was one of just three players (Willie Stargell and Manny Sanguillen being the others) who appeared in both the 1971 and 1979 World Series. Known as a fierce competitor who owned the inside corner, Kison went 115-88 over his 15-year career and then became a respected pitching coach and scout until last December. He died six months later of renal cancer.

Red Schoendienst, 95, June 6

There are many people who spend their entire life in baseball, but there aren’t many cases where that adds up to three quarters of a century. Schoendienst spent an incredible 76 years in professional baseball, 67 of them with the Cardinals. An 11-time All-Star, Schoendienst was a key member of the 1946 Cardinals World Series championship team and the 1957 Milwaukee Braves champions as well. Over 19 years as a player, Schoendienst logged 2,449 hits and batted .289 for his career. A slick fielder at second base, Schoendienst still ranks in the top 20 in career putouts at second base, career assists at second base and double plays turned at second base. Her fell short of Hall of Fame induction on the writers ballot, reaching his peak in 1980 (his 42.6% was better than six future Hall of Famers) but was admitted via Veterans Committee in 1989. Scheondienst managed the Cardinals from 1965-1976 and then had interim stints as manager in 1980 and 1990. He still worked for the franchise until the day he died. A true baseball lifer in every sense of the word.

Ed Roebuck, 86, June 14

Roebuck was a trusted reliever for Walter Alston during the Dodgers waning seasons in Brooklyn and first few years in Los Angeles. As a rookie in 1955, Roebuck shared closing duties with Clem Labine on the Dodgers historic World Series championship team. Roebuck and Sandy Koufax were the youngest arms in the Dodgers bullpen in 1955 with Roebuck seen as a more reliable arm at the time. Although save numbers were considerably lower in the 1950’s as opposed to modern times, Roebuck finished in the top 10 in games pitched and saves in the National League four times in his 11-year career. He finished his career with a 52-31 record and a 3.35 ERA while allowing one home run per nine innings over his career.

Billy Connors, 76, June 17

Although he had a brief career in the majors, appearing in just 26 games over three seasons, Connors made a name for himself as one of the most respected developers of young pitching talent for decades after he retired. Most closely associated with the Yankees, Connors was one of the most trusted advisors to George Steinbrenner, a man who notoriously kept his inner circle small. Connors served as the Yankees pitching coach in three separate short stints while filling different developmental roles in the years between. Connors is credited with helping shape the careers of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, helping to reshape Dwight Gooden’s career as a veteran and working with Orlando Hernandez and his varied arsenal of pitches. Steinbrenner often referred to Connors as the Yankees pitching guru, a statement that couldn’t have been more accurate.

Tony Cloninger, 77, July 24

Five weeks after Connors passed, another Yankees pitching coach from the same era died as well. Cloninger served as the Yankees bullpen coach and pitching coach from 1992-2001. He was the bullpen coach for all four of the Yankees World Series teams in the late 90s, working with stars like John Wetteland, Mariano Rivera, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd, a strength of those Yankee teams. As a player, Clonginger pitched for three different teams over 12 seasons where he had his best season for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965. Despite leading the league in walks and wild pitches, Cloninger went 24-11 with a 3.29 ERA. While he had a respected career as a pitcher and coach, Cloninger is best remembered for a feat with his bat. In 1966, he became the only pitcher in Major League history to belt two grand slams in one game. Earlier that season, he threw the first pitch ever for the Atlanta Braves as they had moved from Milwaukee.

Billy O’Dell, 85, September 12

O’Dell was the first MVP of the MLB All-Star Game, and boy did he earn it. Casey Stengel called on the young O’Dell to start the seventh inning of a 4-3 game. With O’Dell pitching in front of his hometown Baltimore fans, he threw three perfect innings to nail down the win. He retired all nine batters he faced, throwing just 27 pitches and retiring five Hall of Famers (Ernie Banks, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron) along the way. Although the official All-Star Game MVP Award wouldn’t be established for four more years, the Baltimore Sun sponsored an MVP Award for the game and O’Dell was the convincing winner. O’Dell was an All-Star again the next season, but then spent the remainder of his career as a journeyman pitcher who could start or relieve. He started 199 games in his career and appeared in 137 as a reliever, finishing with a career record of 105-100 with 50 saves. In his only World Series, O’Dell pitched the eighth and ninth innings of game seven of the 1962 World Series in a 1-0 game. Although O’Dell held down the Yankees for two innings, the Giants were unable to tie the game and the Yankees won the classic seven-game series.

 

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Wayne Krenchicki, 64, October 16

While he may not be seen in the same light as Wally Pipp, someone had to be sent down for the Orioles to call up Cal Ripken, Jr. from the minors. That person was Krenchiki. At the time, Krenchicki had a reputation as a good teammate and versatile player, capable of playing all four infield positions well. After playing for four teams in eight big league seasons, Krenchicki stayed in the game as a coach and manager for Independent League baseball teams including the Newark Bears.

Bill Fischer, 88, October 30

While Fischer had a respectable nine year career in the 1950’s and 60’s, his work as a pitching guru in the 1980’s and 90’s is where his legacy stands. Fischer was the pitching coach on the Red Sox in 1985 when he began to work with a young Roger Clemens and stayed with the franchise through their 1986 World Series year until 1991. Fischer also served as the pitching coach for the Reds and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. As a pitcher, he had his best season for the Kansas City A’s in 1963 when he went 9-6 with a 3.57 ERA pitching 22 games mostly out of the bullpen. His battery mate and third baseman (Doc Edwards and Ed Charles, respectively) on that team also passed away this year.

Willie McCovey, 80, October 31

Perhaps the most feared lefty slugger of his generation, McCovey passed away after battling multiple illnesses late in his life. McCovey’s greatness was foreshadowed in his first Major League game. Just 21 years old, the tall lefty went 4-4 against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts with two triples. He didn’t stop hitting for two decades. McCovey played just 52 games in 1959, his rookie year, but still won the National League Rookie of the Year Award unanimously after batting .354 with 13 home runs. From 1959-1973, McCovey made six All-Star teams for the Giants and batted .279 with 413 home runs and 1,165 RBIs. He was also the 1969 National League MVP when he led the league in home runs (45), RBIs (126), on base percentage (.453), slugging percentage (.656) and OPS (1.108). As part of a rebuilding process in San Francisco, McCovey was traded to the Padres in 1973. His play deteriorated and after two and half seasons in San Diego and 11 games for the A’s in 1977, it seemd that McCovey’splaying days were coming to and end as he was an unproductive 38-year old at the time.

McCovey returned to the Giants in 1977 without a guaranteed spot on the team and entered the season as the active Major League home run leader with 465 as Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson had each retired. Just 35 home runs shy of 500, which held more meaning at that time, it was no guarantee that McCovey could reach the milestone. He was fading fast and hit just 14 homers the year before and 23 the year before that. However, McCovey enjoyed an improbable resurgence. He batted .280 (his highest average since 1970) and belted 28 home runs, finishing 20th in NL MVP voting. Just seven homers shy of 500, McCovey returned for his age-40 season in 1978. He finally hit his 500th career home run on June 30 and would add 21 more home runs over the next year and a half before retiring in July of the 1980 season. At the time of his retirement, McCvey ranked seventh on the all-time home run list. When McCovey homered off Scott Sanderson on May 3, 1980, he became the only player besides Ted Williams to homer in four decades. It was his only home run that year. Rickey Henderson and Omar Vizquel have since joined the club. In addition, he is just one of 29 players to have appeared in four decades. McCovey was just the 16th person elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot when he was enshrined in 1986. McCovey appeared at AT & T Park the final weekend of the 2018 season to present the Willie McCovey Award in a pregame ceremony. It was his last appearance at the stadium as he died one month later.

 

Ken Howell, 57, November 28

Howell was a reliable reliever for Tommy Lasorda and the Dodgers from 1984-1988, appearing in 194 games, 191 of them in relief. A long man out of the bullpen, Howell thrived his first three seasons in Los Angeles, nothing 30 saves while winning an additional 15 games out of the bullpen. However, after two ineffective years, he was left off the 1988 postseason roster and traded in the offseason. With the Phillies, Howell was converted into a starter in 1989 and was the ace of a poor Phillies team. He led the team with 12 wins, twice as much as any other starter. After going 8-7 in 1989 in 18 starts, Howel was forced out of the game due to arm injuries at the age of 29. However, Howell returned to the Dodgers where he was the bullpen coach and assistant pitching coach from 2008-2015.

Fred Caligiuri, 100, November 30

At the time of his death, Caligiuri was the oldest living baseball player and the final player to have been active in the historic 1941 season, making him the last surviving person who appeared in the majors befor. Although he pitched in just 18 games in two abbreviated seasons, Caligiuri has a close association with one of baseball’s most historical games. On the final day of the 1941 season, Caligiuri started the second game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. Ted Williams went 2-3 against Caligiuri to end the season with a .406 average. In addition, Caligiuri’s opponent on the mound that day was the immortal Lefty Grove, who was making the final start of his career.

 

Luis Valbuena, 33; Jose Castillo, 37, December 6

Valbuena and Castillo were teammates playing winter ball in Venezuela when they fell victim to a dangerous plot bandits in the area put into motion. Criminals in the area will put large objects on roads, in this case a large rock, and when a car crashes into it or stops, the victims are ambushed and robbed. Tragically, Valbuena and Castillo died when their SUV flipped avoiding the rock while a third teammate in the car survived the crash. Disgracefully, the players were robbed, but criminals were later found with the players’ belongings. Valbuena was coming off a season in which he batted .199 with nine homers and 33 RBIs. He was a productive source of lefty power the four seasons prior to 2018 when he hit 76 homers over the previous four seasons. He also belted a two-run home run for the Astros in the deciding game five of the 2015 ALDS, a game the Astros would lose to the Royals. Castillo played for the Pirates, Giants and Astros from 2004-2008 as a versatile infielder. His best season came in 2006 when he played 148 games and batted .253 with 14 home runs for the Pirates.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.







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