Remembering Former Major Leaguers Who Died in 2017

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Wednesday, December 6th, 2017
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Daryl Spencer, 88, January 2

After serving two years in the military, Spencer became the everyday shortstop for the New York Giants for two years before they moved to San Francisco.  Between 1956-1960, he was a stalwart in the Giants lineup and hit .250 with 70 home runs over that time.  While he was serviceable with the bat, Spencer was a detriment on defense as he led the league in errors in 1957 and 1958 with 37 and 34, respectively.  He played for 10 seasons for four different teams and batted .244 for his career.

Dick Starr, 95, January 18

Starr was one of the oldest living former players when he passed away at the age of 95 in January.  He got his first career win in his first start for the New York Yankees in 1947 when he pitched a complete game against the St. Louis Browns.  Starr was a teammate of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto for two cups of coffee with the Yankees before being traded to the Browns for Fred Sanford.  Three years later, Starr was traded by the Browns to the Washington Senators again for Sanford, whom the Senators had acquired from the Yankees.  Starr pitched for five years in the majors and went 3-12 the only season he saw significant time as a starter.  He was one of less than 20 surviving members of the St. Louis Browns when he passed away.

Yordano Ventura, 25, January 22

Early in the morning of January 22, baseball fans were shocked to learn of the death of Kansas City Royals star pitcher Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.  Ventura was a budding star for the Royals, who showed flashes of brilliance and an electric arsenal of pitches over his 94-game MLB career.  A member of the starting rotation that helped the Royals to back-to-back World Series appearances, including a title in 2015, Ventura was coming off a season in which he went 11-12.  He finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2014 when he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA as a 23-year-old.  He became the first Royals player to die while an active member of the team.  Ventura was close friends with St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras and Miami Marlins star Jose Fernandez, both of whom died in accidents as well.  In the final game he pitched, Ventura wore the initials of both players on his cap.

Andy Marte, 33, January 22

Marte was a corner infielder, who played 277 of his 307 career games for the Cleveland Indians.  Tragically, he died on the same day as Ventura, also in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.  Although he was just a .218 career hitter, Marte was able to play parts of seven seasons in the majors thanks to strong defensive and leadership qualities.  Marte’s final game came in a game in which the Arizona Diamondbacks faced off against the Royals with Ventura pitching.  Although he didn’t face Ventura, Marte appeared as a pinch hitter late in the game.

Harry MacPherson, 90, February 19

Baseball fans can be excused if MacPherson’s name doesn’t ring a bell.  He appeared in just one game for the Boston Braves in 1944, pitching the final inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field as an 18-year-old.  MacPherson was offered his chance to pitch in the majors as the talent pool in America was depleted as many players were off fighting in World War II.  Ultimately, MacPherson also served in World War II and never returned to the majors.  He faced four batters in his only appearance and struck out Johnny Barrett, the Pirates three hitter, in the process.

Ned Garver, 91, February 26

Garver got his start as a member of the Browns in 1948 at the age of 22 and had compiled a record of 52-58 by the age of 25 for some awful Browns team.  In fact, Garver was the last major leaguer to win 20 games for a 100-loss team and still remains the only person to do so with a winning record, going 20-12 for the Browns in 1951.  In games Garver didn’t pitch in that year, the Browns went 32-90.  Duane Billett was second on the Browns in wins that year with six.  For his efforts, Garver started for the American League in the All-Star game against Robin Roberts and pitched three scoreless innings allowing only a leadoff double to Richie Ashburn to start the game.  The AL featured five Hall of Famers in that lineup.  Garver would go on to finish second in MVP voting that year, behind Yogi Berra and ahead of legends like Ted Williams, Bob Feller and five other Hall of Famers.  Garver finished his 14-year career with a 129-157 record.

Bill Hands, 76, March 9

Hands pitched for 11 seasons in the majors and was best known as one of the members of the 1969 Chicago Cubs rotation when he and Ferguson Jenkins each won 20 games.  Although the Cubs famously collapsed in September of 1969, Hands won four of his last five decisions, each one by complete game.  Hands went 54-39 over a three-year stretch from 1968-1970, but his production and health fell off after that.  Hands retired at the age of 35 after going 6-7  for Billy Martin’s 1975 Texas Rangers team that also featured Jenkins and Gaylord Perry in the rotation.

Bob Bruce, 83, March 14

Bruce came up in the Detroit Tigers system, but gained notoriety as an original member of the Houston Colt .45’s original starting rotation.  He tied for the team lead in wins in their inaugural season with 10 and became the first Colts pitcher to win 15 games in a season when he went 15-9 in 1964.  Bruce is one 84 pitchers to have thrown an “immaculate inning,” striking out the side on nine pitches.  At the time, he was only the seventh National Leaguer to do so, accomplishing the feat one day after Sandy Koufax did so for the Dodgers.  In 1966, Bruce was one of the players traded to the Atlanta Braves for an aging Eddie Mathews.  He finished his career with a 49-71 record.

Dallas Green, 82, March 22

Known more for his managerial career than his brief playing career, Green was the manager of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies World Series champions.  As a player, Green went 20-22 over an eight-year career before being released by the Phillies in 1967.  Twelve years later, Green began his managerial career as the Phillies skipper and led a club that featured Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose to the Phillies first World Series title in franchise history.  After the 1981 season, Green moved to the Cubs front office as the team’s executive vice president and general manager and helped build the Cubs into one of the top teams in the NL.  He returned to the dugout in 1989 for one tumultuous season with the Yankees and then from 1993-1996 with the New York Mets.  He is just one of four people to have managed the Mets and the Yankees, with the others being Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre.  The firey, old school Green finished his managerial career with a 454-478 record.

Todd Frohwirth, 54, March 26

The submarining Frohwirth was a popular middle reliever who made his biggest impact with the Baltimore Orioles when he appeared in 186 games between 1991 and 1993.  The righty was known as a tough competitor and popular teammate who, for a two-year period, was one of the better middle relievers in the game.  In 1991 pitching for a bad Orioles team, Frohwirth went 7-3 with a 1.87 ERA and 0.965 WHIP.  He died of stomach cancer at the age of 54 in March.

Ruben Amaro, Sr., 81, March 31

A teammate of Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Amaro played all four infield positions effectively over his 11-year major league career.  His best season came in 1964 when he won his only Gold Glove and finished 21st in MVP voting.  Amaro was just a .234 lifetime hitter with little power, but his versatility made him a valuable and popular player with the Phillies and Yankees.  A member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, Amaro is the father of former Phillies general manager and current Mets first base coach Ruben Amaro, Jr.  

Roy Sievers, 90, April 3

The 1949 Rookie of the Year, Sievers accomplishments sometimes get lost as he played outfield in the era of Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.  Playing for the Washington Senators in 1957, Sievers led the American League in home runs (42) and RBIs (114).  He finished third in MVP voting that season, just behind Mantle and Williams.  Sievers made four All-Star games and received MVP votes in seven different seasons.  In 1963 while playing for the Phillies, Sievers belted his 300th career home run at the age of 36.  At the time, he was just the 22nd player to reach 300 homers and, along with Gil Hodges, was one of the first two members of the 300 home run club to not make the Hall of Fame.  At the time of his death, Sievers was the oldest living person who had played for the Senators.  He was one of only nine players to have played for the original Senators team and also the expansion Senators.  Sievers played for five different teams over 17 years and finished his career with 318 home runs, 1,147 RBIs.

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Bob Cerv, 91, April 6

A tough outfielder who played for four teams over his 11-year career, Cerv debuted with the Yankees in 1951 in an outfield that also consisted of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.  He played as a part-time outfielder for his first five seasons before being purchased by the Kansas City A’s where he flourished in his first full-time role.  In his first three seasons with the A’s, Cerv hit .289 with 69 home runs and 235 RBIs.  He made his only All-Star game in 1958 when he hit .305 with 38 home runs and 104 RBIs.  He was the starting left fielder in the game, batted fourth and got a single off Warren Spahn in his first All-Star game at bat.  He finished fourth in MVP voting in 1958, ahead of Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Al Kaline, Mantle and Williams.  He played his final season as an original member of the Houston Colt .45’s.  He played in three World Series with the Yankees, including the historic 1955 World Series in which he was on the losing side of the Dodgers only World Series while located in Brooklyn.  He won his only World Series the next season as a part-time outfielder with the Yankees.

Sam Mele, 95, May 1

Mele was a solid player over his 10-year career, but made his biggest impact on the game as the manager of the Minnesota Twins from 1961-1967.  Mele debuted in 1947 the majors after serving in World War II and batted .302 as a rookie while sharing the Red Sox outfield with Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio.  A fantastic right fielder, Mele led the American League in assists in 1951 and fielding percentage in right field for three straight seasons.  For his career, Mele hit .267 with 80 home runs.  After his playing career was over, Mele managed the Twins for seven seasons, leading the team to their first World Series appearance in 1965, right in the middle of the Yankees dynasty of the 1950’s and ’60s.  Mele’s Twins fell in a classic seven-game World Series to the Dodgers when Sandy Koufax spun a three-hitter in Game 7 to beat a young Jim Kaat, 2-0.  It remains the only home World Series game the Twins have ever lost.  Mele is also known for giving Billy Martin his break in coaching at the major league level, when he named the then 37 year old Martin the team’s third base coach in 1965.

Bob Kuzava, 93, May 15

Kuzava pitched for eight teams in his ten-year career, but it was his three-year stint with the Yankees that served as the highlight of his career.  The lefty pitched for the Yankees from 1951-1953, mostly as a starter, but was a key member of the bullpen during the World Series in each of those years.  The Yankees won the World Series in each of Kuzava’s three years on the team, and he picked up the save in the final games of the 1951 and 1952 World Series.  Before that, Kuzava finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1949 as a 26-year-old after serving in World War II.  He went 10-6 that year for the Chicago White Sox.  

Jim Bunning, 85, May 26

The Hall of Fame righty was a seven-time All-Star over his 17-year career in which he went 224-184 with a 3.27 ERA.  Over his 10-year peak from 1957-1966, Bunning went 167-112 with a 3.08 ERA for the Tigers and Phillies.  The workhorse righty topped 250 innings eight times and 300 innings twice in his career and led his league in strikeouts three times.  Bunning started the 1957 and 1962 All-Star games and pitched three innings in each one.  Over the total of six innings, the only hit he allowed was a double to Roberto Clemente in the ’62 game.  He gained the win in the 1957 game, pitching three perfect innings against a National League team that featured Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson.  After his playing career, Bunning began a successful career in politics and was a two-term United States Senator from Kentucky.  Bunning’s Hall of Fame candidacy was one that was tracked closely and hotly debated during his 15-year run on the ballot.  After gaining close to 40% of the vote most of his first six years on the ballot, he started to gain steam and peaked in 1988 when he fell just four votes shy of election.  The following three years, his support dropped dramatically as he failed to top 64%.  Bunning was ultimately elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veterans Committee.

 

Jimmy Piersall, 87, June 3

One of the great characters of the game for nearly five decades, Piersall not only made a name for himself on the diamond and in the broadcasting booth, but also by battling bipolar disorder.  His struggles were the subject of the book and movie Fear Strikes Out.  Piersall debuted as a 20-year-old in 1950 with the Red Sox when he pinch ran for Ted Williams in a game against the Yankees.  He returned in 1952 and became a regular the next season when he finished ninth in the MVP voting in his first full season.  Piersall made was an All-Star in 1954 and 1956 and won Gold Glove Awards in 1958 and 1961.  All the while, Piersall exhibited violent and erratic behavior on numerous occasions brought on by his condition.  The Red Sox traded him to the Cleveland Indians  for Vic Wertz after the 1958 season and also played for the Senators, Mets and Angels before retiring at the age of 37 after playing just five games for the Angels in 1967.  Piersall famously rounded the bases backwards after his 100th career home run off Dallas Green.  One month later he was released by the Mets.  He began a broadcasting career after he retired, most famously pairing with Harry Caray on White Sox broadcasts for five years before he was let go for being critical of team management.

Anthony Young, 51, June 27

Young was a 38th round draft pick by the Mets in 1987, but worked his way up through their farm system quickly, debuting just four years later in 1991.  He lost his first career start in a pitchers’ duel with John Smoltz, but bounced back to top the Astros in his next start for his first major league win.  Young is best known for losing 27 consecutive decisions in a row, a major league record, mostly due to extremely bad circumstances.  He lost 14 games as a starter and 13 as a reliever over that time, but also converted 12 straight save opportunities and threw 23 2/3 scoreless innings over that time.  During his streak, he became a fan favorite and symbol for persevering through difficult times.  He went through a similarly difficult stretch that overlapped his losing streak when he made 27 straight starts without a win.  Although he made 13 quality starts, he went 4-13 over that span.  Despite the fact that Young went 5-35 in his three years with the Mets, he pitched to a respectable 3.82 ERA and has earned a positive place in Mets history.  Young died of an inoperable brain tumor on June 27.

Lee May, 74, July 29

May came up through the Cincinnati Reds farm system and played the early part of his career with some members of the Big Red Machine, but it was his trade away from the Reds in 1971 that brought one of the key components of the dynasty to the city.  On November 29, the Reds shipped May, along with two other players to the Astros for five players, including Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.  May was coming off a season in which he hit 39 home runs and finished 12th in MVP voting while making his second straight All-Star game.  Although May made the All-Star team the next year as a member of the Astros and went on to a very productive career, he didn’t approach the career of Morgan and missed out on being a key cog in one of the great dynasties in baseball history.  May did play in one World Series with the Reds and another with the Baltimore Orioles and had a bounce back season in 1976 when he finished ninth in the MVP voting after leading the American League with 109 RBIs.  May amassed 2,031 hits and 354 home runs in 18 years and currently sits in 88th place all-time in career home runs.

Darren Daulton, 55, August 6

A fierce competitor and respected team leader, Daulton only topped 100 games played in a season five times in his career, but he was able to make an impact far beyond his statistics.  Daulton was the leader of a resurgent Phillies team in 1992 and 1993 when he made the All-Star team in back-to-back years and finished sixth and seventh in the MVP voting, respectively.  Daulton finally earned his World Series ring in a big way after being traded to the Florida Marlins in 1997, his final year in the majors.  He provided leadership down the stretch and batted .262 while playing multiple positions, but then went on a hot streak in the World Series, leading the team with a .389 average.  Daulton was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, but went into remission two years later.  The cancer returned this year however and ultimately cost Daulton his life.

Don Baylor, 68, August 7

One day after Daulton’s death, the baseball world was shocked to learn of the death of the popular Baylor, who had been battling multiple myeloma for 14 years.  Amazingly, Baylor made just one All-Star game in his 19-year major league career, yet earned a reputation as an elite team leader and respected veteran for much of the 1970s and ’80s.  Baylor played int he postseason seven times with five different teams and between 1986-1988 was on three different teams, each one advancing to the World Series.  He won his only World Series in 1987 when he batted .350 with a home run in the postseason for the Twins.  After retirement, Baylor became the first manager in Colorado Rockies history and also managed the Cubs for three seasons.  He served as a bench coach and hitting coach for multiple teams through 2015.  Baylor ended his career with 2,135 hits, 338 home runs and a .260 batting average.  He was also hit by a pitch 267 times, a record for modern players until he was passed by Craig Biggio.

Gene Michael, 75, September 7

Although Michael was known as an above average fielder and solid contributor during the down years for the Yankees in the late 1960s and early 70s, his main contribution to the Yankees came in his front office capacities.  He hit .229 over a ten-year major league career, after which he immediately became a coach with the Yankees.  He was their AAA manager in 1979 and then became the team’s GM in 1980 and then on-field manager in 1981.  Aside from a two-year stint as manager of the Cubs, Michael had been one of the mainstays of the Yankees front office for decades.  Perhaps his biggest contribution came when he was the team’s general manger during the period in which George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball.  During that time, Michael oversaw a shift in strategy where he was able to hold onto and develop prospects rather than trading them away for established players, as Steinbrenner was apt to do.  Because of this, the Yankees hung onto young players like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the cornerstones of their late 1990s dynasty.  Unfortunately, Michael was fired in 1995 and did not oversee their run of four World Series titles.   Michael still wielded a ton of influence as an executive with the team up until he died of a heart attack in September.

Mickey Harrington, 82, September 20

Whether a player has a Hall of Fame career or makes just a fleeting appearance in the majors, just making it to the big leagues in any capacity is an incredible accomplishment.  The latter applies to Harrington, who made just one appearance as a pinch runner in his major league career.  A career minor leaguer, Harrington was called up by the Phillies in July of 1963.  He pinch ran for Roy Sievers, who also passed away in 2017, and was quickly erased on a double play.  Not long after, Harrington was sent back down to AAA where he remained until he retired after the 1966 season, never to play in the majors again.

Solly Hemus, 94, October 2

The fiery Hemus holds the distinction of being one of a select few players who served as a player-manager in his career, doing so with the Cardinals in 1959, the final year of his major league career.  He got his start ten years earlier in 1949 and became a regular in the Cardinals infield in 1951.  Hemus was a key player from 1951-1955, playing alongside Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter, often batting leadoff or second in the order.  He managed the Cardinals from 1959-1961 and after being fired, served on Casey Stengel’s staff as a coach with the original 1962 Mets.

Jim Landis, 83, October 7

A Gold Glove centerfielder in the 1960s for the White Sox, Landis enjoyed a very good five-year peak at the start of the decade.  In 1959, his second big league season, Landis was one of five White Sox to finish in the top 10 for AL MVP voting when he placed seventh after hitting .272 for the American League champion White Sox.  In the world Series that year, Landis hit .292 while batting third as the White Sox fell to the Dodgers in the fall classic, the first World Series title for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.  Landis made his only All-Star appearance in 1962 when he struck out after replacing Roger Maris in centerfield.  In 1965 he was part of a three-team, eight-player trade that also involved Tommy John, Rocky Colavito and Tommy Agee.  He was later traded by the A’s for Joe Rudi, a key piece to their great 1970s teams.  An outstanding defensive centerfielder, Landis still ranks 38th all-time in Total Zone Runs by a centerfielder and 77th career in putouts for a centerfielder.

Daniel Webb, 28, October 14

A key member of the White Sox bullpen in 2014, Webb died in an ATV accident that also seriously injured his wife in his native Kentucky.  Drafted by the Blue Jays in 2009, Webb was later traded to the White Sox, with whom he made his debut in 2013.  Webb went 6-5 with a 3.99 ERA in 2014, pitching in 57 games in relief.  He battled arm problems the next two years and only pitched one game in 2016 before having Tommy John surgery.  At the time of his death, Webb was a free agent, rehabilitating his arm in hopes of a comeback.

Roy Halladay, 40, November 7

In perhaps the most shocking death of 2017, the likely Hall of Famer Halladay died when he crashed a personal amphibious aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico.  On the afternoon of November 7, word spread that a plane belonging to Halladay had crashed while flying in the Gulf.  While fans hoped that Halladay wasn’t the pilot that day, their worst fears were realized a short time later when Halladay’s identity was confirmed.  A first round draft pick in 1995, Halladay made his debut three years later as a 21-year old.  However, it was not until 2002 when Halladay finally harnessed his raw ability and became, at times, the most dominant pitcher in the sport between 2002-2011.  A workhorse pitcher with nasty stuff, Halladay won the Cy Young Award in 2003 and 2010 and also had five other top-five finishes.  An eight-time All-Star, Halladay also finished in the top 10 for MVP voting in 2010 and 2011.  Halladay won 20 games three times and led the league in innings pitched four times, complete games seven times and shutouts four times.  In his first postseason start, Halladay pitched the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s famous World Series perfect game in 1956.  Earlier that season, Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in major league history.  He finished with a career record of 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA and led his league in WAR for pitchers four times.

Don Prince, 79, November 8

Another player who appeared in just one major league game, Prince is more known for an infamous elaborate incident in which he conspired with his brother in a murder-for-hire plot.  Pince thought he was paying off a contracted killer to murder witnesses who were set to testify against his brother in a different lawsuit, but the alleged hit man was actually an undercover police officer.  He was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in the incident.  Prince was a dominant scholastic athlete in North Carolina in the 1950s and chose professional baseball as his career.  After spending over four years in the minors, Prince was called up by the Cubs and pitched one inning of one game in 1962.  Although he walked a batter, hit a batter and had another reach on an error, Prince pitched out of the jam and hurled a scoreless inning in his only appearance.

Bobby Doerr, 99, November 13

A Hall of Fame second basemen who served in World War II, Doerr was the oldest living Hall of Famer and one of the oldest living former players at the time of his death.  Doerr was the last player alive to have played in the 1930s and was the last surviving teammate of Jimmie Foxx at the time of his death.  Doerr made his major league debut as a 19-year-old in 1937 and became the Red Sox full-time second basemen the following season.  He made his first all-star game in 1941 and was an all-star every subsequent season until he retired due to injury after the 1951 season at the age of 33.  He received American League MVP votes in eight straight seasons, and was a rare middle infielder with power for his time.  Doerr led the American League in slugging percentage in 1944 and topped 100 RBIs six times.  Although he played just 13 full seasons, he still remains fifth all-time in double plays turned by a second basemen and eighth all-time in putouts for a second basemen.  Doeer initially didn’t receive much consideration for the Hall of Fame, garnering just two votes out of 300 ballots in his first year of eligibility and peaking at 25% in 1970.  He was eventually elected by the Veteran’s Committee in 1986.  He averaged 19 home runs and 108 RBIs per 162 games for his career.

Complete list of former Major League Baseball players who died in 2017

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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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