Remembering MLB Players That We Lost in 2016

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
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Monte Irvin, January 11

The legendary crossover star of the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball was among the first wave of players to integrate the sport.  On July 8, 1949, Irvin became just the fourth black player in Major League Baseball and the first to appear in a game for the New York Giants.  He played eight years in the majors, finishing third in the 1951 National League MVP voting.  He was a member of the 1954 Giants World Series team and retired after playing the 1956 season for the Chicago Cubs.  Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, Irvin was the oldest living Negro League player and oldest living former Cub and Giant when he died at the age of 96.

Walt “No Neck” Williams, January 23

The charismatic and colorful Willaims played the game with reckless enthusiasm during a productive 10-year career.  Williams’ style of play was compared to Pete Rose, with decidedly less success.  Williams’ best season came in 1969 when he was one of just six American League players to bat over .300.  He finished his career with the New York Yankees in 1975 when he batted .281 over 200 plate appearances.

Tony Phillips, February 17

A key member of the 1989 Oakland A’s World Series team and a venerable utility player during his entire 18-year career, Phillips passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 56.  After batting .235 over 17 plate appearances in the Series, Phillips signed on as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers, where he batted .281 with 61 homers over five seasons.  The ultimate utility player, Phillips played every position except for pitcher and catcher in his career.  Phillips returned to the A’s for one final season in 1999 and hit 15 home runs and stole 11 bases at the age of 39.

Jim Davenport, February 18

Davenport was a mainstay in the San Francisco Giants infield throughout their early years in San Francisco.  Davenport was the first batter in San Francisco Giants history when he led off the bottom of the first during opening day of the 1958 season.  Davenport struck out against Don Drysdale in that appearance.  He played his entire 13-year career with the Giants, mostly at third base and shortstop.  He played in 1,501 games over that time, batting .258, and appeared in the 1962 All-Star Game, singling in his only at bat.

Joe Garagiola, March 23

Garagiola broke onto the baseball scene as a 20-year old catcher in the 1946 World Series.  His .316 average was among the best on the St. Louis Cardinals during the Series as they topped the Boston Red Sox in seven games.  From there, Garagiola enjoyed a solid, yet unspectacular career over the next nine seasons.  However, once his career ended, Garagiola’s star expanded as he became a cross-culture celebrity.  He not only worked as a baseball announcer, but also appeared on game shows and was a panelist on the Today Show.  A Ford Frick Award winner, Garagiola announced for the Arizona Diamondbacks on a part-time basis until 2013 when he retired after nearly 60 years in the business.

Mike Sandlock, April 4

When Sandlock died in April this year, he held a Major League record that had nothing to do with his play on the field.  At the time of his death, Sandlock was the oldest living former Major Leaguer at 100 years old.  Sandlock debuted for the Boston Braves in 1942, in the middle of World War II and in his first game, he played against Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott.  He had teammates who were active during the careers of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.  Sandlock played parts of five seasons in the majors before retiring in 1953.  His death leaves Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr as the oldest living former player at 98.

Milt Pappas, April 19

One of the more underrated pitchers of the 1960’s, Pappas went 131-102 during the decade and won 209 games for his career while pitching for four teams.  The first three batters Pappas faced in his Major League career as an 18-year-old pitcher were Hall of Famers Enos Slaughter, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.  Pappas became known as a key component in one of the more lopsided trades in Major League History as he was one of the pieces sent from Baltimore to Cincinnati in the Frank Robinson trade.  Pappas was also known as being the only pitcher to lose a perfect game on a walk to the potential 27th out of the game when umpire Bruce Froemming ruled a borderline pitch outside.

Gordie Sundin, May 2

If Sundin’s name doesn’t sound familiar to even the most ardent baseball fan, that’s perfectly understandable.  Sundin had one of the shortest careers of any Major Leaguer and his statistics register little more than a blip on the baseball landscape.  As an 18-year-old, Sundin was called in for mop-up relief duty for the Orioles as they were losing 8-1 to the Detroit Tigers.  He walked opposing pitcher Frank Lary and Harvey Kuenn and was promptly removed from the game, never to step foot on the mound again.  When Larry came around to score, the run was charged to Sundin, saddling him with an ERA of “infinity” for his career.  Sundin’s debut was also the final game of the career of his catcher, Tom Gatsall, who died in a plane crash the next day.

Dick McAuliffe, May 13

McAuliffe was a three-time All-Star shortstop for the Tigers in the 1960’s and was a key member of their 1968 World Series championship team.  McAuliffe accomplished an incredible feat in 1968 when he went the entire season without grounding into a double play.  To this day, he remains the only qualifying American Leaguer to have accomplished that.  McAuliffe finished seventh in the MVP voting in 1968 when he led the AL with 95 runs scored.  McAuliffe played 14 years in Detroit’s infield before ending his career with two nondescript seasons with the Boston Red Sox.

Sammy Ellis, May 13

Ellis was mostly known as a pitching coach for six teams between 1982-200 after what looked like a promising career for the Reds never panned out.  As a 23-year-old in 1964, Ellis finished in the top 20 for MVP voting after a stellar season in the Reds bullpen.  He was moved to the rotation the next season and went 22-10, making the All-Star Game in 1965.  Over the next four seasons, Ellis went just 29-43 and was out of the majors by the age of 28.  As a pitching coach, he was instrumental in helping convert Dave Righetti from a starter into one of the top closers of the 1980’s.

Jim Ray Hart, May 19

Hart burst onto the scene as a rookie when he blasted 31 home runs, finishing behind Willie Mays and Billy Williams for third most in the National League in 1964.  Hart’s power remained as he belted 139 home runs over his first five full seasons in the majors.  However, Hart’s defense was notoriously poor and eventually the Giants couldn’t commit to him as a full time player.  Hart stuck with the Giants as a part-time player for the next five and a half seasons before being sold to the Yankees where he finished his career.  The popular Hart finished in the top 20 of MVP voting three times, was the runner up for the 1964 Rookie of the Year and struck out in his only All-Star Game appearance in 1966.

Ruben Quevedo, June 7

Quevedo was signed as a promising 16-year-old free agent from Venezuela by the Atlanta Braves and made it to the majors at the age of 21 when he made 15 starts for the Chicago Cubs in 2000.  One of the youngest regulars in the majors in 2000, Quevedo was one of only six National Leaguers born in 1979 to play in the majors in 2000.   Quevedo never reached the potential some saw in him as a teenager playing in the minors and went 14-30 over four major league seasons.  He died of a heart attack at the age of 37 in June.

Chico Fernandez, June 11

Fernandez started his career as a highly-touted prospect in the Brooklyn Dodgers system, but the shortstop was stuck behind Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson in the Dodgers middle infield as he sought to break into the bigs.  Fernandez debuted in 1956, one year after Brooklyn’s legendary World Series title in 1955 when he filled in for Reese at shortstop in July.  Fernandez was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and spent four of the next five seasons as the regular shortstop for the Phillies and then the Tigers.  Fernandez never hit enough to make up for his suspect defense and after batting .200 on the awful 1963 New York Mets team, he was traded to the White Sox and never made it back to the majors.

Jim Hickman, June 25

Gentlemen Jim Hickman was an original member of the 1962 Mets and enjoyed a solid 13-year career in the major leagues.  A popular clutch hitter, Hickman is best known for his only All-Star Game appearance, which came in the 1970 classic.  With the game tied at four and Pete Rose on second, Hickman lined a single to centerfield.  Rose famously came tearing home and barrelled over Ray Fossee in one of the signature plays of Rose’s career.  Hickman finished eighth in the National League MVP voting in 1970, ahead of Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell.

Turk Lown, July 8

Lown was a rubber-armed reliever during an era when the role was not entirely significant in the baseball landscape.  Lown pitched in the majors for 11 years and led the National League in games finished three times and saves once.  Lown’s only postseason appearance came in 1959 when he pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in the White Sox loss to the Dodgers.  Lown was also a military veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart.  He died at the age of 92 in July.

Doug Griffin, July 27

Griffin played second base for the Red Sox through the early part of the 1970’s after coming to the team in an unpopular trade that sent Tony Conigliaro to the Angels.  In a fateful coincidence, Griffin himself was a victim of a vicious beaning, similar to what had happened to Conigliaro.  Griffin was hit in the head by a Nolan Ryan fastball, rendering him unconscious.  Griffin assumed the second base position as a rookie and finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 1971.

Choo-Choo Coleman, August 15

The third member of the 1963 Mets to pass away in 2016, Coleman had a brief career with the team, but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the popular players in team history.  On original 1962 Met, Coleman’s only full season came the following year when he batted .178 over 106 games as the team’s main catcher.  Despite his short tenure, Coleman became somewhat of a folk legend in Mets culture as he retreated completely from the spotlight after leaving the majors in 1966.  Coleman did return to one celebration to the surprise and delight of many, when he attended the 50th anniversary of the original 1962 team.

Bryan Clutterbuck, August 23

The popular righty had his brief career with the Brewers cut short by an arm injury after spending nine seasons in the organization.  Clutterbuck made his debut in 1986 when he pitched in 20 games in relief before spending the next two seasons in the minors recovering from an arm injury.  He made it back to the Brewers in 1989 and began the season in the team’s starting rotation.  He gained his first career win in his second start, a complete game effort against the Twins.  Clutterbuck died in August after a four-month battle with colon cancer.

Juan Bell, August 24

The younger brother of Blue Jays legend George Bell, Juan was a promising shortstop who was the key component in a trade that sent Hall of Famer Eddie Murray from the Orioles to the Dodgers.  Bell batted just .172 though over 100 games in 1991 for the Orioles and was traded to the Phillies.  Bell ended up playing seven years in the majors for five teams, never realizing the potential many thought he flashed when he was signed as a 16-year-old.  Bell died from kidney disease in August at the age of 48.

Paul Dade, August 25

The 10th pick overall in the 1970 draft, Dade was a serviceable outfielder in the second half of the decade before his career came to an abrupt end in 1980.  Dade played five positions and batted .294 over 134 games in his first full season in the majors in 1977 for the Cleveland Indians.  He was traded for Mike Hargrove in the middle of the 1979 season and batted .276 over 76 games for the Padres.  After batting just .189 the next year, Dade played in Japan before retiring.

Jose Fernandez, September 25

One of the most shocking and tragic deaths in baseball history came in the late night hours of September 25.  Fans woke up to the news that Fernandez had died in a boating accident after the Marlins game and a night of drinking that night.  Fernandez was one of the game’s top young stars and a Cuban celebrity who transcended baseball for that culture.  The gregarious Fernandez only pitched two full seasons in the majors due to an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, and was an All-Star in both seasons.  The 2013 Rookie of the Year went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA as a 20-year-old in his first big league season and was just as dominant in his final season.  Fernandez finished his career with an incredible 29-2 record with a 1.49 ERA pitching at home.

Ralph Branca, November 23

The Brooklyn Dodgers legendary pitcher was known mostly for giving up “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Bobby Thomson in 1951, but also had many career highlights as one of the New York baseball stars of the city’s golden era of the sport.  Branca made his major league debut at the age of 18, retiring Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Joe Medwick in his first appearance.  As a 21-year-old, Branca went 21-12 and played a key role in helping the Dodgers reach Game 7 of the world series in 1947.  Branca came in and provided 2.1 innings of relief to pick up the win in a game that forced a Game 7.  Branca retired Joe Dimaggio with runners on first and third to keep the score at 5-4 before the Dodgers rallied in the top of the sixth.  Branca experienced arm trouble and never started more than 14 games in a season after the age of 25.  The three-time All-Star won 88 games in his career and became a widely visible and popular figure in the sport well into his 80’s.

John Barfield, December 24

Barfield had a short three-year career with the Texas Rangers from 1989-1991.  During the summer of 1991, Barfield spent time in a Rangers starting rotation that included Nolan Ryan and Kevin Brown.  Barfield was drafted in 1986 and made his Major League debut three years later when he pitched in both ends of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles.  After his Major League career ended in 1991, Barfield spent the next seven years pitching in the minors, with his final seasons coming in 1998 with the Newark Bears and and Atlantic City Surf in the Independent Atlantic League.  A popular high school legend in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Barfield was shot in an altercation in Pine Bluff on Christmas Eve.

Chris Cannizzaro, December 29

A member of the original 1962 and the first San Diego Padres All-Star, Cannizzaro enjoyed a 13-year career spent mostly as a backup catcher.  Cannizzarro came up with the Cardinals as a 20-year-old in 1960 and was drafted by the Mets in the expansion draft held between the Mets and Colt .45s in 1961.  Cannizzaro was the 13th player selected by the Mets, who then chose another catcher, Choo Choo Coleman, with their 14th pick.  Coleman died earlier this year as well.  Cannizzaro was traded by the Mets to the Braves after he hit .183 in 114 games in the 1965 season.  He spent the next two seasons in the minors before resurfacing with the Pirates in 1968.  Cannizzaro was traded to the Padres where he had his best success over a two-and-a-half year stretch.  He was named to the 1969 All-Star Game when he was batting .245 at the break.  Cannizzaro is the fourth member of the 1963 Mets to pass away in 2016, joining Coleman, Jim Hickman and Chico Fernandez.

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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.

  • Dan G

    Thanks for the remembrances.

  • Clay Marston


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