Friday, December 30, 2016

MLB 2016: RIP…

By Jeff Kallman

Big Papi at least has the rest of his life to live at 40, and Vin Scully isn't likely to go into that good grey night anytime soon despite his retirement. But lives on earth, alas, finish in due course, even in and around baseball, even in 2016.

Few were as exemplary as Monte Irvin (96) — Negro Leagues star, should-have-been New York Giants fixture (an ankle injury and other ailments curtailed him after eight major league seasons), a Hall of Famer when all was said and done, and eventual commissioner's aide for what seemed a century. Luis Arroyo (88) was the bullpen stopper for the 1960 Yankees' pennant winner. Frank Sullivan (85) was a two-time all-star who led the American League in wins for the Red Sox in 1955, with 18. Red Moore (99) was part of the Million Dollar Infield — for the Newark Eagles in the Negro National League. (His fellow Million Dollars — Ray Dandridge and Willie Wells — are Hall of Famers.)

Kerry Dineen (63) was so short-lived a 1975 and 1976 Yankee you almost could have missed him, except for who ultimately claimed his uniform number (49) when he was sent down for keeps — Ron Guidry. Ron Stillwell (76) was an even shorter-lived Washington Senator — playing 14 games in 1961 and 1962, but siring eventual 1990s major league infielder Kurt Stillwell. Alex P. Hendry was an Onandaga (NY) Community College baseball player found dead in subzero temperatures two days after he was seen leaving a campus party. At 19. Bob Martyn (85), outfielder, was the first Linfield College (Oregon) alumnus to make the majors: he was a 1950s Yankee product swapped to the Kansas City Athletics (in the deal that made a Yankee out of relief star Ryne Duren), played parts of three seasons with the A's — and managed to graduate cum laude in math and sociology, earn a master's in education, make a long career at Tektronix (the electronics testing and measurement outfit), and found a human resources consultancy service.

Clyde Mashore (70) had a cup of coffee with the Reds, four seasons with the Montreal Expos, picked up his first major league hit, run, and run batted in in the same swing (swatting a home run off Ray Sadecki, then with the Mets, in the second inning of a 1970 game), and fathered two minor league hitting coaches. (One, Damon, led American League center fielders in assists in 1997.) Tony Phillips (56) was a shortstop gazelle and (with the Angels of the Disney-owned mid-1990s) an object lesson in how not to resolve a drug issue. Jim Davenport (82) was a diminutive but effective defensive shortstop and third baseman and a bona-fide original San Francisco Giant — his Show debut was 1958, the team's first season by the Bay, and he was the first San Francisco batter ... striking out against Don Drysdale — who became a Giant lifer as a coach, scout, ill-fated (for one season) manager, and minor league instructor.

Jim Hickman (79) was an Original Met, the first to hit a grand slam in a Met uniform, and an eventual Cub whose lone All-Star Game (1970) inadvertently provoked disaster — it was on his base hit up the middle that Pete Rose ran all the way home and blasted Ray Fosse at the plate like a runaway train. Choo Choo Coleman (78) was a fair catch, no-hit catcher for the Original Mets who became a legend when he disappeared entirely after leaving the game after 1966. (And, for his taciturn nature: asked on television once what his wife's name was, he replied, "Mrs. Coleman. And she likes me fine, bub.") Kevin Collins (69), infielder, debuted at 18 with the 1965 Mets, but while barely able to stay a major league level player he ultimately went to Montreal with future Expos mound fixture Steve Renko in the deal that made a 1969 Met out of eventual World Series MVP Donn Clendenon — on the same day Collins had the sad duty of burying his father. Brock Pemberton (62) would be a brief Met, a decade after Collins, remembered mostly for nearly tearing Cardinal pitcher Sonny Siebert's head off with a line single in 1974 — in the bottom of the 25th inning.

Dick McAuliffe was the Tigers' regular shortstop of the 1960s — except for moving to second base in 1967, which enabled the 1968 World Series champions to move outfielder Mickey Stanley to play shortstop and get an extra bat into the Series lineup. The same year, McAuliffe tied a Show record by never once hitting into a double play — and ended Tommy John's season in a brawl after John threw in too high and tight to him. Sammy Ellis (75) went from Cincinnati all-star starter (1965) to finished on the mound within a few years due to injury issues — but a respected pitching coach in the years to follow, who knew a top relief pitcher when he saw one in the embryonic stage: Dave Righetti. Jim Ray Hart (74) swung a big stick (third in home runs in the National League in 1964) and a weak glove for the 1960s Giants. Doug Griffin (69) was traded from the Angels to the Red Sox for Tony Conigliaro, trying to come back from a frightful beaning by Angel pitcher Jack Hamilton; Griffin, alas, would be beaned almost similarly by another Angel — Nolan Ryan. Mike Sandlock (100) was a 1940s Boston Brave; his death leaves Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr (already the oldest living Hall of Famer) as baseball's oldest living former player.

Spec Richardson (93) once ran the Houston Astros' front office. (Bo Belinsky's then-wife, former Playmate of the Year Jo Collins, seduced Richardson into sending her husband to Hawaii when the Astros decided he wasn't going to last out of their bullpen.) Milt Pappas (76) was a Baby Bird pitching phenom for the early 1960s Orioles, the man traded infamously for Frank Robinson (after the Orioles promised him he wouldn't be traded at all), a near-perfect game pitcher for the Cubs (when he wasn't butting heads with manager Leo Durocher), and bore the grief of his first wife's disappearance and death in a drowning accident. Joe Garagiola (90) grew up as Yogi Berra's BFF and inadvertently helped push Yogi into the Yankees' and not the Cardinals' arms, while Pal Joe played for the Cardinals and a few other clubs, before becoming a kind of erudite Everyman, flaws and all, as a broadcaster, and the father of a baseball executive. Phil Gagliano (74) — whose collision at second base took Mets infielder Ron Hunt out for three months with a shoulder fracture — was a useful six-position utility player for the 1960s Cardinals and three other clubs. Putsy Caballero (89) was a utility infielder and pinch-running specialist for the 1950 Phillies' Whiz Kids pennant winner and, sadly, eventually lost his home and baseball memorabilia to Hurricane Katrina.

Boo Ferris (94) made one all-star team and won a World Series game (1946) for the Red Sox before his career was shortened by injuries and asthma; he later became a successful NCAA Division II baseball coach. Russ Nixon (81) was a utility catcher traded twice to the Red Sox in 1960 — because, in the first deal, Sammy White elected to retire instead of report to the Indians — and still holds the record for the most games played without stealing a base. Vern Handrahan (79), one of only three major leaguers yielded up from Prince Edward Island, and the only one in the 20th Century, had two cups of coffee with the mid-1960s Kansas City Athletics. Dick Adams (96) had a shorter cup with the 1947 A's, though a memorable enough one — his first major league hit was a home run. He was also a professional musician. Phil Hennigan (70) saved fourteen with the 1971 Cleveland Indians and later made a life as a public servant and peace officer in his native Shelby County, Texas. Baseball and even non-baseball mourned the shocking death of effervescent and deadly effective Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez (24) — learning in due course that he and his party were drunk at minimum and high on cocaine at maximum, but mourning the loss just as profoundly.

"I lost a ballgame, but gained a friend." So said Ralph Branca (90) about Bobby Thomson, the man who hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World on Branca's dime in the 1951 National League pennant playoff. Branca was less than thrilled to discover the Giants used an elaborate sign-stealing scheme to mount their staggering comeback to force that playoff, but rarely let it soil his golden years. He handled surrendering baseball's most famous pennant-losing home run with dignity, good humour, and amiability. Those protesting the most infamous presidential election in American history could have learned a few things from him.

Quick — name the only law student in history to flunk his tryout for his university's varsity baseball team and go on to break his country beginning over a decade later. Answer: Fidel Castro (90), who never pitched to Don Hoax (er, Hoak), also broke and buried Cuban professional baseball, died on the threshold of American court trials concerning agents smuggling Cuban baseball players to the U.S. at prices that would make what's left of the Mafia envious, and left his country a place millions who didn't play baseball couldn't wait to leave. The aforesaid U.S. presidential election protesters, if they'd been Cubans protesting his Communist nightmare, would have learned something from Castro, too. Lessons they'd have had to deliver from Cuban prisons — assuming they'd been allowed to live to teach them.

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