Monday, February 9, 2015

Baseball's Sad Passings: 2014-Present

Rocky Bridges
Died: Jan. 30, 2015
Bridges was a colorful character who became more widely known for his witticisms than his on-field accomplishments. An infielder, he played for seven teams between 1951 and 1961, spending his longest stretch with Cincinnati. He earned the first and only All-Star selection of his career while playing for the Senators in 1958. "I never got in the game, but I sat on the bench with  Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra," Bridges joked. "I gave 'em instruction in how to sit." After compiling a .247 average in eleven seasons, he coached for the Angels. He later served as a minor league manager for multiple franchises.

Ernie Banks
Died: Jan. 23, 2015
A Hall of Fame infielder and beloved ambassador for Chicago baseball, Banks was nicknamed "Mr. Cub." He was also known to many as "Mr. Sunshine" for his pleasing persona. In nineteen big league seasons, he hit more than 500 home runs--277 of them as a shortstop--the second highest total for any player at that position. Banks also spent plenty of time at first base. His career highlights included eleven All-Star selections, two MVP Awards and a Gold Glove. Banks got his start in the Negro Leagues and was the first black man to play for the Cubs. A statue of Banks was erected outside of Wrigley Field after his retirement. It was moved to a downtown location following his death so his legions of fans could pay their respects.

Alvin Dark
Died: Nov. 13, 2014
Captain of the New York Giants during the 1950s, Dark was named to three All-Star teams and played in three World Series. He captured Rookie of the year honors with the Braves in '48, hitting .322 with 39 doubles. His 41 doubles in 1951 were tops in the National League. In the '51/'54 World Series, Dark compiled a .404 batting average with 4 RBIs and 7 runs scored. After retiring as a player, he embarked on a successful managerial career, leading the Giants to a pennant in 1962. In 1974, he guided the Oakland A's to their third consecutive World Series title.

Tony Gwynn
Died: June 16, 2014
Gwynn spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Padres. In twenty seasons, he collected more than 3,100 hits and captured eight batting titles. During the strike-shortened '94 slate, he carried a .394 average into the second week of August. He was on a 9-for-18 tear when the season was preempted. Gwynn captured five Gold Gloves and was named to fifteen All-Star teams before he retired. He later became head coach at San Diego State. He also served as a TV analyst for ESPN. He was only fifty-four years old when he died of salivary gland cancer.

Don Zimmer
Died: June 4, 2014
Zimmer began his career as a power-hitting infielder in the minors. Two serious beanings stunted his development as a player. He had a few good seasons with the Dodgers and Cubs during the late-50s/ early '60s. He appeared in two World Series with the Dodgers. Zimmer is best remembered for his long career as a manager and coach. He spent significant periods of time at the helm of the Red Sox and Cubs. He served as interim manager of the Yankees in '99 while Joe Torre recuperated from surgery. Short and pudgy, Zimmer earned the endearing nickname of "Popeye." His baseball career spanned portions of fifty-seven seasons.

Ralph Kiner
Died: February 6, 2014
Kiner was the reigning NL home run king from 1946-1952. He drew a lot of walks, leading the league with a robust .452 on-base percentage in '51. The short left-center field porch at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (originally designed for Hank Greenberg) became known as "Kiner's Korner." In September of '47, Kiner set a major league record with 8 homers in four games. The previous month, he had launched 7 long balls in a four-game span. The Pirates were a non-contending club in those days and GM Branch Rickey eventually refused to meet Kiner's salary demands. The slugger finished his career with the Indians. After his retirement, Kiner was a long time broadcaster for the Mets. His postgame show was appropriately named "Kiner's Korner." He became renowned for his unintentionally funny comments. He once remarked that: "If Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."

Jim Fregosi
Died: Feb. 14, 2014
Originally signed by the Red Sox in 1960, Fregosi was left unprotected in the expansion draft. He was one of the Angels' most productive players until injuries began to take their toll in the 1970s. Between '62 and '70, Fregosi made six All-Star appearances as a shortstop. During his peak offensive season, he collected 60 extra-base hits and drove-in 82 runs. He led the league with 13 triples in '68. In December of '71, he was traded to the Mets in exchange for four players--one of whom was Nolan Ryan. Fregosi slowly faded from the majors as Ryan became a Hall of Famer. Following his retirement as a player, Fregosi began a fifteen-year managerial career with several teams. He led the Angels to a playoff berth in '79 and the Phillies to a pennant in '93. His last season as a skipper came in 2000.

Jerry Coleman
Died: Jan. 5, 2014
 Coleman was the Yankees' primary second baseman for several years during the dynasty of the late-'40s/ early-'50s. He spent nine years in the Bronx, appearing in six World Series and winning five rings. After retiring as a player, he served as the Yankees play-by-play announcer for several seasons. He managed the Padres in 1980 and worked as a San Diego broadcaster until the end of the 2013 campaign. In 2005, he received the prestigious Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Like Ralph Kiner, he was known for his malapropisms (nicknamed "Colemanisms"). During one memorable broadcast, he called a play as follows: "Winfield goes back to the wall. He hits his head on the wall and it rolls off. It's rolling all the way back to second base! This is a terrible thing for the Padres!"



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