As 2020 comes to a close, it’s a good time to look back on some of those notables in the baseball world who left us in 2020. It’s been a particularly tough year, as more than 110 ex-MLB ballplayers passed away, as well as a number of managers, executives, Negro League ballplayers and All American Girls Baseball League players. What follows is not a complete list of every obituary I’ve written this year, but it does include the most memorable names, as well as some of the most memorable stories I found. If you’d like to get a complete list of every obituary written for this website, go to the RIP Baseball Archive page.
Note: As a one-man operation, I was not able to get an obituary written for every single person in the baseball world who died in 2020. I regret that, as I believe in the site’s motto that every ballplayer has a story that’s worth telling. So, I apologize for any oversights.
Hall of Famers
Baseball lost six members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020, the most in a single year in decades. It included one of the best second basemen in baseball history and two of the most dominant pitchers of the modern era, making it a particularly painful loss to the community. (Update: The recent passing of Phil Niekro brings the number to seven Hall of Famers who’ve died in 2020.)
Al Kaline (April 6)
Tom Seaver (August 31)
Lou Brock (September 6)
Bob Gibson (October 2)
Whitey Ford (October 8)
Joe Morgan (October 11)
Phil Niekro (December 26)
Honorable Mention: Dick Allen (December 7) — I firmly believe that Allen will get inducted into the Hall of Fame the next time he is eligible for the Veterans Committee. Unfortunately, it will be just a little too late for him to enjoy the honor, much like Ron Santo was in 2012.
Baseball’s other big Names — Some of the non-HOFers with significant baseball careers.
Don Larsen (January 1) — Even though his playing career was sometimes overshadowed by his off-field activities, Don Larsen has a piece of baseball history as the only man to throw a perfect game in postseason history.
Tony Fernandez (February 16) — In his 17-year career, Fernandez was named to six All-Star teams and was a rock-solid defensive and offensive threat for the Blue Jays. He died after a long struggle with kidney disease.
Johnny Antonelli (February 28) — Antonelli was a 6-time All-Star with the Giants in the 1950s and won 20 games twice.
Jim Wynn (March 26) — Nicknamed “The Toy Cannon” because of his short stature and immense power, Wynn was doomed to play most of his career in the Houston Astrodome, the place where home runs went to die. He still finished his career with 291 homers, but one can only imagine where he would have ended up if he had placed for a team with friendlier confines.
Ed Farmer (April 1) — Farmer had a very respectable 11-year career in the major leagues, mostly as a reliever. He made one All-Star team, too. It was his post-baseball career as a broadcaster with the White Sox that made him one of the most beloved baseball figures in Chicago.
Damaso Garcia (April 15) — As a second baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays, Garcia and Tony Fernandez made for a pretty impressive double-play combination. Garcia spent seven of his 11 seasons with the Blue Jays and made the All-Star team twice.
Claudell Washington (June 10) — Washington came up as a phenom with the Oakland A’s in 1974. He ended up with a very solid 17-season career with seven big-league teams and made the All-Star Team in each league — with the A’s in 1975 and the Atlanta Braves in 1984.
Jay Johnstone (September 26) — Johnstone had a well-deserved reputation as baseball’s clown prince and elite prankster. However, he was a pretty good outfielder and pinch-hitter as well, and his three books are all highly recommended. Johnstone died from COVID-19 complications while in a long-term care facility due to dementia.
Honorable Mention: Steve Dalkowski (April 19) — Though he never made the major leagues, Dalkowski was famous, or perhaps infamous, as one of the fastest pitchers the game has ever seen. His life story became the basis of “Nuke” LaLoosh of the movie Bull Durham. Unlike his movie counterpart, Dalkowski never was able to control his fastball, and his personal struggles in baseball and after left him in a long-term care facility. He was one of the game’s first COVID-related fatalities.
Baseball’s great stories — Some of the favorite baseball stories I wrote about.
Bobby Winkles (April 17) — Winkles was a pretty successful college coach before making the rare jump to the role of a major-league manager. He quit his last job, as the manager of the Oakland Athletics, on account of owner Charlie Finley. More specifically, he quit because he found himself taking orders from the future MC Hammer.
Bart Johnson (April 22) — Johnson pitched for the Chicago White Sox for eight seasons in the 1960s and ’70s. During that time, there were some career-threatening injuries, a miracle cure involving papaya juice, a couple of nasty fights with Sox management and a long job as a scout for the Sox and several other teams.
Dan Walters (April 23) — Dan Walters was a catcher for the San Diego Padres in 1992-93 and played in a total of 84 MLB games. He became a Member of the San Diego Police Department after leaving the game and was shot in the line of duty in a 2003 incident. He was paralyzed from the neck down and died from those injuries this April.
Eldred “Salty” Saltwell (May 3) — The legend surrounding the Cubs was that the ownership was so incompetent that it once made a peanut vendor the team’s general manager. That story is a gross oversimplification of what really happened, but Salty Saltwell’s career with the Chicago Cubs’ front office did include stints as a general manager and VP of park operations — which included vendor sales.
Larry Gowell (May 11) — He played in just two MLB games, but Gowell recorded the last hit ever by an American League pitcher before the designated hitter rule. Gowell’s religious beliefs may have had a role in his short baseball career, as he would not play on Fridays and Saturdays as a Seventh Day Adventist.
Biff Pocoroba (May 24) — Before injuries turned him into a backup catcher and pinch-hitter with a memorable name, Pocoroba made the All-Star team with the Atlanta Braves in 1978. After retiring from the game, he founded a very successful sausage company in the Atlanta area.
Eddie Kasko (June 24) — Kasko had a 10-year career in the majors and spent 4 years managing the Boston Red Sox. The thing about him that I came away with was that he was a genuinely nice person and good human being — maybe too good to make it as a manager, where sometimes you have to be the bad guy.
Tyson Brummett (July 3) — Brummett pitched in 1 game, for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012. After he quit the game, hit became an airplane pilot like his father and helped to deliver personal protective equipment to doctors and nurses in California battling the COVID-19 pandemic. He was killed in a plane crash in Utah at the age of 35.
Fred Wenz (October 6) — “Fireball” Fred Wenz owns what could be baseball’s most unbreakable record. In 1969, while pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Wenz gave up 7 earned runs in 11 innings — on 7 home runs. There was a 3-run homer where he was charged with one of the runs, and then six solo home runs. No other pitcher in the history of baseball has given up that many runs in a season where every single one came via the long ball.
Foster Castleman (November 9) — Castleman was a .200 hitter or so in the majors, but he had some pop in his bat before a pair of bad knees ended his career. He has one of the greatest and most memorable names in baseball history. Even when he was long out of baseball, sportswriters who wrote about the baseball cards of their youth would invariably bring up his name.
Phil Linz (December 9) — Phil Linz honked a couple of notes on a harmonica at the wrong place (in the back of the Yankees team bus) at the wrong time (after a 4-game sweep by the White Sox) and became a part of baseball legend. His life was much more than that, though. This Yankees utility infielder owned several successful businesses in New York City and once crashed (literally) in Julie Newmar’s apartment while the starlet was in Europe.