To date, the baseball world has bid farewell to about 100 former ballplayers and managers. Some of them were Hall of Famers, and others played in just a game or two. But every one of them played a part in the history of baseball, so it’s time to take a look back at their stories. I tried my best but wasn’t able to write an obituary for everyone. This is Part 1 of a look back at the baseball notables we lost in 2021.
Henry Aaron, 86 (d. Jan. 22): It’s impossible to write a one-sentence description of Hank Aaron. Baseball’s former home run king? Sure, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his talent, to say nothing of his legacy in baseball. I think it’s fair to say that Aaron was one of the most important people in baseball history, and his loss is immeasurable.
Tom Acker, 90 (d. Jan. 4): Tom Acker pitched for the Reds from 1956 until 1959 and won 19 games — 10 of which came in 1957. He was active in the local baseball scene in his native New Jersey after his retirement.
Joe Altobelli, 88 (d. March 3): Joe Altolbelli is probably best remembered as the manager of the Giants, Orioles and (for one game) Cubs. He led Baltimore to a 1983 World Series win over Philadelphia. He also played as a first baseman/outfielder for Cleveland and Minnesota between 1955 and 1961. During his career, he became so connected with the Rochester Red Wings that he is their “Mr. Baseball.”
Fred Andrews, 69 (d. Dec. 20): Fred Andrews was a second baseman who played in 16 games for the Philadelphia Phillies between 1976 and 1977. After overcoming a childhood on the South Side of Chicago where his refusel to join a gang nearly got him killed, Andrews forged a fine 10-year career in professional baseball, including stops in Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
Ed Armbrister, 72 (d. March 17): Ed Armbrister participated in one of the most infamous plays in World Series history. He dropped down a bunt in the 1975 World Series between Cincinnati and Boston. When he hesitated to get out of the box immediately, Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk ran into him and made a wild throw to second base. Despite the Red Sox objections, the play was not ruled runners’ interference. The Reds scored the winning run and won the Series. Armbrister spent five years with the Reds from 1973 until 1977, mostly as a pinch-hitter.
Rich Barry, 81 (d. Oct. 9): In the minor leagues, Rich Barry hit 280 home runs. His major-league career was limited to 20 games as a pinch-hitter and outfielder for the 1969 Phillies.
Kimera Bartee, 49 (d. Dec. 20): Kimera Bartee was a Rule V draft pick who played in 110 games for Detroit in 1996, batting .253 with 20 stolen bases. He also spent time with the Reds and Rockies in a major-league career that ended in 2001. He became a coach and served as the Tigers’ first base coach in 2021. He died unexpectedly of a brain tumor while visiting family for the holidays.
Joe Beckwith, 66 (d. May 22): Joe Beckwith pitched for the Dodgers and Royals in a 7-year career that started in 1979 and ended in 1986. He was part of the bullpen for the 1985 World Champion Kansas City Royals.
Mike Bell, 46 (March 21): Part of the three-generation Bell family of ballplayers, Mike Bell played in 13 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 2000. After he retired as a player, he spent 13 years in the Diamondbacks franchise as a minor-league manager and vice president of player development. He most recently served as bench coach for the Minnesota Twins under manager Rocco Baldelli before he died of kidney cancer.
Ron Blazier, 50 (d. Dec. 4): Ron Blazier was a reliever for the Phillies in 1996 and 1997. Arm injuries ended his career in 1999 after trying to rehab in the minors. He was inducted into the Blair County (Penn.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Cloyd Boyer, 95 (d. Sept. 20): One of three brothers who reached the major leagues, Cloyd Boyer pitched for the Cardinals and Kansas City Athletics between 1949 and 1955. He had a career 20-23 record in a career that was marked by arm injuries. He worked as a major-league pitching coach or minor-league manager for the next three decades before retiring.
Hal Breeden, 76 (May 3): Hal Breeden was a first baseman for the Cubs and Expos from 1971-75. He was a career .243 hitter with 21 homers and hit pinch-hit home runs in both games of a doubleheader on July 13, 1973. He also played in Japan and hit 79 home runs in 3 seasons before a knee injury ended his career. Breeden later became the sheriff of Lee County, Ga.
Bobby Brown, 96 (d. March 25): When he became president of the American League in 1984, he was known as Dr. Bobby Brown, because he was a practicing cardiologist. Prior to that, he was just Bobby Brown, a third baseman/medical student and member of four World Series-winning Yankees teams in a career that lasted from 1946 to 1954. He was also a decorated war veteran, a wartime field surgeon, an executive with the Texas Rangers and a familiar face at Yankees Old Timers Days up to 2019.
Duke Carmel, 84 (d. August 3): Duke Carmel played for the Cardinals (1959-60, 1963), Mets (1963) and Yankees (1065), logging a .211/.294/.322 slash line as an outfielder and first baseman over 124 games. He also smacked 167 home runs over 12 seasons in the minor leagues. He died in New Orleans in August.
Rafael Carmona, 49 (d. Aug. 2): Rafael Carmona was a relief pitcher for the Mariners from 1995-97 and 1998. His best season came in 1996, when he picked up 8 wins and had a 4.28 ERA in 53 games. His right arm was badly injured in a car accident in Puerto Rico in 1997, and his career never recovered. He worked as a coach for Puerto Rican teams in his retirement.
Tom Carroll, 85 (d. Sept. 22): Tom Carroll was a lifetime .300 hitter in the major leagues, getting 9 hits in 30 at-bats for the Yankees and K.C. A’s between 1955-57. He set a Yankees record as the youngest player to ever appear in a World Series — he was 19 during the 1955 Series. He later worked for the CIA for nearly 30 years.
Hy Cohen, 90 (d. Feb. 4): Hy Cohen pitched in 7 games for the 1955 Cubs, with no record and a 7.94 ERA in 17 innings. He also was a champion high school baseball coach in Los Angeles into the 1980s.
Dick Colpaert, 77 (d. April 6): Dick Colpeart pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970, earning a 1-0 record in 8 games. His playing career ended in 1974, and he went to work as a scout off and on through 2020. He was married to his wife, Christine, for 57 years, and they had three children.
Billy Conigliaro, 73 (d. Feb. 10): Billy Conigliaro joined the Red Sox in 1969 as the little brother of slugger Tony Conigliaro — he also was the team’s first-ever draft pick in 1965. He also played for the Brewers and A’s until 1973. In his best season, he hit .271 with 18 home runs and 58 RBIs for Boston in 1970. When Tony Conigliaro suffered a debilitating stroke in 1982, Billy became his chief caretaker and helped keep his legacy alive in Boston.
Rheal Cormier, 53 (d. March 8): Over a 16-year career, Rheal Cormier was a workhorse pitcher for the Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox, Reds and Expos. He started off as a starting pitcher, winning 10 games for St. Louis in 1992. After major elbow surgery, he transitioned into a reliever and appeared in 50+ games each season between 1999 and 2006. Cormier appeared in a total of 683 games in the majors, which is second for most games pitched by a Canadian in the big leagues. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012
Del Crandall, 91 (d. May 5): Del Crandall was the last surviving member of the Boston Braves, having started his career with them in 1949. He was an 8-time All-Star catcher for the Milwaukee Braves and also spent a season each with the Giants, Pirates and Cleveland before his career ended in 1966. He was a lifetime .254 hitter with 179 home runs, and he led the NL in fielding percentage for a catcher 4 times. He later became a manager for the Brewers and Mariners. He also served as a scout, minor-league manager and color commentator. He was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame in 2003.
Joe Cunningham, 89 (d. March 25): Joe Cunningham was an All-Star first baseman for the Cardinals and also played with the White Sox and Senators from 1954-66. In his All-Star season of 1959, he hit .345 with 7 home runs and 60 RBIs and led all major-leaguers with a .453 on-base percentage. He rejoined the Cardinals organization after his playing career ended, first as a minor-league manager and then as the Director of Public Affairs. He technically retired from the front office in 1993 but continued his work in St. Louis into the 2010s.
Jerry Davie, 88 (d. April 7): Jerry Davie was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1959, appearing in 11 games with 5 starts. He had a 2-2 record and a 4.17 ERA, with 20 strikeouts in 36-2/3 innings. He won 17 games twice in 7 minor-league seasons, too. He died on April 7 in Haines City, Fla.
Jacke Davis, 85 (d. May 30): Jacke Davis spent 7 years in professional baseball, including 46 games with the Phillies in 1962. He batted .213 with 1 home run as an outfielder. That homer was a pinch-hit 3-run shot off Sandy Koufax. The native Texan became a successful high school and college baseball coach and won 501 games at Panola College.
Frankie De la Cruz, 37 (d. March 14): Frankie De la Cruz pitched for Detroit, Florida, San Diego and Milwaukee between 2007 and 2011. His best season was with the Brewers in 2011, when he had a 2.77 ERA in 11 appearances. He pitched all over the world, including Japan, China, Italy, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. He was pitching for Los Toros del Este in the Dominican winter league when he died of a heart attack on March 14, two days after his 37th birthday.
Don Demeter, 86 (d. Nov. 29): Don Demeter started his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. He returned to the majors in ’58 and played for the (now Los Angeles) Dodgers, Phillies, Tigers, Red Sox and Cleveland until 1967. He hit 20+ home runs each year between 1961 and 1964. His Christian faith saved him from a rough childhood, and when he retired, he ran a pool construction company in Oklahoma City before devoting his life to the ministry. He was pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church.
Art Ditmar, 92 (d. June 11): Art Ditmar pitched for the Athletics in both Philadelphia and Kansas City. He also played for the Yankees in his 9-year career from 1954 to 1962. He was the best pitcher on some bad Kansas City A’s teams before moving onto the Yankees. He won 15 games for them in 1960 and was part of three pennant-winning teams, including the World Champ Yankees of 1958. He want on to become a basketball and baseball coach in Massachusetts and the Director of Recreation for Brook Park, Ohio.
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