RIP to Kimera Bartee, a former outfielder who spent the 2021 season as the first base coach of the Detroit Tigers. He died December 20 in his home town of Omaha. According to reports, the 49-year-old collapsed while visiting family for the holidays. His father, Jerry Bartee, told the Omaha World-Herald that his son died from a brain tumor. Bartee played for the Detroit Tigers (1996-99), Cincinnati Reds (2000) and Colorado Rockies (2001).
“Throughout his time in our organization as both a player and coach, Kimera was known as a kind soul but an intense competitor who did his best every day to elevate those around him to do great things,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila.
Kimera Anotchi Bartee was born in Omaha on July 21, 1972. “Kimera,” reported the Democrat and Chronicle of Richester, N.Y., was the name of an African king. Bartee’s younger brother Khareth was named after an African prince. Jerry Bartee was an outfielder in the Cardinals organization in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He was later the baseball coach at Creighton University before becoming assistant principal and athletic director of Omaha South High School. Kimera went to Omaha Central High and starred on the baseball team as a center fielder/second baseman. In his senior season in 1990, he signed a letter of intent to play for Creighton, and the news reported that he was hitting .455 at the time with 24 stolen bases for Central.
The Creighton Bluejays, with Bartee, reached the College World Series in 1991. He was selected to the All-Valley second team in 1992, as a utility player. He batted .271 with a home run and 21 RBIs as a sophomore. As a junior in 1993, he stole 27 bases, which remains in the Top 10 for all-time best season totals. Bartee was drafted in the 14th Round of the 1993 Amateur Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. He signed and began his pro career with Bluefield of the Rookie-Level Appalachian League. In 66 games, Bartee batted .246 and stole 27 bases, leading the Appy League in that category.
Bartee’s eye-popping speed was what got him noticed initially. He was considered one of the fastest, if not the fastest, players in the Orioles’ minor-league system. As a switch hitter in training, he could reach first base while batting right-handed in under 4 seconds. The team felt he needed work on making better contact and getting better jumps from first base. Bartee began to do just that in 1994, when he hit .292 with 10 home runs and 44 steals at the high-A Frederick Keys. He also could flash the leather, such as on May 15 when he made a leaping grab against the fence to rob Wonderful Terrific Monds of at least a game-tying double, or maybe a game-winning home run. Bartee cut his arm and injured his ankle on the play, but he saved the Keys from a heartbreaking loss.
“”I said, ‘Don’t tell me about the wall, I’m going to catch this one.’ It was a do or die play,” Bartee said later.
The player’s strike of 1994-95 kept many of Baltimore’s top young outfielders like Curtis Goodwin and Damon Buford from playing, but Bartee was able to keep improving his game. A broken hand limited him to a total of 73 games in 1995, played across three different levels in the Orioles organization. He made enough of an impression, though, that when the season was over, the Twins asked for him to be the player to be named later in a prior trade that had sent pitcher Scott Erickson from Minnesota to Baltimore. Once the Twins got him, they took a chance and kept Bartee off the 40-man roster, which left him exposed in the Rule V draft. The Orioles snapped him back for $50,000 and planned to bring him to the major leagues in 1996.
Midway through the ’96 training camp, though, the Orioles decided that Bartee wasn’t ready for the majors, and as a Rule V pick, they had to put the speedy outfielder on waivers. He was claimed by the Detroit TIgers. The move left Detroit in the same position as Baltimore, once the season started: Keep Bartee on the roster or offer him back to the Twins. Bartee played a little here and there over the first month of the season. He was a pinch-runner or a defensive replacement in left or center field. He started a couple games against the Angels in late April and got his first major-league hit on the 20th off Jason Grimsley. Even after a few hits and a few stolen bases, Detroit kept offering Bartee back to Minnesota. Twins general manager Terry Ryan refused to meet the Tigers’ offer of a low-level minor-leaguer.
Detroit was on the way to lose 109 games in 1996. Manager Buddy Bell decided to start Bartee in center field against left-handers, and the rookie gradually began to produce. After a slow start, a 3-for-4 game against the Yankees on June 8 put his batting average over .200. Another 3-hit game against Minnesota on June 22 put him over .300. He stole 2 bases in that game to show the Twins what they could have had. Bartee also misjudged a couple of fly balls in center field in that game, but he had the speed to overcome those mistakes and make the play anyway.
Bartee credited hitting coach Larry Herndon for his improved offense, but Herndon put the credit back on Bartee. “He works hard. Everything he’s doing he already knew how to do. He’s just applying that knowledge,” Herndon said. Manager Buddy Bell credited Bartee with giving the team a lift with his play.
By the end of the season, Bartee had demonstrated some real major-league potential that just needed more polishing. The 23-year-old slashed .253/.308/.304 in 110 games and 217 at-bats. As a natural right-handed hitter, he batted .378 against lefty pitchers. He stole 20 bases, scored 32 runs and hit his first major-league home run on August 24 against Kansas City’s Jose Rosado. On the down side, he was thrown out trying to steal 10 times, took just 17 walks against 77 strikeouts and struggled to hit against right-handers, batting from the left or right side of the plate. But thanks to the way that Bell carefully used him, he had a successful rookie campaign.
The Tigers sent Bartee to Triple-A Toledo for much of 1997 to get more experience and continue working on his switch-hitting. He batted just .218 but stole 30 bases in 41 attempts. He was promoted to the majors in September and was 1-for-5 in 12 games with 4 runs scored and 3 stolen bases. In 1998 and ’99, he spent about half the time with Detroit and half with Toledo. He batted .194 and .195 with Detroit, respectively, but he had some good moments. He drove in a career-high 4 RBIs on June 16 against Minnesota, including a 2-run home run.
Bartee abandoned the switch-hitting experiment in the spring of 1999. “I watched Tony Clark and Bip Roberts switch-hit, and I went all the way for it,” Bartee said. “But a couple weeks into the offseason, I started to evaluate the season and think about it. It made better sense to just hit from one side. I’m 26, and I’m at a point in my career where I have to make something happen. Hitting righthanded is the best way to do that.”
In December of 1999, the Reds acquired Bartee in a waiver deal. He hit .298 for Triple-A Louisville in 2000 and homered 8 times. He was hitless in 4 at-bats for the Reds after a September call-up, with a stolen base and two runs scored. Let go as a free agent after the season, he signed with the California Angels. He spent the first part of the 2001 season in their minor leagues, though a bulging disc in his back kept him on the 60-day disabled list much of the time. When he had recovered enough to play, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies on July 14 in exchange for Chone Figgins. Bartee joined the Rockies immediately and remained with the team for about the next three weeks. In 12 games, he was hitless in 19 at-bats and was designated for assignment in early August. He finished the season with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs.
Bartee never reached the majors again. He spent a season with the Iowa Cubs and played for the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League in 2003 and 2004. He hit .319 for the Ducks in 2004 with a franchise record 27 home runs and 30 stolen bases, along with drawing a career-high 70 walks. The Ducks reached the playoffs, giving Bartee his first chance to play in postseason baseball since he was back in Creighton. “I’m a duck out of water, so to speak,” he joked. He helped get the Ducks into the playoffs with a clutch home run, and he helped lead the team to their first ever league championship. Bartee went out on a high note, retiring after the season. The Ducks and their fans never forgot about him either, naming him to the franchise’s all-time teams during their 10th Anniversary and 20th Anniversary seasons in 2009 and 2019, respectively.
In 6 seasons in the major leagues, Bartee played in 243 games and had a .216/.282/.312 slash line. He had 90 hits that included 12 doubles, 5 triples and 4 home runs. He stole 36 bases and scored 69 runs.
Bartee got into coaching immediately after concluding his playing career. He started with the Baltimore Orioles and their Delmarva team in A-Ball before the Pittsburth Pirates named him their minor-league outfield and baserunning coordinator for the 2008 season. He remained with the Pirates organization until 2019, spending his last three years there with the big-league team as a first base coach. After working with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2020, he was added to Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch’s staff as the first base coach in 2021. He was expected to continue the role in 2022.
“Like many across baseball, I was devastated by the news of Kimera’s passing. From the start of spring training last year, it was clear that “KB” was the epitome of a player’s coach, having an uncanny ability to build deep connections with anyone from a rookie to a 10-year veteran. I was proud of his selflessness and adaptability when he quickly shifted to the Major League staff last season, and how excited he was about the bright future he had in both baseball and life. The sport has lost an amazing man, but more importantly his family has lost a loving fiancé, father, and son,” said Hinch in a statement.
Bartee is survived by his parents, Jerry and Ramona, his fiancé Terri, and his sons Andrew, Amari and Taeja.