December 21, 2011
From aging Hall of Famers to a pair of troubled ex-pitchers to a young man murdered just as he was approaching his prime, we lost a lot of good baseball men in 2011.
And though writing obituaries is never a fun or happy task, we at Big League Stew tried our best to place the achievements of the departed in an appropriate and final place. We've listed excerpts from a few of our memorials below, while Baseball Almanac has the whole list of baseball-related deaths from the year past.
May they rest in peace.
Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer (May 17): "The greatest thing about Hammerin' Harmon, though, is that you don't have to recite a litany of statistics to make people fully appreciate his greatness. Indeed, a simple obituary could have been written just by displaying the photo at the top of this post — those forearms, that swing, that power — and allowing it to say everything for which we struggled to find the right words." —'Duk
Duke Snider, Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer (Feb. 27): "In Snider's time, a debate raged in New York City: Who was the best center fielder in the majors? Snider, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle? Terry Cashman's 1981 baseball ballad "(Talkin' Baseball) Willie, Mickey & 'The Duke'" immortalized the trio in song: "If Cooperstown is calling, it's no fluke. They'll be with Willie, Mickey, and the Duke." — David Brown
Chuck Tanner, manager (Feb. 11): "For the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have finished with a losing mark in a record 18 straight seasons, the possibility of being World Series champions probably seems like an unreachable goal these days. Not that anyone would ever catch Chuck Tanner saying something like that. He might have been the most optimistic man in baseball history." — DB
Dick Williams, Hall of Fame manager (July 7): "Location and situation never mattered much to Dick Williams. If Tony Stewart is the driver you want no matter what the ride, then Williams may have been the manager you wanted no matter what the team ... He managed six teams over 21 seasons, compiling a 1,571-1,451 career record and leading enough champagne celebrations to drown an entire resume. He won four pennants with three different teams and was the first to win more than 90 games in a season with four. That pretty much ensures his obituary will be written in a number of different ways across the continent." — 'Duk
Mike Flanagan, Baltimore Orioles pitcher (Aug 24): "As a pitcher, Flanagan might have personified the term "crafty left-hander." His style was Jamie Moyer-esque. He changed speeds. Changed locations. Changed swing planes. Probably as frustrating as heck to bat against. He struck out 4.8 batters per nine innings — an amazingly low rate for someone who made 404 career starts. But he managed to miss enough bats. How the O's thrived with Flanagan and Scott McGregor at the same time — now there's a guy who never struck anyone out — I'll never know." — DB
Hideki Irabu, New York Yankees pitcher (July 27): "The initial anticipation for Irabu's arrival is almost impossible to overstate: He was the first Japanese player on the Yankees, he was supposed to be the next Nolan Ryan, and at the time, Tom Verducci wrote that his first start 'may have been the most anticipated debut by a Yankees rookie since Mickey Mantle.' But the disappointment set in almost immediately." — Alex Remington
Charlie Lea, Montreal Expos pitcher (Nov. 11): "Lea pitched for some of the very good Expos teams that were stacked on offense with names like Dawson, Carter, Tim Raines, Al Oliver and Tim Wallach. The pitching was good too, with names such as Lea, Bill Rogers, Scott Sanderson and Bill Gullickson. In Lea's first couple of seasons, they also had Bill Lee at the end of his career. Lea and Lee on the same staff, which was funny." — DB
Paul Splittorff, Kansas City Royals pitcher (May 25): "Splittorff may not have had the highest Q rating when it came to a national profile. In the households of Kansas City, though, Splittorff's name was synonymous with baseball. A tall and lanky lefty who sported both trademark glasses and a giant leg kick, "Splitt" was one of the franchise's first draft picks, its first 20-game winner and the first Royals pitcher to record a playoff victory." — 'Duk
Matty Alou, outfielder and Dominican pioneer (Nov. 3): "Even if Matty were an only child, he still would have made his mark on baseball. A lifetime .307 hitter who collected 1,777 hits over 15 seasons, he won the 1966 National League batting title with a .342 mark as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates ... He was a member of the Dominican baseball royalty, having been among the first wave of big-league players from the country after Ozzie Virgil and Felipe Alou opened the door in the late 1950s." — 'Duk
Bob Forsch, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher (Nov. 3): "A tall right-hander, Forsch pitched in St. Louis for all but one of his 16 seasons. He was a member of the 1982 World Series title team and made two other trips with the 1985 and 1987 squads. He won 20 games in 1977, threw two no-hitters — one in 1978 and one in 1983 — and finished with 168 wins and a 3.76 career ERA. He's the only Cardinals pitcher who threw multiple no-hitters with the team and ranks third on the franchise's all-time wins list behind Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines. Not bad for someone who didn't rack up many strikeouts (1,133 Ks in 2,794 innings)." — 'Duk
Greg Halman, Seattle Mariners outfielder (Nov. 21): "Halman was far from a household name here in the United States, but he had as interesting a career path as anyone. Signed by the Mariners in 2004 when he was just 17, Halman spent several years in the team's minor-league organization before finally getting his chance. He was called up in September 2010, playing in nine games near the end of the season. He also played in 35 games for the M's in 2011, hitting .230/.256/.345 with two homers and six RBIs after being called up in early June." — 'Duk
Other notable deaths: Ryne Duren, Gino Cimoli, Marty Marion, Bob Rush, Eddie Joost, Jim Northrup, Wes Covington, Ernie Johnson, Roy Smalley.