Players Who Died, died
The madcap poetic romp through Jim Carrol’s People who Died, died always struck me long before I knew anything about the Basketball Diaries. Jim wrote this iconic song in 1980, and Jim himself died in 2009 of a simple heart attack.
People live, people die, these are the baseball players who died in 2016, and here is a brief look at each of those who had either Dodger ties or impacted me as a baseball fan.
Chris Cannizzaro – Chris was a journeyman catcher who found his way to the Dodgers in 1972 near the near the end of his career. Chris had two moments of fame, he was the first San Diego Padre to be an All-Star and the first Padre to catch a pitch. The Dodgers had picked him up on waivers and he managed 233 PA, making him the de facto starting catcher in 1972. That position was a weak spot for the Dodgers as they had Chris, Duke Sims, and Dick Dietz at the end of his career. Steve Yeager was just starting his career but wouldn’t get enough at-bats to make an impact until 1974. In 1973 Chris only got a few at-bats as Joe Ferguson showed up to take most of the available at-bats. Cannizzaro was released after 1973.
Joe Garagiola – I never saw Joe play, but he was the first voice I heard broadcast baseball games. Long before Vin Scully came into my life it was Joe Garagiola who taught me about baseball on the Saturday Baseball Game of the Week. It was only later I learned of the bizarre connection between Joe and Yogi Berra. How two best friends growing up on the same block could both become World Series Champion catchers and Hall of Famers has always blown my mind. Besides his playing career, and broadcasting career, it was his hard work in his charity B.A.T that stuck in my mind. A little more research shows that Joe was also beloved by the Nuns with good reason.
Jim Hickman was one of those annoying Dodgers like Bob Bailey who passed through in the late 1960’s and did nothing while with the Dodgers but had success after they left the organization. Hickman was acquired in the 1966 Tommy Davis trade along with Ron Hunt. Hickman would have a dismal 1967 season for the Dodgers but it was not out of character. The 30 year-0ld outfielder basically did what he had always done. Nothing. The Dodgers traded him one season too soon when they showed him the door to the Cubs on April 23rd,1968. In 1969 at the age of 32, Hickman inexplicably figured things out. From 1962 – 1968 Jim Hickman garnered 2348 PA, hit 65 home runs, and had an OPS+ of just 94. From 1969 – 1972 he had 1871 PA, hit 89 home runs and had an OPS+ of 129. In 1970 Jim had an OPS+ of 155 while finishing 8th in the MPV voting. Ha, did a little more research and found out that Jim was only an Original 1962 Met but was the last Met from the original starting lineup.
- Jim Hickman took the field for the 1962 New York Mets on April 14, 1962, the first Met to ever wear uniform #9.
- Jim Hickman hit the first cycle in New York Mets history on August 7, 1963, only the second natural cycle in National League history.
- Jim Hickman hit the last home run ever in the Polo Grounds, a solo shot against Chris Short of the Philadelphia Phillies in a 5-1 Mets‘ loss played on September 18, 1963, the final game ever played at the Polo Grounds.
- Jim Hickman was the first New York Mets player walked and the first Mets player hit by a pitch in the newly opened Shea Stadium during their inaugural game on April 17, 1964.
- Jim Hickman was the first New York Mets player to hit three home runs in a game when Ray Sadecki served up three taters to Gentleman Jim on September 3, 1965.
Dick McAuliffe was part of the 1968 World Champion Tigers. That was the team I was rooting for in the World Series and I still know that starting lineup by heart. It wasn’t until years later while reading my first Bill James abstracts that I realized just how good a player Dick McAuliffe was. For that matter the whole 1968 Tiger team. From 1967 – 1969 Dick had three straight years of a 126 OPS+.
Milt Pappas will forever be linked to Frank Robinson but I always like his 1965 Oriole baseball Card.
Tony Phillips was the swiss army knife of major league baseball. He ended up with over 100 games at five different positions. His game was on base, and he did it well ending his career with a .374 OBP. 30 players since 1947 have had a career OBP > .370 with < 200 home runs while accumulating at least 5000 plate appearances. Tony is one of them.
Lance Rautzhan came up with Dodgers in 1977 and pitched for them in two World Series. I remember the name, and the success he had in 1978, but I don’t recall him doing anything memorable for me. He was gone by 1979.
Mike Strahler came up with the Dodgers in 1970 and pitched sporadically for them through 1972. He was part of the massive LAD/Angel trade of 1973 that sent Frank Robinson to the Angels, and Andy Messersmith to the Dodgers. Mike didn’t have much of a career for either the Dodgers or Angels.
Juan Bell never played for the Dodgers but he was a highly acclaimed prospect in the organization when he was traded on Dec 4th, 1988 for HOF Eddie Murray. Bell was only 20 when he was traded and appeared to have a bright future ahead of him but he never panned out for the Orioles. He passed away this year at the age of 48.