Recent baseball passings

I apologize for not writing entries on baseball player passings lately. In these past few weeks, there have been quite a few reported—so, I’ll detail them all here.

Valmy Thomas – Died October 16, age 81

Catcher Valmy Thomas played in five different cities in his five-year major league career, which spanned from 1957 to 1961. Over the course of his career, he played for the New York Giants, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians, hitting .230 with 12 home runs and 60 RBI in 252 games. Though he hit 10 points higher the following year, Thomas’ best season was perhaps his first—in 1957, he hit .249 with six home runs and 31 RBI.  While his career was short, he was involved in one notable transaction. On December 3, 1958, he was traded to the Phillies with Ruben Gomez for pitcher Jack Sanford, who was an All-Star in 1957 and a 15-game winner four times. Thomas did not play long on the minors—only 441 games over five seasons, however he performed well at that level. In 1956, for example, he hit .348 with at least 11 home runs.

Joe Lis – Died October 17, age 64

First baseman/outfielder Joe Lis played in the big leagues from 1970 to 1977 for the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, hitting .233 with 32 home runs and 92 RBI. Perhaps his best season was 1973 with the Twins, when he hit nine home runs with 25 RBI. Between 1975 and 1976, Lis hit a combined .313 with four home runs, 15 RBI and an OPS+ of 180 for the Indians, however in that span he played only 29 games. He also spent 12 seasons in the minor leagues, where he fared much better—at that level, he hit .277 with 236 home runs. He broke the 30-home run mark four times and the 100-RBI mark twice.  Despite playing so long in the major and minor leagues, he was involved in only one trade—on November 30, 1972, he was traded with Ken Reynolds and Ken Sanders to the Twins for the speedy Cesar Tovar, who stole over 20 bases five times in his career.

Otey Clark – Died October 20, age 95

At the time of his passing, starting pitcher Otey Clark was the oldest living former Boston Red Sox player. He pitched for the team in 1945 as a 30-year-old rookie, going 4-4 with a solid 3.07 ERA in 12 games, nine of which were starts. He had four complete games and a shutout, which came against the Philadelphia Athletics on September 19. Facing players like future Hall of Famer George Kell and All-Star Dick Siebert, Clark held the Athletics to only seven hits that day. He also showed some acumen with the bat in 1945, hitting .208 (a respectable number for a pitcher) in 24 at-bats. Though his major league career was short, his minor league career was considerably longer—he played 11 seasons, going 112-104 and winning 19 games in 1947. With his passing, Eddie Joost becomes the oldest former Boston Red Sox.

Bill Jennings – Died October 20, age 85

Shortstop Bill Jennings spent only one season in the big leagues, though it was far from a cup of coffee. In 1951 with the St. Louis Browns, Jennings played in 64 games and hit .179 with 20 runs scored and 13 RBI. He was the team’s primary shortstop that season, though he shared the reigns with fellow light-hitters Johnny Bero (.213 average that year) and Tom Upton (.198 average). He spent eight seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .255 with 68 home runs in 897 games. In 1950 with the Minneapolis Millers, Jennings hit 23 home runs with 85 RBI.

Tony Roig – Died October 20, age 82

Infielder Tony Roig spent three seasons in the big leagues, all with the Washington Senators—1953, 1955 and 1956. As a backup for Jose Valdivielso, he did not play much, though he managed to hit .220 with 39 hits and 11 RBI in 76 games. Not a great hitter, his best year was probably his last, when he hit .210 with seven of his 11 career RBI. He also spent 13 seasons in the minor leagues, where he saw greater success. He hit .278 with 91 home runs at that level, with bests of .326 and 19, respectively.  Following his professional career, he managed in the minor leagues for a couple seasons.

Rudy Rufer –Died October 25, age 83

Shortstop Rudy Rufer, who played for the New York Giants in 1949 and 1950, passed away just a few days before his 84th birthday. In his short big league career, he hit .077 in 22 games scoring two runs and drive two runs in. Despite having a career that was only a couple cups of coffee long, Rufer is still notable as he played for the New York Giants—of which alumni are dwindling quickly. He spent nearly a decade in the minor leagues, where he hit .258 with 15 home runs in nine seasons. Though his career was not long, he was involved in one trade. On June 9, 1952, he was traded by the Cincinnati Reds (who had purchased him from the Giants earlier in his career) with cash to the Brooklyn Dodgers for outfielder Cal Abrams. He served as a player-manager in the Dodgers farm system.

Gene Fodge – Died October 27, age 79

Pitcher Gene Fodge spent only one season in the major leagues, playing for the Chicago Cubs in 1958. In 16 games (four starts) with them, he went 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA and one complete game, which came in his first career start, on April 24 of that year. Facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, Fodge went the distance, allowing 10 hits and two earned runs in a 15-2 beating by the Cubs. He also spent six seasons in the minor leagues, going 68-51 with a 3.47 ERA in 190 games. In 1955, he went 16-10 with a 2.28 ERA, following that up with a 19-7 record the next year.

Artie Wilson – Died October 31, age 90

Infielder Artie Wilson is not notable just for his short big league career, which lasted only one season. He is notable also because he performed very well in the Negro Leagues, spending five years, from 1944 to 1948, with the Birmingham Black Barons and being named an All-Star four times. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in early 1949, however that contract was voided. He was then signed by the New York Yankees, though he was quickly purchased by the minor league Oakland Oaks. On October 11, 1950, the Oaks traded him to the New York Giants with pitcher Al Gettel and catcher Ray Noble for All-Star infielder Bert Haas, first baseman Joe Lafata, pitcher Bill Ayers, minor league pitcher Wes Bailey and cash. In 1951, he made his major league debut with the Giants, with whom he played 19 games and hit .182. As a minor league player, Wilson hit .312 with 1,609 hits in 10 seasons. He surpassed the 200-hit mark five times, including a season (1950) in which he had a whopping 264 hits and 168 runs scored in 848 at-bats.

Clyde King – Died November 2, age 86

Clyde King both pitched and managed in the major leagues, performing both duties with varying degrees of success. A relief pitcher, He played from 1944 to 1945, 1947 to 1948 and 1951 to 1953 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, with whom he spent the final year of his career. In total, he went 32-25 with a 4.14 ERA, with multiple solid seasons under his belt. In 1944, for example, he posted a 3.09 ERA in 14 games and in 1947, he posted a 2.77 ERA in 29 games. He won 14 games in 1951, despite making only three starts. On October 12, 1952, he was traded to the Reds for catcher Dixie Howell and cash—the only trade he was involved in. As a minor leaguer, he went 59-42 in seven seasons. Following his playing career, King managed the San Francisco Giants from 1969 to 1970, the Atlanta Braves from 1974 to 1975 and the New York Yankees in 1982. He was a manager for a full season in 1969 only, when he led the Giants to a 90-72 record. Overall, his managerial record was 234-229.

Jay Van Noy – Died November 6, age 82

Outfielder Jay Van Noy had a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1951, with whom he collected no hits in seven at-bats. He was a minor league player for 12 seasons, though his statistics from his time on the farm are incomplete. It is known that he hit at least 97 home runs at that level. While in college, Van Noy was a multi-sport athlete and had been drafted by the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams. However, he chose to pursue a baseball career instead. Following his professional career, he became a successful baseball coach at Brigham Young University.

George Estock – Died November 7, age 86

Less than a week after his 86th birthday, relief pitcher George Estock passed away. He pitched for the Boston Braves in 1951, making 36 relief appearances and one start, going 0-1 with a 4.33 ERA. In 60 1/3 innings of work, he struck out only 11 batters while walking 37. He pitched 12 seasons in the minor leagues, going 116-81, winning 20 or more games twice. In 1945, he went 22-6 with a 2.90 ERA. On March 30, 1946, Estock was sent as a player to be named later to complete a trade between the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Phillies (with whom he played for before winding up in the Braves system) sent Estock to the Pirates for Ken Richardson.

Hal Bamberger – Died November 14, age 84

Outfielder Hal Bamberger had a cup of coffee with the New York Giants in 1948, hitting .083 in 12 at-bats with the team. His sole big league hit came in the final game of his career, on October 3 against the Boston Braves.  He spent eight seasons in the minor leagues, playing in at least 771 games and hitting at least 54 home runs. Rarer and rarer are the New York Giants players from the 1940s, and with Bamberger’s passing they become even harder to come by.

Ed Kirkpatrick – Died November 15, age 66

Outfielder/catcher Ed Kirkpatrick played from 1962 to 1977 for the Los Angeles Angels, California Angels, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers. In 16 big league seasons, he hit .238 with 85 home runs and 424 RBI. Perhaps his best season was 1970 with the Royals, when he hit .229 with 18 home runs and 69 RBI. The year before, he hit .257 with 14 home runs and 49 RBI, also posting a 123 OPS+. In 1966, Kirkpatrick showed incredible defensive acumen as a right fielder, leading the league in fielding percentage. A few years later, in 1972, he would finish third in fielding percentage at catcher. Kirkpatrick was involved in a few notable trades in his career, involving some big names. For example, on December 12, 1968, he was sent from the Angels with Dennis Paepke to the Royals for future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm. He was also involved in deals that sent pitcher Nelson Briles to the Royals, shortstop Jim Fregosi to the Pirates and slugger Gorman Thomas to the Rangers. As a minor league player, he hit .286 with 70 home runs in 552 games.

Danny McDevitt – Died November 20, age 78

Danny McDevitt, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Athletics from 1957 to 1962, died just two days after his 78th birthday. Over the course of his six-year big league career, McDevitt went 21-27 with a 4.40 ERA. Perhaps his best season was 1957, when he went 7-4 with a 3.25 ERA for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It is not often that a player does worse in the minors than in the majors, but a case could be made that McDevitt did just that. Over eight seasons in the minor leagues, McDevitt went 40-61 with an indeterminable ERA. In the major leagues, his winning percentage was.438—in the minors, it was .396. He was involved in one trade in his career—on June 14, 1961, he was traded by the Yankees to the Twins for second baseman Billy Gardner.

Steve Kuczek – Died November 21, age 85

Steve Kuczek’s big league career was short. Very short. In fact, it consisted of just one game and one at-bat. Despite that, he is notable for a couple reasons—first, because he played for the Boston Braves, and players from that old team are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Second, he is noteworthy because he is one of only a handful of players to finish with a 1.000 career batting average. He certainly took advantage of his sole big league at-bat as he clubbed not a measly single, but a double off of Brooklyn Dodgers All-Star pitcher Don Newcombe instead. He only played two seasons in the minor leagues, 1949 and 1950, hitting .282 in 119 games at that level.

Tom Underwood – Died November 22, age 55

Pitcher Tom Underwood played from 1974 to 1984 for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles, going 86-87 with a 3.89 ERA in 379 games (203 starts). Perhaps his best year was in 1980 with the Yankees, when he went 13-9 with a 3.66 ERA. Despite posting a losing record overall, Underwood had a solid career—he won 10 games or more four times. In the minors, he was nothing short of excellent, going 28-15 with a 2.60 ERA in three seasons. Though he was involved in multiple trades throughout his career, perhaps the most notable was the deal that sent him from the Blue Jays to the Yankees. On November 1, 1979, he was traded with catcher Rick Cerone and outfielder Ted Wilborn to the New York team for All-Star outfielder Chris Chambliss, All-Star second baseman Damaso Garcia and relief pitcher Paul Mirabella. As an aside, Underwood’s brother, Pat Underwood, played in the big leagues for four seasons as well.

Gil McDougald – Died November 28, age 82

Super utility infielder Gil McDougald is often considered one of the most underrated players of the 1950s New York Yankees teams. Overshadowed by players like Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, it would be hard not to wind up underrated, even if one garnered a Rookie of the Year Award and six All-Star selections, as McDougald did. Over the course of his career, which spanned 1951 to 1960 (spent entirely with the Yankees), McDougald hit .276 with 112 home runs and 576 RBI. He helped league the Yankees to World Series victories each year from 1951 to 1953, as well as in 1956 and 1958. McDougald was incredibly valuable to the team as he could play second base, shortstop and third base with notable skill. Some Hall of Fame voters thought he was worthy of enshrinement as he received votes for the Hall in nine elections. Just as he was a great player in the majors, he was excellent in the minors leagues as well, hitting .340 with 42 home runs in three seasons.

In addition to these baseball player passings, Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus and sportswriter Maury Allen passed away.

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