MLB News: Recent Baseball Passings

Since my last posting, there have been 11 more baseball player deaths reported.

George Binks – Died November 13, age 96

At the time of his death, George Binks was the oldest living former St. Louis Browns player—he played for the now-defunct team in 1948, the last season of his career. In total, Binks spent five seasons in the majors, playing for the Washington Senators, Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns. In 351 games played, he hit .253 with eight home runs and 130 RBI. Undoubtedly, his best season was 1945, when he played in 145 games and hit .278 with six home runs, 81 RBI, 11 stolen bases and 32 doubles. That season, he finished fifth in the league in RBI and second in doubles, behind only Wally Moses in the latter category. Over the course of his professional career, Binks was involved in two known trades—with the most notable taking place on June 4, 1948, when he was traded to the Browns for Ray Coleman. Binks also spent 10 years in the minors, hitting .about .286 with at least 97 home runs.

Bill Werle – Died November 27, age 89

A veteran of World War II, pitcher Bill Werle played in the major leagues from 1949 to 1954 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. Used as both a starting pitcher and a reliever in his six-year big league career, Werle went 29-39 with a 4.69 ERA in 185 games (60 starts).  His best season was perhaps his very first—he won 12 games, completed ten and shutout two; he made 29 starts, threw 221 innings and struck out 106 batters—all career highs. It was his work as a reliever that landed him on the league leader boards, however—in 1950, he was third in the league in games and second in saves with 48 and eight, respectively, and the next season he was second in games with 59. Werle was involved in a couple trades in his career, though the most notable was on May 3, 1952, when he was traded from the Pirates to the Cardinals for three-time All-Star pitcher Red Munger. Though his major league career was relatively short, his minor league career was not—it spanned 15 seasons, and he posted a record of 147-123. He later managed in the minors for nine seasons.

Cal Emery – Died November 28, age 73

An excellent minor league baseball player, Cal Emery spent 16 games in the major leagues in 1963, hitting .158 in 19 at-bats for the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent most of his 14-year professional career on the farm, however, where he flourished. In 4,625 at-bats, Emery hit 207 home runs, surpassing the 20-dinger mark four times and the 30-moonshot threshold once. In 1959, with the Des Moines Demons, Emery hit .323 with 27 home runs and 41 doubles. The following year, he batted .344.

R C Stevens – Died November 30, age 76

First baseman R C Stevens—that was his full name, the letters do not stand for anything—played for four seasons in the major leagues, from 1958 to 1961. He spent his first three years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the last with the now-defunct Washington Senators, hitting .210 with eight home runs and 21 RBI. He played in 59 of his 104 career games in his rookie year, so one can assume that his first season was his best—that year, he hit .267 with seven home runs, 18 RBI and a .556 slugging percentage. In the minor leagues, Stevens was a prolific power hitter, with 191 blasts in 12 seasons on the farm. In 1960, with the AAA Salt Lake City Bees, he hit 37 home runs with 109 RBI. He was involved in one trade in his career—on December 16, 1970, Stevens was sent with Harry Bright and Bennie Daniels from the Pirates to the Senators for All-Star pitcher Bobby Shantz.

Ron Santo – Died December 2, age 70

Third baseman Ron Santo was one of those players who everyone seems to say should be in the Hall of Fame but never actually gets there. He spent 15 seasons in the big leagues, from 1960 to 1974, and played for both Chicago teams—the Cubs (1960-1973) and White Sox (1974). Over the course of his career, he hit .277 with 342 home runs, 1,331 RBI and 2,254 hits. He was an All-Star nine times, he won the Lou Gehrig Award in 1973 and he finished in the top ten in MVP voting four times (and in the top five twice). Not only was he an offensive threat—he hit at least 20 home runs in 11 of his 15 seasons—he also performed well in the field, winning five Gold Gloves. Though many people believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame, he never received more than 43.1% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) when he was on the ballot. He spent the majority of his career with the Cubs, though he did spend one year, his final season, with the White Sox—he was traded for two All-Stars, Steve Stone and Steve Swisher, as well as a third player. In the minors, he hit .306 with 18 home runs and 119 RBI in 207 games.

Ken Lehman – Died December 4, Age 82

Korean War veteran Ken Lehman played in 1952, from 1956 to 1958 and in 1961 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies. Used mostly as a relief pitcher, he went 14-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 134 career games, finishing 59 and saving seven. His best season was 1957, when he went 8-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 33 games, saving six—his six saves were 10th most in the league. He even started a few games that season, completing one on July 26. He was involved in one known trade in his career, when on March 20, 1962 he was traded from the Phillies to the Cleveland Indians with outfielder Tony Curry for second baseman Mel Roach. Lehman never played at the major league level for the Indians. As a minor leaguer, he performed well, going 141-101 with a 3.60 ERA in 11 seasons. With the Montreal Royals in 1955, he went 22-9 with a 2.76 ERA.

Art Mahan – Died December 7, age 97

On December 7, 1941, the United States was brutally attacked by the Japanese military at Pearl Harbor, catapulting America into World War II. It is fitting that Art Mahan died on December 7, 2010—the 69-year anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack—because he fought in the very war that the attack brought the United States into. Before he served his nation in the second War to End All Wars, Mahan spent one season with the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1940. Most players who last only a season in the big leagues play only a handful of games—have a cup of coffee, so to speak. Mahan, on the other hand, played almost a full season with the Phillies—as a starter, no less—hitting .244 with two home runs and 39 RBI in 146 games. He also spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .284 in 778 games. In addition, at the time of his death, he was the oldest living former Philadelphia Phillie—that title now belongs to 96-year-old Alex Pitko.

Bob Feller – Died December 15, age 92

Baseball lost a true legend with the passing of Rapid Robert Feller, whose 266-162 record and 3.25 ERA landed him a spot in the Hall of Fame in his very first year of eligibility. Playing with the Cleveland Indians for his entire career—which spanned from 1936 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1956—Feller led the league in wins six times, strikeouts seven times and innings pitched five times. An All-Star during eight seasons of his illustrious 15-year career, he was the Major League Player of the Year in 1940—winning the pitching Triple Crown that season—as well as The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year in 1951. It must be remembered, too, that in the prime of his career, Feller served the United States in World War II, missing 1942 through 1944 and 1945 due to his commitment to the nation. Imagine if he had not spent time fighting an aggressive foe for four seasons—if he had kept up his pre-war win totals, he might have won more than 350 games! Perhaps most incredibly of all, Feller did all of this without ever spending a single day in the minor leagues.

Walt Dropo – Died December 17, age 87

Walt Dropo spent 13 seasons in the major leagues, from 1949 to 1961, playing for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Redlegs and Baltimore Orioles. He hit .270 with 152 home runs and 704 RBI in his career, surpassing the 20-home run mark twice. In 1950, he hit .322 with 34 home runs and 144 RBI—leading the league in the latter category as well as in total bases—earning a spot on the All-Star team and winning the Rookie of the Year Award. His career must have been impressive enough to at least merit some Hall of Fame consideration, as he received 0.3% of the vote in the 1967 election. Not many players were traded for as many big names as Dropo was in his career—on June 3, 1952, he was involved in a deal that sent him to the Tigers for, among others, Hall of Famer George Kell, two-time All-Star Dizzy Trout, two-time All-Star Hoot Evers. On December 6, 1954, he was sent with others to the White Sox for five-time All-Star Ferris Fain and two other players. And on June 23, 1959, he was sent to the Orioles for one-time All-Star Whitey Lockman. As a minor leaguer, Dropo hit .303 in 409 games.

Phil Cavarretta – Died December 18, age 94

The National League Most Valuable Player in 1945 and a three-time All-Star, Phil Cavarretta had a very long and fruitful career. Over 22 seasons, from 1934 to 1955, he hit .293 with 95 home runs, 920 RBI, 990 runs scored and 1,977 hits. He led the league in hits with 197 in 1944 and with a .355 average in his MVP-winning 1945 season. With an excellent eye at the plate, he walked 820 times in his career, striking only 598 times and never whiffing more than 61 times in a season. Like Ron Santo above, Cavarretta spent his entire career in Chicago, playing his first 20 seasons with the Cubs and his final two with the cross-town White Sox. Like Ron Santo, “Philliabuck,” as he was nicknamed, had much more success with the ursines than with the bleached ankle stockings. Because of his solid career, many baseball writers thought he was Hall of Fame worthy—in fact, he garnered as much as 35.6% of the vote, staying on the ballot for 12 cycles. As a minor leaguer, he hit .303 in 165 games.

Steve Boros – Died December 29, age 74

Steve Boros played in the major leagues for seven seasons, from 1957 to 1958 and from 1961 to 1965 for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. A third baseman, he hit .245 with 26 home runs and 149 RBI in his career, whacking as many as 16 home runs in a season. In addition to playing seven years in the majors, he spent nine seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .276 with at least 109 home runs at that level. Following his playing career, Boros managed the Oakland Athletics in 1983 and for part of 1984, commanding players like Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Dave Kingman. He then managed the San Diego Padres in 1986.

Former Detroit Tigers GM Bill Lajoie also passed away recently.

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