Gone, but never forgotten. So many noteworthy baseball players died in 2020, including seven Hall of Famers. Only once before, in 1972, had so many baseball Hall of Famers died in a single year. 

I’m very glad 2020 finally is finished, but I’ll remember these seven Hall of Famers because I grew up watching them. 

Bob Gibson: Simply the greatest National League righthander of the last 100 years. I’ll entertain arguments from supporters of Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux, but Gibson is my choice. He also was the most intimidating and he didn’t have to resort to throwing a piece of a broken bat at an opposing player like amped-up Roger Clemens once did to Mike Piazza. 

Joe Morgan: Maybe, just maybe, the best second baseman of all-time. I’ve yet to see or read of a second baseman who could combine power, hitting, on-base percentage, fielding, speed and intelligence the way Morgan did. 

Tom Seaver: Dwight Gooden had the Mets’ greatest pitching year in 1985. But Seaver is the best pitcher in Mets history. It irked me that Tom Brady tried to take away the “Tom Terrific” nickname Seaver had earned long before Brady came into prominence. There’s only one “Tom Terrific” and that’s Seaver. 

Whitey Ford: He was the greatest Yankees starting pitcher. This isn’t the Marlins. It’s the freaking Yankees franchise. Enough said. 

Al Kaline: I’ve never seen a more revered Michigan sports icon than Kaline. People in Michigan just loved the guy. I can understand why. He played 22 years for the Tigers and was an 18-time All-Star. He wasn’t as talented as some of his fellow superstar outfielder peers Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente. But that doesn’t diminish Kaline’s prodigious talent – both offensively and defensively. He was pure class and much deserving of his Hall of Fame stature.

Phil Niekro: It used to be Hoyt Wilheim. But now Phil Niekro easily is the greatest knuckleball pitcher. Three hundred eighteen wins, a 3.35 ERA in 5,404 innings (fourth-most in baseball history) and the 11th most all-time strikeouts is proof. Phil’s brother Joe won 221 games giving the Niekro’s the record for most victories compiled by brothers. The Perry brothers, Gaylord and Jim, rank second. Greg and Mike Maddux are third. Before the Niekro’s, Perry’s and Maddux’s one of my favorite baseball trivia questions was what brothers hold the record for most all-time wins? It wasn’t Dizzy and Paul Dean, nor Stan and Harry Coveleski. The answer was Christy and Henry Mathewson. Christy won 373 games. Henry didn’t win a game in three career pitching performances.  

Lou Brock: Outstanding ballplayer with a quiet dignity who’s in the argument for greatest base stealer of all-time. That sums up Brock for me. Unfortunately as a very young Cubs fan who actually saw Brock play for Chicago, I am forever scarred by the hideous Brock for Ernie Broglio trade in 1964. If you thought Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas was bad, this one was worse. It was the worst trade in Cubs history, if not all of baseball history. If the Cubs would have been a little more patient with Brock, whose talent was evident, they could have had four Hall of Famers in the same lineup for many years – Brock, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. The ironic thing is that trade probably would have been voided under today’s baseball rules because the Cardinals shipped the Cubs damaged goods. Broglio had a sore-arm. He ended up going 7-19 with a 5.40 ERA in three seasons for the Cubs. Brock finished his 19-year career with 3,023 hits and 938 stolen bases, second-most in baseball history behind Rickey Henderson, who played 25 years for nine teams. 

These were the Hall of Famers who passed in 2020. But they weren’t the only notable baseball players. 

Dick Allen: When I was little I used to love to read comic books and listen to sports stories my Uncle Jimmy would tell me. His favorite player when he was a child was Jimmie Foxx. He told me how strong Foxx was and how he always wore short sleeves so his bulging muscles would intimidate pitchers while he wiggled a huge, heavy bat. Watching Dick Allen was my version of seeing Jimmie Foxx. I expect Allen one day will reach the Hall of Fame. He’s deserving. I’ve never seen a more intimidating batter – and that includes Mays, Aaron, Mantle and Frank Robinson. If Allen could have been in a better environment, like he later was with the White Sox, and left alone he could have produced monster lifetime power numbers. Speaking of Foxx, my Uncle Jimmy wrote a book report on him for his fourth grade project. He received an F on it. The teacher obviously didn’t know baseball because she said my uncle misspelled both Foxx’s first and last name. 

Glenn Beckert: This one really hurt as the 1969 Cubs were maybe my favorite team of all-time. There was a four-year period from 1969-72 when Beckert was as good as any second baseman. I still remember Don Kessinger leading off with a walk and Beckert executing a perfect hit-and-run setting up a first and third for the Cubs with nobody out and Billy Williams, Santo and Banks coming up. 

Jay Johnstone: He carried on a tradition that is sadly lacking these days of providing a lot of levity to the game. He was a character and also a pretty good hitter. Does baseball have any characters anymore? The last one I recall is Manny Ramirez and he was more odd than funny. 

Ron Perranoski: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale received all the attention. It wasn’t undeserved, especially with Koufax. But Perranoski gave the Dodgers a very good No. 3 starter. He also became an excellent pitching coach. The Dodgers of the 1960s had just tremendous pitching, but didn’t have much offense. Told that Koufax had thrown a no-hitter a cynical Dodgers fan replied, “Yeah but did the Dodgers win?” 

Mike McCormick: He was another good lefty pitcher from the 1960s era and the answer to two trivial questions: He was the first San Francisco Giant to win the Cy Young Award and he also surrendered Hank Aaron’s 500th homer. 

Horace Clarke: I always felt sorry for Clarke, who was an excellent second baseman but not a star. He played 10 years for the Yankees – and never made it to the World Series. He was one of the few good Yankees during their barren years of 1965-1975. 

Tony Taylor: Man 2020 was tough on second basemen. Morgan, Beckert, Clarke and Taylor, who was a long-time Phillie and banged-out 2,007 hits. 

Tony Fernandez: The slick-fielding, clutch-hitting Blue Jay shortstop passed way too young. 

Phil Linz: Linz was a banjo hitter who made the harmonica famous for a while. The story goes that Linz was playing his harmonica on the Yankees team bus after a tough loss and Yankees manager Yogi Berra didn’t want to hear it. From the front of the bus, Berra yelled out something like “whatever A-hole is playing that freaking harmonica knock it off.” Linz was at the back of the bus and couldn’t hear what Berra was yelling. So Linz asked Mickey Mantle what Berra said. Mantle, a notorious prankster, was the wrong person to ask. Mantle told Linz that Berra was enjoying the music and to play it louder. When Linz did Berra really went nuts. That incident is cited as a reason why Berra was fired after the Yankees lost the 1964 World Series to the Cardinals. 

Bob Watson: Solid hitter for 19 years and a well-respected general manager after his playing days. Watson raced around the bases to have the distinction of scoring the millionth run in MLB history. 

Don Larsen: A hard-drinking deeply flawed individual and a mediocre pitcher. Larsen was these things. He also pitched the only perfect game in postseason history. One of the great  baseball lead paragraphs was penned by Dick Young following Larsen’s World Series gem in 1956: “The imperfect man just pitched a perfect game,” Young wrote with brilliant brevity. 

Thanks for the memories.    


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