More than a hundred former major leaguers died in 2019. I will focus, though, on the six who had the biggest impact on me (I either collected their baseball cards or interviewed them on the baseball beat).
* Jim Bouton gained fame as a 24-year-old pitcher for the New York Yankees in 1963. He posted a great record of 21 victories and only seven losses and an earned run average of 2.53. Bouton followed with a good but not great season in 1964 (18-13, 3.02 ERA), and won two games in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. However, from 1965 on, Bouton never won more than four games in a season, ending with a career record of 62-63.
While pitching for the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, Bouton wrote Ball Four, which was published in 1970. Other ballplayers felt he revealed too much about what went on in the clubhouses and dugouts, such as Mickey Mantle’s carousing and drinking.
After his pitching days, Bouton appeared in a movie and a short-lived television series based on his book. He suffered a stroke in 2012 and then in 2017 revealed that he’d been diagnosed with cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a condition that causes vessels in the brain to burst under pressure. Bouton was 80 years old when he died.
* Bill Buckner is mostly remembered for his error at first base in the tenth inning of game six of the 1986 World Series, which opened the door for the New York Mets to win the game. (The Mets went on to win game seven and take the series.)
Buckner was also an outfielder and began his big league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969, going on to play for the Chicago Cubs, California Angels, Boston Red Sox, and Kansas City Royals. He returned to the Red Sox in 1990, earning the distinction of playing in four decades. Only 21 major leaguers have done that.
Buckner, 69 at the time of his passing, suffered from Lewy body dementia degenerative brain disease.
* Ron Fairly, who played on three World Series winning teams, died at 81 in California. A first baseman and outfielder like Buckner, Fairly also had a long career (1958-1978). He played with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, and California Angels.
A career .266 hitter with 215 home runs over 21 seasons, Fairly was a teammate of Sandy Koufax and did fairly well in his World Series appearances, batting .300 with two home runs in 20 games.
He stayed around the ballpark after his playing days as a broadcaster for the California Angels, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners.
* Barry Latman pitched for the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, California Angels, and Houston Astros from 1957-1967. Over 11 seasons, the proud Jewish right-hander (who honeymooned in Israel) had a 59-63 career record with an ERA of 3.91. He was raised in the famous Fairfax area of Los Angeles and died at 84 in Texas.
* Don Mossi, who died at 91, probably had the most prominent ears of anyone in major league history. He pitched for the Indians, Detroit Tigers, White Sox, and the Oakland Athletics.
Mossi was part of the great Cleveland pitching staff in 1954. The team, though, was swept by the New York Giants in the World Series despite leading both leagues in victories. Mossi was traded to Detroit in 1959 as part of a big Billy Martin deal and went on to lead the Tigers with 17 victories that year.
* Tom Phoebus, who died at 77, began his career in the big leagues by pitching two shutouts for the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. His best season came two years later when he won 15 games, including a no-hitter. Phoebus also pitched for the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs in a career that lasted from 1966-1972.
The biggest name who died in 2019 was a superstar as a player and a trailblazer as a manager. He deserves his own column, though. Tune in next month.
Irwin Cohen will be speaking about the life and times of Moe Berg at Congregation Anshei Chesed in Boynton Beach on Monday, January 13.