Baseball loses some of collective family

Baseball loses some of collective family

It has been a year of significant loss for the baseball community. The list of those who have died over the last 12 months features a Hall of Fame outfielder (Kirby Puckett), a beloved icon of the Negro Leagues (Buck O'Neil), and a current-day Major League pitcher (Cory Lidle).

Elden Auker (Died on Aug. 4 in Vero Beach, FL; age 95): Known for his distinctive submarine pitching motion, Auker compiled a record of 130-101 over a 10-year career in the Major Leagues. Nicknamed "Submarine" and "Big Six," Auker began to use a submarine style, in which he practically scraped his knuckles along the ground as he released the ball, after injuring his arm as a college quarterback at Kansas State.

Chris Brown (Died on Dec. 27 in Houston, TX; age 45): An All-Star third baseman who played six seasons in the Majors in the 1980s, Brown died nearly a month after he was burned in a fire at his home outside Houston.

Authorities say they are investigating the circumstances surrounding the fire and how Brown was burned. Brown played with the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers. A few years ago, Brown took a job with Halliburton Co. and ended up in Iraq driving, inspecting and repairing 18-wheel fuel trucks.

Johnny Callison (Died on Oct. 12 in Philadelphia, PA; age 67): A strong-armed, power-hitting outfielder, Callison emerged as a star for the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1960s before a series of injuries short-circuited his career. In 1964, Callison likely would have won the National League MVP award if not for the Phillies' stunning collapse over the final two weeks of the season. He also gained acclaim in that summer's All-Star Game, hitting a dramatic game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Rod Dedeaux (Died on Jan. 5 in Glendale, CA; age 91): Dedeaux played in only two Major League games as a shortstop, but forged a far more lasting legacy as one of the greatest and most enduring coaches in the history of college baseball. During a 45-year tenure as the head coach at the University of Southern California, Dedeaux won an NCAA record 11 national championships and 28 conference titles. Over 50 of Dedeaux' players eventually made the Major Leagues, including Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and standouts like Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire.

Pat Dobson (Died on Nov. 26 in San Diego, CA; age 64): An effective right-handed pitcher during the 1960s and 1970s, Dobson used a terrific overhand curveball to win 122 games over an 11-year career. Dobson became one of four Baltimore starters to reach the 20-win milestone (along with Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, and Mike Cuellar) in 1971. After his playing days, Dobson became a highly respected pitching coach and then a trusted Major League scout. At the time of his death, Dobson was working for the San Francisco Giants as a front-office advisor.

Moe Drabowsky (Died on June 10 in Little Rock, AR; age 70): A journeyman who pitched for eight teams in 17 seasons, the colorful Drabowsky gained a reputation as one of the game's most ingenious pranksters. Drabowsky's repertoire of practical jokes was lengthy and diverse; he often placed live snakes in the lockers of teammates, once gave a hot foot to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, regularly ordered takeout food from the bullpen telephone, and threw rocks at opposing players while wearing a gorilla's suit.

Curt Gowdy (Died on Feb. 20 in West Palm Beach, FL; age 86): Though diversely talented and capable of broadcasting football and basketball, Gowdy gained his greatest fame for his two most prominent jobs in baseball: as a local broadcaster with the Boston Red Sox and as a national broadcaster for NBC's coverage of Major League Baseball. After a brief stint with the New York Yankees, Gowdy worked for the Red Sox from 1951 to 1966. He then left Boston for NBC, where he served as the No. 1 announcer on the network's Game of the Week and postseason coverage. Gowdy broadcast 13 World Series, 16 All-Star Games, and numerous milestone events, including the final home run of Ted Williams' career. In 1984, the National Baseball Hall of Fame honored Gowdy by naming him the winner of the Ford C. Frick Award.

Eric Gregg (Died on June 5 in Philadelphia, PA; age 55): A colorful umpire, Gregg was both well liked for his gregarious nature and criticized for his weight problems. As a fulltime National League umpire from 1978 to 1999, Gregg became popular with players and fans, in large part because of his outgoing, comedic demeanor. At games in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, he sometimes danced with the "Phillie Phanatic" mascot in between innings.

Steve Howe (Died on April 28 in Coachella, California; age 48): A talented left-hander who was regarded as a potentially outstanding relief ace, Howe gained infamy because of his career-long abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. Howe was suspended by Major League Baseball seven times for his repeated use of cocaine and other substances. As a hard-throwing 22-year-old in 1980, Howe won the National League's Rookie of the Year Award. The following season, he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series. Howe ended his career with a record of 47-41, 91 saves, and a 3.03 ERA.

Jim Lemon (Died on May 14 in Brandon, MS; age 78): A power-hitting, strikeout-prone outfielder with the Washington Senators, the burly Lemon hit 164 home runs over a Major League career that was interrupted by two years of military service in the Korean War. Widely promoted as the Senators' answer to Mickey Mantle, Lemon enjoyed his best Major League day on Aug. 31, 1956, when he hit three home runs off Yankees ace Whitey Ford.

Cory Lidle (Died on Oct. 11 in New York; age 34): The Yankees' right-hander was flying a small, single-engine plane with his flight instructor when it struck a 40-story building, crashing in between the 30th and 31st floors. Only three days earlier, Lidle had pitched in relief during the Yankees' final game of the season, a Game 4 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series. Lidle split the 2006 season between the Yankees and Phillies, winning 12 games, losing 10, and sporting an ERA of 4.84. The Yankees had acquired him as part of the deal that landed them Bobby Abreu just before the July 31 trading deadline. In nine Major League seasons, Lidle posted a career record of 82-72 with an ERA of 4.57.

Paul Lindblad (Died on Jan. 1 in Arlington, TX; age 64): A member of three world championship teams, Lindblad was a reliable left-handed reliever for much of the late 1960s and early seventies. During a 14-year career spent entirely in the American League, Lindblad posted a 3.29 ERA, 64 saves, and a record of 68-63. Pitching mostly in middle relief as a setup man to Rollie Fingers, Lindblad contributed to two Oakland A's world titles in the early 1970s.

Joe Niekro: (Died on Oct. 27 in Tampa, FL; age 61): Considered one of the masters of the knuckleball, Niekro was a two-time 20-game winner who emerged as one of the National League's finest starting pitchers in the late 1970s. Niekro's career took a turn for the better in 1975, when he joined the Houston Astros. Having toiled primarily as a fastball-slider pitcher in the late 1960s and early 70s, he began to fully implement a third pitch -- the knuckleball -- into his pitching repertoire. He had learned the subtleties of throwing the knuckleball from his older brother, Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, during his two seasons in Atlanta. In 1978, Joe became a 21-game winner with Houston, tying brother Phil for the National League lead in victories. In 1980, Niekro again reached the 20-win milestone, this time helping the Astros claim the first postseason berth in franchise history. Niekro won more games than any pitcher in Astros history. Late in his career, Niekro became involved in controversy when umpires discovered him with an emory board, used to scuff baseballs, on the mound. The violation resulted in a 10-game suspension.

Buck O'Neil (Died on Oct. 6 in Kansas City, MO; age 94): One of the game's most beloved and charismatic personalities, O'Neil became an iconic figure in his later years, managing to achieve pop culture status that made him well known across generational bounds. O'Neil began his professional career in the Negro Leagues as a first baseman. Though he did not hit with power, O'Neil's slick fielding and ability to hit for high averages made him a valuable player. After his playing days, he made a smooth transition to managing. O'Neil won four Negro Leagues pennants, led his clubs to two appearances in the Black World Series, and guided his teams to a perfect record of 4-0 in the East-West Game, the Negro Leagues' celebrated All-Star Game. Even more impressively, Buck's work in baseball did not end with the death of the Negro Leagues. With little trouble, O'Neil moved on to a prominent career in the Major Leagues. Joining the Chicago Cubs as a scout, O'Neil played crucial roles in signing Hall of Famer Lou Brock and Major Leaguers outfielders Joe Carter and Oscar Gamble. O'Neil also achieved pioneer status, becoming the first African-American coach in Major League history, joining the Cubs' "College of Coaches" in the early 1960s.

After leaving behind scouting and coaching, O'Neil concentrated his efforts on promoting the legacy of the Negro Leagues. In 1994, he became a nationally known figure through his critically acclaimed appearances on Ken Burns' in-depth documentary, "Baseball". O'Neil remained in the spotlight by making appearances on nationally televised talk shows, including appearances with David Letterman on CBS.

While O'Neil's stardom increased, so did his efforts to preserve the legacy of the Negro Leagues. Through fundraising and promotion, he helped establish the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, serving as the museum's highly visible chairman. Even during the final summer of his life, O'Neil remained busy. He spoke at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in July of 2006; despite being bypassed for election by a special committee in February, O'Neil spoke on behalf of the 17 deceased members of the Negro Leagues who did win election to the Hall. O'Neill also made news the following month when he became the oldest man -- at 94 years of age -- to appear in a professional game.

Kirby Puckett (Died on March 6 in Phoenix, AZ; age 45): One of the most popular players of the 1980s and 1990s, Puckett batted .315 with 207 home runs over a 12-year career, won six Gold Gloves for his defensive play in center field, and helped the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. Although his career was shortened by glaucoma, forcing him to retire in 1996 at the age of 36, Puckett won election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He became the third youngest man to gain induction to Cooperstown after Lou Gehrig and Sandy Koufax.

Listed at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds during his playing career, Puckett defied the stereotype of center fielders with slick, lean builds. In 1986, Puckett emerged as a legitimate star, hitting 31 home runs while raising his batting average to .328. Puckett maintained a similar level of production in 1987, helping the Twins to the American League West crown. After slumping in the AL Championship Series, Puckett batted .357 in the World Series, pushing the Twins to a seven-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The signature moments of Puckett's career occurred in 1991, when he hit two home runs in the World Series against the Atlanta Braves and made a dramatic, leaping catch in Game 6. All the while, Puckett displayed a boyish enthusiasm for the game that made him popular with fans and media alike.

Puckett's fortunes turned sour in 1995, when he was struck in the face by a Dennis Martinez pitch, leaving him with a shattered jaw. The following spring, he lost sight in his right eye and was later diagnosed with glaucoma, forcing him to announce his retirement on July 12. Puckett endured four eye operations, but none of the surgeries corrected his vision.

Johnny Sain (Died on Nov. 7 in Downer's Grove, IL; age 89): Sain was highly successful in two different careers within baseball; he emerged as the Milwaukee Braves' No. 2 starter behind Hall of Famer Warren Spahn during the 1940s and then became one of the game's most highly respected pitching coaches over a span of nearly three decades. A three-time All-Star who won 139 games in his career, Sain became a workhorse for the Braves, winning 24 games during their pennant-winning season of 1948 and prompting the saying, "Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain."

Larry Sherry (Died Dec. 17 in Mission Viejo, CA; age 71): Part of a memorable brother combination, Sherry made a strong impression in his first full season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959, when he won the first game of a three-game tiebreaking playoff and then recorded three wins in relief during the World Series. Sherry's postseason efforts against the Chicago White Sox earned him World Series MVP honors.

Williams Alaric Smith: (Died Nov. 14 in Bossier City, La.): An American League umpire from 1960-65, Smith worked the field during one of baseball's golden ages. During his career, he called three All-Star Games, including the final All-Star appearance of Ted Williams (1960) and the only other Midsummer Classic to end in a tie (1961, Game 2). He was also on the field for the 1964 World Series.

Syd Thrift (Died on Sept. 19 in Baltimore, MD; age 77): Known for his intelligence, innovation, and ego, the colorful Thrift started his career in baseball in 1949, when he joined the Yankees' organization. Thrift began to make a name for himself when he joined the Kansas City Royals in the late 1960s; he founded the team's unique Baseball Academy, which produced several Major Leaguers, including Frank White, Rodney Scott, and U.L. Washington. In 1985, Thrift became general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he established a reputation as an aggressive, freewheeling trader, acquiring talents like Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek, and Andy Van Slyke. Thrift also hired Jim Leyland as Pittsburgh's skipper, giving the career Minor Leaguer his first shot at managing in the Major Leagues. In 1989, Thrift rejoined the Yankees, this time as the vice president of baseball operations. After clashing with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Thrift moved on to the Baltimore Orioles, where he eventually became vice president, and then finished his career as a consultant with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Cecil Travis (Died on Dec. 16 in Fayetteville, NC; age 93): Travis was the American League's premier shortstop in the years leading up to World War II, but the effects of the war diminished his All-Star caliber of play. From 1934 to 1941, Travis batted better than .300 every season with the exception of one, 1939. He was named to three All-Star teams and twice finished in the Top 10 in American League MVP voting. In 1941, Travis quietly led the league in hits with 218 and drove in 101 runs despite hitting only seven home runs, but his performance was overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams' .406 season. On Christmas Eve of that year, Travis received word that he had been called to active duty in World War II. At 28, Travis would find his career interrupted for four years; he would not return to the Major Leagues until 1946, when he was 32. During his military stint, he suffered a severe case of frostbite in two of his toes. With his mobility impaired and his timing at the plate damaged, Travis struggled for two seasons before retiring.

Jose Uribe (Died on Dec. 8 near Santo Domingo, DR; age 47): Uribe died in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic. A 10-year veteran of the Major Leagues, Uribe was a fine defensive shortstop who anchored the middle infield for the San Francisco Giants' division-winning season of 1987 and their pennant-winning team of 1989. When Uribe began his Major League career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984, he was actually known as Jose Gonzalez, but decided to change his name in mid-career. He finished his career in 1993 with the Houston Astros. After his playing days, Uribe ran unsuccessfully for mayor in his hometown of Juan Baron.

The following is a list of other notable baseball figures who passed away in 2006:

Bill Abernathie (age 77): MLB right-handed pitcher; notched save in only appearance.

Oscar Acosta (age 49): Minor League manager, former MLB pitching coach.

Ace Adams (age 95): MLB right-handed pitcher; 1943 National League All-Star.

Jimmie Armstead, Jr. (age 87): Negro Leagues player.

Bill Baker (age 95): MLB catcher; played in 1940 World Series.

Jack Banta (age 81): MLB right-handed pitcher; former Brooklyn Dodgers sidearmer.

Dave Bartosch (age 89): MLB outfielder and scout; scouted for Cards and Padres.

Victor Bernal (age 52): MLB right-handed pitcher; played for Padres in 1977.

Sam Calderone (age 80): MLB catcher.

Paul Campbell (age 88): MLB player, coach, and scout; longtime Reds employee.

Frank Campos (age 81): MLB outfielder; native of Havana, Cuba.

Sam Chapman (age 90): MLB outfielder; 1946 All-Star

Merv Connors (age 91): MLB first baseman; slugged over 400 HR in the Minor Leagues.

Tony Curry (age 68): MLB outfielder; native of the Bahamas.

Jerry "Joe" Dahlke (age 77): MLB right-handed pitcher

Ted Davidson (age 67): MLB left-handed pitcher; was shot twice in spring of 1967. Garton Del Savio (age 92): MLB shortstop.

Jim Delsing (age 80): MLB outfielder; pinch-ran for Eddie Gaedel in Bill Veeck's 1951 stunt.

Con Dempsey (age 82): MLB right-handed pitcher; used sidearm style.

William "Dutch" Fehring (age 93): MLB catcher; appeared in one game.

Bill Fleming (age 92): MLB right-handed pitcher; pitched in parts of six seasons.

Mark Freeman (age 75): MLB right-handed pitcher.

Stan Galle (age 86): MLB third baseman; played in 18 games for Senators.

Willie Grace (age 89): Negro Leagues player; played for Cleveland Buckeyes.

Howdy Groskloss (age 100): MLB infielder; oldest former Major Leaguer at the time of his death.

Chet Hajduk (age 87): MLB player; pinch-hit in only appearance on April 16, 1941.

Irv Hall (age 99): MLB infielder for Philadelphia A's.

Red Hayworth (age 91): MLB catcher; played in '44 World Series.

Al Heist (age 78): MLB outfielder; played for original Houston Colt .45s.

Billy Hitchcock (age 89): MLB infielder and manager; career record of 274-261.

Jeff James (age 64): MLB right-handed pitcher; pitched for Phillies in 1968 and 1969.

Bill Johnson (age 87): MLB third baseman; hit .271 over nine seasons.

Charles Johnson (age 96): Negro Leagues pitcher and outfielder.

Rankin Johnson (age 88): MLB right-handed pitcher; played for 1941 Philadelphia A's.

Ron Jones (age 42): MLB outfielder; top prospect stalled by serious knee injury.

Walt Kellner (age 77): MLB right-handed pitcher; played for Philadelphia A's.

Buddy Kerr (age 84): MLB shortstop; 68 straight games without an error; Mets scout, 1975-1996.

Thornton Kipper (age 77): MLB right-handed pitcher.

Billy Klaus (age 77): MLB shortstop-third baseman; played for five teams in 11 seasons.

Joe Koppe (age 75): MLB shortstop; played for eight seasons.

Craig Kusick (age 57): MLB first baseman; was hit-by-pitch three times in one game.

Royce Lint (age 85): MLB left-handed pitcher; spent 15 seasons in the Minor Leagues.

Eddie Malone (age 85): MLB catcher; designed M110 bat for Hillerich and Bradsby.

Fred Marsh (age 82): MLB infielder.

Steve Martin (age 24): Minor League outfielder in Frontier League; died in car accident.

Carlos Martinez (age 40): MLB infielder; hit fly ball that caromed off Jose Canseco's head into the right-field stands.

Eddie Mayo (age 96): MLB infielder; played for Tigers in 1945 World Series.

William Metzig (age 87): MLB second baseman; played for 1944 White Sox.

Pete Mikkelsen (age 67): MLB right-handed pitcher; pitched in 1964 World Series.

Paul Minner (age 82): MLB left-handed pitcher; won 69 games.

Seth Morehead (age 71): MLB left-handed pitcher; last pitcher to face Roy Campanella.

Bubba Morton (age 74): MLB outfielder; first black player signed by Tigers.

Ivan Murrell (age 63): MLB outfielder-first baseman and scout.

Mike Naymick (age 89): MLB right-handed pitcher.

Rocky Nelson (age 81): MLB first baseman; hit home run for Bucs in 1960 World Series.

Ernie Oravetz (age 74): MLB outfielder; stood only 5-foot-4.

Jimmy Outlaw (age 93): MLB outfielder-third baseman; played parts of 10 seasons.

Eddie Pellagrini (age 88): MLB infielder; played for eight seasons.

Bill Pierro (age 79): MLB right-handed pitcher; played for 1950 Pirates.

Buddy Peterson (age 81): MLB shortstop.

Robert Peterson (age 80): author of "Only The Ball Was White".

Ray Poole (age 86): MLB player; appeared strictly as a pinch-hitter in 15 games.

Billy Queen (age 77): MLB outfielder; played for 1954 Milwaukee Braves Jack Radtke (age 93): MLB infielder; played for Brooklyn in 1936.

Xavier Rescigno (age 92): MLB right-handed pitcher.

Bob Repass (age 88): MLB second baseman; played in 84 games.

Dino Restelli (age 81): MLB outfielder; hit 12 home runs as a rookie in 1949.

Leo "Billy Goat" Rivers Sr. (age 85): Negro Leagues second baseman.

Bo Schembechler (age 77): Tigers' president, 1990-1992.

Roland Seidler (age 77): Dodgers' treasurer, 1975-1998.

Silas "Si" Simmons (111): Negro Leagues pitcher and outfielder.

Sibby Sisti (age 85): MLB infielder; played all 13 years of career with the Braves.

Willie Smith (age 66): MLB pitcher and outfielder with Angels; also played in Negro Leagues. Pete Suder (age 90): MLB second baseman; played 13 seasons for Philadelphia A's.

Russ Swan (age 42): MLB left-handed pitcher; pitched for Giants and Mariners.

Junior Thompson (age 89): MLB right-handed pitcher and longtime scout.

Humberto Trejo (age 38): MLB executive, former Minor League manager and coach.

Jack Urban (age 77): MLB right-handed pitcher; won 15 games over three seasons.

Clyde Vollmer (age 85): MLB outfielder; hit 69 home runs over a 10-year career.

Jake Wade (age 93): MLB left-handed pitcher.

Charlie Wagner (age 93): MLB right-handed pitcher, scout and coach for Red Sox.

Erik Walker (age 23): Devil Rays' Minor League pitcher; died in canoe accident.

Leo Wells (age 88): MLB infielder; played for White Sox in 1942 and 1946.

Cy Williams (age 91): scout for Tigers and MLB Scouting Bureau.

Earl "Junior" Wooten (age 82): MLB outfielder.

Bruce Markusen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.