December 30, 2011

Baseball deaths: nearly 140 former big leaguers departed in 2011

Vivian and Frank Barning with Duke Snider at a card show in 1980

As we count the days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we should also remember the major league players who passed away in 2011. Approximately 340 died, including Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Duke Snider and Dick Williams. The only active player to leave us was 24-year old Greg Halman of the Seattle Mariners who was allegedly murdered by his brother in their native Holland.

You can use a Google search to find a complete list, but I just want to mention those who meant the most to me, for various reasons. I've been a baseball fan since I started to collect. My introduction to the joys of the game began with the 1951 Bowmans, so my fandom goes back 60 years.

Of all those for passed, I grieved most for Duke Snider. The patch on Dodgers uniforms during the 2011 season, with his No. 4 on one of the sleeves, was a constant reminder that a member of my extended family was no longer alive. Vivian and I met him several times at baseball card shows and spent a fair amount of time with him.

She had the privilege of doing a Home Shopping Network show with him 20 or so years ago. Vivian appeared as a guest expert on baseball collectibles. At the time, she and I were consultants for The Score Board Inc., which was behind the shows. The late Paul Goldin was the head of Scoreboard. She also had appeared with Eddie Mathews at another time.

Vivian reminisces, "One of my main memories of the Home Shopping Network weekend was that Duke had a deal with Scoreboard to sign lithographs for them. If I recall correctly, he had been paid to sign 500. His agent, Mead Chasky, a well-known East Coast hobby personage, was there and Mead was counting the lithos to make sure that some extras hadn't been slipped in. Duke looked at him and said, 'You must be kidding. Do you know what they are paying for me to sign these? If they slip in a few extra it would be my pleasure to sign them.'

"If only all celebrities had a similar attitude," she concluded.

Others on my most memorable 2011 deaths list, in no particular order, are: Ryne Duren, Spook Jacobs, Bob Rush, Ernie Johnson, Gino Cimoli, Wes Covington, Marty Marion, Eddie Joost, Joe Frazier and Matty Alou. Most played in the 1950s.

Joe Frazier, who briefly managed the New York Mets (1976-77), posed with our son Randy for a picture during spring training in 1976. Spook Jacobs was a regular at Philadelphia-area card shows and often stopped by the Baseball Hobby News table to chat.

Ryne Duren had the nastiest fast ball this side of Nolan Ryan. Did you know that Ryne Sandberg was named for him? Dick Williams began his playing career with the Brooklyn Dodgers and managed the San Diego Padres to the 1984 World Series. I started as a Brooklyn fan back in the Bowman days and became a Padres fan when we moved to San Diego in 1982, after 20 seasons as a Mets fan.

We lost Snider in 2011 and Mickey Mantle left us in 1995, but we're still "Talkin' Baseball." Willie is showing the years, but he is still around.



Don Mueller, the New York Giants outfielder who helped set the table for Bobby Thomson's famed "Shot Heard 'Round the World" against the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the 1951 National League pennant, died on Wednesday, December 28.

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