We were like ants, like they used to tell us it was with the Chinese, so many of us that, if half of us went missing, there would still be lots more. Just the numbers alone made us special. War babies. That was the original term before “baby boom” made us “baby boomers” and then, as we progressed from being agents of change in various succeeding markets like housing, school building, 45 RPM records, LPs, cars, drugs, prisons, assisted living centers, and now crematoriums, it is simply “boomers”.
Of course, many of us didn’t make it all the way to senior status. A large segment of the lower income bracket boomers went to war and never came back. Others fell by the wayside the way people normally do and insurance company executives have made all of the necessary adjustments.
One hundred and seven former major league baseball players died in 2020. I don’t know if that is a high number or a low number or an average number (Bill James probably knows) but it has been a significant year for deaths of all kinds and some really significant players have passed from the scene this year. The significance is tied to the Boomer thing, as the late father of one of our three boomer presidents may have put it. That’s because so many of those men were prominent in the big leagues that we the boomers have been following from our earliest days. I remember folks my parents’ age spending a lot of their conversational time talking about so and so or what’s her name who just died and thinking, damn, they sure do talk about death a lot. Well, now that’s us. We boomers spent a lot of time, 50 years or so it seems, coming of age but here it is. Half the Beatles are dead and have been for some time. All of the Rolling Stones have been dead for some time but no one has told them all. Dylan just looks like it.
I can’t recall all 107 players who died in 2020 and will only mention some but it’s a difficult thing to grasp. For instance, if you graduated from high school in the mid sixties there was a team in St. Louis that was really special. They won it all over the end of empire Yankees in 1964, won a great World Series over the Boston Red Sox in 1967, and then blew a 3-1 lead in games in’68 to the Detroit Tigers. Two great competitors who made all of that possible were Bob Gibson, the fiery right handed pitcher, and Lou Brock, the base stealing outfielder who also hit for average and power. It’s hard to imagine the world without them.
Much of the winning in the 1970s occurred in Cincinnati after the Reds acquired second baseman Joe Morgan from the Houston Astros. He was equivalent to Willie Mays in his ability to beat his opponent by hitting, running, stealing bases, and fielding. He also played well for a long time and then entertained us with his astute analysis in the television booth.
Al Kaline made it to just one World Series but his steady magnificence for the Detroit Tigers was an excellent example of skill and grace and good manners. Don Larsen had a mostly mediocre career but his moment to shine in the 1956 World Series was unforgettable as he threw a perfect game against the hard hitting Brooklyn Dodgers. I’m no Yankee lover but Whitey Ford was the very definition of a money pitcher as the lefty piled up win after win, especially in the “post season”, which in his day meant the World Series. Speaking of lefties, Johnny Antonelli was one of the first big winners of my youth as his 1954 Giants swept my favored Cleveland Indians. Another very good lefty who passed this year was Mike McCormick, who won the Cy Young award for the Giants in 1967. The Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, was a great power hitting and speedy outfielder who was one of Houston’s first big stars.
It’s also very hard to imagine the world without Tom Seaver. The so called Miracle Mets of 1969 were actually not such a miracle because they had the strong man from Fresno out there twice a week to keep them in the game for at least nine innings. He had to wear a few other uniforms before he was through but I have to think of Tom Terrific as a Met.
The arguments will continue as to whether Dick “Sleepy” Allen should be in the Hall of Fame. When someone suddenly passes it is a natural thing to begin to think better thoughts about him and he certainly has the credentials. Beyond that he was a good strong man and a great all around athlete and team mate. Rest in peace, Dick, and all of you others. One last personal note. Biff Pocoroba also died this year. He was no contender for the Hall of Fame. I mean no disrespect, but Biff was a family favorite just because of his name. When my son and I would play Whiffleball in the yard, we would often use his name in announcing the next batter and start to giggle. Because his name kind of said what he was–a power hitting catcher. His best year was 1977, when he had 24 doubles, 8 homers, and 44 runs batted in. He played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves. And we don’t just miss the stars, because what we love is the game.