There is no crying in baseball. Except in 2020.
If it’s a Baseball Heaven, the team of players who died in 2020 is loaded. It has seven Hall of Famers, including four of the best pitchers of all time and three superstars from the 1960s and 70s in the field. And that does not include one of the most impressive hitters of the time who has not come to Cooperstown.
In a remarkably tragic year for the world, the pain of the pandemic year was acute in baseball. More than 100 former major league players have died, mostly in four decades, according to Stats LLC.
In a 42-day span alone, five Hall of Fame members passed away: New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, fast-forward Lou Brock, longtime St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson, New York Yankees left-handed Whitey Ford and Cincinnati Red’s others baseman Joe Morgan. Detroit Tigers slugger Al Kaline died in April last year, and knuckleballer Phil Niekro passed away last week.
It was a serious race that asked a question: Was this the largest collection of baseball players to ever die in a single year?
The answer is yes – and it’s not even close.
The 110 MLB alumni who died in 2020, gathered to collect 1012.6 wins over compensation, a calculation designed to measure a player’s total value, calculated by Stats LLC. It is significantly higher than any other year in baseball history, according to Stats.
In terms of sheer stellar value, the closest year was to 2020 1972, when 100 players with a total war of 759.9 passed away, including one of the most shocking deaths in baseball history and the loss of one of the game’s prominent icons. This group included Jackie Robinson, the first black player to play in the major leagues integrated, and Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve at the age of 38 while providing assistance to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Baseball players who died in 2019, by comparison, accounted for 561.4 total war as a group. The average year during the last century produced only 409.2 WAR – or less than half of this year’s class. (These figures do not include Negro Leagues players from 1920 to 1948, whose careers and statistics are being added to the major league record and are not yet displayed in the Statistics database.)
It is not known how many of the deaths in 2020 were related to the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans this year. Seaver, for example, died of complications related to the disease, as well as Lewy’s body dementia. But the unique number of deaths in baseball is a high-profile microcosm of the lost talent felt around the world this year.
There have been years of several player deaths: in 1969, a record 142 were included, including Eddie Cicotte (one of the players banned from baseball as part of the Black Sox scandal in 1919) and outfielder Billy Southworth, who was to lead the Cardinals to championships in 1942 and 1944 during his Hall of Fame career as a manager.
Of course, there have also been years where people with more conspicuous statistics died. It was Babe Ruth (155.1 WAR) in 1948, Cy Young (149.4 WAR) in 1955 and Walter Johnson (136.3 WAR) in 1946.
But when it comes to impact on the field, nothing compares to 2020 due to the great depth to good, great and all-time players.
Dick Allen, American League MVP in 1972 and one of the most intimidating tough guys of his generation, had just sixth-highest WAR of the players who died, behind Morgan, Seaver, Gibson, Kaline and Niekro. Niekro, the knuckleball specialist who won 318 games during his career, would be close to the back of the starting rotation. The average war for all players who died in 2020 was 9.2, topping the previous height of 8.4 from 1902, when Pud Galvin and Fred Dunlap highlighted a class with 20 early major leagues.
It is such a phenomenal group of players that it almost overshadows the others who died, but left an indelible impact on the game. Bob Watson, an All-Star player, coach and manager, became the first Black General Manager to win the World Series when the Yankees won it all in 1996. His death was preceded by another franchise legend, Don Larsen, who died Jan. 1 and threw the only perfect game in playoff history when the right-hander shut down the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.
Other franchises also lost feature icons. Jimmy Wynn, known as Toy Cannon, surprised in the years with Houston with his combination of power and speed despite a small frame. Johnny Antonelli, a left pitcher, was a six-time All-Star for the New York and San Francisco Giants in the 1950s. Ron Perranoski and Lindy McDaniel put together 352 games. Tony Fernández is one of the most popular players in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.
This series of deaths was felt so strongly by fans, not just because they happened over such a short period of time. It was also because a number of these players are so forever linked to one team. Al Kaline is simply known as Mr. Tiger. Mets fans will always call Tom Seaver the Franchise. Cardinals fans also call Lou Brock the franchise. When New Yorkers refer to the chairman of the board, they are talking about Whitey Ford.
The Magnificent Seven
Al Kaline (died April 6, age 85):. 297 AVG, 399 HR, 1582 RBIs
In 22 major league seasons from 1953 to 1974 – all in Detroit – Kaline made 18 All-Star teams, earned 10 gold gloves and won the batting title in 1955. He hit .379 with two homers and eight RBIs in the 1968 series. , helps strengthen the Tigers to a seven-game championship over the Cardinals.
Tom Seaver (died 31 August, aged 75): 311 winner, 2.86 ERA, 3.640 K
Seaver lifted the Mets from a multi-year laugh to world champions in 1969, the year he won his first of three Cy Young awards. Although fans of Flushing still regret his trade to the Reds in 1977, he is still the most beloved Met ever and one of the best throws in history.
Lou Brock (died 6 September, aged 81): .293 BA, 938 SB
Brock led the league in stolen bases eight times from 1966 to 1974. In the past year, he swept 118 bags, a modern record for the time only surpassed by Rickey Henderson’s 130 in 1982. He made six All-Star teams and won championships with the Cardinals in 1964 and 1967.
Bob Gibson (died October 2, age 84): 251 W, 2.91 ERA, 3.117 K
Known for his powerful fastball and terrifying presence on the mound, Gibson dominated opposing hitters over 17 seasons with the Cardinals, winning two Cy Youngs and an MVP award in 1968. In that season, he put out a 1.12 ERA, a performance so overwhelming that the next season lowered the MLB pitcher to inspire more offense.
Whitey Ford (died October 8, age 91): 236 W, 2.75 ERA, 1.956 K
The best starting pitcher in Yankees history, Ford beat in 11 World Series from 1950 to 1964, winning six. Despite missing two seasons early in his career to serve in the Army during the Korean War, he made 10 All-Star teams and won Cy Young in 1961.
Joe Morgan (died October 11, age 77): .271 AVG, 268 HR, .392 OBP
Morgan was the engine of the Big Red Machine, helping Cincinnati to subsequent championships in 1975 and 1976. He won National League MVP awards in both of those seasons and is still known as perhaps the best second baseman in baseball history.
Phil Niekro (died 26 December, aged 81): 318 W, 3.35 ERA, 3.342 K
Perhaps the greatest performer in the history of a dying art, Niekro confused opposing hitters with the knuckle ball for 24 seasons, mostly with the Atlanta Braves. When he finally retired at the age of 48, he had won 318 games, making him the champion of an oddball court that is barely seen today.
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8