It is an annual tradition here at Brew Crew Ball to take a moment before turning the calendar to a new year to look back and remember the members of the Brewers and Wisconsin’s baseball history that we’ve lost over the last 12 months. This year our list includes two former Brewers, two Milwaukee Braves and two others of note. I do my best to make this list as comprehensive as possible, but if I missed someone please add them in the comments.
Bill Champion, age 69, passed away on January 7
A right-handed pitcher, Champion was the Phillies’ third round pick in the 1965 draft, made his MLB debut with that franchise in 1969 and spent his first four major league seasons with that organization, posting a 5.01 ERA in 97 appearances.
Despite being a four-year MLB veteran, Champion was still only 25 years old when he joined the Brewers following the 1972 season in a seven-player trade that also brought Don Money to Milwaukee. He spent parts of four seasons with the Brewers as a swingman, making 50 starts and 55 relief appearances. He was one of just 23 players in franchise history to record both a complete game shutout and a save.
Todd Frohwirth, age 54, passed away on March 26
A Milwaukee native, Frohwirth pitched nine seasons as a reliever in the major leagues between 1987 and 1996 as a member of the Phillies, Orioles, Red Sox and Angels. In 1993 with Baltimore, his last full season in the majors, he was among the MLB leaders in relief appearances with 70.
Following the end of his playing career Frohwirth remained active in the game, rejoining the Orioles as a scout for 15 years before his untimely death due to stomach cancer. Frohwirth was also active locally as a high school basketball coach, including spending the 2013-14 season as the boys head coach for Milwaukee’s Marquette University High School.
Gene Conley, age 86, passed away on July 4
A right-handed pitcher and power forward, Conley has a remarkable claim to fame: Between 1952 and 1964 he won a total of four championships in two different major professional sports.
A graduate of Washington State University, Conley made professional debuts in 1952 as a member of both the Boston Braves and Celtics. From there he gave up basketball for a few years and followed the Braves to Milwaukee, where he was a National League All Star in each of his first two full seasons and was part of the 1957 World Series Championship team. All told Conley pitched six seasons for the Braves, including five in Milwaukee.
Conley returned to basketball following the 1958 season and won three consecutive NBA Finals with the Celtics, including the 1959-60 season when he averaged over eight rebounds per game despite playing less than 20 minutes per game. During that time he continued to also play baseball and the Braves traded him to the Phillies, who eventually traded him to the Red Sox. All told, a little less than half of his 1588.2 MLB innings came as a Milwaukee Brave.
Conley’s passing leaves just six living players who appeared in the 1957 World Series with the Braves: John DeMerit, Felix Mantilla, Hank Aaron, Red Schoendienst, Del Crandall and Juan Pizarro. Six more living players played for the Braves during that regular season but did not appear in the Series.
Don Baylor, age 68, passed away on August 7
One of the longest-tenured major league players ever, Baylor made his debut in 1970 and played 2292 games over the next 19 years, tied for the 111th most in MLB history. He was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player as an Angel in 1979 and won Silver Slugger Awards for the Yankees and Red Sox in 1982, 1985 and 1986. At the time of his retirement he held the modern era record for having been hit by pitches, getting plunked 267 times.
Baylor retired as a player following the 1988 season and debuted as a major league coach for the Brewers in 1990, serving as the team’s hitting coach for two years. He later went on to be the first manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies and took that team to its first-ever postseason appearance in 1995, when he was selected as the National League Manager of the Year. He also managed the Cubs from 2000-02.
Danny Walton, age 70, passed away on August 9
An outfielder, Walton was drafted and developed by the Astros but had played in just two major league games when he was traded to the Seattle Pilots in August of 1969, the first of six times he would be traded in his career. Walton played in 23 games down the stretch for the expansion Pilots and followed the team to Milwaukee for the 1970 season.
Walton was the Opening Day left fielder for the Brewers’ first-ever home opener in 1970, starting off a season where he set career highs for games played (117), runs scored (32), hits (102), doubles (20), home runs (17), RBI (66) and walks (51). It would be the only everyday assignment of his major league career: The Brewers sent Walton to the Yankees in 1971 and he never played in more than 42 MLB games in a season again.
Frank Lary, age 87, passed away on December 13
Lary pitched 12 major league seasons between 1954 and 1965, primarily with the Tigers. He was an American League All Star for Detroit in 1960 and 1961 and led the American League in complete games and innings pitched three times each during his Tigers tenure. He also led the American League in hit batsmen four times in a five-year stretch between 1956-60.
Lary pitched for three teams in 1964 and the Milwaukee Braves were the third of them: The Mets purchased him from Detroit in May and traded him to Milwaukee in August, where he pitched in five games (two starts) down the stretch. The Braves sold him back to the Mets in 1965, and he stayed in New York for less than four months this time before being traded to the White Sox.