Before turning the calendar to a new year, today we continue our annual tradition of taking a moment to look back and remember figures from the Brewers and Wisconsin’s baseball history that we’ve lost over the last 12 months. This year we have an abnormally large list of people to remember: Five former Brewers, six Milwaukee Braves, a Wisconsin native with MLB ties and a former Brewers coach have passed away since January 1. I do my best to make this list as comprehensive as possible, but please add them in the comments if you know of anyone I may have missed.
Thanks to the B-Ref Play Index and David Schultz for their help compiling this list.
Rob Picciolo, age 64, passed away on January 3
Nicknamed “Pepperdine Peach,” Picciolo was drafted four times before finally signing with the A’s in 1975 and reaching the majors in 1977. He played shortstop for Oakland for parts of six seasons in his first stint with the franchise and his best year was 1981, when he batted .268 with a .290 on-base percentage and .397 slugging as the A’s clinched the only postseason berth of his career.
In May of 1982 the A’s traded Picciolo to Milwaukee, where he played in 22 games down the stretch, mostly off the bench. He was left off the postseason roster but returned to Milwaukee in 1983 to play in 14 more games. All told he appeared in 731 MLB games across nine seasons for three franchises.
Tito Francona, age 84, passed away on February 13
Perhaps better remembered as the father of longtime MLB player (1989-90 Brewer) and manager Terry Francona, Tito was a good MLB player in his own right: He played 15 major league seasons across nine franchises from 1956-70, was the runner up for the American League Rookie of the Year in 1956, finished in the top five in AL MVP voting in 1959 and was an All Star in 1961.
The elder Francona’s final MLB stop came with the 1970 Brewers. He joined the team in a three-player trade in June of that season and played in 52 games down the stretch, hitting .231 with a .296 on-base percentage and .277 slugging in 73 plate appearances.
Davey Nelson, age 73, passed away on April 23
Primarily a second baseman, Nelson played ten MLB seasons between 1968-77 as a member of three organizations, including the Washington Senators before and after they moved to Texas and became the Rangers. He accumulated 187 stolen bases in his career, including 51 in 1972, and was an American League All Star for the Rangers in 1973.
Nelson remained active in the game following his retirement, coaching in the White Sox, Athletics, Expos and Cleveland organizations before eventually joining the Brewers in 2001 and serving as the team’s first base coach from 2003 through 2006. He later joined the Brewers’ TV broadcasting team on FS Wisconsin and served as the organization’s director of alumni relations.
Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt both wrote extended stories on Nelson’s passing.
Chuck Taylor, age 76, passed away on June 5
A right-handed reliever, Taylor pitched eight MLB seasons across four franchises from 1969-76. A native of Shelbyville, Tennessee and a Middle Tennessee State alum, he experienced a good deal of success with the Cardinals early in his career, pitching a combined 251 innings with a 2.83 ERA in 1969 and 1970, his age 27 and 28 seasons.
Taylor’s briefest stop among his four MLB teams was in Milwaukee: The Brewers selected him off waivers in September of 1972 and used him in five games in the season’s final month. He was released the following March and moved on to the Expos, where he pitched for four more years.
Red Schoendienst, age 95, passed away on June 6
Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst is most often remembered as a Cardinal, where he was a fixture at second base, played 15 of his 19 MLB seasons, made nine All Star appearances and won a World Series in 1946. Schoendienst was also, however, a pivotal part of the Milwaukee Braves’ 1957 World Series victory.
Acquired in June as part of a four-player trade, Schoendienst made his tenth and final All Star appearance for Milwaukee in 1957 and batted .310 with a .348 on-base percentage and .434 slugging in 93 games. He returned to the Braves in 1958 but his production slowed a bit. The Braves went to the World Series again and he collected nine hits in seven games in the Fall Classic, but following the season he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and missed nearly all of the 1959 season. He rejoined the team in 1960 but his playing time and production diminished and he was released. He then returned to the Cardinals for his final three MLB seasons.
At the time of his passing Schoendienst was one of just six living players who appeared in the 1957 World Series as a Milwaukee Brave.
Tony Cloninger, age 77, passed away on July 24
The Milwaukee Braves signed Cloninger, a right-handed pitcher, out of a North Carolina high school in May of 1958 and he reached the big leagues for the first time three years later in June of 1961. He pitched eight seasons for the Braves organization, including their final five in Milwaukee, and starred on the 1965 team, winning 24 games and posting a 3.29 ERA despite leading the National League in walks (119) and wild pitches (22).
Baseball Reference lists Cloninger’s value for the 1965 season at 2.7 wins above replacement, a mark just six Milwaukee Braves pitchers ever surpassed: Warren Spahn, Bob Shaw, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl, Gene Conley and Dave Jolly.
Cloninger followed the Braves to Atlanta in 1966 and pitched seven more MLB seasons, including stints with the Reds and Cardinals.
Bob Sadowski, age 80, passed away on August 5
By the time right-handed pitcher Bob Sadowski reached the majors on June 19, 1963 many fans had heard his name before: His brothers Ed and Ted reached the big leagues as a catcher and pitcher, respectively, in 1960. His nephew Jim also reached the majors for four pitching appearances in 1974.
Bob Sadowski pitched in 104 games for the Braves over their final three seasons in Milwaukee, including 49 starts. He posted a 3.74 ERA over that stretch, which included a complete game shutout of the Pirates in September of his rookie year. The Braves sent him to Boston in a five-player trade in December of 1965 and he appeared in just eleven more MLB games.
Ed and Ted Sadowski both passed away in 1993, but Bob survived for 25 more years before passing in August.
John Kennedy, age 77, passed away on August 9
Baseball Reference lists Kennedy’s nickname as “SuperSub,” and the longtime MLB infielder entered 296 of his 856 games off the bench. He was also something of an expert on the topic of expansion franchises: He signed with the Washington Senators shortly after their inception in 1961 and later appeared in 61 games for the Seattle Pilots during their inaugural season in 1969.
Kennedy made the Brewers’ first Opening Day roster in 1970 and played in 25 games for Milwaukee before being sold to Boston. All told, he accumulated 475 hits over 12 MLB seasons and appeared in two World Series with the 1965 and 1966 Dodgers.
Billy O’Dell, age 85, passed away on September 12
A left-handed pitcher and switch hitter, O’Dell reached the majors for the first time as an Oriole in 1954 before missing the entire 1955 season due to military service. He returned to the majors briefly in 1956 and had his best seasons in 1958 and 1959, when he made back-to-back American League All Star appearances.
O’Dell had spent five years in Baltimore and five more in San Francisco (where he pitched in the 1962 World Series) before joining the Milwaukee Braves via trade in February of 1965. He pitched in 62 games in the franchise’s final year in Milwaukee, posting a career-best 2.18 ERA over 111.1 innings and recording a career-high 19 saves. Lefties combined to hit just .172/.214/.270 against him that year.
O’Dell followed the Braves to Atlanta but wasn’t there long: He was traded to Pittsburgh in June of 1966 and made his final 64 MLB appearances for that franchise.
Marty Pattin, age 75, passed away on October 3
Pattin was originally drafted by the Angels and made his MLB debut with that organization in 1968, but that fall he was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft and went on to be his new team’s Opening Day starter in their inaugural season. He struggled in his first full season in the majors, posting a 5.62 ERA over 158.2 innings.
Pattin was a frequent topic of conversation in Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s book chronicling life with the 1969 Pilots. He’s referenced in the book 26 times, including a scouting report that he was a “straight overhand pitcher, good rising fastball, hard overhand curve. He’s a little guy but cocky, with lots of guts,” and multiple mentions of a Donald Duck impression that earned him the nickname “Duck.”
Pattin came with the Pilots when they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers and pitched in 73 games over the franchise’s first two years in their new home, accumulating 498 innings. He made the lone All Star appearance of his career as a Brewer in 1971.
Pattin and Kennedy’s passings leave just 35 surviving players who appeared in a game for the 1969 Pilots.
Dick Cole, age 92, passed away on October 18
After his career was briefly interrupted by World War II, Cole spent six seasons as a major league infielder with three organizations, although most of his MLB tenure was spent with Pittsburgh. In 1954 he set career highs for games played (138), hits (131), runs (40) and most other statistical categories.
Cole joined the Milwaukee Braves just before Opening Day in 1957 and made his final 15 MLB appearances for the eventual World Series champions. He collected his final MLB hit on May 24 of that year, started his final MLB game on June 25 and scored his final run in his last MLB appearance on July 21.
At the time of his passing Cole was one of just eleven living players who appeared in a regular season game for the 1957 Braves.
Bill Fischer, age 88, passed away on October 30
Fischer, a native of Wausau, Wisconsin, pitched nine MLB seasons between 1956-64 as a member of four franchises, including stints with the Washington Senators before and after they moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. He accumulated 831.1 innings pitched across his nine seasons and appeared in 281 games.
When his playing career ended Fischer transitioned to coaching and remained active in that role up until his passing: Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com has a story on Fischer’s work as a pitching advisor in the Royals organization and his relationship with Kansas City GM Dayton Moore. Fischer was involved in the game for 71 years. Flanagan also notes that Fischer set an MLB record in 1962 by pitching 84.1 consecutive innings without allowing a walk.
Bob Giggie, age 85, passed away on December 9
A right-handed reliever, Giggie was originally signed by the Boston Braves as an amateur free agent in 1951 but toiled in the minors for seven seasons before opening the season with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. He made his MLB debut in April of that year, recorded his lone MLB save on May 11 and logged 20 innings across 13 appearances.
Giggie returned to Milwaukee in 1960 but appeared in just three games before being traded to the Kansas City A’s. All told, he pitched in 30 games across three major league seasons.
Past years in this series: